Friday , September 18 2020
It's like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.

The Rockologist: Baptism By Bruce In The Northwest

As anybody who reads my articles here with any sort of regularity already knows, I’m just a little bit of a Bruce Springsteen fan. It’s a funny thing when you try to explain this to the uninitiated, too. You know that line from the Lovin’ Spoonful song about “trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll?” Well that’s how it is with Bruce.

Counting last night’s amazing show at Key Arena in Seattle, I’ve seen Springsteen 34 times now. But for me, the night when I made the transition from casual fan to the raving lunatic I am today came at my fourth show, on a cold December night in 1978 at the Seattle Center Arena.

In a show that resembled a tent revival meeting as much as it did the most out-of-control house party you could ever imagine, Bruce and the E Street Band gave five-hours-plus worth of everything they had. They basically just tore the house down. The capper came just before 2 AM when about 100 of us hardcores refused to leave the building, and Bruce came out and did a surprise “Twist & Shout” with the house lights up, and half of the equipment torn down.

It was a night forever burned into my memory, and one that I will never forget.

So here we are, 30-odd shows and more than a few trips criss-crossing the country later, for yet another Bruce weekend. Like the man says, “Are you ready to ride?”

The weekend began with the trip from Seattle to Portland down I-5’s infamous “slog”. This is never a fun trip, although I always get a big kick out of reading the hardcore conservative messages on the giant Uncle Sam sign in Chehalis. This time out it read “Mars Has Global Warming. Can We Send Al Gore To Investigate?” Priceless.

So, after our sloggy and snowy drive down I-5, we arrived in Portland and headed to the Rose Garden to get our numbers for the GA lottery. And damn if we didn’t luck out, drawing a sweet number that got us into the pit.

It’s probably been about two decades since I’ve seen Bruce and the E Street Band up this close and personal, and man there is just nothing like it. Despite what the reports at Backstreets say, the energy level was also off the hook from the get-go, as Bruce launched into a rip-roaring segue of “Night” into “Radio Nowhere” into “Lonesome Day.”

The Portland crowd — which on past tours has been somewhat notorious for sitting on their hands — was also absolutely amped on this night. There were signs everywhere for requests, and Bruce was all too willing to accommodate, calling audibles for “For You,” “Lost In The Flood” and a letter perfect “Jungleland” in the encore. When Nils Lofgren completely shredded Bruce’s usual guitar solo spot during “Prove It All Night,” the roof was just about blown off of the building.

My only real complaint about Portland is that trying to find an aftershow burger and beer was nearly impossible, as the town seems to pretty much shut down at about 11:00, even on a Friday night (at least in the Rose Garden neighborhood). I eventually fell asleep watching the movie Borat courtesy of free hotel HBO.

The next night in Seattle began with an attempt to upgrade our reserved seats to another shot at the pit with GA tickets. This proved to be a hopeless task as even the scalpers were having a tough go of it finding buyers.

We did see numerous folks from Portland though, who recognized me as “Sopranos guy” in the pit (I wore the hard-to-miss Sopranos jacket I got as a former Comcast employee both nights). Anyway, my partner was pretty bummed at our failure to secure GA tickets. I did my best to console him by telling him I had a feeling we would be getting an even better show in Seattle than we did the previous night in Portland.

And damn if Bruce didn’t prove me right. From the opening notes of the tour premiere “Trapped”, it was immediately clear this night would be special. This great beginning continued with a flawless segue into “Radio Nowhere,” “Lonesome Day,” and a particularly high-energy version of “No Surrender.”

The Seattle crowd wasn’t quite as up as Portland was, but the E Street Band was absolutely on fire — particularly Nils Lofgren and the Mighty Max on drums. Speaking of Nils, he continued the previous night’s trend of taking Bruce’s solos, with a blistering guitar break during “Because The Night.”

From there, the surprises just kept coming — none more so than on a stunning tour premiere of “Point Blank,” which was another song requested by crowd sign. The encores would bring “10th Avenue Freeze Out” and the always welcome sight of “Rosie” coming out tonight. Pit or no pit, my friend and I left that night with absolutely no complaints.

After the show, we hit the Backstreets post-concert party at McMenamins, where it seemed like I managed to run into everybody I have ever met going to so many Bruce shows over the years.

It was particularly fun seeing Kathy, who I first met at the backstage door in Vancouver during the Devils & Dust tour. We both met Bruce that night, and asked him to play some of our favorite songs. She got her wish for “Sandy” that night. I didn’t get mine, which was for “The Price You Pay.” Bruce was still nice about it though, telling me “I just don’t play that one anymore man.” I also met some new friends (who again recognized me as “Sopranos guy” from the Portland pit), one of whom gave me a copy of the band’s original set list (they originally had planned for “Glory Days” and “Thunder Road” in the encores, instead of “10th Avenue” and “Rosalita”).

I suspect many of these new acquaintances will now become friends for life.

But that’s just how it is with Springsteen concerts. For those couple of hours, it’s like you become part of this huge extended family. There’s nothing quite like partying with about 20,000 of your best friends.

Of course, if you’ve never been there, trying to explain that is a little like, well, you know – “trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.”

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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