I was biking home after an outrageously long day at the office, and as I neared my apartment, I heard music in the distance. Despite how tired I was, I had to check it out, because I knew what was going on.
So I bike over to Nationals Stadium in Southeast D.C., and Bruce Springsteen is performing. I don’t have a ticket, but it’s an outdoor show and people are sitting on the sidewalk outside the stadium listening, so, you know, it’s free music for those of us who either couldn’t get tickets (because it sold out immediately) or didn’t have $100 to spend.
The show was scheduled to start around 7:30, but I’m guessing that Washington usually screws things up, so the show probably began late. I didn’t get out of work until 10. It’s 10:30 when I get to the stadium and people are walking out. I figure the show is wrapping up, but the Boss is doing “The Rising,” which, despite its title seems like a major downer to end a show with. Logic dictates that he’ll close with something upbeat.
The rising ends, and then the first chords of “Badlands” begin. I saw Springsteen in Indianapolis years ago with my sister-in-law and her husband, and that was the opening song at that show. I thought it was kind of slow in Indy, but the tempo’s right at the stadium. So, cool, I get to hear “Badlands” and probably the “CC Rider/Good Golly, Miss Molly” medley because he always ended the shows I’ve seen with that (I also saw him in Philly back in the early ’80s with my sister).
I wondered, with Clarence Clemons gone, what it would be like when it was time for the saxophone riff, but it came off at the right time, and the crowd cheered. Oh, yeah. And people were walking out during “Badlands.” Their loss, right?
“Badlands” ends, and Bruce gets mellow again with “Land of Hope and Dreams.” That’s fine with me, because it means I’m getting at least three songs with an upbeat song at the end. And more people start walking out. By now, I’m thinking, “do you really have to get back to the babysitter now?”
An interlude: This was a family show. I’m watching the stream of people leaving, and there are folks my age, who remember the dual dueling covers of Time and Newsweek back in the ’70s. There are teens. There are parent with kids who can’t be more than 7 or 8 years old. Hard to imagine, right? A family of four at $100 a ticket? There are ugly guys with beautiful women on their arms. And as much as I like Springsteen, my major complaint is that the complexion of the crowd pretty much matched that of the Republican National Convention.
Anyway, back to the music.
So “Land of Hope and Dreams,” after a long outro on trains and saints and sinners ends.
There’s a lot of applause. I’m guessing he’s leaving the stage. A couple of minutes later the crowd roars. Something’s going on. Encore?
I don’t know what this song is though. I later find out it’s “We Are Alive.” Must be from “The Wrecking Ball” album. Haven’t heard it. But here’s when he did it in Tampa:
Then comes “Thunder Road.”
Are you kidding me? People left before “Thunder Road!?” People are leaving DURING “Thunder Road!!??” What the hell is wrong with these people?? It’s “THUNDER ROAD.” So here I am, standing outside Nationals Stadium singing “Thunder Road,” and people are leaving.
OK, I know the D.C. Metro system sucks. It stops running at midnight, and they never have enough subway cars for Nationals games, so you have to get to the platform early so you don’t get crushed in the exit. Washington is unlike a number of other cities with subway systems, because the city doesn’t extend service for big events that run late, and the folks who run Nationals Stadium are a bunch of greedheads who refuse to pay the $30,000 to keep the Metro running for games that go into extra innings.
But this is “Thunder Road!”
Show a little faith. There’s magic in the night.
You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re all right.
Oh, and that’s alright with me.
But it’s after 11 p.m., and they’re still walking out, because they have to “avoid the crowd” to get on the train, or they have to put their kids (who shouldn’t even be here because they don’t know who the old guy on the stage is) to bed, or the hot chick on their arm is ready for some real action. No sympathy, at all.
I watch a departing couple give a couple outside their ticket stubs. The newly stubbed couple tries to get in. Security refuses. I now know the point of scanning bar codes on tickets. Once it’s scanned, the turnstile won’t operate. The newly stubbed couple is back on the street with the wretched refuse (Yeah, that includes me.)
So “Thunder Road” ends.
And he does “Born to Run.”
No. This is impossible. You cannot have left this show before “Born to Run.” This is a sin. This means you should never have been given these tickets. No, strike that. This means when you got the tickets, you should have immediately handed them over to true Springsteen fans because you left … YOU ARE LEAVING … during a song that shot the performer you just paid to see through the stratosphere.
And that’s when I understand what Washington is about.
I’ve seen it at Nationals games, where people hang out at the various bars in the stadium instead of in the stands. Where people in the stands talk about where they work, or what restaurants they go to, or who’s doing what to whom in the office, or where they’re vacationing instead of watching the game.
It’s about being seen at events that are high profile, without regard to what is happening at the actual event.
Bruce Springsteen tickets cost $100 a piece. But you are people of privilege. You are bringing kids whose musical taste runs as far as Barney the Dinosaur. You have money to burn and you want people to watch you burn it. The words of the songs on stage about lost souls, unachievable wishes and broken dreams mean nothing to you.
Baby this town rips the bones from your back.
It’s a death trap. It’s a suicide rap.
We gotta get out while we’re young.
Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run!
But they’re WALKING out. And I’ve moved closer to the stadium gate just so I can hear the music better because we’re behind the speakers. There are others outside the gate with me. A kid in her 20s dances. Another woman and her husband, who both look a well-worn 40-plus are singing “Born to Run.”
How long have I been here? Close to an hour? This has to end soon.
I know what the next chords mean.
It’s time to wrap things up. OK, I’m going to head home after this and simmer for a while. Get the blood pressure medicine, because I think I’ve worked myself up. Hundreds more are leaving, even thought this is usually the fun part because the Boss wants everyone leaving to know they’ve had a good time.
The medley ends.
And then Springsteen sings “Dancing in the Dark.”
A couple of girls who are in their teens or 20s who were walking out hear the song and turn around to run back to the music. There is hope for a few, but the stream of the living dead expands. I’m standing outside the outfield entrance and I know I’ve seen thousands of people leave since I got here. I understand why zombie television shows are so popular. The departing “concertgoers” seem to have a determination to … I don’t know … suck the bones off the helpless. Despair slowly sinks in.
But the show must go on.
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
People left before Bruce even got into the heart of the “Born to Run” album. This can’t be happening. OK. Maybe he did “Jungleland” earlier. After all, he must have been doing something during the hours I wasn’t there.
But really?! “Thunder Road.” “Born to Run.” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
Do these people even know the music? Have they ever actually listened to a Springsteen album? Do they even understand the significance of the songs they couldn’t even bother to wait to listen to?
The girl on the outside who’s been dancing at the fence a few yards away from me looks at the deserters and yells out with disgust, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, LOSERS!” Ah, from the mouths of babes.
I knew Springsteen would be here at the stadium, but during the day, I was wondering (seriously, I’m not kidding) what would happen when he played “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and got to the line:
When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band.
Because like I said earlier, the Big Man died more than a year ago.
He got to the line, and the music stopped … at least a minute. I don’t know what was happening on stage but the crowd was going nuts. Then the music came back. A big finish. The crowd is still flowing out.
Another song? Sounds like some kind of Irish jig, with accordion. Something called “American Land.” Also on the “Wrecking Ball” album, but appears to be an older song. Here’s when he did it in Dublin in 2007.
But that’s not the end. Why is he playing “Twist and Shout?”
A few of the black women who took the tickets and guarded the turnstiles are twisting. Some of the people walking out are twisting. I suspect Bruce is on the stage twisting. This goes on for a while, complete with the Beatles “OOOHHs” at the right time. This is the last song. Bruce yells something about “Thank You, Washington!” One of the workers at the turnstiles says it’s time to go home. It must be close to midnight. I’ve been standing outside the stadium for close to an hour and a half, and listened to a live Springsteen concert for the cost of … that’s right, it didn’t cost anything.
He’ll be in Louisville in November. I’m getting a ticket.
OH! Here’s the set list, complete with everything I missed:
Show began at 8.23 p.m.
1. Prove it All Night (with 1978 intro)
2. My Love Will Not Let You Down
3. The Ties That Bind
4. Hungry Heart
5. We Take Care Of Our Own
6. Wrecking Ball
7. Death To My Hometown
8. My City Of Ruins
9. Spirit In The Night
10. Blinded By The Light (tour premiere)
11. Jack Of All Trades
12. Jackson Cage
13. She’s The One
14. Johnny 99
15. Darlington County
16. Shackled and Drawn
17. Waitin’ On a Sunny Day
18. The Promised Land
19. Racing In The Street
20. The Rising
22. Land of Hope and Dreams
End main set
23. We Are Alive
24. Thunder Road
25. Born to Run
26. Detroit Medley
27. Dancing in the Dark
28. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
29. American Land (with guest Ali Weinberg – Max’s daughter – on accordion)
30. Twist and Shout
Over at 11:55 p.m. for a 3:32 show.
- Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen still a man for his people (arts.nationalpost.com)