Summer’s Here and the Time is Right…
Posted on June 20, 2012
Leaving the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys on the morning of May 18th, having had my first ever experience with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the closest and most meaningful inter-personal experience of my life, I couldn’t ever possibly have believed that anything would come close to that again… Let alone be more special. However what was to come would prove that belief wrong, and reverse that reality. The night of May 17th was simply the greatest moment of my life up until that moment. Of over 18 years of life not one moment had ever come close to my first ever concert with the E Street Band. I had never been as emotionally overwhelmed, rejuvenated, happy, healed, or validated. I left the Stadium with a new found sense of self, and relationships which will last a lifetime. My faith in music, and in love, was confirmed, and aside from God revealing himself to us in that Stadium, the energy which the E Street Band exuded was enough to confirm that I had everything I needed to be sustained in this life, and in the next. Leaving the heat of the Stadium with my friends, and venturing into the cool air of the Catalonian night, I couldn’t process what we had just experienced. I was in a state of shock; something so fervently shared by the dear people around me. Phoning my sister, I was a mixture of half-words and tears, though she was pretty quick to understand – even better than I – what I had just experienced. It was utterly life changing. I went to Barcelona as one person, and left the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys as a different person. More correctly, what I left as was what I felt to be the best possible version of myself. Looking into the eyes of the friends around me as we hailed our taxis, I could see in them what I felt in me – a change which would define every day from that day forth, and an appreciation of the absolute depth of power and beauty in music, and in companionship. With this in mind, I was almost certain that nothing could make me feel like that again… Except of course for the Band who we would go and see once more in less than 24 hours.
As light began to bathe the city of Barcelona in a warmth which emulated the awe-inspiring happiness of the night before, I left my hotel room – and Chris! – to meet a smaller but no less wonderful group of people with whom I would share my second night with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Meeting Steph and Bridget (close friend of Steph’s and new friend of mine), we headed back to the Stadium to queue for another day, before experiencing our second ever E Street Band concert together. Attaining our pit numbers – mine being 414, double that of the day before (the first of many moments of beautiful synchronicity) – we settled down to a great number of hours of anticipation for the Band who we knew would, again, bring the power of music down on us.
While the day progressed I noticed that having now seen the Band live, the fervent excitement which presented itself so wildly the day before had given way, in part at least, to a more quiet excitement and happiness, marked by an acceptance that what was happening was real, and that, despite what I could comprehend the night before, what we were going to experience again would be real too. The excitement was still there, and in many respects amplified by the night before. However, where previously there had been an inability to accept what was happening, there now sat a warm glow inside which reflected the realisation that we could feel what was to come. Talking with Steph and Bridget, trying to understand the night before, I couldn’t help but smile endlessly about what was the greatest of nights. To know that we were in for a second round added a new element to post-concert contemplation; more specifically, the songs which were going to be played, and how they compared and contrasted with the music of the night before. Though night 1 had been greater than even my dreams would have allowed, I could not help but think about whether my ultimate dream – to hear “Racing In The Street” live – would be realised. I already felt like the luckiest man in the world, but there was a burning desire inside me which had been apparent for a long time, which didn’t allow me to stop asking the question - what if?
As with the day before, after we’d had a wonder down through the parks of Barcelona in to the local shopping mall, around of course the roll-call times, at about 3 that afternoon we took our place in the pit queue. Whilst not quite as high as the day before, our numbers still allowed for us to have the opportunity at least to be very close to the stage. Whereas the night before our strategy had been to get to the barrier at all costs, on the Friday we were armed with a new tactic; to forfeit potentially being at the absolute front, in exchange for being central to Bruce. He had paid an inordinate amount of attention to the people closest to him. With that in mind, as the clock struck 5pm, or a little after that, the gates were opened and we made our way into the Stadium, or what was more essentially the place of our dreams. Though the pit was filling, we kept our faith, and as Bruce himself promised, it would be rewarded…
… and – as with the day before - it was. Standing amongst a crowd of more nationalities than I could count, let alone name, Steph, Bridget, and I waited the few hours it took for the Stadium to fill, the sun to sink below the walls, and the warmth of the day to be replaced by the heat of the people within the Stadium. If one emotion presented itself even more than all the others, it was happiness – and that felt good. So good. More specifically, a happiness we had inherited from the Band, from the crowd, and from one another, the night before. Even a month on, that emotional high which I left Barcelona with sustains me. A new capacity to cope with difficulty, and overcome adversity in such a way as I can separate myself from it, was born out of the Band who gave us the two greatest nights of our lives. As we waited for the moment, again, that Bruce Springsteen and the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary” E Street Band would ascend to the stage before us, something which preoccupied my head, and my heart, was my question of faith.
Thinking about the years which had so come to define my relationship with the music and people of the E Street Band, I couldn’t help but feel – for the first time in my life – a sense that, in more ways than I ever thought possible, things actually made sense. I realised that it had to take adversity for such a feeling of connection, emotions, and love to present itself. After all, had life been easy, then music would never have come to mean so much to me. Standing in the pit, I was acutely aware that such a reality was shared by so many people across the world. I knew having known fans pervious to the concerts, that the E Street Band had had as much of a life changing, and life saving, effect on them as they had done on me. Realising that, and combining it with my new found sense of understanding of what it actually meant to be at the live concerts, I stood feeling closer to God than I had done in my life before. Not a religious God, but a God who represented the power of faith, and love, and actually – of music. When such a special moment is born of out a complexity which not even science itself could define, the truth in the power of faith was all that could be held accountable for the beauty in current events.
As the music which had been playing to the crowd became thwarted by the noise of the crowd itself, and the people who had for so long been sitting in the pit stood, it became apparent that the moment which we were waiting for was close. With smiles on our faces, and people pushing at every part of our bodies, we had our eyes set on the mini stage before us. Knowing that at the moment the Band ventured out on stage, everyone would move forwards, we made the tactical decision to move to our left. If only we had known what a significant decision this would prove to be.
In reality, it was a pivotal moment in what lead to me being touched by the hand of Bruce Springsteen himself, looking into his eyes, and seeing more love in one person than I had done in any other up until that day.
As the Band came out onto the stage and erupted into “Night”, the crowd exploded as it did the night before. Being central in the pit, we had a near perfect view of Bruce and his Band, and were nearly as close as it was possible to be. Already the night seemed different to the one before. Whereas 24 hours previously I had been truly awestruck in such a way as I stood almost unable to process what was going on, by this point I was truly there. Seeing Bruce and Stevie singing together just a few feet before me, it dawned upon me just how significant this was. Bruce, “the rock ‘n’ roll laureate of a generation”, who had been making music for over 40 years, and who had, in albums such as “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Born to Run” summarised so much of my life – like so many fans – before I had even been born, was close enough to hear my screams… Muffled though they were amongst those of many thousands of other fans. Whilst the Stadium was not at full capacity that night, and technically the setlist “wasn’t as special” (according to some of the truly extraordinary songs of the night before – most notably “Prove It”), from the moment the concert started I felt a feeling which was even more special than the concert on the Thursday. I felt truly apart of the crowd, with a spot between Bridget and Steph which was almost in line with The Boss himself. As the concert opened, and “Night” was played into “The Ties That Bind”, I had no idea what was coming.
The first moment, of five times, that I actually touched Bruce Springsteen came, when, during “My City of Ruins”, Bruce came to the mini-stage before us, and sang to us. As everyone lunged towards the man we all came to see, I was one of the few lucky people in that pit to lay my hand upon Bruce Springsteen. Excitement erupted amongst my friends and I, and our fellow pit goers who also had that honour. It was a truly magnificent, and powerful moment. To feel Bruce actually in the flesh, it confirmed what it was that I was beginning to understand – we were finally sharing a moment with him. That was the point at which our two lives intersected, and the man – 44 years my senior who had been the main source of support in my life – was there on the receiving end of our love for him, close enough that – for a brief moment – he felt the hands of me, of my friends, and of the people around us. The fact that he was singing “My City of Ruins”, where he confronts the loss of Clarence and Danny, but also the power of love to sustain our relationships beyond death, was utterly poignant, and – something which is becoming more regular now than ever before – I felt an overwhelming sense that this was just meant to be.
A sense of familiarity was evoked as the Band played their way through the first few songs. “We Take Care of Our Own”, an obvious staple of this Tour, was played into “Two Hearts”. The fourth song of the evening, and the second from the album which will always have the most special place in my heart – “The River” (otherwise known as the first album I bought by Bruce Springsteen). This was amongst the music which I loved most. Even though the setlist itself might not have been, from some people’s perspective at least, as “good” as the night before… For me, it was almost beyond compare. Every song was one which I enjoyed to its full. Though again, this was probably quite due to being able to appreciate the night in all its power, as opposed to the 17th where a lot of my appreciation is retrospective. (I cannot stress enough just how shocked I was!). The music was alive in a way that only the crowd and Band could match. By the 8th song we had “Spirit In The Night”, marked by Bruce’s shouts of “We are going to take you back to the beginning now… Can you feel the spirit? Can you feel the spirit now…?”. Not only could we feel the spirit, but it was alive.
.. Alive in a way which I had not experienced before. As though channeling the very essence of life itself through their instruments, into our hearts, and our voices, the E Street Band proved - again - just what it is that makes them so immeasurably special. Then it hit us, as the horn section warmed up and the Band synchronised themselves into the introduction to… “The E Street Shuffle”, from Bruce’s second ever album. A song which involves the crowd and creates smiles which don’t wear off, Bruce’s singing was met by dancing and the faces of people who were experiencing pure happiness. Whilst the concert was, as a whole, composed of an eclectic mix of music which confronted everything from life’s greatest pleasures, to the pain of its very end, there were as many moments of pure joy as there were of potentially painful contemplation. To take people from the heart-thumping beat of “We Take Care of Our Own”, to the haunting voice of Jack from “Jack Of All Trades”, requires a skill, spirit, and understanding which very few people possess, but which – absolutely – every member of the E Street Band is capable of, especially under the (always present) leadership of Bruce Springsteen. Not only is this capability present, but it is intrinsically apart of their presence on stage, and their effect on the crowd. It is that element of humanity combined with love, and power of music, and faith in faith itself that makes for the musical experience of the E Street Band to extend from simply being in the moment, to being eternal.
The end of “The E Street Shuffle” was marked by the beginning of “Jack Of All Trades”, from Bruce’s newest album, “Wrecking Ball”. Assuming the voice of a man who represents the plight of thousands in this “world gone wrong”, struggling to make a living not for himself – but for the one who he loves, Bruce sang with a poignant simplicity the words to a song which echoed the sentiments of the lives of millions. Backed by his Band who were still smoking after their hard playing during the 1972 hit, when Bruce sang “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight”, and the Catalonian crowd cheered, a sense of solidarity fell upon the crowd and reinforced the notion that we take care of our own, even if our Governments do not. As that warm cloak descended upon the crowd, contrasting against the cold and harsh truth of the song before us, we were reminded – again – why it was that to ever lose faith would be a loss beyond that of any other. Whilst the song evoked a lot of unhappiness, it left a fighting spirit which will last within all those who were there… Bruce sang with a quiet rage, not one born out of hate, but one of love for the people who he continues to represent. Us.
Much to my excitement, and the excitement of those around me, Bruce broke into a performance of “Trapped”. One of my favourite covers which he performs, it offered a great moment for the crowd to hear the full range of the Band’s power. From the quiet beginnings, into the crescendo which typifies their sound, back to the quiet again, before erupting into the chorus which the crowd so magically follows. Following this, and a performance of “Downbound Train”, another treat was in store. “Because The Night”. The story of love and the pain associated with it, Bruce and the E Street Band’s rendition was one to behold. Whilst technically his song, it was co-written and released by Patti Smith. Having known the song longer than I’d known Bruce, there was a great moment when the two met on the stage before us.
As the night progressed, the musical expression and the Band’s interaction with the crowd was much as the night before. The excitement was amplified considerably for us, as there were many moments when Bruce came close enough to us that on more than 1 occasion (I counted 5), we actually touched him. One of the greatest moments of the night came when Bruce sang “Working On the Highway”, staying for the entirety of the song on the mini-stage less than 3 feet away from us. (I do have a video of this, though whether I can upload it or not is another matter). A fun song, Bruce carried with him his acoustic guitar, and I took the photo above. His facial expression is one of the best I’d ever seen, and perfect for a song which really brought a fun tone to the evening.
Up until this point in the show, the night had proved to be even greater than the one before it. I felt apart of the performance in a way I was unable to the night before, and whilst I was still overwhelmed – like so many of those around me – it didn’t detract from being able to appreciate the concert in the moment. Standing with Bridget and Steph, I felt a connection with them as strongly as I did with the Band on stage. The crowd around us were consistently spectacular, and really justified the high place that Catalonian crowds are held in the eyes of Bruce, and fans alike. As the Band played “Waitin’ On a Sunny Day”, where once again Bruce came close enough to us that we got that “magic moment”, one could really feel his energy, as he ran up and down the stage with what seemed like endless energy. It was contagious, and the crowd jumped to the beat of the melody and sentiments of the song together. As the Band finished “Sunny Day”, they moved into “The Promised Land”, which marked the beginning of a moment which gives me tears to think about; the greatest moment of my life, where I felt more emotion than I ever have done before, “The Promised Land” began a set of three songs which created a moment so special that I doubt I will ever experience again.
As Bruce powered into the thunderous harmonica intro to “The Promised Land”, the power which the Band was exuding intensified inordinately. As the harmonica flowed into Bruce’s deep voice singing even deeper words, lines started to hit me in a way they never had done before. I resonated deeply with the sentiments of “Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man / And I believe in a Promised Land”. I could feel as the song progressed a change in me which was defined by independence, contrasting with times past when the same words were used as my battle cry when trying to overcome adversity. Standing in a Stadium with nearly 50,000 people, all singing together those same lines, the emotional energy was immense, and reflected by the sound of the crowd. As the Band played, Bruce ran from one side of the Stadium to the other, carrying the energy with him as he did. People were smiling, jumping, clapping, and singing together. Bruce finished the song with his harmonica, and as he ran back to the stage, he passed me and I held his shoulder for a moment.
I looked to the sky, and during the most emotional moment of my life, said “Please God, play Racing In The Street”.
As the stage went dark, the crowd went quiet. Out of the darkness came Roy Bittan’s piano, playing the haunting introduction to that very song, the one which meant most to me, and the one I had prayed to God himself to hear just a moment before – “Racing In The Street”. As it hit us, what was being played (I write this as the tears well up in my eyes), I shared a hug with both Steph and Bridget. That hug lasted the whole song, as – during the most special, and emotional moment of my life – we listened to the E Street Band playing Racing In The Street, arm in arm, with tears in our eyes. As Bruce stepped back into the stage following his words, the Band took over in what is one of their most famous instrumentals. As the crowd stood in awe, I stood in tears, in the arms of two people who will have a special place in my heart forever. Together, we heard the most beautiful example of music that I know of. We shared a moment which might never happen again, but one which was more emotionally moving than just about anything else possible to experience. Looking into Bruce’s eyes – who was almost perfectly in line with me, Steph, and Bridget – I felt more emotion and love than I ever had done. Feeling the Band’s power at its peak, not only did I experience more than I ever even dreamt about, but it also confirmed exactly the reasons I, like fellow fans, love Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band so damn much. It was, unquestionably, beyond a human experience. God was in that Stadium. Coincidence would never have allowed for such beauty and perfection in events. Something greater than that caused “Racing In The Street” to be played. It was unspeakably moving, and will most likely never happen again – but that is okay, because what I experienced with Bridget & Steph will be apart of me forever. We shared something which most people can only dream about, and for the rest of my life I will remember that moment with all the intensity and meaning in reflection, as I did a month ago when it happened. To this day I still can’t believe it happened, but it did – and it was beautiful.
As the song finished, I felt a release of pressure which had been inside me for years. It was at that moment that I was reborn. As the Band finished the song, and the crowd cheered, there was a gust of wind, a breeze, which was symbolic of the spirit which had been present during the 10 minutes before. I had never felt as close to anyone as I felt to Steph & Bridget as the Band played “Racing”. I felt a connection to the music beyond that which I had ever even experienced before, and I had never felt so close to God.
For the first time in my life, when I listened to “Racing In The Street”, I didn’t hear it alone. Before that moment, I had always turned to “Racing” at the very last moment. It was the song I turned to when I had nothing else. Listening to that song hurt nearly as much as the pain which lead me to fall in love with it, and lean on it so much during my life. It was my everything, because it was also my nothing. In Barcelona, the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, and in the arms of two very special people, I heard Racing In The Street live, and finally the truth in that song switched from the words of Bruce, to the overwhelming instrumental which takes over. I was no longer stuck in the pain of the words, rather the release of that pain, in the form of the music. Hearing the song live allowed me to move past whatever it was which had been holding me back, to be free in the same way as the Band were playing. There now lives in me a happiness which had been gone for so long, and I associate that with Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band, my favourite song, and the two people I stood “shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart” with.
As though not already perfect enough, Bruce elevated the crowd to new heights by playing “The Rising”. This was essentially perfect, as we were now experiencing a song about overcoming adversity, and fighting back. The chorus “Come on up for the rising / Come on up, lay your hands in mine / Come on up for the rising / Come on up for the rising tonight” were sung with absolute power by everyone in the Stadium. As the ground shook, and the lights on the stage were illuminated, Bruce sang with the crowd as the noise behind him increased, and amplified the sound before him. It was a magical moment. Taking us on a journey, from the person who would “feel so weak I just wanna explode / explode and tear this whole town apart / take a knife and cut this pain from my heart”, to the person who “stares off alone into the night, with the eyes of one who hates for just being born”, before propelling tens of thousands of people upwards, through the rising, towards the “sky of love, sky of tears”, we were taken on a journey which represented life. Adversity, standing up to it, faltering under it, but then rising again and overcoming it.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s message was clear – it was time to “come on up for the rising”.
The encore was as pure-rock as the night before. “Born In The U.S.A.” was played again (I’m sure for a certain couple of American girls), before rocking into “Born to Run”, then an absolute favourite – “Bobby Jean”, which had the crowd going for yet another song. Taking us into “Dancing In The Dark”, where we danced and sang together, the concert ended with another moment which I will remember forever. The energy was, again, electrifying, as the heat ranked up and the crowd jumped to the pulse of the heart of music before us.
Playing their final song of the night, and their ultimate tribute to Clarence, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” marked the 28th and last song of the concert of well over 3 hours. For yet another time, Bruce stood directly in front of us, and in a moment of extraordinary intimacy, we shared with Bruce Springsteen the moment he himself honoured his best friend, his Big Man, Clarence Clemons. Standing just behind him as we all shouted and cheered for “C” beneath the giant video montage, the moment came when Bruce screamed “From the coastline to the city, all the little pretties raised their hands”, as he did so leaning right down into where I was standing.
Seeing the tears in Bruce’s eyes, we could also see the fearless passion he held for life, and the eternal love he held for Clarence. Singing with an intensity which rivaled even the most sonically powerful moments of that night, Bruce looked right at us, before turning his attention back to the crowd who were together raising their hands. As I stood with Bridget & Steph, looking up at Bruce Springsteen who was singing with every last ounce of soul in his body, I felt an ability to appreciate the night for what it was – the greatest of my life, and one which will always be so highly regarded.
Leaving the stadium after the show, I knew I walked out into Barcelona as the happiest and most strong version of myself. I left with relationships which, whilst new in some cases, would be with me for as long as I lived – at a level much greater than I had experienced before. I live each day missing the people I shared Barcelona with, and count down the days until I see them again.
- In Tribute to Clarence Clemons -
*Note: Videos are soon to be uploaded.