Friday, September 9, 2016

The Best There's Ever Been

It's a busy weekend for Princeton Athletics.

There are six events today, six events tomorrow and four more on Sunday, including an ESPNU-televised men's water polo match against defending NCAA champ UCLA.

There's actually home water polo all weekend. There's also home field hockey today between Princeton and No. 12 Albany (at 4) and home women's soccer between unbeaten Princeton and Temple (at 7). You can watch field hockey, go get a nosh and come back for soccer.

In addition to water polo Sunday, there's also another home field hockey game against another ranked team, this time No. 10 Delaware. The head coach of the Blue Hens, by the way, is Rolf van de Kerkhof, the brother-in-law of TigerBlog's physical therapist Theresa.

Princeton and the rest of the Ivy League are a week away from opening day for football. The Tigers begin their season at home next Saturday at 5 against Lafayette. There will be fireworks after the game, which everyone loves.

TigerBlog is still getting used to the new composite schedule format on, but he's starting to like it. He definitely likes the dots that tell you how many events there are on any given day. 

So that's your Princeton Athletics update for now.  

And so, for the rest of today, please indulge TigerBlog on a slightly different subject.

TB works in a department loaded with Bruce Springsteen fans. Any concert tour by the Boss has been well-attended by the Princeton athletic department, and tickets, setlists and concert memories are a constant source of conversation and have been for years. TB was at the show Wednesday and files this report:

It was already past midnight when the man with the mic exhorted his audience to "shout," and so shout they did. All 50,000 or so of them.

"You know you make me want to shout..." Over and over.

From TigerBlog's perch high above Citizens Bank Park, all he could do was shake his head and marvel at the scene below. How could he not? He was watching the best there's ever been.

If Bruce Springsteen had let them, they would have stayed there dancing, singing, laughing, partying until dawn.

Nobody - nobody anywhere ever - has put on a show quite like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It was true the first time TigerBlog saw them, back in the summer of 1981, and it was true Wednesday night, when Springsteen, two weeks shy of his 67th birthday, rocked the home of the Philadelphia Phillies for the amazing total of 34 songs, in a show that lasted for 4:10.

That's four hours and 10 minutes. By a man almost sixty-seven.

Like any other time TB has seen The Boss, the energy in the building was obvious from the time the house lights dimmed and the members of the band walked onto the stage. And then, there he was, center stage, to a huge crescendo of "BRUUUUUUUUUUCE."

Interestingly, the concert Wednesday night started a little slowly, and some of that energy faded a bit from the crowd. The band played some older songs, some that were pretty obscure older songs at that.

And then, on a dime, it all turned.

To TigerBlog, it was like watching an ace pitcher give up two in the first, one in the second and then not allow a hit the rest of the way. Or like watching Michael Jordan score two points in the first quarter, have eight at the half and then finish with 36.

When midnight struck, nobody remembered what the beginning was like. The band, and especially Springsteen, got stronger all night, and did so in incredible fashion.

Springsteen would finish a song, trade one guitar for another, and start on the next one. And the crowd screamed along with him on all of them.

TigerBlog's favorite songs from the night? "Incident On 57th Street," which runs into "Rosalita." "My Love Will Not Let You Down." "Thundercrack," a obscure song that Princeton water polo coach Luis Nicolao introduced to TigerBlog a few years ago. "No Surrender."

And there was the three-song sprint of "Because The Night," "The Rising" and "Badlands." This was as the hour got later and later and the band got better and better.

Had the show ended there, it would have been great. It was the subsequent seven-song encore that turned the concert into the epic that it became.

In fact, had that seven-song encore been the entire concert, it still might have been the best concert TB has ever seen.

In order, it went:
Streets of Philadelphia
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Bobby Jean

"Jungleland" was the best, especially the sax solo by Jake Cleamons, Clarence's nephew. It's hard to think of Clarence without thinking about the sax solo in "Jungleand," and TB would have to think that 1) it's the first big sax solo Jake ever learned and 2) it has to be emotional for him to play.

Maybe the best moment of the night was when Clarence and Dan Federici, the other original E Street Band member who has passed away, flashed on the video screens while Bruce sprinted around the outside of the floor seats, mingling with fans along the way, as he sang about the Big Man in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."

And then there was "Shout," which isn't even Bruce's song. It went on and on and on, and the crowd couldn't have loved it more. And just when it seemed like there was nothing left, the band went to "Bobby Jean" to end the night.

Why was this so special? There are a few reasons.

Springsteen doesn't have a soothing voice like Sinatra or an operatic voice like Freddie Mercury. He doesn't have a rhythmic voice like Bruno Mars or a frenzied voice like Steven Tyler.

The word TigerBlog would use to describe Springsteen's voice is "powerful." It overwhelms the stadium and it never lets up, hour after hour, show after show, year after year.

And nobody has the stage presence that The Boss does. He is the host of his concert and you are his guest. He is not a detached performer. He is talking directly to everyone in his audience.

Yeah. That's it. He's talking directly to you. And this is not just with his lyrics and their classic themes.

You know what TB means. Of blue-collar America. Of restlessness. Of faith. Of loyalty.

"Someday girl I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place where we really want to go and we'll walk in the sun, but til then tramps like us, baby we were born to run."

Or "we made a promise, we swore we'd always remember, no retreat baby, no surrender."

Or "I see you standing across the room watching me without a sound. I'm gonna push my way through that crowd and tear all your walls down. My love, love, love, love, will not let you down."

But it's more than that.

Most concerts have songs you like and songs you don't know and songs that have been popular.

For Bruce and the E Street Band, they're playing songs that are important to the people in the audience. They take those fans back to different times in their lives, reminding them of how these lyrics and melodies and the powerful voice who is singing helped them through those times.

It becomes less of a concert and more of a life experience. And that brings TigerBlog to one last point.

Like TigerBlog, there were many there last night who have been watching Bruce and the band in concert for decades.

Bruce will be 67 in two weeks. Gary W. Tallent is 66. Steven Van Zandt, Max Weinberg and Nils Lofgren are all 65.

The band began the current tour in January. It has taken them throughout the country and then to Europe before coming back here to finish up.

How many tours like this does this band have left? Any?

That's why nobody wanted the party to end the other night. Not the band. Not the audience.

This might just be the last chance, to entertain and to be entertained. To be taken back through the years, through the decades. To hear, once again, the songs that have mattered so much.

It's really possible that Wednesday night was the last time TigerBlog will see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert. It's also likely that it was the best concert TB has ever seen.

Those things are not unrelated.

Bruce walked onto the stage at 8 pm and said simply "Good Evening Philadelphia."

He walked at 12:10 am, having left no doubt, once again, that he is the best there has ever been.

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