Saturday, April 19, 2014

Crunching Numbers for the Boss (and Reasons to Believe Bruce Springsteen is the Greatest Entertainer of Our Time)

Concert Review, Recap and Reverence

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
April 15, 2014

"You may be backstage, you may be tired, you maybe want to go to sleep, but that walk, whatever it is, 25 yards from the dressing room to the stage, it's never failed me. Something turns on between those two points."
-- Bruce Springsteen, March 2014

Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio, I saw Bruce Springsteen live in concert.

For the 44th time.

It was my first Springsteen show in 2014, and my first in Columbus. I live in the Chicago area, where I first saw Bruce 30 years ago, at the Rosemont Horizon on July 17, 1984.

38 of the 44 shows have been with the E Street Band, including 36 since Bruce reunited with his longtime mates in 1999. Overall, I have seen him 40 times since 1999, including in 13 of 16 calendar years.

I have seen Springsteen 15 times in Chicago (or Rosemont), and 8 times in Milwaukee (just 90 minutes away). I saw him twice in Los Angeles when I lived there in the early 1990s.

Which makes 19 Springsteen shows in 10 different cities away from home, counting New York City (Madison Square Garden) separately from nearby East Rutherford, NJ, where I saw him at the now-demolished Giants Stadium 7 times.

Besides Columbus, I've also traveled to St. Louis, Indianapolis, Atlantic City, Detroit, Cleveland, Louisville and London.

With help from, I know that I have seen Bruce play 1,122 songs, including 218 different ones.

And with an average of 3 hours per show being a safe estimate, I've seen Bruce Springsteen onstage for about 132 hours, or 5-1/2 days.

Now, all of this simply suggests that I am a Springsteen fanatic, which was established long ago.

And certainly, everything about entertainment enjoyment is a matter of opinion, and what I am soon to opine is merely mine.

Some may wholeheartedly agree, some may see merit but have debate, others will vehemently disagree and many will frankly not give a damn.

But as this is an indulgent exercise that I'm enjoying, I feel it worth mentioning that Bruce Springsteen is far from the only performer I greatly relish seeing live and in person.

Give or take a few, I have attended 591 rock concerts in my life (on Tuesday I turned 45.5 years of age), by more than 200 different headline artists. 

This includes seeing Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks (or a Davies brother)--all "past their prime" but IMHO still great every time--a total of 37 times.

U2, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins a combined 56 times.

Wilco, Radiohead, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden: 33 

Bowie, Clapton, Dylan, Elton and Neil Young (including this coming Monday): 26

Alejandro Escovedo, Willie Nile, Dinosaur Jr. and Bob Mould: 26

Seger, Mellencamp, Petty and Billy Joel: 21

AC/DC, Metallica, Rush, Van Halen and Cheap Trick: 28

Foo Fighters 12 times.

And Nirvana just once, but it was glorious (though notoriously one of their "worst shows.")

I've also seen Prince and Madonna a combined 7 times, but never Michael Jackson. (He never played Chicago when I lived in the area, excepting the Jacksons' Victory Tour of 1984.)

I never saw Led Zeppelin, and it doesn't look like I will, but I've seen Robert Plant 6 times, including 2 in tandem with Jimmy Page.

I've seen over 50 rock artists at least 4 times each.

Aside from the Springsteen shows, I have attended 119 concerts outside Chicago, in more than 25 different cities. (It's incomplete, but you can see my concert stats at

So it's not like the Boss is the only rocker I love.

And it's also quite true that rock 'n roll also isn't the only form of live entertainment I love.

Primarily including musicals and plays, but also classical and jazz concerts, comedians, improv, opera, ballet and more, the number of live performances beyond the rock (and blues) realm that I have seen totals:


This includes seeing The Producers--my favorite Broadway musical--12 times, including 3 times with the great Nathan Lane, who I saw on stage 4 other times.

I've seen Les Miserables live 9 times, including on Broadway and in London.

I've seen over 200 different musicals and more than 200 plays. Of 112 new musicals and plays nominated for Tony Awards since 2000, I've seen 81 (including 11 on Broadway). I've attended 53 total works on Broadway and in London's West End.

I've seen the great Broadway star Patti Lupone 6 times, highly decorated Broadway favorites Sutton Foster and Audra MacDonald a combined 10 and the legendary Chita Rivera 4.

In addition to theater stars like Joel Grey, George Hearn, Michael Crawford, Bernadette Peters, Harvey Fierstein, Topol, Theodore Bikel, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Norbert Leo Butz and Elaine Stritch, onstage I've seen several Hollywood stars including Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, Antonio Banderas, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, John Lithgow, Daniel Craig, Diane Lane, Jason Alexander, Teri Hatcher, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez and Matthew Broderick, among many others. (This Pinterest board compiles many of the theatrical luminaries and famous stars I've seen on-stage.)

Locally, I've seen John Mahoney (of Frasier fame) 9 times, Brian Dennehy 7 times and--being a bit young for his Steppenwolf heyday--John Malkovich once.

I've had the pleasure of seeing the mind-blowing tap dancer Savion Glover--recent review here--on 5 occasions, and have seen such legendary musicians as Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Evgeny Kissin, Tony Bennett, Buddy Guy (7 times), B.B. King and numerous notable opera singers, in nearly 50 different operas. (I never saw Sinatra.) 

I've also seen many of the most esteemed comedians, including George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Steven Wright, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Gilbert Gottfried, Colin Quinn, Jackie Mason and Joel McHale.

And in Chicago and Las Vegas, I've seen 6 official Cirque du Soleil productions, and at least that many other shows of a similar ilk, as well as Riverdance and other showcases of spectacular talent.

As with rock and roll, I've seen theater and other types of shows in many different cities and venues, including 25 locales beyond Chicago, from a Spanish guitar showcase in Barcelona, to summer stock theater in Sullivan, IL, to jazz in New Orleans, to tango dancing in Buenos Aires.

This doesn't include sporting events I've attended, but with a small margin for error, I've had the pleasure of witnessing 1,441 live entertainment performances in my lifetime, with 90% of these coming since 1999, after the age of 30.

So while many--excepting those who have been following Phish around for years, and even more voluminous Springsteen attendees (and there are several)--may think my seeing Bruce 44 times, and continuing to go on Thunder Road trips, may be fanatical and then some, the Boss has really only accounted for 3% of my live entertainment intake.

And while I fully cop to being a Springsteen sycophant, disciple, acolyte, etc., all of the above is meant to substantiate that it is not simply as a devout E Street fan--or without plenty of points of comparison--that I state this:

Bruce Springsteen is the greatest live entertainer of my lifetime. 

Still, now, today. At the age of 64.

And as was wondrously reiterated on Tuesday at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, any time, money and effort I've expended in seeing Springsteen so many times has not only been worth it, but has been paid back several times over.

Sure, except sometimes for the driving itself, the road trips have been tremendously rewarding, as I love to explore and on this trip discovered much to enjoy in Columbus and nearby Dayton; I will be writing a separate travel recap in the days ahead.

And I've had many fun conversations with other Springsteen fans and diehards.

But I'm not really referencing either of these aspects. I'm talking about the man himself. The Boss. And his great band.

Besides the shows I've seen, I've heard hundreds more dating back to the early 70s, and while I love all the Springsteen eras--including the hallowed '78 and '80/'81 tours which were phenomenal if a bit before my time--I honestly think Bruce still sounds as good as he ever has.

For his 2014 shows--in South Africa, Australia and the U.S.--he has begun selling online downloads. I own six (and will buy the Columbus show when available) and like them as much as any shows I've heard from years past.

In Australia, Bruce had fun opening shows with songs of local relevance, including AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" and the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind," and also covered Lorde's "Royals" in the singer's home country of New Zealand.

In Dallas for a show tied to the NCAA Tournament, he opened with Van Halen's "Jump," and in Virginia Beach on Saturday night he paid tribute to a local musician by covering Bill Deal & the Rhondels' 1969 single "May I."

So there was fan speculation that Bruce would open in Columbus with "Hang on Sloopy," not because the McCoys were from there, but because the song has long been a fixture at Ohio State football games and thus highly connected to the city.

But he opted for "High Hopes," the title track from his latest album. Not quite as fun as a surprising cover, but fine with me as Bruce tends to avoid what everyone expects.

With the mighty E Street Band--which has expanded to include a horn section, percussionist and backup singers, as well as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, but is currently without Steve Van Zandt, who is filming Lilyhammer in Norway--he went on to play "Adam Raised a Cain," "Hungry Heart," "Blinded by the Light," "Trapped," "The River" and "Prove It All Night" with the extended '78 introduction.

And that was just within the first hour.

We also got great versions of newer songs, a rare "Light of Day," a typically great "The Ghost of Tom Joad," with a monster solo from Morello, "Badlands," "Born to Run" and much more. There was nothing that wasn't good, and that would have been true if 26 completely different songs were played.

With the setlist already terrific, even for someone who has seen Bruce so often, to open the encores Bruce delighted me with my favorite song of all-time--not just by him--"Backstreets." It was an awesome version.

Although Springsteen's closing the show with his solo cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" clearly confused some of the Columbus contingent, I enjoyed hearing it in lieu of "Thunder Road" yet again.

All told, Bruce Springsteen was onstage for 3 hours with no break, played 26 songs, crowd surfed through the audience, danced in the dark with both young and old fans, sweated through his shirt entirely and made me completely forget that it had taken me basically all day to drive to Columbus to see him.

And though he didn't do much overt talking in Columbus--a city in which he had campaigned for Obama, twice, as well as John Kerry--he's one of the few artists who dares to comment on the state of the world.

Sure, he's 64, but IMHO he's still as great as ever (or close enough) and yes, I still need him. Hopefully he'll come to Chicago this fall, but right now there are no tour dates beyond May 18 in Connecticut.

No, I won't be there.

But for now I've gotten my fix. Who needs drugs, alcohol or even religion when you've got the Boss?

And if I haven't convinced you that Bruce Springsteen is the best performer of any artistic type over the past 40 years--at least--I just hope that your hero satisfies you just as much. 

From YouTube, here are videos of "The River" and the beginning of "Backstreets" in Columbus.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Seth, even with all the other entertainments, I think rock is our religion.