Springsteen in Sacramento, 4-9-03

If you’re someone who evaluates shows on technical excellence, or musical proficiency, well, then, Sacto was not the show for you. But for those of us who rate a show based on overall feel, that intangible something, that combination of factors that fall into place and create pure magic, Sacto was just that.

Leaving out a long explanation about the general admission line and related chaos, I’ll just note that through a combination of luck and circumstance, I ended up with my elbows on the stage, center. Two people to the right of Bruce’s mic. My life went to hell earlier Tuesday morning, and I was viewing this as divine intervention. (Well, that and a stupid chick who took a Vicodin an hour before the show, and as a result just slid too far over to the left, leaving me a nice space next to a friend to slide into.)

At 8:30, the lights go down, and don’t come back up on the stage. We can see the band walking on in darkness. Spotlight on Bruce, and it’s acoustic BITUSA. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the man loves playing this song. Glass slide on his finger, face furrowed in concentration. Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is ­ what’s in the #2 slot? Will it be “War”? Will it be “Who’ll Stop the Rain”? I didn’t think that Bruce not playing “War” was backing down, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is just as powerful and echoes the identical theme that “War” does, it’s just less in your face and less obvious. I like watching Bruce sing “War”, so I wouldn’t have minded too much, but then when “Who’ll Stop The Rain” started I realized I was happier with this choice.

The band rolls into “No Surrender” and it’s finally time to rock out. Lately, I’d been viewing it as my personal theme song for a variety of reasons, so hearing it was like running into a long lost friend, and of course, watching Bruce sing it three feet away from me made it all that more powerful.

The audience was great. The energy just built and built and built. The pit was lively and full of energy (despite the hours and clusterfucks), and Arco Arena is interesting in that the skyboxes are BEHIND the stage. Equally interesting (but not surprising) was that the stage had been set up with the strips of chainlink fence hanging vertically across the skyboxes ­ it’s chainlink, so it’s not obscuring their view, but it was somewhat a defiant move. As I noted before the show, Bruce wasn’t going to be playing to the crowd behind the stage tonight. At one
point in the show, he makes a move to head that way, and then realizes what’s up there; he then turned to the audience sidestage (and the sidestage seats are
very very close due to the unique configuration of Arco ­ I’ve sat there before, so I know that it’s a great view) ­ he took one look and said, “Good system!” Those folks were on their feet all night. When it came time for him to give the “Come on up for the ASS rising” exhortation, he was really only speaking to folks up in the upper level. I really believe that the crowd was the ingredient that made this show so special.

Bruce’s voice was very rough. He wasn’t hitting some notes and after a while just gave up trying to. He also clearly hurt himself at one point during the show; probably after one of the knee slides (which started right in front of me, and caused me to stop breathing for a few seconds), I saw him striking what I thought was a triangle pose in yoga; my friend leans over and goes, “That’s a groin stretch.” (I refrained from making any further comments about that statement.) He was clearly hurting during the rest of the show, but that didn’t stop him from taking another knee slide to the other side, or from jumping up on the piano. My impression was that the fact that it was so clearly physically challenging for him almost made him work that much harder. It was like he refused to let himself be defeated or slowed down by it.

Bruce sang the “blow away” verse in “Promised Land” on the edge of the stage right in front of us, and I have never felt such passion or conviction before. Sure, yeah, it was in front of me, and that was probably when my first vocal chord blew, but several times during the evening, I would comment that we hadn’t seen some of these things since ’78. You wouldn’t think that “Promised Land” was an old song from the way he delivered it in Sacto.

“Badlands” featured a fierce guitar solo that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Clash album ­ there was a fury and a determined precision that blew me away. (And in my neighborhood, comparing someone to the Clash is a VERY VERY good thing, just so that’s clear.)

I have not seen “She’s The One” since 1988. That’s right. 15 years. So when Clarence picked up the maracas and I realized what was happening, it didn’t feel real. It just didn’t. Time stood still. And I was about to go hysterical but then said to myself, “Hey, Caryn, how about you wait until it’s done so you remember it?” That was when I blew out the second vocal chord and just stopped caring how much my throat hurt. It was perfect. It was everything I’d ever wanted. Everything I remembered. As dark and powerful and full of longing as the first time I heard the song.

Someone commented recently that they truly love “Mary’s Place” as much as anything that Bruce has ever done, and I realized in Sacto that I share this sentiment. I love it. I’d miss it if it went away. Same with “Sunny Day”. These are songs we could be singing in 20 years (provided there’s an E Street Band
in 20 years). They are truly timeless. The Patti intro tonight was a little different: ­ the same “Rescue Me” vamp, with a funny, goofy little dance, and then he says, “She’s playin it cool now… but this really works for me at home.” There was also one point when he was singing “Help me” and Patti nouthed “Yes, you need help.”

I love, love, love Nils’ classic, flamenco-tinged intro to “Countin On A Miracle”. Just transforms the song. That finishes, and I see Bruce calling what we were sure was definitely an audible (but later found out was indeed on the setlist). All of a sudden there it is, the intro to “Jungleland”. The place is going absolutely apeshit and sings along with Bruce with one loud voice, it felt like every single person was singing every single goddamn word. Until, of course, “Beneath the city/two hearts beat”… when the entire arena drops into a hush. It’s that ritual that we all know, Bruce sings this one, and I swear the place was totally silent, watching and listening to him intone this verse.

And then he finishes, and starts the next one, and we’re all shouting along:
“Outside the street’s on fire in a real death waltz
Between flesh and what’s fantasy
And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be”

Then we drop back into silence again, and let Bruce sing:
“And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded, not even dead…”

And then we’re all singing again with him, slowly:
“Tonight… in… Jungleland….”

I close my eyes, tilt my head up, and raise my arms as I let that last moan wash over me, feeling the piano notes drifting through my fingers as the song ends. And then I open them again and realize that I am indeed still standing on the ground. Because I’m sure I was floating at least a few inches during that song. It was sheer and utter magic, and I saw someone earlier say that they thought it blew away any version during the Reunion tour. I was lucky enough to hear it twice (CAA and Tacoma), and I’d have to agree wholeheartedly.

There were two guys behind me during the show, two friends whose interaction was very enjoyable to witness, they were so clearly into every single second. When the band came out for the encore, and Bruce pulls the harmonica out of his pocket and starts “Thunder Road”, one of them smiled affectionately and
said, “He’s just never going to let this one go, is he?” That comment, true as it was, made me throw myself into the song that much more. It didn’t feel old or tired or rote tonight (and I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever felt that way about it, although I know others have, and I totally acknowledge that I see where they’re coming from.)

So Bruce is clearly hurting, and I say to my friend, “I don’t think we’ll get ‘Ramrod’ tonight,” but then there he is, shoving the fretboard up against the mic stand, and asking us, “Are you ready to roadhouse????” Fuck yeah. We’re talking about the loosest, silliest, sloppiest, rockinest version of “Ramrod” I have ever seen or heard, and it just went on for fucking EVER, Bruce dropping down the micstand and mimicking gunning a car between the lines of the first verse. (And. Yes. He pointed at me and sang the “pretty face” line. I squealed like a 13 year old.) I had a friend sitting sidestage, and when the band left the stage and Roy went into that New Orleans-style vamp on the bridge, the friend said that they could see Bruce and everyone underneath the stage, and then all of a sudden, Bruce stuck his face out the curtain, and someone put a flashlight on it. Then he disappeared, and did it again. Then, Clarence did the same thing. All of this going on, and no one can see it, of course, except the people in 119. He also mentioned how when they came out and were waiting sidestage for Roy to finish, that Bruce was just dancing around there, in total darkness, for no one’s benefit but those folks sidestage (and, well, maybe himself). Like I said, it seemed to go on FOREVER.

The rest of the encore is about what you expect, just several volumes higher intensity than any normal show. But they go into LOHAD, and I said to my friend: “He’s not going to pogo.”
“He might.”
But the first guitar break hits, and he’s not, and goddamnit, I thought, this time the punk rocker’s going to start it, so I start to pogo and my pal immediately follows suit and there we are, pogoing like crazy people, and Bruce stands there looking at us with this look of “You people are fucking nuts”, shaking his head and laughing. But second guitar break and now he starts to pogo, so people in the pit start along with him as well. I do not know where I found the energy at that point, but I felt anything but tired or weary.

Then Bruce and Clarence and Stevie stand there at the front of the stage in this mock triumvirate, you know the shtick by now, solemnly deciding our fate, and the crowd is just cheering its collective lungs out. So of course they run back into place and it’s that wonderful rockin “Dancing In The Dark,” Bruce pogoing like crazy this time without any encouragement whatsoever. He finishes, you can see he’s just so wiped out, but also so clearly didn’t want to leave (the quote before “My City Of Ruins” was “you’ve been a fabulous audience”) and from somewhere he decides to pull out “Darlington County”. He’s working the stage, singing along, and someone behind me throws a cowboy hat up into the crowd, and it ends up behind me, and I pick it up and Bruce reaches for it and puts it on, just hamming it up for all that he was worth, and absolutely loving every second. He starts walking down Clarence’s side of the stage and either tripped or slipped, but he fell onto the step there and just could not get up (and didn’t want to), singing to the kids who were in the crowd there.

I think he would have kept going even after that if there was any possible way. I really do.

I’ve heard Bruce sing better, I’ve probably heard him play with greater technical profiency, but hell, even Stevie knocked it out of the park tonight on “World’s Apart” (although Bruce of course tore him to shreds with the next solo, but then again, when hasn’t he done that). But to me, it’s always that something other that makes a show spectacular. As I gushed to a friend on the way out, “It was ALMOST Providence!” If the setlist had been a bit more varied, it would have been a very close tie.

It was just mindblowing. I was high for the next 48 hours just on this show. And I wasn’t going to go, not at all, but two weeks beforehand said “fuck it, I’m going”. I’m so glad I did.