“what time IS it?”

“I do believe it’s time to go sell some tickets, Stevie.”

It has been a glorious and crazy week, leading up to tonight, 12 minutes, the global audience. I managed to avoid spoilers until I could avoid them no longer, and even then, knowing didn’t matter.

If you’re going to play the Super Bowl, well, then, go and play the Super Bowl. Bring the lights and the horns and the pyro and the crazy outfits and go full out, balls to the wall – or don’t do it at all.

It was 12 minutes of everything, every single best part of that set. It was the feeling by the time we get to BTR and the houselights come on and for me it’s homecoming, for the people next to me it’s memories of the past, for the college kids to my right it’s OMFG BORN TO RUN! It always makes me smile, it always makes me tear up a little. There are dozens of photos in my phone and in my Flickr feed of those moments, not just because the houselights are up and it’s the end of the show and Bruce’s guys aren’t going to come after me and delete them, but because it is the entire show, the entire arc of emotion, distilled into one song, one moment.

(And oh, did he take some lessons from Bono.)

It’s why I go back, again and again. No matter how bad the show is, I hang on until BTR and can always find what I’m looking for there.

Tonight was the master at work. This is the man who studied the greats, who used to go stalk Sam Moore at the Satellite Lounge to get tips on how to lead a band – who DOES that any more? Who can get onstage with a horn section and lead the motherfucker? It was every shtick, the “come on up for the ASS rising” intro, the “Live At The Roxy” shtick from “Rosie,” the “what time IS it” shtick from “Ramrod,” the hanging off of the mic (hell, on Rising it was hanging UPSIDE DOWN from the damn thing), the knee slides (which are so much better when you are right there and getting covered in sweat as he slides by), and it was the tree and the bear from BITUSA. It was the horns and getting camera time for everyone, every single person in that band got face time.

It was THE MIAMI HORNS. (Dear god. Please let them go on tour between the time Conan East Coast ends and Conan West Coast begins.) La Bamba! And Pender! To you they are Conan’s horns, to us, well, they’ve always been our little secret. (But now I can never hire them to play at the boyfriend’s party for when he gets admitted to the bar. Sigh.)

It was me looking down the stage and thinking, “Charlie needs to get out of the way so I can see Danny,” and then remembering. He was there, you know he was.

It was the Big Man, bigger than life. The opening silhouette – put THAT on a poster or a tshirt and I’ll buy a dozen. What the hell was he wearing? Where the hell did he get it? Who on earth conceptualized that outfit? (That sentiment kind of defines the Big Man, though, doesn’t it?)

Someone groused after We Are One that they were calling two years before Bruce puts out an album with a choir, to which we say: FINE. That choir plus the horns made “Working On A Dream” into a great song, didn’t it?

Cutting the verse from 10th Avenue we knew was going to happen. Cutting that verse from BTR seemed questionable. (And in case you wonder, “Glory Days” was last because while they can cut that one short, you can’t cut BTR short.)

But otherwise, it was completely fabulous. Wasn’t it? Wasn’t it big and glorious and joyful?

I get it now, I get why he did it, why it was important to him, why he said “yes” this year of all years. I was close before, but the press conference brought it home: he is proud of his work with this band. He is proud of these musicians. He thinks he has one of the best live bands in the world (which he does), and he wants everyone to know it. He wants to show everyone what they’ve been missing since they dropped off the BITUSA bandwagon.

And, well, he did. It was Boss Time up there tonight, for real for real. It was everything that was good and then some, and everything that is bad or hokey or a long-running E Street joke, too. It was real, and it was full of love, and life, and he had the time of his life on that stage. As a fan, my heart swelled, my face lit up. I beamed. Yeah, that’s my guy. Now do you get it?

Either you do, or you don’t. But if you don’t, I better not see you on that ticket line tomorrow. Are we clear?