Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have, over the past few weeks, said a lot about the current, challenging state of America, the hard work and sacrifices we, the people, have to take upon ourselves, and the power of we, the people, in shaping our future. I’m not here to pick apart their speeches—this is not a site about politics. I bring this up because on the two days after Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, I saw these people, myself included, who together will be shaping America’s future. The entire cross-section of our citizenry, from paunchy guys in Bears T-shirts to kids with massive Afros to the most well-dressed men and women imaginable (entirely prepared to let themselves get soaked) to loud-voiced men trying to scalp not tickets but parking passes. They were all gathered around Addison, Clark, Sheffield, and Waveland those nights to watch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on their Wrecking Ball tour.
One of my pet statements to friends regarding my love of music is that I choose my one concert a year based on which artists I need to see before they retire or die. I’ve been a fan of Bruce Springsteen since I was little and saw the “Dancing in the Dark” and “Glory Days” videos in heavy rotation on VH1, and my Uncle Richard, my dad’s twin brother, told me about seeing the E Street Band six times in the late seventies and early eighties. In March 2009, right before I let Los Angeles, I got to see them play the Los Angeles Sports Arena during the Working on a Dream tour, which would prove to be Clarence Clemons’s final tour before his death…a memory I will cherish until I die. That concert was probably the greatest I ever attended, a two and a half hour explosion of energy which concluded with a glorious rendition of their mammoth anthem “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” However, there was also a particular mood about that tour which only comparison allowed me to put my finger on. Working on a Dream was more a collection of songs than a full, structured album, and Springsteen felt the need to tightly structure his concerts around a grander, very liberal political message: the songs chosen for the setlist ran together to tell a very specific narrative of ordinary people, our rights, and our power, and it included a ridiculous monologue to that effect during the performance of the song “Working on a Dream.” Also, the E Street Band was a bit more subdued, probably to accommodate Clemons’s ill health; the Big Man only broke out his sax on about half the songs, and there was a sense that they were reining in their capabilities a bit. This wasn’t bad. It allowed for a glorious slow section in the middle of the concert when Bruce and Roy Bittan strung together “The Wrestler” and “Racing in the Streets,” and Clemons’s solos were choice and dynamic. But it was a different vibe from what one can hear on the Live 1975-1985 album and footage from other tours.