While waiting for the show to start, I spoke with a guy from Portland, Ore., who was offered $5,000 for his ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at the Moody Theater on Thursday evening. The tickets were nontransferrable, also required a wristband and were handed out by lottery, so the offer was irrelevant, though the man said he would have sold if he could have.
After experiencing the spectacle that unfolded shortly after that conversation, I am not sure I would have.
Springsteen is a legendary performer who was often credited with saving rock and roll. He is also incredibly popular with working-class, ordinary people. The reason for both of these things is the same: He works his ass off onstage. That hard work is something that is almost required to be visible when playing a stadium, but last night's show was a medium-sized theater that with two balconies had a capacity of around 2,700. I was on the floor. But it might as well have been the clouds.
Springsteen strutted and crooned, climbed atop and leaped from a grand piano to rally the crowd. The man even stage-dived. Three times. Earlier in the day at his keynote lecture, Springsteen discussed how the first thing he learned onstage was how to work a crowd, because, in the end, it was what really mattered. Watching him put it into practice was enthralling. There was a smile on his face nearly as big as those on the faces of the crowd. Springsteen understands performance is an act of symbiosis.
And then, the show turned into a parade of awesomeness that sounds more like a fever dream than an honest account of events.
During his keynote, Springsteen dissected the music of Eric Burdon and The Animals, saying that he'd stolen everything he ever wrote from "We Got to Get Out Of This Place." As Bruce put it: "That went out into the Tweeterverse, and wouldn't you know it, the very guy I was talking about is here in town." And then he brought out Eric Burdon to sing.
But Burdon wasn't the only guest star.
Springsteen brought out reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, and the E-Street Band blasted through three of his tunes. He brought out Tom Morello, guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, to rip noise solos and sing harmonies over a few tunes. Morello dropped a solo straight off of Rage's first album into Springsteen's ballad "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
For the grand finale, Springsteen brought out Arcade Fire to join the rest of the gang, and they all rallied the crowd into a singalong version of "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie, another song The Boss had deconstructed during his keynote.
The performance lasted well over two hours and, at times, felt more like a tent revival than a rock and roll concert. Though it sounds a bit corny, even this late in his career, Springsteen remains not a performer so much as a man who positions himself as a conduit to let the audience channel its passion through his performance.
It was a truly beautiful experience worth far more than the $5,000 the man I met had been offered for his ticket.