Bruce’s recent batch of Anything Goes shows that closed out the 2016 River Tour, which saw him play some of the most electrifying and the lengthiest (at age 66) performances of his career triggered a staggering amount of thoughts and memories about all of the Springsteen events I’ve attended in the last 39 years.
I’ve always kept a loose and rather flexible Top 20 Shows list in my head, but crafting such a list on paper is an entirely different exercise. For the record, I’ve seen Bruce 224 times since I walked into Boston’s Music Hall with an $8 ticket on March 25, 1977, so it was a daunting task to whittle that number to 20. It required considerable research and memory-jogging and setlist digging of shows that spanned several decades, but that was the fun of it too
The criteria for shows that made the Top 20 list? It’s a combination of setlist and inspiration and emotion and passion and crossing a threshold that I call the Invisible Line. You’re at a show and Bruce and the ESB are building momentum and, at some point, it just hits you that you’ve entered rare musical territory. The show has crossed the Invisible Line. You’re not just thinking about it and listening to it at that point, you’re also feeling it on a profound level.
Ok, so here are the 20 favorite shows where I only reluctantly left the building– shows that have stayed with me even as some of those buildings have since been demolished. I’ve included some anecdotes and deeply personal stories solely to illuminate or lend context to the reasons why these shows ended up in my top 20 list.
1. The River Show, Nov. 8, 2009, Madison Square Garden.
Until Bruce started doing full album shows a few weeks earlier, I never thought I’d see this double album played in its entirety. He didn’t do it in 1980-81 on the original tour, so I’d been chasing some of those songs for 29 years. It was a spectacular night all-around, exceeding my own lofty expectations.
Highlights: Bruce dramatically dropping to his knees for Fade Away, Bruce dancing with Patti during I Wanna Marry You, the breathtaking beauty of Drive All Night, and so much more. The post River segment of the show wasn’t bad either: Atlantic City, Sweet Soul Music, Can’t Help Falling in Love, and Higher and Higher, always a great way to end it. This show was conceived as a one-off and even though he toured The River in 2016 and I saw 10 of those shows, I still consider 11-8-09 a one-off. Clarence Clemons, already in declining health, played this one, and he summoned up the energy and strength and the skill to help make it the best show Eileen and I have ever seen.
E Street Lounge pass
A word about the MSG audience: from our vantage point, it was magnificent. Fans were respectful during the quiet songs and paid attention all the way through the 20 tunes. There was a sense that it WAS historic and they appreciated it.
2. MetLife 3, Aug. 30, 2016, East Rutherford, N.J.
GA ticket, Aug. 30, 2016, Bruce’s first 4-hour U.S. show.
I know, I know. How can a recent show played in such a monstrously ugly stadium climb into the No. 2 spot? Leaning heavily on material from the 1970s, this was the most consistently great setlist I’ve ever seen. The majesty of New York City Serenade, infrequently played over the decades until the last few shows of this tour, opened things up, and then we got Blinded, Bus Stop, Saint in the City, Kitty, Summertime Blues, Incident, Pretty Flamingo, Living Proof, Jungleland, Secret Garden (just the third time he ever played it), and MANY others.
Absolutely loved probably 30 of the 34 songs and was surrounded by great people in the pit, which always enhances the experience. It was also my first 4 hour show (4:01 actually) and stood as the longest show he’d ever done in the U.S. That record stood for all of 8 days since he played 4:05 the following week in Philly. But the length of show was just a bonus. The quality was there from beginning to end, and I had to marvel, as we often do, at Bruce’s stamina on a hugely uncomfortable hot and humid summer night. Sometimes we crave even more music on his best nights – play one more! – and it’s just not fair. But we do it anyway.
3. New Year’s Eve 1980-81, Nassau County Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
A little context here. We had a frightening accident en route to Long Island when the truck in front of us dropped his cargo of plywood and a huge piece bounced directly into the windshield of our 1975 VW bug. It’s no exaggeration to say we could’ve been impaled. The windshield literally shattered into thousands of pieces. It was a frigid day/night and the car was undriveable unless I put my head out the window. The trip should’ve ended at that moment, nobody was fixing shattered windshields on New Year’s Eve even on an emergency basis, but we were young and foolish and somehow made it to the venue.
We NEEDED a great show after such a nerve-rattling incident and we got it on New Year’s Eve. The crowd was a little slow in coming around, but Bruce and the band were in a celebratory mood from the start. 38 songs on this marathon night, including the debut of the one-minute “epic” Held Up Without a Gun, along with In The Midnight Hour and Auld Lang Syne at midnight. This Land is Your Land was superb and the songs from The River album were particularly exciting, given the holiday factor. Once the crowd woke up, it was an all-out party.
Buttons, original River Tour, 1980-81.
Yes, we DID drive all the way home with heads out the window after the show. It was exhausting and scary, a surreal experience. But for many years this was the No. 1 show for Eileen and I.
4. Reunion Tour Finale, July 1, 2000, MSG, New York City.
Ticket stub, July 1, 2000, MSG, NYC. End of the Reunion Tour.
Lots of apprehension and anticipation for this show since there was no guarantee that Bruce would keep the band together. Very emotional show for that reason.
My Love Will Not Let You Down got the crowd revved up, E Street Shuffle was magnificent and Lost in the Flood was played for the first time in 22 years. Show turned into a three and a half hour extravaganza that peaked at the end with Bruce doing The Promise (oh, man, I wish we’d heard this song more often over the years, solo or band version) on piano to lead the encores.
But in all my years of seeing Bruce, the supreme moment was hearing him do Blood Brothers, which contained a new verse specifically for the occasion. Bruce brought the band center stage and they clasped hands as he launched into the new verse. Bruce’s voice cracked, he nearly lost it altogether. I’d seen him get emotional before, but NEVER like this.
To this day, it’s tough to watch the video, as beautiful as it is.
5. Fenway Park 2, Aug. 15, 2012
Fenway Mic View
Like a good jazz musician, this was Bruce at his improvisational best. Definitely the most spontaneous Bruce show I’ve seen. Saw his handwritten setlist the next day and he skipped 18-19 songs from that list.
So we got Bruce and Roy opening with the 1975 version of Thunder Road and then a series of summertime songs. Played an awesome five-pack of Knock on Wood, Bus Stop, Frankie, Thundercrack and the 1978 Prove it All Night. Had to rely on pit crowd to start Quarter to Three because the band was in a fog about it. Bruce loved playing Fenway in 2003 and that was very much the case in 2012.
A funny and enlightening post show moment. Bruce had announced that he was playing Knock on Wood for the first time ever. Our friend Mike Fondo (deserves full credit for this one) said to friends, “Bruce played Knock on Wood in Memphis in ’76. How could he not remember that?” So there you go, Bruce. You should always consult your fans when you’re a bit vague on rarities.
6. Darkness in Maine, Aug. 12, 1978, Augusta Maine Civic Center
I have to chuckle at people who say that Bruce’s setlists are too rigid these days. If you were around for the Darkness tour in ’78, those setlists had little variation, but the shows were ferociously intense (Bruce used to say during this tour, “You’re AT the show and you’re IN the show,” and, believe me, we felt we were a part of those shows). This one, in a 6,000 seat venue in the middle of Maine, was a typical example. Bruce played every note like it was his last. After opening with Summertime Blues, Badlands and Spirit (he went way up into one of the side stage sections for that one), the crowd was so deafening and boisterous that when it finally quieted down, Bruce said in amazement, “Have you people just been released from jail?” That’s when Eileen, who’d seen him only a couple of times at that point, fell in love with Bruce and the band. And she’s accompanied me to most shows for the last 39 years.
A bit more context here: It used to take Bruce a long time to “come down” from those ’78 shows. So we waited him out, and in the process, we talked with all members of the ESB in a grassy area near the tour bus for a very long time on what was a hot, humid Saturday night. I mean, the guys in the band were just hanging around and we talked to them like they were neighbors at a block party. When I spotted Bruce I went inside and talked to him before he got a chance to meet other fans.
Bruce greets fans Augusta, Maine Darkness Tour. Grenier is on the right(w/hat)
August 12, 1978 Augusta, Maine Photo Collage. Max Weinberg autograph at the bottom.
Unbeknownst to me, Lawrence Kirsch of Montreal got a picture of that impromptu chat with Bruce, but a friend of his lost the negative (fortunately, Kirsch, who has done a pair of wonderful books on Bruce, made it a point to find me at a show at University of Vermont on Nov. 4, 1978 and mailed me another picture) But obviously, this night in Maine had our spirits soaring for a long time (and Kirsch still calls it the best show he’s ever seen).
7. Doubletake Magazine benefit, Somerville Theater, Feb. 19, 2003
Unique, to say the least. And by far the most intimate Bruce performance one could ever imagine. The Somerville Theater, built in 1914, has a seating capacity of 900, so anyone who has a ticket for this one has to feel very, very fortunate.
The format is basically once in a lifetime. Bruce comes onstage with his songbook, gives you insight into his thinking and writing about his compositions and then performs the songs acoustically or on the piano. C’mon, is that heaven or what for hardcore fans? The setlist includes My Father’s House, Nebraska, Adam Raised A Cain, Souls of the Departed, Growing Up, a new one called The Wall, and he tells us about every single line in Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street. If you closed your eyes, you can picture Bruce doing this kind of thing for friends in his living room in Colts Neck or some other cozy place where he’s completely at ease. It’s the rarest of opportunities and I can remember just hanging on every word and every story from Bruce, and the music was sublime.
After the music and conversation, Bruce did a Q and A with fans. That was a surprise, and Bruce fielded some pretty intelligent questions. That whole night, we saw a different side of Bruce, one we never thought we’d see. Years later, Armando, a friend from Argentina, and I were discussing the greatest Bruce shows we’d seen and he put his finger in my chest and said, “You saw the ultimate show,” referring to Somerville. Okay, so it’s not quite No. 1 on my list, but it’s a show I cherish and I know exactly what Armando was talking about because there’s never been anything else like it.
8. Music Hall, Boston, March 25, 1977.
My first Bruce show. The treasured bootleg that came out of this was called Forced to Confess. Very appropriate, since I’m forced to confess that I didn’t like Bruce at all prior to this show. Eileen can recite chapter and verse on why I thought Bruce was all hype for years, and the only reason I was on the sidewalk looking for a ticket was that a couple of friends had urged me to go.
Photo by C.Breining
Short version of how I got into the sold out show at this relatively small venue: young African American man is hanging around the sidewalk and I ask if he has a ticket to sell. I buy it for 8 bucks and ask him why he isn’t going to the show. He says “too many white folks in there.” We both laugh.
I take my seat in the orchestra and I’m a complete skeptic, so I’m half hoping Bruce is a fraud to confirm my skepticism. I don’t know the songs, don’t know anything, but about 30 minutes in, I’m starting to like everything. He plays a ridiculously long version of a song I later find out was Incident (many veteran fans who have the bootleg feel it’s the best version he’s ever played), and I love the sound of Action in the Street, and he plays Jungleland and Backstreets, both of which sound powerfully bigger-than-life LARGE. Late in the show, he plays songs that I actually know: Little Latin Lupe Lu, You Can’t Sit Down and Higher and Higher. I’m completely blown away. I walk out on to Tremont Street after the show, get on a pay phone and call my friends in Wellesley who had urged me to go. I think I woke them up, but I didn’t care. Bruce had just exploded into my life and I needed to talk about it. I felt like a human Drone that night and could’ve flown home.
Photo by C.Breining
And for the next 14 months, until the beginning of the Darkness Tour, I talked incessantly to Eileen about Bruce and how I couldn’t WAIT to take her to a show.
9. Bruce and Joe Grushecky, Soldiers and Sailors Hall, Pittsburgh, Nov. 4, 2011.
What is this show doing in my No. 9 slot? To me, this is the most overlooked gem in Bruce’s illustrious history. Technically a Gruschecky show, Bruce owned it for nearly 3.5 hours.
Free from the pressure of his own touring, Bruce was completely relaxed and you could sense early on that he just felt like playing. When he’s in that kind of mood, you know you’re going to get the extras – extra songs, extra emotion, extra stories, extra surprises. The three song acoustic opener — Your Own Worst Enemy, Incident, I’ll Work for Your Love — just gorgeous. After that it was a couple of exuberant hours of Bruce and Gruschecky rockers, with Bruce going all out like it was an ESB show, and a nice cover of Brown Eyed Girl. Bruce did not want to leave the stage after that, so he strapped on the acoustic again, talked about his songwriting a bit, and played No Surrender, Bus Stop, Surprise Surprise and Thunder Road. It felt, again, like one of those performances that Bruce might put on for friends. Just a shockingly great show in a perfectly small venue.
10. Danny Federici’s Final Show, Boston Garden, Nov. 19, 2007 — The most poignant show I’ve gone to, completely gut wrenching.. Word leaked out to fans in the pit and elsewhere in the building before the show that this would be it for Danny; that he was too ill (melanoma) to keep touring. Sadly, he would pass away a few months later. The thing I remember the most is how brilliant Bruce was in orchestrating the show, gradually shifting the focus to Danny. We got to see him stretch out on Kitty’s Back and Sandy and, of all things, This Hard Land, which was a tour premiere that night. I have vivid memories of fans teary-eyed in my area of the pit; I was certainly one of them. When Danny was front and center and at least part of the crowd (the ones who learned about his illness) was chanting Danny, Danny, it was heartbreaking. And lip readers close to the stage said Danny reacted with, “I think they know.”
It was a great show but a grim, bittersweet night. As longtime fans, we’d been jolted by the news about Danny and because of that we were in no hurry to go home that night. A bunch of us went to one of those pub restaurants on Canal Street across the street from the Garden and we sat around and talked about Danny’s mortality and how Bruce and the band and we, as longtime fans, would move on.
It was November, 2007, and I think even at that point we took it for granted that the band would remain intact for many more years. But things had changed irrevocably that night.
11. The St. Louis Spectacular, Aug. 23, 2008
Bruce proves, for about the 1,000th time, that you don’t need to be in a hotbed city like Boston, New York or Philly to get a fabulous show. This one was one of the most wildly exuberant shows ever, starting with the first note of the opener “Then She Kissed Me.” Bruce went sign searching early and teased the crowd about stumping the band and challenging the band. We got an energizing four-pack of Rendezvous, For You, Mountain of Love and Backstreets and the centerpiece was a gorgeous Drive All Night (isn’t that song always gorgeous?). Girls in Their Summer Clothes felt so right on a warm August night and Bruce followed it up with Jungleland. An exciting cover of Little Queenie was played late in the show.
Bruce referenced Miss Sophie several times during the show and dedicated Twist and Shout to her. For those of you who’ve never heard of her, Miss Sophie was living in St. Louis in 1980 when her son and daughter went to a movie, spotted Bruce sitting by himself and invited him back to their house to meet their parents. Bruce accepted the invitation from these complete strangers and Miss Sophie cooked for Bruce and her kids.
So, 28 years later, Bruce was obviously still fond of Miss Sophie, who was sitting in the family and friends section of the arena on this night. I climbed over the hockey boards to meet Miss Sophie after the show and asked for her address, telling her I would send the bootleg of the show. I’ll never forget her response: “Are you going to charge me for this?” I DID send her the bootleg and never heard back from her, but I suspect she liked the recording. Don’t we all.
12. End of The Rising, Shea Stadium, N.Y. Oct 4, 2003 — Here we go again with the rather unreasonable expectations we place on Bruce when he does a multiple-night stand at the same venue, thinking we deserve the “best” show just because we’re there for Shea Stadium 3 to end the Rising Tour. Shea 2 the previous night was exceptional with Roulette, Rendezvous, NYCS and the ultra-rare Janey Don’t You Lose Heart among the songs played, yet we wanted to bow out of this very important tour with something better, something even more memorable.
Bruce was up to the task, cramming 30 songs into 3 hours, 20 minutes. Code of Silence was a solid opener and the early five pack of Roulette/Night/I Wish I Were Blind/Empty Sky/You’re Missing was particularly inspired, and Tunnel of Love was a welcome addition to the setlist. Back In Your Arms, which to my ears always sounds like a soul-drenched song from the 1960s Stax-Volt era when performed live, was thrilling just before the encores.
In what was a HUGE moment, Bob Dylan came out to do Highway 61 Revisited. To put in bluntly, the song itself belly flopped seemingly due to technical issues with Dylan’s mic, but the look on Bruce’s face was priceless as he accompanied one of his all-time heroes and influences. The show and tour wrapped up with the stunning Blood Brothers, reminiscent of 7/1/2000 version from the Reunion Tour, except this time it was Clarence who had tears running down his cheeks.
13. Hot Hartford Night, May 8, 2000, Hartford Civic Center.
Savvy Bruce fans like to zero in on the second night of back-to-back shows in the same city because you’re likely to get several surprises. We got a little greedy here because Hartford 1 would’ve been viewed as exceptional as a stand-alone, but we expected Bruce to outdo himself, and he did. A sizzling Routlette was the opener, but the roof-shattering crowd reaction came a bit later when he started Darlington County and veered into the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman (other than a European show a dozen years later, I’ve often wondered why he hasn’t repeated that snippet since it would guarantee instant hysteria). Bruce had the crowd in the palm of his hands after that, and the underplayed masterpiece, Racing In The Street was a big time highlight.
For whatever reason, Bruce always seems to put on excellent shows in Hartford. This one is my favorite by far.
14. Three Days After John Lennon’s Murder, Dec. 11, 1980, Providence Civic Center.
On this savagely cold (on many levels) night, we really, really needed Bruce. Eileen and I arrived early hoping to talk to Bruce but hardly optimistic about our chances. We went to the back side entrance of the Civic Center and saw maybe 10-15 people hanging around, shivering like we were. Don’t remember how long we waited, but a couple of vans eventually pulled up to the garage. Bruce had his driver stop and he disembarked. Alone.
As Bruce began to walk our way, fans started whipping out picture discs, album covers and other collectibles from underneath their heavy winter jackets. I remember being startled by that. I suppose, rightfully, they were thinking this was their once-in-a-lifetime chance to collect Bruce’s signature, but my purpose was different, my mind in a different place. Bruce went down the line and obliged every autograph seeker, but when it was my turn, I just said, “I’m not looking for you to sign anything, but could you dedicate a song to Lennon tonight.” He said yes he would, and then we shook hands. And then, as fans huddled around him again, Bruce hitched up his collar on the long overcoat he was wearing and said, “Go on inside. I’ll warm you up tonight.”
Did he ever. Bruce had played an extremely emotional show two nights before (the band had urged him to cancel the Dec. 9 show) at the Philly Spectrum and it carried over to Providence. Bruce played Darkness in the No. 4 slot, then alluded to what happened three nights earlier in New York as he dedicated The Price You Pay to Lennon. Bruce went on to play Racing in the Streets and other favorites in his 33 song set and lightened the mood with Santa Claus is Coming to Town late in the show, but this night was about catharsis as far as I was concerned. I hardly think I was the only one who felt that way.
Field GA ticket, Wrigley Field, Chicago, 9-7-2012, Grenier’s 200th show.
15. Wrigley Field, Chicago, Sept. 7, 2012. Show No. 200 for me, and still the only time I’ve ever brought a sign, courtesy of Eileen, who spent a lot of time on it. The sign request was an either/or thing for The Price You Pay or None But The Brave, both of which were rarities at that point. With the great Eddie Vedder in the house, the show started in auspicious fashion with ’78 Prove it All Night and My Love Will Not Let You Down. Tom Morello joined Bruce for a couple of songs and Vedder came out for an excellent version of Atlantic City. We were one back from the B stage on Roy’s side and when Bruce was super close to us for Darlington County, we held up the sign — briefly — and Bruce grabbed it so it wouldn’t block people’s view, looked at it and left it on the B stage. That was the end of the request, I figured, but after playing Shackled and Sunny Day, Bruce said, “I think this is a tour debut. This is for all the hardcore fans,” and None But The Brave followed. So, yes, of course it was a special moment, and Eileen and my friends were happy for me. It was all I could ask for.
16. European Euphoria, Munich, Germany, June 18, 1985
Jumbo Sized. This was our one journey to Europe to see Bruce and everything was Jumbo Sized on this leg of the Born in the USA tour: the stadiums, the crowds, the hype, Bruce’s muscles and even the shape of the tickets, oversized beauties with Bruce’s picture that were destined for the family scrapbook.
Ticket, Munich, Germany, June 18, 1985.
Since Eileen was a few months pregnant with our daughter Nicole, we had to play it smart at these stadium shows, which were generally wild affairs. We avoided the stadium floor and stood (no one sat) in the stands, where it was just wacky enough.
Olympic Stadium, where this show was held, had a seating capacity of 80,000 but it seemed more like 800,000 that night. The setlist was standard Born in the USA Tour crowd pleasers, but the crowd was electric and it was impossible not to get caught up in it. A vivid memory from late in the show: the merchandise booths on the field had sold out of everything, and people who had worked behind the counter spontaneously jumped on the merch tables and danced the night away. A remarkable sight.
I think we were predisposed to have an exceptional time that night based on what happened to us earlier in the day. We walked into the Munich Hilton in the afternoon to pick up our tickets and Nils was in the lobby. Nils was an avid basketball fan and a good friend of Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale. I was wearing a Celtics jacket and Nils recognized me as a newspaper guy he’d seen in the media room at the Boston Garden a few times. He invited us to sit in the lobby with him and started peppering me with questions about the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals series that had just concluded. We talked for several minutes and after our session, Nils got up, pulled a large stack of tickets out of his pocket and offered to treat us that night. Had to turn him down, but as you can imagine, that chance meeting with Nils, and his kindness, left us in a great frame of mind for the show that night.
French poster for Born in the USA show, St. Etienne, France, June 25, 1985
Paris record store, June, 1985.
17. Fenway Park the 2003 Version, Night 2, Sept. 7, 2003.
The locals were well aware of the Red Sox ignominious history at this juncture — no World Series title in 85 years and the dubious distinction of being the last MLB team to integrate, so it was a coup when they were able to recruit Bruce for back-to-back nights at the ballpark. And while Night 1 was terrific and Bruce showed genuine excitement in playing there, Fenway 2 would prove to be more satisfying.
For the second night in a row, Bruce opened with Take Me Out to the Ballgame with Danny on organ and followed it up with Diddy Wah Diddy, a nod to a Boston band, Barry & The Remains, which had a minor hit with a cover version of the song in the mid-60s. Those were the appetizers for a main course that included Adam Raised A Cain, Something in the Night (high on my list from the Darkness album), For You, the obscure but well-loved Frankie, which set things up for the always majestic Jungleland.
Bruce’s longtime buddy Peter Wolf was aboard for the show ending Dirty Water.
Bruce with Peter Wolfe
Some other quick observations from the Fenway shows: there was an unmistakeable buzz in the streets both days with people getting there several hours before showtime to take it all in….the soundcheck was loud and clear outside the ballpark, creating excitement and a sense of anticipation….people who were shut out of tickets brought chairs or sat on the sidewalk and took in the entire show. The whole two nights felt like a carnival….prior to Fenway 1, Red Sox principal owner John Henry approached the pit, stopping just outside the rail. I recognized it as a chance to thank him for bringing Bruce in for two shows, so I went to the back of the pit to say hello. Henry said, “How do you get these (pit) tickets anyway?” I told him it was a bit complicated, but it struck me as funny that Henry, whose net worth is $1 billion, would ask a fan about getting close to the stage. I invited him to join us in the pit, but he politely declined, saying, “Think I’ll go back (to the suite).” Too bad. I think he would’ve enjoyed the show more in the pit.
Mike and Eileen Grenier – Green Monster, Fenway Park, Boston, Sept. 7, 2003
18. The Asbury Park Blizzard Christmas Show, Night 3, Dec. 8, 2003
A chaotic, albeit memorable weekend on the Jersey shore due to a major snowstorm that blanketed the area, forcing people to cancel/alter plans and Bruce to rearrange the scheduled shows. We had friends who drove from Boston and points north in dicey conditions to get to the Saturday night show, only to turn around when the show was pushed to Monday night. It was just a horrendous inconvenience for many loyal fans.
The lucky ones who were able to stick around for the Monday night finale were rewarded with a generous 3.5 hour show at tiny Convention Hall that was part Christmas, part rarities (So Young and in Love, None but the Brave, Thundercrack,Seaside Bar Song, The Wish) and part soul revue. With Bruce conducting the band and absolutely beaming, Sam Moore’s mini-set consisting of Hold On, I’m Coming, When Something is Wrong With My Baby, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)/I Thank You, and Soul Man had the feel of a night at the Apollo Theater. A lot of the Christmas Shows Bruce did in 2000, 2001 and 2003 were pure fun, but this one was musically striking and a treasured memory.
19. No Nukes Show, Sept. 22, 1979, MSG, New York City
This was a star studded affair and we saw Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, but it was overwhelmingly Bruce-centric crowd, and an impatient one at that as the show started to run way behind schedule.
An unforgettable sight: Petty, supposedly getting accustomed to playing large arena shows, frozen like a statue at the mic as the crowd kept screaming for Bruce during Petty’s 40 minute set. The story goes that when Petty finished up and went backstage, Raitt tried to reassure him that the crowd wasn’t booing him, they were Brooocing him. To which Petty replied, “What’s the difference?”
Bruce had barely played any shows in ’79 and Eileen and I could feel the floor shake when the ESB practically ran to their spots on stage. Bruce was simultaneously intense and snarling, so we witnessed the good and the bad that came out of that mood.
The bad part: Bruce spotted his former girlfriend, photographer Lynn Goldsmith, taking pictures when she shouldn’t have been, and ordered security to bring her to the stage. Bruce grabbed her forearm and said to the audience, “This is my ex-girlfriend.” He then took Goldsmith to the back of the stage and basically tossed her to security. A little later, after someone gave him a birthday cake to celebrate his 30th, Bruce tasted a little frosting and promptly threw the cake into the crowd.
The good part: Bruce and the band played a scorching set, burning through 11 songs in just under 90 minutes. It wasn’t just Bruce, the entire band was fired up, and that fueled the crowd some more. The most emotional song by far was the debut performance of The River, played a year before the album even came out. Bruce’s eyes blinked constantly as he tried to hold it together during the song, which was written for his sister Ginny and her husband, who were going through difficult times financially.
The No Nukes Show. It was a hard night and a confusing night and a great night rolled into one.
20. Devils and Dust, the Penultimate Show, Trenton, N.J., Nov. 21, 2005.
Here’s something I really loved about this solo tour: Bruce not only played the D & D material, but by the end of the tour (this was the second to last night), he’d also played every song from his fabulous Nebraska album. There’s something to be said for that.
As is seemingly his habit towards the end of every tour, the setlists get more unpredictable and expansive. Bruce opened with the instrumental Rumble in honor of guitar great Link Wray, who had passed away a few weeks earlier. He also played the extremely obscure Song for Orphans for the first time in 32 years. We also got Santa Ana, from the same period and similarly obscure. Fade Away, Meeting Across The River, State Trooper, Nebraska, Drive All Night, Atlantic City…it was just an incredibly wide ranging setlist. I was drawn to the intimacy and the story telling that Bruce did on the Joad and Devil and Dust tours. Bruce was alternately funny and serious, edgy, irreverent and articulate, and ALWAYS interesting and compelling. It was magical on occasion. This was one of those occasions.
The Hat! Grenier has worn the same hat to Bruce shows for nearly 40 years.
We pulled a lot of all nighters going to Bruce shows over the years, driving long distances back home to the Boston area at ungodly hours. Thanks to all my friends, ESPECIALLY Michele and Walter, who might have been tempted but who never left me stranded in Philadelphia or New Jersey or New York or Albany or (worse) Newark or Bridgeport. Sometimes the nights were so exhilarating, so momentous, so damn near perfect that I simply wanted to talk to everyone in the pit or the arena or the stadium. Didn’t want to leave the venue, period. But you guys waited for me. And waited. And waited. For that and many other things, I’m eternally grateful.
Mike Grenier, 67, was a staff sportswriter for the Salem Massachusetts News for 38 years and is now semi-retired. In addition to attending as many Springsteen concerts as possible, he is an eclectic music fan with an extensive CD/LP collection, and an avid reader of non-fiction books. He also dotes on his two-year-old grandson Brody.
Mike’s favorite Bruce album is Darkness on the Edge of Town. Mike and his wife Eileen, also a longtime Bruce fan, live in Lawrence, Mass. Mike Grenier: email@example.com
Special thanks to Rocco Coviello of Amesbury, Mass; long time Bruce Springsteen fan and photographer for his contribution of many of the outstanding photographs included in this story. You can see a full range of Rocco’s photographs here: Rocco’s Photo Tavern
And a big shout out to Bruce Base for providing many of the pieces of memorabilia and photos illustrating Mike Grenier’s story. Bruce Base is the most valuable and comprehensive Bruce Springsteen archive resource on line.