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Blow off The Boss at one's own peril

Fan finds heaven even in the cheap seats


When The Boss comes a-calling, it’s best to go a-running.

That was my primary takeaway from the Nov. 28 Bruce Springsteen concert at the Rose Garden Arena, where over the course of three hours I laughed, hollered, clapped, fist pumped, danced — and even shed a few tears.

To be clear, I did not get a personal call from Mr. Springsteen before his latest Portland visit. It’s just that when I heard he was coming back to town with the E Street Band, I knew he expected card-carrying supporters like myself to plan accordingly.

Truth be told, it took me awhile to commit.

At several points along the way, I considered ignoring his, albeit implied, request. I recall the days when a concert plan was as spontaneous and automatic as turning up the car radio. But as an early 40-something, creating rock ‘n’ roll fun on a Wednesday night is a bit more complex.

First, there’s the expense. At base prices from $48 to $98 — Ticketmaster’s mysterious “service” and “convenience” fees add around $20 — it seemed a bit much for one night of rocking. Then there’s the modern-day seat dilemma: Does one break the $100 barrier in hopes of making eye contact with Bruce or Little Steven, or shell out a relatively meager $63.50 for the humble privilege of breathing the same air as the boys down below and staring at a giant video screen.

A couple guys from work took the costlier route, though when I asked how much they paid for their seats, all I got was an indifferent shrug that seemed to say, “Dude, who cares. This is Bruce!”

Companionship provided another barrier. Members of my 2009 posse for The Boss’ last Rose Garden visit started on the fence before falling, one by one, on the lame side. Taking a date crossed my mind, but the idea of being separated from $200 or so on a Wednesday got me thinking romance could wait for the weekend and a $6 club cover charge.

Of course, once I made it to my seat (the $63.50 variety, common sense prevailed) none of this indecisive hoo-hah mattered.

Bruce and the band didn’t emerge on stage for a good 40 minutes after the listed 7:30 p.m. starting time, but as the opening trilogy of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “No Surrender” and “Hungry Heart” rolled out, whatever hassles I experienced to get there vanished into the ether.

I’d barely gathered myself from the opening rush of adrenaline and emotion when the guy I came to see made it clear this would be a night to remember. During “Hungry Heart” — from 1980, Bruce’s first top-10 hit — the aging rocker stage-dived from a platform in the middle of the main floor. OK, it was more like one of those backward “trust falls” than an actual forward plunge, but the sight of a 63-year-old man singing on his back while fan-arms slowly return him to the stage is one for the rock ‘n’ roll ages.

How does a seasoned performer top shenanigans like that? Most wouldn’t even try, but this being Bruce and all, there were many more tricks up those sweat-soaked sleeves.

Here are some other observations from a truly mind-blowing evening:

  • Perhaps no major rocker can skirt the edge of cheesy showmanship and undeniable cool better than Bruce. Among those invited onstage to dance and sing along were children, a man celebrating his 50th birthday (who requested — and sang on — “Growin’ Up” from 1973), and a cadre of young women wearing “Lesbians (heart) Bruce” T-shirts.

  • The Boss’ tradition of honoring requests from homemade signs continued with a female fan spinning the arrow on another fan’s elaborate song board contraption. When it landed on “Steve’s Choice,” guitarist Steven Van Zandt chose “Loose Ends,” an obscure late 1970s outtake the band nonetheless launched into as if it were, say, “Born in the U.S.A.”

  • One of the biggest questions looming on this, the “Wrecking Ball” tour, was how Bruce and the band would handle the loss of saxophone legend Clarence Clemons, a k a “the Big Man,” who died last year from complications of a stroke. In practical terms, Clemons’ dreadlocked nephew Jake ably took on his uncle’s signature solos with verve.

  • The actual tribute came in the extended encore, during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” After the line, “the change was made uptown, and the Big Man joined the band” was followed not by the usual sax solo, but silence and a heart-rending video montage of Clemons and Danny Federici, the E Street Band organist who passed away from cancer in 2009.

  • While irony isn’t usually Bruce’s thing, the encore also included “Dancing in the Dark,” a signature 1980s hit that found thousands in the Rose Garden dancing in the full blare of house lights.

  • When a red and white hat appeared on the main man’s head, I suspected what was going to happen, but was still bowled over when he belted the opening lines of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” an interpretation my mom used to think was awful until she developed an ongoing crush on The Boss.

    And regarding those budget-level seats, the problem with Nosebleed Land, I discovered, isn’t proximity to the stage, but topography and demographics. The steep pitch leaves little room for spontaneous movement, standing included. Most of my section 325 neighbors seemed more than happy to passively observe the antics below.

    To break this tension, one fan — who shall remain nameless — followed a lower-section ticket holder past the watchful eyes of ushers to discover an empty row crying out for late-concert occupation. When Bruce began to pluck out the guitar intro of “Rosalita,” a rarely played epic from his second album, that particular fan was reminded, yet again, why it’s always best to heed The Boss’s call.

    Shannon O. Wells is a Beaverton Valley Times news reporter.



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