The first time Melinda and I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live, it was two or so tours ago. Organist and longtime band member Danny Federici had just passed away shortly beforehand, and there was a fairly lengthy remembrance of him during the show. Springsteen told a few stories, there was a shared moment, and then the show went on. It felt warm and appropriate and suitably moving, that they were taking time to acknowledge the loss of their friend while doing what they had all done together so well, for so long.
We went Monday to see him again. Before this tour, long-time E Street Band member Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, had passed away. It wasn't entirely surprising - he'd been looking unwell for a long time, and had taken to spending most shows seated on an overstuffed throne onstage until it was time to limber up his mighty saxophone. But there's a difference between knowing it's going to happen one of these days and actually having it happen, and going on anyway.
This time, Springsteen didn't stop the show to tell stories. He didn't eulogize Clemons, nor did he stop to tell stories, or call specific attention to his absence. Of course, he did replace the Big Man with a five piece horn section - one man simply being not enough - that included Clemens' own nephew, a lumbering giant in cool shades and superb saxophonist in his own right. But there were no shout-outs, not projected pictures, no moments of maudlin sentimentality or pausing in loss. Three hours, non-stop, no intermission and no let-up.
And then, in the last song of the last encore - and there was none of the usual passive-aggressive running off stage just to get called back on again, because these guys act like they've been there before - Springsteen and the band launched into "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out". For those who don't know, it's one of the band's classics, and it details the story, more or less, of how Bruce, aka "Bad Scooter", got the band together. According to legend, Springsteen and his then-band, a sort of proto-E Street, were onstage on a rainy night in New Jersey when suddenly, the door to the bar they were playing in was literally blown off its hinges. Standing there, framed in the doorway with rain whipping around him, was a big man with a saxophone, who said, "I want to play with your band." And the rest, it was music. "The E Street Shuffle", which they played Monday, references this. So does "Tenth Avenue Freezeout".
For the last verse, there's a little shift in the lyrics. Springsteen shouts, "Now listen, this is the important part," with the next two lines being "When a change was made uptown/And the Big Man joined the band".
And Monday night, he got there, and he stopped. The band stopped. Springsteen held up the microphone. And the crowd, it roared.
Sometime later, much later, the song started back up again. Which was, come to think of it, just right.