I WAS THERE . . . Bruce Springsteen @ Asbury Park, 3.24.09
On this day in rock and roll history: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play a rare gig at the Asbury Park conventional center and I’m lucky enough to be there. It’s akin to be seeing the Beatles at the Cavern – and the fabled Asbury Park boardwalk is alive with die-hard Bruce fans who have come from all over America to be up-close and personal with their hero in the lonely seaside town where many of Bruce’s hopes, dreams and heartaches were born and distilled into the most quintessentially American rock and roll of the last 25 years.
Many times the chance to see a rock and roll hall of famer in such a small venue is a thoroughly sad and inglorious affair – witnessing an old legend taking their last musical gasp at the state fair because they have no other choice. But not Bruce. The quest for rock and roll glory, relevance and musical evolution has kept the Boss full of artistic vitality and power. He may not play four-hour rock marathons anymore, perhaps only because he fears for the health of older band members like Clarence Clemmons and his aging audience. For godsakes, I expected to see the vendors walking around, yelling “Get your E-street t-shirts and canes!” Still, age has not diminished the raw power and big sound that his band delivers. From opening with “Badlands” up to “Born to Run,” the band plays with the hunger and energy of a world-class rock orchestra at the height of their power. Drummer Max Weinberg even sat out for a few songs and let his son rock the crowd with a kick-ass performance worthy of Dave Grohl.
My only real complaint about the show: At times, the desire to rock the house with every number loses the subtlety and emotional longing that is so key to Bruce’s power. A super-happy upbeat version of “Johnny 99” left me confused and longing to listen to the dark and dreary original version. Every great concert needs a crescendo of emotions from pleasure to pain and back again. Still the moment in time is not lost on me. I am witnessing an icon of American music and literature whose three-minute records have taught me more about life, love, and longing than I ever learned in school.