Welcome to my "What I Did For My Summer Vacation" wrap-up of my time spent following Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
I attended my first E Street show in Atlanta in 2008 and attended the last one — for awhile — in Nashville on November 18, 2009. In between those two shows, I caught another show in Atlanta and Nashville and also saw shows in St. Louis and Greensboro, NC. A seventh attempt in Kansas City was canceled suddenly due to a death in the Springsteen family.
The E Street Band and their management are steadfastly denying that we've seen the last of the band, while rumors abound that we have. One thing we know is there will be no tour in 2010, nor will there be a new album. It seems, instead, they'll focus on releasing some archival material.
Whether this proves to be a temporary stop in the action or a last hurrah, now is as good a time as any to look back and reflect on the stories, statistics, and observations of a pastime that has dominated the past 17 months of my life.
Six shows in four states adds up to more than 3,800 miles of roundtrip driving. I didn't keep receipts because I refuse to estimate how much money was involved in this odyssey. Over the course of those shows, I was treated to and/or assaulted by 73 different songs. Of those, 31 were played only once and five were played at all six shows. Those five songs? "American Land," "Badlands," "Born To Run," "She's The One," and "The Rising."
The most surprising in that set to me is "She's The One." It's a great song and it cooks live, but it's not one I'd have figured I'd get at every show. The least essential? The Riverdance reject that is "American Land." It was fine as something different on the Magic tour. It really didn't need to come back for Working On A Dream.
Four songs were heard at five of my six shows. Those are "Lonesome Day," "No Surrender," "The Promised Land," and "Thunder Road." The most surprising thing about that quartet is that "The Promised Land" is in there. I heard it at the first five shows. It got skipped at my final show in Nashville. I have mixed feelings about that. It is one of my favorite Springsteen songs, but there was a notable difference in the energy it had at the Magic shows compared to the WOAD performances. I love the song, but it lost a few miles per hour in 2009. It needed the rest it got. The least welcome of that list? It's a close call, but I like "Lonesome Day" just a bit more than I like "No Surrender." Neither song needed to be played as often as they were. I didn't get these two songs five times because I just happened to be unlucky. He's been playing them damn near every night for the past few years. He needed to… not.
The most surprising absence on my list can't be found in the song list. Patti Scialfa wasn't at any of the six shows I attended. I guess we have to call her a part-time member of the E Street Band. She did participate on both tours but a horseback-riding accident and family responsibilities limited her availability. That's a pity. I'm largely indifferent to Patti's presence, but she seems to be the Tunnel of Love whisperer. Analysis of the setlists has proved you are much more likely to get a song from that record if she's there than if she's not. I like the majority of that album and would love to have heard something from it. It wasn't to be. I blame the kids.
Choosing a single favorite moment is impossible, but I can throw out a few highlights for me. The first song I heard performed by The E Street Band was a blistering roadhouse version of "Reason To Believe." In addition to it being the first song I ever heard them play in person, this was a ferocious rendition. I hope one day they release something with them playing that song in that arrangement.
The Nashville 2008 show was an anniversary gift for my wife. Her one request? "Girls In Their Summer Clothes." First song of the encore? "Girls In Their Summer Clothes." I already feel indebted to the man for the music he's given me over the years, but I owe him just a little more for making a special occasion just a little more special.
I'm still blown away by the performance of the rarely played favorite "Human Touch" in Greensboro. It came out a little more often after that show but before that performance, it was only played nine times since the E Street Band reunited in 1999. My trusty sidekick 11 and I happened to be at two of those nine shows, his coming on the Reunion Tour and mine on WOAD. That's actually one of the first Springsteen songs I fell in love with and it remains a favorite. I never believed I'd ever hear it, but I'm incredibly thankful that I did. It was a terrific performance with Soozie Tyrell doing a surprisingly good job picking up Patti's backing vocal part.
Greensboro is also where I was treated to "Cadillac Ranch" and "Glory Days" for the first and only time. That Greensboro show was a brutal night for me. There were some real dry spells in that show and in the experience from my vantage point, but the trifecta of "Human," "Caddy," and "Glory" are moments that will live forever in my heart.
One more random observation: the mighty Max Weinberg is mightier than I ever dreamed. I've listened to the records and I knew he was good and I've seen him leading his 7 on Conan O'Brien, but I didn't understand how good until I watched him. Hear me now: if you read or overhear a conversation about the great drummers in rock and they don't mention Max Weinberg, they don't know what they're talking about. There have been enough great drummers that it's acceptable not to name Max the greatest, but he's leagues above and beyond mere mortals. If he doesn't make the list, burn the list.
I don't know what I'm going to do with myself in 2010, knowing I won't have an E Street Band to stalk. For two years, their music has dominated my iPod and re-living the last show I'd seen and anticipating the next one on the docket have dominated my thoughts. I still have the music on my iPod and there's no reason to think I'm not going back to it often, but there is a sadness in knowing I don't know when I'll next see them, or if I'll see them again. I had my complaints, but through it all these are still some of the best times I've ever had. It was an expensive habit but the lasting memories have made it all worthwhile, so I bow at the waist and say thank you Bruce, Stevie, Max, Garry, Nils, Clarence, Roy, Charlie, and Soozie for a great ride.