Springsteen Gives the Tampa Forum a Boss Night

“This train,” Bruce Springsteen sang, “carries saints and sinners. This train carries losers and winners. This train carries whores and gamblers. This train carries lost souls.”

All were in attendance on Saturday night, when he and his E Street Band came into town. With over 240 songs in my repertoire and having seen seven shows already, I felt pretty prepared for my eighth. My mom dwarfs me. She’s been to over 50 shows, as a journalist and as a fan. This show though, we knew would be different for both of us. Clarence Clemons, the band’s saxophonist and fan favorite, died last June.

Fans everywhere were discussing via blog posts and Youtube comments whether Springsteen was going to muster up another full band tour without a best friend, epic soloist and charismatic personality at his side. A key difference between Springsteen fans and other fans is the longevity. When Clarence Clemons died, fans from the beginning (Springsteen’s first album,Greetings From Asbury Park, was released in 1973) may have seen him perform between 15-100 times or more. There are extended family members you don’t see 100 times for three hours at a time over the course of 40 years. That’s what this felt like to my mom and me. Like a distant family member had passed away. So that was the big question: How do you replace a sound and sight valued by so many while sticking true to your band’s persona and yet not trying to forget “The Big Man”?

Their solution worked to perfection. They recruited Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons, to play sax for the Wrecking Ball tour. They also added a four piece horn section to compliment him as well as three more backing vocalists, nicknamed “The E Street Choir.” All in all, there were 15 people on stage during Saturday night’s show which was moving and exciting at different points in the show. In terms of my experience, I wonder if I’ve ever had as much fun at a Springsteen show as Saturday night. It had been almost two years since my last one, and I wasn’t sure how he was going to feel. Now 62 years old, I expected some more frailty and a more somber “Boss.”

Instead, he played a two and a half hour show without a break, crowd-surfed and toyed with the crowd through all of it. The most touching moments were the times when he would ask the crowd to make noise for Clarence or remember an experience. Sometimes it felt like a concert and sometimes it felt like a soulful funeral.

I’ve always felt like a Springsteen show is like a fountain of youth. No matter how poor you feel that day or week or year, he can go up there and show you that if he can do it at his age, you can dance a little bit too. My mom recently had both of her hips replaced so this was like our coming out party. When Springsteen began Dancing in the Dark, both our eyes lit up. It’s a corny song but it’s a fun highlight on an otherwise mostly dated Born in the USA album. I hadn’t seen her twist like that in years. Modern medicine is an amazing thing.

Although I like the majority of Wrecking Ball, I wonder how much of the crowd was familiar with the new album. When he played the singles, they seemed interested and excited but when he went into deeper album cuts, they seemed to be anxious and a bit more timid. He was forced into sandwiching each of the new songs with a pair of crowd favorites which worked successfully, though I wonder how happy he is doing that. He’s always enjoyed playing his new material though it admittedly doesn’t carry the same punch as Born To Run or Thunder Road.

It’s so tough to put into words, exactly what a Springsteen show feels like. It’s truly more of an experience than anything else. I keep trying to explain to my girlfriend, who’s never been, exactly what’s so different about these shows compared with other artists. There are three main differences:

One – You learn something. Either about yourself, about Springsteen, or about other people. Most times, for me, it’s been a blend of all three.

Two – Pat Riley. At 25 percent of the Springsteen shows I’ve attended, I’ve spotted the Hall of Fame basketball coach in the crowd. It gets me very pumped up to see him singing along to “The Promised Land” with me.

Three – The man has a goal. He states it every show. “To tell a story,” he says as he introduces every member of his band. That story is usually worth hearing. To me, it’s been worth hearing quite a few times.

This article was originally published in The Minaret and can be found here.