December 4, 2012
Having castigated myself during presidential season for missing Bruce Springsteen's show at the Sports Arena in April, I resolved to see him this time around, Orange County traffic be damned.
Because the Greatest Rock and Roll Show One Will Ever Experience is worth a little effort, dammit.
See also: *Our slideshow of the concert
But the location fed the fear that, for all of these three and a half hour Springsteen concerts that have been happening for as long as you've been alive, one might not be happening to you.
That said, the Honda Center is nicer than the Staples Center.
Newer. Mighty Ducksier.
But it's Anaheim, perhaps the least rock and roll place on the planet, which is why, even as deep as Bruce's bag of trick is, it's not easy to come up with a personalized anecdote about the place. Still, he did it, about a failed trip to Disneyland with an insistent Stevie Van Zandt at the “height of our megastardom” in 1985. They were turned away at the gate, unfortunately; something about their shoddy dress and the bandana Springsteen wore back then.
But fortunately for all of us suburbanites and suburbanites at heart Bruce has this pathological problem about wanting to please everybody, and in a way that makes each pleased person believe she is uniquely pleased. By the end of song two — “Adam Raised a Cain” — his vest was soaked through, and a little later during “Hungry Heart” he was crowdsurfing. The wave took him from the middle of the floor back to the main stage, but then something went wrong and he was dropped, more or less on his head. Nils Lofgren panicked and ran over, but the Boss popped up moments later, a bit sweatier, a bit closer to social security eligibility, a bit more determined to make us never forget this show.
About the only one around with more giddyup was Tom Morello, who seemed to spend about half the night up there. They shared at least three awkward hugs over this time, and when Morello walked off stage the audience would show their appreciation by yelling, “Bruuuuce.”
There was also of course an accordion player and a full horn section, including Jake Clemons, Clarence's nephew, who is charismatic, wears a big afro and got tons of time in the spotlight. Everyone seemed to love him, and they also showed this by, when he finished a solo, yelling: “Bruuuuuuuce.” Social Distortion's Mike Ness made an appearance as well, and Bruce saddled up to him like they were best friends; perhaps they are that. But really Bruce is best friends with everybody, including a seven-year-old girl he plucked from the crowd during “Waitin' on a Sunny Day.” He handed her the mic for a couple of choruses, sat her on his shoulder, kissed her and then, after handing her back to her parents, gave her a guitar pick.
But elsewhere Springsteen songs have quite a large number of sexy lines, and much of the night was spent catering to his base — late thirty and fortysomething women in makeup and denim — by singing lyrics directly into their eyes. His female fans serenaded him with elaborately designed tagboard signs, which sometimes served as song requests. But after his third pass or so through the crowd, sometime during the encore when he took his place on the riser at the center of the stadium, that's when the women who love him most got to get a good grab of him, running their hands, flat, up and down his jeans and reaching as high as was tasteful. Springsteen earns his fettuccine alfredo by putting on a good flirt, and there's nothing crass about it because the men too can understand the appeal of some over-the-pants Bruce petting.
On a somber-er note he talked about how after 25 years in the dumps Asbury Park had finally come back, before Hurricane Sandy messed things up, and there was also a Clarence Clemons video retrospective. Sure, we didn't get to hear the one about Bruce's tough relationship with his dad, who really, really wanted him to cut his hair (prick) but when he learned his son wasn't drafted for Vietnam because he failed the physical he was glad. And there were no politics. But there was plenty of our-own-taking-care-of; “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as a power anthem, “10th Avenue Freeze Out” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” as well as during the “Born to Run” solo when he bent over and let dozens of fans' hands run across his strings. Also: “Spirit In the Night,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and of course “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
As the final song, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” wound down the lights had already been on for about five minutes and it was getting toward midnight. It had become one of those three and a half hour shows — one of those greatest shows you've ever seen shows. But even though folks were exhausted and scampering out Bruce wasn't quite done. And so he saw every player and backup singer off the stage, all 17 of them, one by one, even sharing another awkward hug with Tom Morello. It was just another worknight in another place that doesn't mean a whole lot to him, but he didn't want it to end. He was deathly serious; after all, no one comes to Orange County during rush hour if they're not that.
Critical bias: During “We Take Care of Our Own” I wanted to celebrate Obama's victory, but as a former New Jersey guy all I could think about was Chris Christie.
See also: Our slideshow of the concert