Rock’s past, present & future: That’s why they call him The Boss

PHIL HERON,

Back in May 1974, a relatively obscure music critic caught an act at Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

After witnessing the opening act for Bonnie Raitt, Jon Landau penned some of the most famous words in the world of pop music criticism.

“Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock ‘n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Last night at Citizens Bank Park, I did likewise.

Past became present. Almost four decades after those words first were read, Springsteen, the man known simply as The Boss, is still at it.

I know a little about rock ‘n’ roll’s past, a lot less about its present, and almost nothing about its future.

But I know this. I saw something almost indescribable on that stage last night. I saw a man in his early 60s singing to a bunch of people in their 40s and 50s, people who looked a lot like me, with lots of gray hair.

But for three and a half riveting hours, we were kids again.

That’s the magic of Springsteen.

I had not seen him since the summer of ’78. That’s a long time between shows. A lot has changed. So has the legendary E Street Band. The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, is gone. So is keyboardist Danny Federici. But the others remain: Van Zandt, Lofgren, Bittan, Weinberg.

They’ve added a horn section, fronted by none other than Clemons’ kin.

In the summer of ’78, I was finishing my final few courses at the University of Colorado. Springsteen was touring after the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I was exhorting everyone I knew that they had to see this still fairly unknown enigma. A group of us caught him at a place called Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It’s a natural rock formation in the foothills outside Denver. It’s a pretty special place. Bruce made a lot of new fans that night. And he pleased one old one who simply kept chortling to his pals, “I told you so.”

I’ve been waiting to see him in a similar setting ever since. The truth is I had pretty much put my concert-going days behind me.

But when I saw the Bruce was going to do a tour of baseball stadiums as a follow-up to his Wrecking Ball tour, I decided to give myself a birthday present.

Springsteen and the E Street Band strode onto the Citizens Bank Park stage about 10 minutes after 8. From the first notes of “Summertime Blues,” they held 45,000 fans in the palm of their hands. They didn’t finish until nearly midnight.

It’s hard to explain the kind of energy Springsteen delivers in those nearly four hours. It radiates out from the stage as the ultimate front man delights those who have come once again to be baptized in his very special rock ‘n’ roll waters. And last night they managed to do it without the expected rain showers, which conveniently held off until the ride home.

Springsteen’s connection with his audience is clear from the moment he walks on stage to the lusty cheers of “Bruuuuuce” from his faithful. He does not disappoint. He becomes one with his audience, not blinking for a moment as he literally dives into the crowd and surfs as the faithful belt out the familiar words to every song.

My connection to Springsteen was always the songs, in particular the words and stories that Springsteen spun through the magic of the E Street Band. I grew up in a small town, where we rode around on Saturday night in souped-up cars looking for girls. This is the stuff of Springsteen’s lyrics.

Rock’s future? Don’t ask me. Maybe it was downtown at the Made in America Festival.

But I saw its past and present last night.

For one night, I was a kid again. Not many things make me feel young anymore.

Springsteen did last night.

You can’t get more Boss than that.

Thanks, Bruce.

Thirty-three songs, almost an even hour hours. One word: Unreal!

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