Springsteen on Broadway, October 19, 2017

 

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When the rumors started circulating that Bruce Springsteen would play a run of shows on Broadway, I laughed it off. After all, we’re talking about Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. My musical hero. The guy who calls his own shots. The master of the ever-evolving, always-changing setlist. The guy who brings you his very best, night after night after night after night, with no two shows ever being exactly the same. We’re talking about the Jedi Master of the audible, calling more of them than most NFL quarterbacks on any given night. Yes, that Bruce Springsteen. Broadway? A scripted show? A fixed setlist? Ticket prices that no mere mortal can afford without applying for a home equity loan? No way. Not my Bruce Springsteen.

When the official announcement came, I read the press release numerous times, scrutinizing every word, making sure it was from an official source. I had to be absolutely certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that this was not a ludicrous, yet witty joke. I had to be sure that this was not one of the brilliantly crafted pieces of original sarcasm drafted by one of those hilarious, genuinely creative comic geniuses from The Onion website. No, this was the real deal. It was from Shore Fire Media. It was official. I had to face the facts. The guy who spent the majority of his life on this earth writing beautifully inspiring, insightful, reflective, introspective, and sometimes raucous yet always joyous odes to the working class had in fact officially announced a top ticket price of $850. On Broadway. My Bruce Springsteen. The guy who repeatedly eschewed VIP seating and made sure that his ticket prices remained affordable until the concert industry’s new norm made it virtually impossible to continue to do so. The very notion that my musical hero — the master of the ever-evolving show, king of the audible, the guy who always gives you a different and special experience from one show to the next, always tinkering with the setlist — had quite possibly given into the dark side, settled in on Broadway, and priced tickets beyond my reach hit me like the proverbial, cliched ton of bricks. Big fuckin’ bricks! The moment had come. For the first time in my life, there was going to be a series of Bruce Springsteen performances that I might not be able to attend, or at the very least, would make my wallet a lot lighter if I dared to try. In the old days when I was single, I never even gave a thought to how much I was spending going to multiple Bruce shows. I’m now married to one of this planet’s most wonderfully understanding women who has always indulged my musical addictions, and we have an equally wonderful daughter. The concert budget is quite simply smaller than before. I still go to Bruce shows, but not nearly as many as I did when I was single. To put it simply, my Bruce budget is small these days.

I won’t rehash the controversial way in which the tickets to Springsteen on Broadway were sold via Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” process, as plenty has already been written about that. What I will tell you is that I tried to get tickets through that process and was one of the overwhelming majority of fans who were completely shut out. No ticket for me. Then the run of shows was extended through February 3. Another chance at tickets was followed by an identical defeat. No ticket for me. And so the waiting game began.

The waiting game I refer to is the Stub Hub waiting game. I kept an eye on Stub Hub prices as the preview shows began. Day after day, I checked the prices on the day of each show and noticed a familiar pattern. The closer it came to showtime, the lower some of the tickets prices dropped. Especially on weeknights. Still, the StubHub prices were not within my reach…yet.

During the early afternoon of Thursday, October 19 while I was eating lunch at work, the branches on that giant StubHub tree began to weaken almost enough for me to reach up and grab a pair of tickets. Almost, but not quite. I still couldn’t justify spending the money I was about to spend. Luckily my main partner in crime when it came to getting tickets, my aunt — who had planned on accompanying me to the show if or when we could get tickets — pulled the trigger on the pair of tickets we had been watching. We’d figure the money part out later. Life is short. Opportunities come and go. The chance to see Bruce in a 960-seat theatre might never come again. I had recently seen my other musical hero, Prince, die suddenly at the age of 57. We also lost Glenn Frey, David Bowie, and Tom Petty. Bruce is the picture of health, but hey, all of our days are numbered. You never know when it’s your time to go. These factors weighed heavily upon my mind. When rare life experiences present themselves, I tend to seize upon them now more than ever these days. The amount of money we had just spent was not going to change either of our lifestyles. Now that we had pulled the trigger, the initial pain of the ticket price instantly began to fade from my memory. In the proverbial blink of an eye, I was in my car, picking up my aunt, driving to the train station, and we were on our way to New York. To see Bruce Springsteen. On Broadway. Yes, this was real. The events of that initial press release that I had been so certainly convinced was a joke was now becoming a reality. My previous disbelief and confusion had evolved into wild expectations about the night to come. I couldn’t contain my excitement! I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid. I dove into a giant swimming pool-sized ocean of it and let it consume me. I was once again a true believer. I was ready for Springsteen on Broadway.

I had been reading the headlines of the reviews in the weeks leading up to this day, but never the text of the reviews. I knew I was going to find a way into a show, I just hadn’t known how or when. But I knew the time would come. I always find a way. Always. Avoiding the details about what was to come would surely add to my enjoyment of the performance. I am glad that I avoided those reviews because although they were all glowing, I didn’t want to know specifics. All I knew about the show was that Bruce would be reading from his autobiography and performing songs that fit in with the narrative he was telling. The show would feature only Bruce, a guitar, a piano, a harmonica, and for two songs, his wife, Patti Scialfa, adding background vocals. I wanted Springsteen on Broadway to be a fresh surprise. A clean canvas awaited with no preconceived notions about the show, and I was ready to watch my hero paint upon it like a masterful renaissance artist about to create a fresh, new, instant classic. You might think it’s awfully presumptuous of me to assume in advance that the show would be so tremendous, but after all, this was my musical hero and he had never once let me down. Never. Whether he’s feeling healthy or sick, happy or sad, silly or serious, when Bruce steps onto that stage, he gives you his complete and total self from the time he says “Good Evenin’” to the time he says “We’ll be seein’ ya!” On an average night, he’ll spend over three hours on stage in between those two phrases. On some really special nights, it’s four hours…or more. For this Broadway run, it would be a pre-planned two-hour performance.

There are occasionally those days that sometimes materialize in which it feels as if every star in the universe has magically aligned to form an awe-inspiring chain of events that result in an actual, genuine, perfect day. This was one of those rare days. We arrived in New York just after 5 p.m., walked from Penn Station to The Walter Kerr Theatre, about a 15-minute walk, and grabbed a relaxed, leisurely, completely satisfying pre-show dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the theatre. No rushing around, just our own comfortable speed. We walked back to the theatre at 7 p.m., got in a brief line, and went inside. The perfect evening was about to begin.

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If you’ve read any of the reviews that talk about the intimacy of The Walter Kerr Theatre, the common thread is that no matter how small you envision the theatre in your mind, when you actually enter, it is even smaller and more intimate than you probably imagined. There is not a bad seat in the house. It’s as close to having Bruce perform in your living room as we’re ever likely to get.

Our seats were in the Right Mezzanine, Row H, Seats 22 and 24. This is the last row of the section, but our seats presented an unobstructed, full view of the stage. These seats would easily be considered some of the best in the house in a larger venue. No heads in front of us blocking the view, just a clear line of sight directly to Bruce and the entire stage. Our location allowed us to see every note Bruce was playing on guitar as well as a full view of the keys on the piano, which was a great bonus.

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I won’t tell you any specifics about the show itself, as I strongly believe it is best experienced with absolutely zero preconceived notions. That’s part of the joy in discovering the narrative and the musical journey that Bruce takes you on during the course of the evening. Even if you’ve already read his autobiography, the narrative presented here takes you on a new and somewhat separate journey. And you’ll have a great time during the ride. What I can tell you is that I felt deeply moved, excited, inspired, overjoyed, saddened, elated, and yes, during one part I cried tears of joy. My biggest takeaway from the evening is the feeling that Bruce has brought us into his world by reminding us that it is a shared world. Reminding us of the hopes, dreams and experiences that we share with one another in our short time here on earth. I — and I wholeheartedly believe the rest of the audience — left the theatre feeling just a little more hopeful about the days ahead and about life itself. As a storyteller, a songwriter, and a performer, Bruce delivered a first-class performance in each of those areas. His proficiency with his instruments, vocals, and storytelling continues to amaze me as I’ve watched him grow as an artist since I first saw him in concert in August of 1985 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I sat mesmerized during the Broadway show watching Bruce effortlessly pick chords on his guitar and play chord sequences on his piano while simultaneously reading passages from his book, and not just simply reading them, but reading them with great enunciation, enthusiasm, emotion, and inflection, all while meticulously providing a musical background by playing his instrument without missing a note or a beat.

Two other factors made the evening absolute perfection: the sound quality and the audience.

One aspect of Bruce’s arena and stadium shows that I’ve never been completely satisfied with is the sound quality. In arenas and stadiums, you’ll always have maximum volume, some shrillness, and — for me at least — a need for earplugs to protect my hearing from a severe ass beating. I can tell you with great joy that the sound quality presented in Bruce’s Broadway performance is stellar. I have seen hundreds of concerts over the years, and the sound quality for Springsteen on Broadway is the finest audio quality that I have ever experienced at any concert. Period. It is the absolute best listening experience that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. No earplugs needed. Not even close. It’s pure, unadulterated music in its purest form. His guitar is crisp and clean with exactly the right amount of bass and treble for my personal listening pleasure. The sound quality is so good that I can easily envision even the most elitist of audiophiles walking away admitting that the sound was superior to almost anything they had heard before. The perfection of the sound makes the night even more magical. The sound is simply stunning.

As for the audience, I have always had a love/hate relationship with some — not all — of my fellow Bruce fans. What do I love? I love the way that a great crowd can bring out the best in Bruce in the same way that he brings out the best in his audience. I love that we share the common experience of having been affected by Bruce’s music in ways that made our lives more enjoyable and more complete. I love the way that a perfect stranger will high five me when Bruce plays a long lost song that we both wanted to hear. I love to see the smiles of children on adult faces at the end of his shows. There are many shows in which the audience itself could be considered a full-fledged member of the E-Street Band because it had collectively and genuinely contributed to the success of the evening as much as the musicians on stage.

What do I hate? I hate the behavior of fans who make way too many beer runs, yell during quiet songs, have long and loud conversations during those same quiet songs, and repeatedly bump into me in a drunken stupor and look at me like I’ve just done something wrong when I say, “excuse me.” It happens enough that those folks have ruined more than a handful of magical moments for me and other fans during Bruce’s shows over the years. But that’s part of the stadium experience and part of the arena experience. I am happy to report that for those who are accustomed to ruining magical moments, there is absolutely zero tolerance for that bullshit at Springsteen on Broadway. It says so right on the official website. The ground rules are laid out in plain sight for all to see. Frequent beer runs? Forget it. Blocking the view of the person behind you so that you can take grainy video from 100 feet away? Forget it. The no cell phone rule is fiercely enforced once the show begins. Seriously so. Don’t believe me? Take out your cell phone and see what happens. The only exception is at the end of the show when Bruce and Patti take their bows. This is a welcome addition that eliminates distractions and lets the audience enjoy the performance in full, in a more complete way than ever before possible at a Bruce show. The result is that someone like me who wants to hear every note, every inflection, every nuance, every breath, every single component of the performance, is granted that right. The result is the most enjoyable performance I have ever been lucky enough to attend.

The good news about the audience is that I was stunned at how perfectly behaved the audience was on Broadway. There was a lot of talk in the press and in fan forums that because of the high ticket prices, Bruce would be punished by having to play for the elitists in the infamous one percent. Well, if there were only elitist one percenters in attendance the night that I went, they were the most courteous, respectful, well-behaved one percenters I’ve ever encountered. We talked to multiple people we met that night. Some were fellow diehards and some were just casual fans. But I only met fans. I didn’t meet any elitists. I only met people who badly wanted to attend, and one way or another, like me and my aunt, had found a way. This is where I start to wonder if there’s a method to the madness in the higher-priced tickets. Is the audience giving Bruce total silence and the utmost respect because they are both figuratively and literally invested in the evening, both emotionally and financially? I believe the answer to be most definitely yes. I won’t say I’m happy about high ticket prices. Everyone who wants to see this show deserves to see it. But I can tell you one indisputable fact, at least on the night that I attended: the Broadway audience was the most respectful audience I have ever seen in more than 30 years of attending Bruce shows. The audience applauded when appropriate and gave Bruce complete and total silence where and when he needed it, in turn allowing him to give us his very best performance to an extent never before possible.

Springsteen on Broadway is not a concert. Nor is it simply Bruce reading from his book. Its both of those things — and more — mixed into a magical concoction of something new that Bruce hasn’t given us before. The small venue, the magic of Bruce, and the utmost respect from the audience resulted in the most enjoyable Bruce performance I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen this show yet, I hope that you get to, and if so, I hope you have the same perfect evening that my aunt and I did.

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