The Iceman

OK, time for a sad admission: There are fewer and fewer things exciting enough to get me out of the house these days. I suppose this comes down to age, it comes down to inertia, it comes down to this incredibly lucky life I’ve lived. I just attended my 22nd Masters in Augusta. Twenty-two Masters! That’s crazy. I’ve been to more Masters than Tiger Woods. I’ve been to as many Masters as Phil Mickelson. That’s kind of insane.*

*The only place my 22 Masters is unimpressive is at the Masters itself, where it seems like every other writer is on their 50th … or 60th … or 593rd. There are several writers covering the Masters who were there when Bobby Jones was surveying the land.

I promise the point here is not to brag or even humblebrag about the events I’ve attended, but it is true I’ve now reached 20 or so on most of the big ones — 20-plus Super Bowls, 20-plus World Series and so on. This lucky life has taken me to dozens of Final Fours and National Championship games and U.S. Opens (golf and tennis) and NBA playoff games and NHL playoff games. World Cups. Ryder Cups. Olympics. I’ve seen games at every single Major League Baseball stadium (I’ll come up with a stadium ranking shortly) and every NFL stadium too. I’ve covered sports on six continents. The 12-year-old in me remains stupefied at this charmed existence.

But with all that comes something else, something that I find myself constantly trying to fight off: Jadedness. Weariness. A loss of wonder. Here’s a quick story: Years and years ago, I went to a Super Bowl, one of my first, and I was talking to a friend of mine about it. He asked me how it was being at the Super Bowl, and I started to complain. My hotel room was terrible, I recall. There was some problem with my rental car. The Super Bowl itself is a beast, a billion reporters and radio talk show hosts and television cameras all bumping into each other chasing after stories which aren’t stories and I probably whined about that too.

“You know what?” he told me. “I don’t want to hear that. I’ll probably never go to a Super Bowl. I’m living vicariously through you. That means you are the closest I will ever get to the Super Bowl.”

Never forgotten that. Every single great event I’ve been fortunate enough to cover for 25 years now I have tried (at least briefly) to see through my friends eyes, as if it was the first time. Mostly, I must admit, it’s been pretty easy. The Final Four, the Olympics, the World Series, the Masters — as a lifelong sports fan it’s not hard to become a kid all over again. This week, for instance, I’m going to San Francisco because my childhood hero, Duane Kuiper, is having a bobblehead day at AT&T Park Friday. Taking the wife. I won’t miss that. I can’t miss that. Kuiper (being the greatest guy ever) actually emailed me the other day to say that, while of course he would be thrilled to see me, he could save me the expense by sending along a bobblehead or two.

I told him: No chance. I’ll be there. Of course I’ll be there.

But that’s my profession. And that’s different. In other parts of life, I must admit, I’ve definitely grown more fatigued through the years. Like I say, it’s a sad admission. Take music. I used to do crazy things to hear live music. I remember once, at the very last second, I drove from Augusta to Atlanta just to catch the last 45 minutes or so of The Sundays in concert. That’s THE SUNDAYS, for crying out loud.

Of course, I have traveled all over the place to see Bruce Springsteen play. As you know, if you follow this blog at all, Bruce is my musical core. I readily admit: The albums are hit and miss any more. The songs are hit and miss too. But the concerts are transcendent; the energy in the arenas, the force of his music, the compulsion Springsteen has to go higher — the concerts always take me to places no other music can take me.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself … well … even weary when it comes to Bruce. I’ll tell you something I’m embarrassed about: I was given a chance to go to the 12-12-12 concert, you know, with Springsteen and the Rolling Stones and Clapton and all that. The details are unimportant but I was in New York, and someone I knew who had an in there. The younger me would have dropped everything, gone through whatever hoops necessary. The older me decided to hang out with friends instead. It seemed like too much trouble.

That’s an aged phrase: “Seems like too much trouble.”

In Dallas, at the Final Four, Bruce performed a live, free concert. The younger me would have dropped everything, gone through whatever hoops necessary (no pun ever intended). The older me thought about the crowds and the traffic and the hassle and the difficulties and stayed in a hotel room and did some work.

This is the way I find myself living more and more. It’s not an entirely negative thing. I’m older. I’m a Dad. I’m not that kid who would jump in a broken down car and race off on some madcap adventure to try and catch some band a few hours away or go on a three-day marathon to see every movie nominated for an Oscar or drive along some two lane road in the middle of nowhere to find the minor-league baseball game playing. I don’t want to be the kid anymore.

Still, I want to have SOME of that kid in me.

What I’m trying to tell you is: Bruce Springsteen played in Charlotte on Saturday and I considered not going.

Well, hey, it was raining. It rained all day and the day before too. The weather was dreary, a cold rain fell, and everything was gray, and traffic in Charlotte is abysmal in the rain, and uptown Charlotte is a drive away, and a cold rain fell, and parking at the Charlotte Time Warner is blah, and a cold rain fell, and there’s construction around the place, and a cold rain fell, and the tickets were crazy expensive, and a cold rain fell, and the seats did not seem to be in all that promising a location, and … and … I’m getting old. That’s the essential “and,” isn’t it? I already had seen Springsteen a dozen times in many places (including in Charlotte) … and how many times do I need to see him … and a cold rain fell … and … I’m getting old. Six years ago, I flew back from China and the Olympics a day early and drove right from the airport to the Kansas City arena to see Springsteen. Saturday, I found myself looking out at the rain, looking longingly at the couch and thinking: Do I really need to go?

Is six years really so long? What was I really worried about?

I don’t know much about getting old, obviously — first time oldster — but I I guess maybe I worried that it wouldn’t be the same. How much did I really need to hear Bruce sing “Dancing in the Dark” one more time? Isn’t it just easier to sit this one out? And lately, like I say, I’ve been losing that battle a lot. My buddy Pop Warner was in town with family; he’s an even bigger Springsteen fan than I am. He was feeling some of those late 40s blues too. “We have to go,” he finally said. “We can’t be together, in the same town as Bruce Springsteen, and not go.”

So we took our wives, got into the car, and drove uptown in the cold rain.

* * *

Springsteen opened with “Iceman” — a somewhat obscure song he first recorded back in 1977 when he was doing “The Darkness on the Edge of Town” album. It didn’t make the album. More to the point, according to this authoritative site, Springsteen forgot he even recorded it, wasn’t reminded until decades later when he was compiling the Tracks box set. This is pretty mind blowing because “Iceman” is an absolutely fantastic song. This was the first time Springsteen had ever played it with the E Street Band.

Once they tried to steal my heart, beat it right outta my head
But baby they didn’t know that I was born dead
I am the iceman, fightin’ for the right to live

Man, Bruce Springsteen used to write so many brilliant lyrics he couldn’t even remember them all.

So, this was going to be a different kind of Springsteen show from any that I had ever seen. He was roused, hungry; he was ablaze. I had heard a fascinating interview with him a few days earlier and he started talking about what it is to be 64 years old and still on tour. He said that people will see that he does these wild concerts because “I have to.”

That’s what it looked like, all night in Charlotte. He was a man compelled. I’ve written many times about how amazed I am by Bruce Springsteen’s dedication to the moment. Night after night after night, for about 40 years now, he has played Born to Run, and he has played it with the fire he had as a young man. I’ve often wondered: How is that possible? How can he not be sick of playing that song by now? Or if not sick, how can he not go through the motions with it?

But he doesn’t — not on Born to Run, not on Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, not on Dancing in The Dark, not on any of those songs that fans know so well entire arenas sing along, word for word. He sings them as new, or he certainly gives every appearance of doing so, and to me that has been the great and wonderful mystery of Bruce Springsteen.

But Saturday night, I saw something else. I saw him go into the crowd and grab posters with song titles. He does this at every concert — he basically takes requests and hundreds of fans bring posters with their favorite songs — but this time he was pulling posters of different songs. The first request he took was “Louie Louie.” What inspired him to play “Louie Louie” on this night — it was the first time he had played it in five years. Then he played “Mustang Sally” … again, first time in years. A little later, he played “Brown Eyed Girl,” which again is a crazy Springsteen rarity. Even he was sort of in wonder about it later: “Louie Louie, Mustang Sally, Brown Eyed Girl,” he said on stage, shaking his head, as if he could not believe he had done those songs.

Why had he? I can only guess: I think he wanted this night to be a classic old rock and roll night like something out of his past. Why Charlotte? Why not? He brought more people up from the crowd than I can ever remember. He was more wild-eyed than I can ever remember. He chugged an entire glass of beer while the crowd sang the first verse of “Hungry Heart.” He unleashed another Springsteen rarity, “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come).” He took request after request — “No Surrender” and “Racin’ In The Streets” and “Out In The Street.” He and Tom Morello (of “Rage Against the Machine” fame) about blew up the place with this hard version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

Maybe it was just the rain or the blues of age, I don’t know, but I saw Springsteen in a different way Saturday night. I saw how much he needed it. He has talked a lot about that through the years but I had never quite understood. Maybe I wasn’t old enough to understand. The crowd, the love, the intensity, the volume, the waving arms, the thousands of voices as one — it keeps him feeling young, doesn’t it? This is a more poignant thought now than it was five years ago or 10 or certainly 20.

There I was, my feet ached, and my throat was raw, and I was surrounded by all these people I didn’t know, and I was singing, at the top of my lungs, “Dancing in the Dark,” a song I’m not even that crazy about. And it was fantastic. Everything else drifted away except for the music and the familiarity and the shared memories and the guy at the microphone who looked every bit of an in-shape 64 singing “This gun’s for hire” like he was still a young gunslinger.

Sure Springsteen needs it. We all do. The years do take their toll. Cynicism waits for you around this corner, and exhaustion looks to trip you up around that corner. The older you get, the more incompetence you run into, the more deceit you endure, the more traffic you find. The older you get, the harder it is to feel awe. The first time you see a magic trick, it amazes. The second time, it amazes less. The third time, you notice that the magician palmed a card. Your neck hurts. The cough is harder to shake. The recliner is easier to fall asleep in.

And all of this is not bad, no, it’s life. Hey there are real advantages to experience, advantages in seeing the traps you’ve fallen into, advantages in knowing what is high quality magic and what is flimflam. There are things you have to experience once, but you don’t really want to experience twice. It’s nice to have those experiences in the past.

But there is a part of growing old that you’re better of rebelling against. There is something I see in friends, something I sometimes see in myself, a loss that is hard to put into words. If I’m being honest, I have to admit it: If I had been given an easy way out, I probably would not have gone to the Bruce Springsteen show Saturday night. I would have begged out and watched some movie or read in bed or something. And I wouldn’t have found myself in the arena, near midnight on a Saturday night, singing along as Bruce Springsteen led 15,000 or so people in “Shout.”

“I’m a prisoner!” Springsteen shouted, and Nils Lofgren wrung a sponge that dumped a bucket’s worth of water on Bruce’s head.

“I’m a prisoner,” he shouted again. “I’m a prisoner of rock and roll.”

He is. Still. After all these years. And for a few moments, through him, I was a prisoner too. No, being a prisoner of rock and roll on a Saturday night in Charlotte doesn’t stop the back from hurting now and again or the hunger for a nap creeping up or slow the ever-growing urge to say no when your younger version would have said yes. But, as I have often in my life, I watched Bruce. He played his heart out one more night, for one more crowd, and you know what? He will do it again in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and in Raleigh on Thursday and in Atlanta on Saturday. Because stopping is the opposite of living. And the Iceman is fightin’ for the right to live.

43 thoughts on “The Iceman

    1. Leslie Ryan

      It’s good to get your batteries recharged. Call it professional development. You saw a great show. Keep those fingers a-tapping and, may I be bold here, feel free to hit me up if you want somebody to proofread that copy. I’d be happy to lend a hand. You type so much, you need some help. I’ve got the time zones working in your favour. Send it late night and I can have it back to you in the a.m. And, as tribute, I think I’ll develop this story into a lesson. It’s got all the elements. From a very faithful reader and English teacher in Prague.

      Reply
    2. Andy Hodgman

      Yes. Again, yes. We are about the same age and have chased many of the same things for entertainment and experience and energy. I just rolled in from a brilliant Tom Petty tribute show at Metro in Chicago. A $20 ticket five minutes from my house on a Wednesday night. Had I not fought complacency and sat home to watch the end of the Tigers-Sox game on TV instead, I would have missed something that was really quite terrific. Many fantastic musicians playing music I love in a classic venue for a good cause ( Best Fest) I might not feel that great tomorrow and there is work and a baseball practice to run tomorrow but it was an excellent night I am glad to have attended. Onward!

      Reply
    1. pebblyjack

      Some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece
      Some guys come home from work and wash up and go racing in the street.

      Anyway, that was running around my head as I was reading the post.

      Reply
  1. sb m

    I don’t think it’s a sad admission to admit that you’re getting older. After all, it sure beats the alternative.

    Reply
  2. Rick

    Saw The Boss and Morello play Ghost of Tom Joad in Anaheim in 08.’ Best single musical moment I’ve had the pleasure to witness.

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  3. Jennifer Cole

    Until Joe’s post the only way I could describe the Charlotte experience was to say “the entire show was an encore.” Strangers, with decades of Bruce shows between us, brought together by random ticket purchases and reveling in that “Bruce bond”, watched, sang, and danced in awe. Thank you, Joe, for this beautiful insight.

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  4. Jo

    I drove from Atlanta to Nashville last week for that shot of youth and that refusal to give up and get old. I did GA for the first time that night at the ripe old age of 52. My feet ached and I couldn’t speak or hear after, but for 3 hours, 15 minutes, I was ALIVE! And it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.

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  5. Herb Smith

    That was outstanding. There’s something about Bruce that brings out the emotive side of me. Seeing him rage against the dying of the light at the Super Bowl made my eyes a little watery. The end of this article had the same effect. Thanks, Joe.

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  6. Ed

    I saw him in Charlotte the last time he came through town and we sat upstairs. I have never seen anyone make such a large venue feel that intimate.

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  7. David P

    Lots of people, rightly, write of their experiences at Springsteen shows. But I’d like to thank Joe for the fleeting mention of the The Sundays. Their show in Austin in 1992 was my own personal favorite concert ever. Sorry Joe missed the first hour in Georgia!

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  8. Cuban X Senators

    I’ll be at AT&T Friday.
    And I’m the guy holding up the sign to you, Joe, that says: “Frank Robinson stories.” Kuiper’s got em, Krukow’s got ‘em, Jon Miller’s got ‘em. (And he grew up in Oakland, so if you really want to do research . . .).

    Frank’s getting old. And I don’t think the definitive Frank Robinson piece has been written (or even approached), and I think he’s largely misunderstood — & even needs interpreting for those under 40.

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  9. Marc

    Love the Sundays comment as well…and this post touched a nerve. I’ve taken pride in “discovering” new bands of the alt rock ilk, and to see a band who months (years?) later hit it big always meant something to me.

    Now? I’m married, and have an 11 month old daughter…and at age 45, it’s a hell of a lot of work even if both are incredibly easy to handle (our baby has slept through the night since she was 4 weeks old). So even when the wife offers to stay at home while I catch another show by some band who are hoping someday to make it big, I find myself making excuses to NOT go. I could never explain it – Joe, thank you for putting into words.

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  10. JiminNC

    I’ve been driving around for a couple of months with a Springsteen CD I burned that starts with The Iceman. My 16YO guitar-playing song-writing daughter has gotten to know the song, and was at the concert in Charlotte on Saturday; she immediately texted me a vid of the song.

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  11. Guilherme

    I think Springsteen fans share the same feeling with Pearl Jam fans. There’s a reason fans show up to ten or twenty different concerts — they’re different.

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  12. murr2825

    You eloquently, humorously and perfectly captured how it feels to cross that threshold of age and creeping inertia and…just…not…quite…WANT it enough sometimes.

    But just like you, I find that once I’m out (and it doesn’t have to be a Springsteen show) I am glad I’m still able.

    Reply
  13. George Rownd

    Absolutely perfect – and I love the Sundays reference – as I love them! “Here’s Where The Story Ends” indeed!

    Reply
  14. Jill

    This post makes me wish that I were at a Springsteen concert RIGHT NOW. I worship at the House of Bruce. You capture the essence of and pure magic and joy of one of his shows. So well written.

    Reply
  15. Lois Fundis

    I’m going to see him in Pittsburgh tomorrow. Yeah, I had some of that malaise — it’s expensive; I have to take the day off work (I work evenings); I hate the traffic after the show; etc.; and it is going to rain here, too, the weatherfolk say — but it’s Bruce! And nothing is like a Bruce concert. And I saw the Dallas show streamed (or some of it; my wi-fi made it a little spotty) and have read great reviews of the other shows on this leg of the tour, like Charlotte, so my appetite is fully whetted.

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  16. tombando

    Waaaahhhh I’m too well off and connected I don’t deserve to get old. What’s the matter-your fleet of volvos are too big to fit inside the warehouse again-?! Plus Bruuuce has sucked since ’88. Deal.

    Reply
  17. bellweather22

    I hear you. I go to the NY area regularly. I used to always have a night in the city. Lately, it’s too much trouble. I’d rather have a quiet beer in the bar. I don’t think I’m wrong about that one, but definitely as we age we need to make a more concerted effort to get out of the house. I’ve seen too many older folks who end up as virtual shut ins & it completely ruins them. They lose their ability to interact. We definitely have to fight the slow progression of “it’s too much trouble” that eventually leads to isolation. If you see an isolated older person in this situation, try to pull them out of it if you can. Take them out to lunch or to a ball game. It is reversible.

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  18. Kelly

    Fantastic job on the blog and on getting out there for Bruce again. I’m 38 and I feel this way sometimes, thinking more of the hassle than the payoff of going out. The way you feel about Bruce is the way I feel about Dave Matthews Band – but being at a show is the best and I’m always happy & grateful that I went. I’m going to be at AT&T Park on Friday, too. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to buy you a drink, or a plate of garlic fries, and just say thanks for sharing so many great stories. Thanks for this one. Kuper Bobblehead Night – I’m excited for you!

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  19. Ohio Bearcat

    I can relate to the sentiment you share, Joe, but you have to keep fighting it. That’s really the point of the whole Springsteen experience. There was a biography published at the end of 2012 called “Bruce,” which Bruce cooperated with in providing interviews and stories. I can’t recommend it enough to those who have an interest in Bruce. The whole experience becomes that much richer when you know the back stories and personal imperfections and motivations that add up to the artist and show we see today. Nothing is more important than to live up to those expectations he had (which almost always fell apart because of their personal frailties) of the artists he idolized growing up.

    He is determined he will not let his fans down that way, and works with that as motivation every night they go out there. If anything, as he’s hit his 60s, his motivation has gone to a different level — the shows are longer than ever, the reaching out to the audience and drawing them into the show is far greater than before. The capabilities and makeup of the band, too, are at a different level when they were just a conventional rock lineup of the 1970s and ’80s. (In particular, adding the spice of Tom Morello’s guitar sound on this tour has clearly revved Bruce’s concert engines.)

    It is almost heresy to say, but the Bruce show of today is better than even its most vaunted predecessors. I honestly believe he’s the greatest entertainer in rock history, and seeing him restores a part of you that you ought to strive never to lose touch with. We saw him two weeks ago in Cincy and the true irony is that a great majority of the audience now can’t keep up for the whole night with the stamina he is showing night in and night out!

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    1. Jennifer Cole

      Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin, exceptional book. Absolute must read for exactly all the reasons Ohio Bearcat mentions. Makes the shows personal and that much richer.

      Reply
  20. Steve MacDonald

    “Malaise,” mentioned in an above comment, is just the word I was looking for here. I’ve been suffering from it for years, but it’s been too much trouble to pull out a thesaurus and look it up.

    I stopped going to live concerts years ago. One of the first symptoms of my malaise affliction appeared at a show in Phoenix’s Celebrity Theatre. The venue features a round, rotating stage where every seat is a great one. I was sitting about 50 feet away watching two grand pianos being played by Chic Corea and Herbie Handcock when I realized that I was bored and tired. I left in the middle of the show.

    I saw Bruce in 1975 at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. It was probably the best show I ever saw. Unfortunately, every time I’ve seen him since has been a disappointment by comparison.

    I thought this was normal for someone my age. I never expected to live past 30, but here I am closing in on 56.

    Joe, your continuing enthusiasm for Bruce (and sports, metaphorically), even if it is (slightly) forced now, is a revelation for me. Perhaps malaise is a treatable affliction. I will mention it to my doctor, if I ever get around to making another appointment.

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  22. Al

    I have seen him many times, dating back to that August night in 1978 when he rattled my cage the first time (I met him that night….another story). Each time is different. Yes, he has morphed from long sets of “Kitty’s Back” and “Rosalita” into the greatest bar cover band ever. Yes, he’s 64 and I’m 56 and….run on sentence….we both need it. To prove that this music is real and will last. Beethoven. Mozart. Louis. Bird. Miles. Lennon/McCartney. Bruuuuucceee! I’ve been going to concerts since 1972, seen tons of folks ranging from Zeppelin to Sinatra, The Who to Tony Bennett, Muddy Waters to Roman Candle. I have never seen anyone, anywhere, at a Bruce show not having fun. Ever since “…the record company, Rosie, gave [him] this big advance….” I will be there tonight in Raleigh, rain, snow, earthquake. We need it.

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  23. John C

    Like you Joe, Springsteen is my musical core.

    For whatever reason, he is much maligned by those who have barely heard five of his songs, yet proudly proclaim “he sucks!” They then proceed to tell me John Mellencamp or Steve Earle are great despite obvious Springsteen influences or will tell me how great are The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. While I think Earle, the Stones, and The Beatles are undoubtedly great, none of them, however, move me like Springsteen.

    You see, I was always close to the workingman tales he spun because that’s who I am–a workingman. I understand the plight of the factory worker, the construction worker or the guy who found solace in letting his engine rip while tearing up the highway. His portrait of the common man in Youngstown touches me as few songs can.

    His run of great albums from Greetings through Tunnel tell workingman stories like no other artist. His licks may not be Keith Richards quality, but that was never the point. Many of these greatest bands could only hope to write one song as poignant as any one song on Nebraska.

    I was never a serious large venue live music fan. Therefore, I never felt compelled to see Springsteen or many other big name artists on stage. I prefer smaller venues where the beer flows freely and the bands are nearly part of the crowd.

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  24. keenboss

    Someone above mentioned that he thinks Springsteen is the greatest “live” performer in rock history. I’ve never thought about it that way, but I honestly can’t think of any artist that tops him.
    I’ve seen hundreds of concerts, and it’s obvious that there are a few performers who are miles above the standard fare. Performers that knocked me out:

    -Prince, during the Purple Rain tour
    -Elton John, just alone with a piano, in a small auditorium
    -Van Halen, 1984 tour, DLR at his apex, Eddie cognizant of reality
    -Pearl Jam, just a few years ago at Bonneroo
    -Everly Brothers at the Ryman in Nashville (10 years ago?)

    I’ve seen Bruce countless times. Frankly, his concerts vary in quality quite a bit; they probably have the widest spectrum (from mediocre to transcendent) of any performer I’ve seen more than once. But when he’s “on,” he’s ON; he’s one of the very few performers who can occasionally deliver the rock concert equivalent of a perfect game, or Wilt’s 100-point night.

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  25. KB

    Great article. And just to give you a little more motivation, I have never seen Bruce live. I would love to, but I have spent the past 20-plus years in the military roving from one obscure place to another, never really being at the right place and time to see him. So I just briefly lived a Springsteen concert through your article. Thank you.

    Reply

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