All photos by Christopher Keith Garcia.
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“You better write something good, because that was amazing.”
This is what the person sitting next to me says at the end of Bruce Springsteen’s show last night. He’s a member of the Fraternal Order of Bruce and spends three and a half hours grilling me, ensuring that I’m familiar with The River and that I’m aware of just how much ass saxophonist Jake Clemons—the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew and replacement in the E Street Band—kicks. As the night wears on, we intermittently hug and he refers to me as “brother.” I consider smoking hash for the first time in seven years. It’s the most drug-like connection I’ve ever had with a stranger that wasn’t actually facilitated by drugs, which is testament to Springsteen fandom’s secret handshake-ish quality.
That fandom was thoroughly tested last night when Springsteen & Co. tackled the entirety of his mammoth 1980 double album The River—the sprawling, motley followup to 1978 tour de force Darkness on the Edge of Town. This tour tour coincides with the release of last year’s exhaustive Ties That Bind boxset—a compilation that includes the prototype 10-track version of the The River (then titled The Ties That Bind) and a miscellany of bonus material.
“The River was my coming of age record,” says Springsteen towards the beginning of the set, and that’s a self-aware assessment. In spite of the wealth of hits it spawned and its massive commercial success, The River occupies a blind spot in Springsteen’s canon, somewhere between the Spector-obsessed, East Coast melodrama of Born to Run and the pensive storytelling that characterized Bruce post-River. Songs like the jangling, Byrds-y “Ties That Bind” and “Out in the Street” evoke a strong nostalgia for rock ’n' roll’s glory days, while “Independence Day” and the title track hint at the more dour and complex emotional narratives Springsteen would explore later in his career—but The River’s thematic restlessness makes it a somewhat awkward front-to-back experience, especially in a live concert setting.
Thank god for the hit parade that followed, then, which started with “Badlands” and highlighted every centimeter of Springsteen’s career, from underrated The Rising opener “Lonesome Day,” to Patti Smith cowrite “Because the Night,” to Tunnel of Love cut “Brilliant Disguise,” to essential showstoppers “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road”—all topped off with a seemingly never-ending rendition of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” “Do you even have anything left in you, Portland?” Springsteen taunted omnisciently from the Moda Center Jumbotron—he seemed like the only person in the auditorium who wasn’t teetering on exhaustion.
“You want to know the craziest thing about this?” the guy sitting next to me asks. “Sixty-six fucking years old.” And he’s right—at this rate, Bruce Springsteen will probably live forever.