I had no way of knowing, twenty-eight years ago, that the set list for the first Bruce Springsteen show I saw would be the one I would hope to hear again each time I went to see him. That was back on "The River" tour, and the options for songs to be played were limited by the length of his career. Nowadays, when I'm sitting there in my seat, hoping to get a blast from the past, that past is just a little longer than it was way back then.
I remember sitting out at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in the warm August sun. We had spread a blanket out to mark our territory, as seating was still general admission back in those days. The crowd was still sparse as I looked up to see a scruffy-looking bunch wander onstage. It was still mid-afternoon, so I assumed the roadies were coming out to tap on mikes and tune guitars. Instead, these guys counted off and ploughed into Bill Haley's "Rave On," and then went straight into John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over The World." Then, with a little chuckle, the guy up front announced, "We'll be back in just a little bit to rock you all night long."
The guy was Bruce Springsteen, and he wasn't lying. I had already heard the legends about his shows, and I had high expectations. Those were only enhanced by the stories of the show he had played there the night before, in a downpour, and he wouldn't stop for lightning, rain, or plague of locusts. He introduced his sax man as "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla," but it was obvious who the Boss was.
I've been to a lot of Springsteen shows since then, and I continue to pay the price and wait for that moment when the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I get that feeling I got when I first heard "Badlands" live. Or "Jungleland." Or "Rosalita." But when the band, the E Street Band, hit the stage for one last barn-burner of an encore, the audience had surrendered. When they finished up with their marathon version of "Twist and Shout," we didn't have anything left in the tank. He did. He won.
Three years later, when everyone wore a bandanna and owned a copy of "Born in the U.S.A." I heard a setlist that was very similar, but the show had become much larger. Now it was stadium-sized. Bruce and the band filled basketball arenas, and then football stadiums, but I never doubted that he was there to make sure that I rocked all night long.
And now it's been another twenty-five years, and the band has lost a few members and added a few more. The new stuff piles up next to the old stuff, and it makes for a great show night after night after night. And every song takes me back to that first sound check. I've got tickets for the show tonight, and I know I'm going to rock all night long.