I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen’s music, because he is my Mum’s religion.There is nothing about him she does not love and anything she doesn’t know about him is probably not worth knowing.
I am also aware that his myriad loyal fans hold him in the same esteem; they worship his music and revel in the glory of the marathon-length concerts he performs with the equally beloved E Street Band.
Until a month ago, I had never seen them live. I’ve always liked the music, listening to it sometimes but not frequently. I admire Springsteen as a person – his left-leaning politics, his outspokenness and his championing of the working class. I could see why people loved him so much, but appreciated him at a distance, lacking the zeal of his most fervent fans. However, when I heard he was returning to New Zealand for a couple of shows and that my Mum and sister (a more recent convert) were planning to go, I decided to tag along and experience the spectacle for myself.
And boy, it was really something.
On a warm summer’s night at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium I was, like the 40,000 other fans in attendance, swept along by the heady joy and vitality of a Springsteen show.
They started strong, opening with “Darlington County”, and the energy didn’t let up once during the three-hour long set. I was as caught up in the music and the exuberant atmosphere as much as any devotee by the time they began an irreverent rendition of “Glory Days”, during which Springsteen yelled, “Steve, it’s ass-shaking time”, and Bruce and Steve van Zandt proceeded to wiggle their butts for the audience.
The E Street Band are fantastic, and have a terrific dynamic with The Boss.
The band shifted tone with ease from the crowd-pleasing “Hungry Heart”, which got everyone on their feet, to the downbeat, moving lyricism of “My City of Ruins”. I loved the soulful performance of “The River”, surely one of his best songs, and “The Promised Land” and Badlands were other highlights.
One of my favourite moments was the band’s rollicking version of “Because the Night”. I adore Patti Smith and this rendition made my heart sing.
The main set ended with “Rosalita”, accompanied by delighted whoops and cheers from my sister, who had been waiting to hear it all night.
Before long Bruce and the band ripped into a six song encore. The lights came up and we were all on our feet dancing and singing along. A woman in front of me was standing on her chair, giving it her all, and a young couple in the row behind danced hand in hand together to every song. The encore included, to everyone’s delight, Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark, during which a number of women were brought onto the stage to dance with members of the band, a la Courtney Cox in the original video. They closed out with a great run of “Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out”, a joyful cover of “Shout”, and “Bobby Jean”.
After this the band left the stage and Bruce came out alone for a beautiful acoustic performance of Thunder Road, which is one of my Mum’s favourite songs.
I loved every minute of the show and have been listening to their music much more ever since that night. It was lovely to be able to share such a life-affirming experience with my mother and sister, particularly as we have too few opportunities to spend time together these days.
I am simply in awe at Springsteen’s energy. At 67, he rocks out to every song with the vigour of a man half his age, barely pausing for breath between numbers, joking around with the band, delighting the audience and just giving it everything he’s got. I’m only in my early thirties and I don’t think I’ve ever had that much energy. How he and the band still do it, I don’t know, but they do, and I’m grateful to have witnessed this stunning show.
I don’t know if I’ll get to see them live again, but if I do , I’ll jump at the chance.
And if you have the chance, even if you’re agnostic about Springsteen, just go. You won’t regret it.