Dancing in the Dark: A Night Out with the Boss

bruceby Julia Waldow ’17

While some kids relied on cartoons or PopTarts to get through childhood, I relied on rock-and-rollers three times my age. Forget about Britney Spears or Shakira — it was all about “dad rock.” From belting “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones at my fifth-grade talent show to coasting around in my dad’s car and blasting the Beatles with the top down, my earliest and fondest memories involved a ’60s and ’70s culture I never originally experienced firsthand, but very much loved and appreciated.

Naturally, the second I heard that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would be playing a tour based on the 1980 smash album The River, I knew I had to go. Here was my chance to listen to the music I grew up on, the music that shaped so many of my days and weeks and months. I admired “The Boss” for his meaningful lyrics, powerful musical hooks, and good-natured personality, and I knew that if I didn’t see him live at least once, I would regret it.

So I grabbed my tickets and drove on over to Columbus with the wonderful Erin Delaney ’16. We knew we were in for a treat when we stepped on the parking lot shuttle bus and were the youngest people in attendance. There were tall dads and short dads, big dads and small dads, dads with bandanas and dads with beards. I knew I had found my people.

The second Bruce stepped on stage, the crowd went up in a roar. The Boss is known for kicking performances out of the park, and his time in Columbus didn’t disappoint. The Boss played for a solid three and a half hours without a break, bringing an intense energy, fervor, and excitement to every single song. Whether playing slow ballads or fast rock hits, Bruce managed to create one of the most welcoming and fun concert atmospheres I have ever experienced.

The show’s first song, “Meet Me in the City,” started the show off with a bang. From the second Bruce sang, “Hey girl I’m calling all stations / Blowing down the wire tonight / I’m singing through these power lines / And I’m running on time and feeling alright,” people were up out of their seats, their arms in the air, their popcorn and beer and pretzels tossed to the ground in a mad haste to dance. Lights flickered in the stadium, while a large screen overhead made Bruce larger than life. When he called, “If you can hear me then say alright,” the hundreds of attendees pumped their arms in the air, yelling “ALRIGHT,” forming one united group with an infectious passion I have rarely experienced at any other concert.

The next few songs — “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” and “Jackson Cage,” — continued riding on the evening’s high before moving into slower song territory. The lighting dimmed as the Boss settled into some more somber and meaningful tunes, like “Independence Day,” a ballad about a son realizing the differences between himself and his father. With lines like “Now I don’t know what it always was with us / We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines / There was just no way this house could hold the two of us / I guess that we were just too much of the same kind,” Bruce meditated on the hardships of adolescence and growing up, and of realizing that parents are people too, each with their own flaws and challenges and struggles.

Along similar themes, the Boss’s “The River” was an absolute standout of the night. A slow and haunting track, “The River” touches on navigating the transition from being a teenager to being an adult, understanding how to provide for others, and realizing social and economic responsibilities. In the song, the speaker’s girlfriend becomes pregnant, and he must provide for her and his family, all while trying to hold onto his original vision and hope for the future. Bruce’s personal and engaging rendition reminded me, and the audience, that we are never truly alone when dealing with emotionally-trying times.

Ultimately, the concert was a roller-coaster, with deep dips and high hills, navigating joy and sadness and pain and loss and surprise with ease and exuberance. Whether parading around and high-fiving fans during “Hungry Heart” or sassing guitarist Steve Van Zandt with “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” Bruce brought down the house. He also deeply involved the audience in all of his performances. For “Dancing In The Dark,” the Boss swayed and shimmied with an 80-year-old woman, and for a different song, he brought two 10-year-olds on stage to sing with him.

It was perhaps this commitment to his fans that made the concert the most enjoyable. Whether thanking fans for their elaborate and creative signs, honoring song requests, dancing with audience members, or even drinking their beer, the Boss celebrated those who celebrated him. He constantly engaged with the attendees, making them feel special and honored and alive. He gave the show every single ounce of energy and power and oomph that he had in order to make the experience worthwhile. And just when you didn’t think it could get any more exciting, it did.

After playing a solid three hours, Bruce launched into a 30-minute, six-song encore that absolutely blew my mind. Out poured hit after hit after hit. First, there was “Born in the U.S.A.” Then it was “Born to Run.” Next up, “Dancing in the Dark,” “Rosalita,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” And finally, a fun and funky cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”

Listening to Bruce Springsteen’s records is amazing. But seeing him live is another story. “You can’t start a fire without a spark,” and Bruce will give it to you. Rating: 5/5 stars.

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