Review: Bruce Springsteen


Bruce Springsteen in Cape TownA week seems like just long enough to wait before blogging about a concert. The PGD has all but faded (although I did nearly cry last night when hearing the word ‘vision’ reminded me of the Thunder Road lyric…), and it’s time to face the facts: it’s been seven days since my last Bruce fix. I haven’t listened to him since, in fact I haven’t even listened to my iPod or any CD much at all, preferring to rather torture myself with the radio for fear that any song may break my little bubble of Boss-happiness.

So Springsteen and co (‘co’ this time including Tom Morello, Jake Clemons, Nils Lofgren, Steve van Zandt, Soozie Tyrell and all the rest of the 18-piece E-Street Band) descended upon my town during the last week of January 2014. The Boss himself arrived in his private plane, and by the time I saw the Instagram of said plane I was already plotting just how I was going to take a casual drive past the One & Only, where I was pretty sure he was staying. Luckily it was a Friday afternoon, and I could assure myself that it wasn’t at all creepy to do my weekly grocery shopping at the V&A Waterfront, necessitating a ride past said hotel on the way home. Luck was, unfortunately, not on my side. Fail.

Fast-forward to Sunday when I receive a photograph via email from my actual boss (not Boss), who happens to be at the Bruce press conference. I don’t wanna talk about it.

And so arrives Tuesday the 28th of January, a day that will go down in my history books for all time. Bruce day. Not like I haven’t seen him before, but whatevs. I’ve managed a half-day at work to facilitate queuing and well, not being dead tired, and rush out at 8.30am sharp, already clad in my specially printed Born in the USA tour shirt, a la Courtney Cox circa 1984.

My attempts at a morning nap are thwarted by a) a neighbour knocking on my door just as my New Jersey-esque musings are threatening to take wings and become actual dreams and b) the fact that I’m just too gosh-darned excited. Besides, sleep is for those who have the time (read: those who aren’t seeing a legend in just a few hours).

I manage to restrain myself and not go queue at 9am, although it goes against everything I stand for, and every fibre of my being is trying to fight its way to Bellville as I try just as desperately to hold it back. 1.30pm sounds like a fair departure time, however, and since the venue is 30 minutes away by car, 2pm is positively late for me when it comes to concerts. We’re almost at the turn off to the N1 when disaster strikes: one of those nifty little Cape Town highway billboards tells us that the N1 is closed, please use alternate route. Hmm. Now I’m not willing to take any risks (the back streets of Goodwood are probably worse than the back streets of Naples – 50 points if you get that song reference), so we take a serious detour via the N2 and halfway to Kuils freaking River. Either way, our directions are pretty much spot on, and we land in a non-descript parking lot, filled with small clumps of people who don’t seem to be queuing at all…

I’ll spare my rant about the pit system (basically, first 450 people to arrive at the show get priority standing, and despite the number of times I asked if this would be the case at this show, I was denied an answer). But I’m number 311 in line, and although I have no intention of actually going into the pit (friendship wins over fangirling any day, and miss Lauren won’t make it before about 7pm), I meet the most wonderfully interesting people.

I’m not really a member of the Bruce fan community, but I can liken it to my own Victims. A crowd of people from all corners of the globe coming together in support of just one mutual passion – and becoming the best of friends. One guy is from Turkey, one from Sweden, and we strike up the conversations of old friends – it’s almost magic. They’re all dressed in previous tour shirts and are more than eager to tell anyone who will listen that they’ve seen the Boss 156 times. What a privilege it must be to have followed him since the early days of his career: when Big Man and Danny Federici were still around, when the Stone Pony was the biggest venue the band had played, ahhhh.

So we’re led in before gates officially open (around 5.30pm) and herded into seats marked with each of our numbers, despite my protests of “I am not a cattle!” The two fans who seem to be in charge are not amused by me, and become more like a cross between drill-sergeants and retired headmasters with every loud exclamation. Nonetheless, it is fantastic fun.

A few minutes later I’ve secured a barrier spot between pit and general, and the security guard assures me that I want to stay just where I am. I don’t really dare to believe that the little arrows on the floor near my feet are to mark where Bruce is going to run if he jumps off the stage…

Cue dimming of the lights and an immense roar from the crowd as the E-Street band troop onto the stage. The roar grows as Nils and his top hat take up their position, and squeals ensue for Jake Clemons (clearly as popular as his uncle once was), but it’s the arrival of Steve van Zandt that nearly blows the roof off the Bellville Velodrome. Oh, and then there’s Springsteen.

It’s really almost all too much for me, and I stare in awe as my hero kicks his show off with a tribute to Nelson Mandela, followed by a little walk around the front of the stage to gather sign requests. We get ‘No Surrender’, ‘Two Hearts’ and ‘The Ties That Bind’ before being treated to the brand new cover of ‘High Hopes’, which yes, I knew all the words to after listening to the album non-stop for a solid week.

“Can you feeeeeeel it?” Bruce asks. “Can you feel the spirit?” and I die a little inside, knowing what’s coming. ‘Spirit in the Night’ is done justice by the horn section, but I’ll admit to losing concentration on the song when Mr Springsteen casually jumps from the stage and runs down a little path that ends right in front of my face. Oh. He’s standing on a tiny platform ten centimeters from me and I am touching him. Oh. He’s singing one of my favourite of his songs into my face. Oh. Then he runs away, and what am I supposed to do? Scream? Cry? Faint? I settle for gripping the barrier as if my life depends on it, and trying not to let my shaking legs deposit me flat on the floor. I’ve touched Bruce Springsteen.

’41 Shots’ is an emotional highlight, and as much as I love it, I find myself unable to cheer for it. I can sing, yes, and clap, but cheering and shouting just doesn’t seem right. Regardless, it’s beautiful. ‘The Promised Land’ (my favourite Springsteen song) nearly sends me over the edge, ‘Shackled and Drawn’ makes me want to dance my face off, and clearly even the local audience know the drill of passing Bruce a kid for ‘Waiting on a Sunny Day’. Then we’re onto ‘Lonesome Day’, ‘Badlands’ (during which I make besties with the girl next to me) and a rare full version of ‘Born in the USA’. It’s not usually one of my favourites, but tonight it sure it. ‘Born to Run’ sees Lauren and myself fangirling so much we may actually injure ourselves, and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ has me on another high. Setlist-wise, my main disappointments are the lack of ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Hungry Heart’, but I’ve seen them at Wembley, so I’ll survive.

It’s over far too quickly, and peeling myself away from the barrier I can barely move my legs to walk to the car. But I’d do it all again. I’d do it right there and then. If the band had played another 27 songs, I’d have been there, front and center.

A 64-year-old man effortlessly entertains a crowd of 12000 for 3 hours (and yes, I touched him two more times), never losing the attention for even a split second. He commands the stage like something from another world, and indeed, maybe he is. There’s something magic about this guy, something unexplainable, something that can only be felt by those who witness his performance in person. How can one person possess a talent and an emotion so strong that he can captivate three generations of people all at the same time? He’s a legend, a musician so enduring that I have no doubt about whether my generation’s grandchildren will still be worshipping the ground he once walked upon. In 50 years time, I can look back and say “You know, I saw Springsteen live”… and they’ll all dance to his music like spirits in the night.

Farah Barry

Bruce Springsteen performed in Cape Town at the Bellville Velodrome on the 26th, 28th and 29th of January.


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