TAMPA, FL — In February 2017, Antoinette Switzer was in Auckland, New Zealand to see Bruce Springsteen play MT Smart Stadium. Unbeknownst to her, and to The Boss, that'd be the last time she was face to face with the Jersey rock and roll hero on a concert stage for a long time.
Sure, there were more than 200 performances on Broadway in between, but Switzer and other Springstans ended up waiting another six years—and through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic—for another chance to do the E Street Shuffle.
On Wednesday morning, Switzer, a 48-year-old from Dublin, Ireland was literally first in line outside Amalie Arena where she'd managed to score a pit ticket. She was joined by a couple dozen other fans from all over the world. They were there to partake in a ritual that's defined a large chunk of their lives. They were there to see The Boss again.
Ten hours later, Switzer was alongside 19,000 other Springsteen fans who'd found their way to Tampa for the E Street Band's first show since that night in Auckland.
And as the 18-piece ensemble and their boss galloped onstage, bathed in the first of many "Broooooooooce," calls, then launched into "No Surrender," it was unmistakably clear that Springsteen was both relieved and elated to see his fans again too.
Springsteen wasted no time recharging his following either.
He only said three words in the set’s trio of jubilant openers ("Good Evening Tampa!") and instead looked almost relieved to again be inches away from Stevie Van Zandt's face during gang vocals. He immediately made space for a Jake Clemons saxophone solo on "Ghosts," a song Springsteen wrote in part as a response to the passing of Jake's dad Clarence (who played with the E Street Band from its founding until his death in 2011). The little Big Man got to play even more sax on "Prove It All Night," and wasn't the only E Street offspring in the sold-out crowd.
As Clemons played, Jay Weinberg, seated in section 129, air-drummed to the fills his dad Max played on the cut from Springsteen's fourth studio album Darkness on the Edge of Town (Jay knows a thing or two about the song; at just 19 years old, he subbed for dad on the E Street Band's 2009 tour).
The young Weinberg wasn't alone in his effort to play along. Throughout the 28-song, nearly three-hour set, fans choo-chooed (“Johnny 99”) and cha-cha-ed (“Nightshift”) with Springsteen, and almost carried the band itself during singalongs on “Badlands” and “Burning Train.”
A tiny shriek of feedback on “The Rising” was only one noticeable hiccup (some diehard might’ve noticed a missed chord during “Dancing In the Dark”), but the 18 E Streeters on the bandstand—especially Van Zandt, Weinberg, guitarist Nils Lofgren and the entire horn section—played like they'd been rehearsing every week for the last five years. At times it felt like the show would never, and should never, end.
During “Backstreets,” vocalist Michelle Moore, who was supposed to take a break behind the stage even turned into a fan, stayed on her feet and sang the song at the side of the stage (Springsteen, for his part, let out a big exhale at the end of the tune).
It feels good to see the band back on the road, and it was interesting to see recognizable figures from American culture in the house for the show. Springsteen gets a lot of shit from a vocal minority online who say he’s elitist, but no one needs a reminder that all Springsteen fans are not equal.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still powerful and rich enough to command good seats (although apparently not cool enough to sit in the suite where members of the Florida GOP were fundraising during the concert). And while NBC News icon Brian Williams also takes selfies during “Wrecking Ball,” and NBA legend Pat Riley also sings at the top of his lungs during “Out In the Street,” those guys’ rides home probably looked different than some of the other fans who were lucky enough to get into the show.
Hell, many of The Boss’ most diehard followers—unable to overcome Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing—were completely left out of this return to the road. Springsteen has more or less shrugged off that ticketing fiasco in recent interviews, and explained that it was time for him to cash in. (His new $500 million publishing deal aside, it’s not surprising to see a rock star give in, especially when there’s dozens if not more than 100 people including road crew who eat off of Springsteen’s plate).
And let’s face it: the E Street Band is undoubtedly the most successful bar band in rock and roll history, but most of us came to know The Boss because he’s a bonafide legend—not because we were on the ground floor when he started The Castiles.
Before his solo acoustic take on “Last Man Standing,” Springsteen reflected on his first band and the march of time, admitting that, “At 15, it’s all tomorrows. At 73, it’s a whole lot of yesterdays.” And most of those yesterdays have been spent in the spotlight. His star power is why our parents fell in love with him, and it’s why millennials and Gen-Zers alike have at least a handful of hand-me-down Springsteen records in their collections.
For some, he personifies the Jersey everyman, but he’s actually a time-tested, perfectly-tanned, immaculately skin-faded, American icon who co-hosts a podcast with Barack Obama. Busts of his head are going to be in museums, people.
Sure, time’s caught up with The Boss a tiny bit, too—but not enough to really matter. He moves around the stage just slightly slower. And while there was no crotch sliding at all, Springsteen is still very much himself. There was the sponge and the spit during “Dancing In the Dark,” the jokes (some E Streeters take Viagra, apparently), and the simultaneously delicate fortitude of his tender vocal on solo acoustic show closer “I'll See You In My Dreams.”
Springsteen’s dedication of the tune to Emily Rose Marcus, the recently-passed daughter of rock critic Greil Marcus was part of just two, short spells of chatter from a famously opinionated man who avoided getting on the soapbox. He even steered clear of his most political songs and left talk of frustration over overpriced tickets completely off the table. (I’m not sure when the “just play the music” crowd found time to pee!)
Instead, Springsteen pieced together a marathon, masterful return to stage that simply invited fans to do what they’ve been doing since the E Street Band crawled out of the swamps of New Jersey and into the mainstream with “Born To Run.” And that’s see themselves—and make room to celebrate the ups and down—in the songs.
Those 19,000 fans did just that on Wednesday night in Tampa. As house lights stayed on for the last six-songs of an absolute rager of an encore that included “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)," fans pumped their firsts and howled at almost deafening levels for each and every chorus.
Somewhere in that crowd was Antoinette Switzer. It was impossible to make the Dubliner out in the sea of faces, but not being able to find her unscored the very reason so many people pour parts of their lives (and life savings) into being in front of The Boss. He lets fans of nearly all walks of life see themselves and how we're the same in so many ways. And it sure felt good to see him again, too.
Prove It All Night
Letter To You
Out In The Street
Don't Play That Song
E Street Shuffle
Last Man Standing
House of A Thousand Guitars
Because The Night
She's The One
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
I'll See You In My Dreams
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