Bruce Springsteen at Rogers Centre

bruce springsteen in toronto at rogers centre

This past Friday night was a night I’d been waiting for since April. It had been five years since I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and that was five years too many.

This show marked my third time seeing him live, second time seeing him with the E Streeters, and first time seeing the E Street without Clarence, Danny and Patti (who he mentioned was on tour with their daughter).

The first time I saw Bruce, it was a solo show during the Devils and Dust tour in 2005. That show will always be in my Top 5 live experiences of all time, because 1) it was my first time seeing the man in person after having grown up on his music, and 2) it was a solo show, so it meant I got to hear some Nebraska songs. Hearing him play “State Trooper” live was easily one of the best experiences of my life.

When I saw him again in 2007 for the Magic tour, it felt like a completely different world, despite being in the same venue. The solo show was fully seated and calm, people were (mostly) respectful, but it was a low key, wonderful show.

Magic, on the other hand, was my first E Street experience. And it was a party. This was also before Bruce got hip with the kids again circa 2008 because of his Obama support, so it was much heavier on old people than young people, unlike Friday’s show. I was used to going to shows with people in their 20s – but here I was in a room filled with 50 years olds, and they had triple the energy of most of the people I’d see at younger shows.

There was a reason for this. These boomers knew what they were about to witness. They’d all been to a Bruce show at some point before in their lives, and they came with high expectations.

He did not disappoint.

Seeing him alone, he was a talented musician showing us his art, but seeing him with E Street he was an incredible entertainer in complete control of his band and a huge audience. And in that moment it became perfectly clear to me why they call him The Boss.

With all that said, I didn’t know how he could top that experience this time around, especially with so much of the original band missing now, and in such a monolith venue – but he did.

To begin with, it was a perfect night.

I walked into the Rogers Centre with my parents and my sister (we bought them tickets for their anniversary present) to see that the dome was open – sun shining down on the stage, CN Tower in plain view up above it.

Right before he took the stage, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” played – a fitting nod to them playing the Blue Jays field – and the video screens lit up, showing him and the band backstage getting ready to join us.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPHpAatlWFg&list=UUp8JWSDgQ32Kk_Qh0tKwHbg[/tube]

 They immediately burst into ‘Working On The Highway,” one of my absolute favorites from Born In The USA,  following it up with the equally amazing “Hungry Heart” – which he basically just let the audience sing for him. Already, this set list was topping the set I saw in 2007.

After taking a sign request for “Sherry Darling,” he started into the reason he is on this tour, with a three song stint from Wrecking Ball.

“We Take Care of Our Own” came first, followed by “Wrecking Ball” – which together put my mind fully back home in Welland. If I love Bruce as much as I say I do, it’s because he writes these incredibly truthful songs about  these little steel towns, and the struggle that comes with growing up and getting by in such a place. The theme was omnipresent in his early work, but Wrecking Ball is the first time he’s really approached the topic again since his glory days – now that all the factories literally have been shipped overseas.

“Wrecking Ball” is about the now – the wrecking ball has literally torn down almost every factory in my hometown over the past decade.

He followed with “Death To My Hometown,” completing the industrial theme.  “They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes, they left our bodies on the plains, the vultures picked our bones… and they brought death to our hometown.” That about sums it all up.

“My City of Ruins” is my favorite song off The Rising, and the tribute he gave before playing it made it all the more significant. He mentioned that as a kid he was scared of ghosts, because you learn of them as this menacing presence to be feared, but that as he grew older he realized that they were there to protect you, not harm you.

He pointed out that there were a lot of people missing onstage at this show – but that they weren’t really missing, because once you’re in the E Street, you’re always in the band. “This one goes out to all the ghosts haunting our stage tonight, and to all your ghosts too.” Watching 50,000 hands in the air singing “with these hands… come on, rise up” together is the kind of moment I wish everyone could experience in their life. It is pure faith.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMgjqKjjZlk&list=UUp8JWSDgQ32Kk_Qh0tKwHbg[/tube]

  The tone quickly changed as he moved into the incredible “Spirit In The Night,” where he introduced the song with the rousing calling of a preacher, and the Skydome officially became the church of Bruce Springsteen. At this point he started to run around back and forth across the length of the pit for the first of many, many times, and I still can’t understand how a 62 year old man has the physical strength to do this throughout an almost four hour long set. This song is definitely sax central, so it was sweet to see him sit down with Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, who he chose to take over on sax duties since his passing. It became obvious that Bruce feels a similar kinship with this kid, and his presence definitely made it feel like The Big Man wasn’t really missing.

“Thundercrack,” “Jack of all Trades” and “Murder Incorporated” followed, and this was the only part of the set I wasn’t completely in love with – if only because they’re no where near my favorite tracks. But this only served to make it even more exciting when he pulled out “Prove It All Night” next.

The beloved “Candy’s Room,” “She’s The One,” and “Darlington County” (which he has played every time I’ve seen him) all followed in succession.

Another six songs (“Shackled and Drawn,” “Waitin On A Sunny Day,” “Incident on 57th Street” – solo on piano, “The Rising,” “Badlands,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams,”) followed before heading into what was a stacked EIGHT song encore.

Though I thought opening the encore with the new song “We Are Alive” wasn’t quite as impactful as many of his other songs would have been, he followed it up with seven epic songs, so there was nothing important missing. The string of “Thunder Road,” “Born To Run,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Glory Days” was literally more than I could handle.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyMUGbUPLvQ[/tube]

Like many, many others, I’ve always considered “Thunder Road” my theme song. I heard it a million times as a little kid, and the line “It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” shaped my life goals early on. This was my first time hearing him play it live, which put this show way over the edge for me.

“Born To Run” goes hand in hand with that idea of escaping somewhere and knowing there is more out there for you, so it was perfection to hear them back to back.

The “Dancing In The Dark” video is one of my earliest memories of Bruce, and also one of my earliest memories of hanging out with my dad, so I was waiting for this one. Watching my dad dance to it being played live – watching my dad see The Boss for the first time in his life – was easily the best part of this night. And as much as I don’t connect Bruce to my mom, she was loving it just as much as he was, singing along to every song. (Bruce also took a man’s sign request to dance with his wife on their anniversary during this song, which was beyond adorable.)

I knew they had to do a Clarence tribute, and of course that tribute happened during what we always have and always will see as his song, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” Since his death I had always wondered how they would ever be able to play it live again without him, but turning it into a tribute was the obvious choice.

When Bruce sang “changes made uptown and The Big Man joined the band” there was a moment of silence where photos of Clarence graced the big screen, and as much as it brought tears to my eyes, it was such a celebration of his life that it wasn’t sad, but joyous. When the show started, after the initial shock of his dominating presence not being physically onstage wore off after a few songs, it began to feel like he was never missing in the first place. His blood was there through Jake, and his soul was there through the E Streeters that remain.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjZ7bTwxLzc[/tube]

Everyone thought that his “Twist and Shout” cover would be the last song, as has been the case on this tour, but to my absolute joy, he pulled out another classic with “Glory Days.” It was literally the most perfect way to end the show.

29 songs, three hours and 45 minutes onstage without a break, and an audience in absolute heaven the entire time.

Bruce always makes it more than worth every penny.