Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012
Better than: Anyone else singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
The stage looks weird without a backdrop or screen or anything -- a broad, naked platform surrounded by seats on all sides. The lights are on, and it's really bright inside Oracle Arena, like hospital bright or almost-daylight bright. There are people way up in those seats that seem to hang just below the ceiling. At 8:21 p.m., the musicians walk out onto the wide naked stage and start playing. The crowd cheers. The lights are still on. The last player to come out is wearing a light gray shirt, a dark vest, and bluejeans. He's carrying a guitar. He looks weathered and handsome and trustworthy, like an honest mechanic you've used for a long time or your grandfather when he was younger. And then Bruce Springsteen runs up to the mic and shouts "Ooooooooaaakllaaand!"
It's Friday night, and Bruce Springsteen and his band -- his bandmembers are like favorite uncles or cousins, there's Steven guitar-soloing in his black bandana, and Max holding a stern, look while pounding out complex snare fills, and Big Man's afro'd nephew, Jake, blowing like mad on his sax -- will play a lot of songs.
Eventually the lights go out. Then they come on again. The band is still playing.
Even the songs that we don't know too well feel effervescent and panoramic and penetrating. The classics are overwhelming. We hear "Hungry Heart," "Dancing in the Dark," "Because the Night," "The Rising," "Thunder Road," "Badlands," and of course the new songs like "Wrecking Ball" and the Obama victory anthem "We Take Care of our Own," and many others. Whenever a song ends, instead of people cheering "yaaaay" or "woooooo" whatever else people yell, the gathered arena just bellows "BRUUUUUUUUUUCE."
Through all of them there is Bruce -- no, sorry, "BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!" -- running around in his tight jeans and his dapper vest grinning largely and going over to a little bridge that runs across the crowd on the floor and singing to the people down there. The people grab his ankles and legs when he's playing his guitar or not slapping their hands.
Back onstage, there are 16 more musicians making this immaculate racket, which burbles up into every nook and cranny in the cold cement belly of Oracle Arena, even (we're guessing) up there under the rafters. It sounds better than any other show we've heard at Oracle Arena, which, to be fair, usually doesn't sound good at all.
BRUUUUUUCE continues to look like an extremely friendly air conditioning repairman dressed to go to Black Angus on a Friday night.
The crowd here is basically Boomers and Their Spawn (at least where our press tickets have us seated, in the "club level," where patrons get access to Stella Artois and full-bar drinks in a wood-paneled room cut off from the Arena's main linoleum hallway.) The Boomers are really into BRUUUUUUUUUCE. Several of them gush that they drove down from Sacramento to be here.
Earlier today, a British magazine called New Musical Express published a piece declaring Bruce Springsteen the greatest live performer of all time. (Understatement is not part of this particular magazine's reputation.)
What does it mean to be the greatest? When the lights are on at the end, and BRUUUUUUUUCE is playing "Dancing in the Dark" and the fans are bouncing next to their seats, all-time greatness is the farthest thing from our minds. It's only later, thinking back to the bare stage and lights on and the nonexistent opening act and the smooth operations of the 16-piece band and of course all those great songs and BRUUUUCE up there like the happiest warrior in history that the whole specialness of the thing truly hits. And by then all you can do is wait to get there again.
And the Santa hats: BRUUUUUUCE took a Santa hat from the crowd and wore it while the band played "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" during the encore. So, yes, this was a wholly irony-free evening.