Why Greensboro? Because that’s the way it is in 2023 of a music lover’s life and at Ticketmaster’s mysterious lottery to get the chance to buy tickets, this is the fifth choice, I had randomly listed on my ballot, for which my name was selected.
Not Albany, Boston or New York. Greensboro, a charming town of just under 300,000 people, would be my sixth date with my only real boss, for a price that I wouldn’t call low, but that shouldn’t compromise the higher education of my offspring.
The E Street Band’s first tour since February 2017, this current North American tour unfolds, like many of its leader’s recent projects, under the shadow of death. His, first: Bruce Springsteen, despite the energy allowing him to manhandle his guitar and harangue his disciples for two hours and fifty minutes, presents for the first time the face of an aging man – I specify that I will be perfectly happy if at 73 I display half a quarter of his irrepressible vitality.
When his childhood friend left this planet in 2018, Bruce became the only survivor of the Castiles, an observation explaining the many meditations on the meaning to be given to life, and on the bond which unites us to others, that contains Letter to You, the most recent album by the E Street Band, released in 2020.
His tour, however, has nothing to do with a funeral wake. While New Jersey’s best bar band had always had the habit of changing the list of songs played every night, the Boss’ current show responds to an almost completely fixed choice of repertoire, allowing it to weave a narrative and create dialogues between different refrains borrowed from different eras – no doubt a lesson learned during his solo residency on Broadway.
To ward off death, Bruce Springsteen therefore employs two strategies in this show: looking it straight in the eye and taunting it.
Taunt her: With a section of five horns and four singers, the improved version of the E Street Band has 18 musicians (19 when Bruce’s wife, Patti Scalfia, is not absent), a shattering machine allowing it to restore all the shimmering colors contained in songs from her first two albums like Kitty’s Back, The E Street Shuffle and Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).
At 73, Springsteen manages to make songs nearly five decades old say new things, without changing a single word. This is the case with Backstreets (1975), of which he is currently playing his most moving version of his career.
By prefacing it with the recent Last Man Standing, and one of his only monologues of the evening, about the departure of his comrade George, Bruce deliberately colors our reading of the song that follows. And the betrayal spoken of in Backstreets suddenly has nothing to do with the broken loyalty of a youthful friendship, but everything to do with the ultimate betrayal of life, the betrayal of death that separates us from those we ‘WE love.
“We swore forever friends, on the backstreets until the end,” Bruce sings, repeating the words “until the end” like a mantra, hand on heart.
Everyone comes to a Bruce Springsteen show with their own baggage, their own cross. Mine ? A few weeks after getting my tickets, in July, I fractured my left femur following a fall. Detail that is not one: I am missing half of this leg.
The last six months have thus been a kind of crossing the desert on one leg and two crutches. But I had promised myself, in the secrecy of my heart, that when March 25 came, I would stand straight on two legs in front of Bruce.
“I’m learning with the E Street to create a show that can change someone’s life,” Jake Clemons told me last summer when I interviewed him in Montreal, an ambition that may seem pretentious, even absurd.
In Greensboro, this improbably grand ambition suddenly made sense to me, because I felt its effects in my flesh: changing someone’s life had been as simple as giving myself the courage and the strength not to despair.