springsteen in montreal, 4-19-03

Montreal was never on my list of Springsteen shows for this tour. Too far away, too much money, too many people driving up from New England to make the GA line bearable. I was off the train in Vancouver, and was more or less okay with that. That didn’t stop me from urging friends in Ottawa and Montreal to go — some kind of vicarious participation in the process.

Then, someone on rec.music.artists.springsteen offered up spares to Montreal for a Philly trade, or the best story. So I tell this person about my friend S. in Montreal, who loves loves loves music, who I have known from another music community since 1994, who has endured me going on and on and on about Bruce for years. That I almost just caved and bought her a ticket so she could see him. This person decides that my letter wins the contest, and now S. and a friend are going to see Bruce, gratis.

“Too bad you can’t come, Car,” she says in email. “It would be so easy to get you a ticket.” And I know this, of course, there are tickets for sale all over the net. But that’s out of the question. There’s just no way.

Or is there?

Before I quite know what I am doing, I find airfare for $600, then $300, then briefly consider Priceline, and then remember I still have some miles somewhere — and there, miraculously, my Northwest miles get me a redeye flight to the east coast Friday night, connect at Newark to Montreal, arrive at 9:15 Saturday morning. Only catch is I have to turn around and come back at 6:30am Sunday morning. Ouch. But how can I do this? Well, how can I not? Last arena show.

Friends say: are you going to be happy with this decision if he plays a Vancouver setlist? I tell one of them that all I really want is the chance to shake my ass to “Ramrod” one last time. Which is true. Sacto was mindblowing, Vancouver was not all that for me, a combination of performance and emotional stuff. I need one more shot to clear my palate. One last dance.

So there I am, Saturday night, having personally upgraded ourselves to the front row behind the stage in the Centre Bell. Right behind Roy. Those were not our seats, but with a little stealth observation they became ours and were unchallenged for the entire night. The behind-the-stage ticket reads “DERRIERE SCENE”. I swear to god. It really does. Yes, I understand what it means in French, but – come on. Laugh with me here. It’s too funny, isn’t it?

I’ve never sat behind the stage for Bruce– always wanted to, but have usually been very lucky with my seats. I know I wouldn’t have been as curious to come out for this show if these seats hadn’t been where they were. S. thought I was a little nuts: “Is the stage in the round? No? So why is this good?” I told her that she’d see. It is an experience I absolutely would repeat again – especially if you’ve been out front enough, it kind of fills in the blanks for you. You can catch all the little things that you never get to see when you are close up.

Other friends voiced their concerns that I wouldn’t be happy if I had to sit down the entire night, and they were right about that. It did make me somewhat anxious, but I just figured that worst case scenario, I’d move around until I found people who did want to stand up. That turned out to be a non-issue. The crowd was on their feet from almost the first moment. Even if Bruce hadn’t delivered a hot setlist, it would have been a great show because the crowd was with him, everywhere in the venue. I wish they had almost been a little more restrained; there was no quiet tonight even after the request, and I think we all could have done without the idiots yelling “BROOOCEEE” during “Incident”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

8:30 and there they are, walking out in darkness. In Vancouver I was all “this is my last arena show” but here I think I was still kind of stunned that I’d made it, that it was Saturday night and I was in Montreal watching the E Street Band walk out onto the stage. As soon as they went into “Promised Land” I knew that I was going to be very glad that I was sitting there, and not watching the setlist show up on the newsgroup. Even going into “The Rising” and then “Lonesome Day,” the crowd was with him, and not just the 800 people on the floor who were from New England and the Tri-State area, and not because this was the last arena show for most of the folks in the venue, this was their only show, and it was Saturday night, and they were gonna have a good time.

I could see the audible being called, Bruce with a big grin on his face, looking awfully pleased, and to tell you the truth, from the hand signals, I thought it was
going to be Ties That Bind. You can imagine my reaction when they kicked into My Love Will Not Let You Down, especially being able to watch Max play the drum break at the end of the song from my vantage point, me half-pogoing with a dumb grin on my face. S. is getting off on watching the fans in the pit. On the way home, she mentioned how she was just loving watching all the fans down front sending out all their love to Bruce and the band, and how it just went across the stage and into the audience. (Okay, she’s a Deadhead, but I love her anyway.) I know that sounds kind of hippie but can you think about someone watching the show from that viewpoint for the first time, someone who’s got a wide taste in music, been to hundreds of shows? What the audience must look like to someone like that?

I sat down for Empty Sky and You’re Missing, using the latter to just focus on watching Bruce conduct the band, eyes closed, head back, just feeling it, losing himself in it. Spotlight on him at one point making this beautifully haunting silhouette.

I was back on my feet from the first note of Sunny Day. Two Hearts is hardly my favorite number but I like the segue into No Surrender a lot. S. loved “World’s Apart” and then was kind of blown away when the house lights came up for “Badlands”. And it’s cheesy, sure, and I’ve seen it a million times, but to be behind the stage and watch an entire floor with their arms in the air, trying to look at it through the eyes of a first-timer, it was really awe-inspiring. It was during Badlands that I started to think about the cumulative effects from singing certain songs over and over again for years and years and years, and how that has got to have some kind of effect on your psyche or your subconscious. Singing about believing in the love and the faith and the hope — I mean, that’s a prayer right there. I guess I was thinking about all of this while talking to my friends, trying to explain my relationship with Bruce and the music to them, trying to give them a sense of what it’s like so that they had some context.

I’d been listening to a 1977 show on the way to Montreal, and so I was trying work some serious “Night”/”Candy’s Room” (or any combination of Night/Darkness or Night/She’s The One) mojo. I try not to read any other reviews online before I write mine, but I did sneak a look at a report of the
soundcheck (which included four songs we hadn’t heard yet this tour), and then someone else’s report of what was on the setlist but not played. Okay, I swear. There were no signs tonight. So why did we get Out In The Street? I guess I should have known it was coming because Bruce was digging the behind-the-stage crowd and that�s his chance to give them a shot (although I don�t know why �Sunny Day,� which also has the band walking behind the stage, can�t just take that place). I think that the crowd back there would have been just as happy with a not-facing-the-crowd �Night�/�She�s The One� instead of �Out In The Street�. To quote another friend at the show, �This show did not need another sing-a-long about community.�

My favorite comment about �Mary�s Place� was S. telling me after the show that she was sure it was at least 20 years old. She couldn�t believe it was a new song. Then, Bruce moves to the piano � my first thought was, �Are we at the end of the show already?� He sits down, gets settled, leans into the mic and utters those magic words: “This is for the old-timers out there.” The idiots on the other side of my friends start yelling ROCK AND ROLL and would have probably yelled for Rosie had S. not told him to shut up. Keep in mind, we are RIGHT behind Roy, so Bruce is sitting right there, and then � no, it can�t be. Incident? I am getting to hear INCIDENT after all these years, all these missed chances? I let myself have a moment of freaking out, and then I sit back, arms on the railing, staring ahead at Bruce, watching him play and sing this song. It wasn�t exactly Philly, and the chorus wasn�t echoing off the crowd at the end, but it was still � heart-stopping. Life affirming. Never in a million years. No way. Roy walking up at the end, paternally putting his arm around Bruce, the Professor nodding his approval, and then switching over to the motif at the end that on the album goes into Rosie… I just know it was one of those Bruce moments that I am going to remember forever.

�Thunder Road� and �Into the Fire� � TR was really lacking, and I cannot believe I am saying this, but even S. commented that she didn�t think it was all that powerful (although she did acknowledge that she thought it was the first time she�d ever heard the song. Isn�t that something? She�s never heard it but she knew what it was instantly.) �Into The Fire� closes the main set, and by this point in the tour, I am finally agreeing with those who feel that this is an absolutely lackluster set closer.

The band comes back out for the encore, and I lean over to my friend and say, knowingly, “Oh, you�ll know this next one” and then � motherfucker! HUNGRY HEART? And of course they do know it, and are all happy and stuff, and I tell them, well, this wasn�t what I thought it was going to be.

Can I just talk about �Hungry Heart� for about the next hour? This song, to me, is Bruce�s all time perfect, ultimate pop song. Not �Sherry Darling,� not �Dancing in the Dark,� not anything else you could name, but �Hungry Heart�. I love this goddamn song obsessively. When I got the album I put this song back to back on a 30 minute tape and would listen to it every chance I get. It�s a slice of sunshine, it�s crystallized happiness, it�s pure pop for now people defined. There is no wasted space, there is no stray note, there is no bad line, there is nothing I�d change about the production. And if that wasn�t enough, it has Flo and Eddie on backing vocals! It�s saccharine but it�s got enough of an old-time Motown, Spector-ish feel that it�s the cool side of cheesy instead of the moronic side. It�s timeless, but it also has a very specific feel that can bring me back to the day I heard this song on WNEW-FM, the day I bought the album and took it home, the first time I heard it live. Now, after singing the praises of this song, let me also say that I am not the biggest fan of it live. Sometimes it could drag, sometimes the crowd would not be down with it and so it would all fall apart. And yeah it was a little rough, but having �Hungry Heart� in the set tonight was like the feeling of finding the perfect record at a rummage sale for a quarter. I know that getting Incident off my list was a big one for me, a huge one, but hearing �Hungry Heart� again is in its own way almost as significant as getting to hear �Incident�. Call me nuts. Feel free.

So now it�s ass shakin� time with �Ramrod,� and during the piano break, Bruce was actually walking along the crowd in the front row of the first level, shaking hands, and then he�s standing next to the stage with Clarence�s hat, dancing around, looking very 1980, and then he sneaks up behind Roy and drops the hat on his head. �Born To Run,� predictably blows the roof off the place (something I never ever get tired of experiencing), and then, just when I�m still trying to recover from �Ramrod� � holy shit! No fucking way? The Detroit Motherfucking Medley (as I referred to it to another friend after the show). I have not heard this since 1985. I am not kidding. I don�t even know where to start, but I do know that I don�t have enough room to dance in this little space against the railing. Somehow, I make do, but I am envious of the couples who were doing the Lindy in the back of the pit. I haven�t heard it in forever, but then again, it doesn�t feel like an old one, ya know, everyone knows the call and response and everyone is having a blast.

Standard end with �My City of Ruins� and �Land of Hope And Dreams�. Then, I was really hoping for �Dancing In the Dark� because my friends really did want it (and I can�t blame them), but it absolutely took them more than a few seconds to realize what it was. The best discovery of the Rising tour was prying the rockin version of this song out of the piles of synth cheese.

After the intensity and energy of this show, I am surprised there is nothing after �Dancing In The Dark�. Really, I am. But band members are pulling in-ear monitors out as they walk down the stairs, and then through the tunnel, and then waving at us, Bruce stopping for an extended period of time, big smile on his face, waving and making eye contact with all of us.

Yeah. You could say it was worth the trip.