I've been wanting to do a segment on this blog for fan reviews but up till now didn't quite know how to handle it. The Count Basie show seemed like a perfect point to start. There certainly seemed to be a gap between how I experienced the show by listening to the tape and what the people who had actually been there made of it. So here to set me straight, a review by an eye witness, one of Jersey's finest, Wendy Bond!
I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey on Wednesday, May 7th, 2008. They performed their albums “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Born to Run”, plus a few terrific encores. Not only was it the best Springsteen show I’ve ever been to, but, it was the best live show I’ve ever been to, period. Those of you who know me know I’ve been to a lot of other bands’ shows but came on the “Bruce train” later than most fans. So in order to get a good overall perspective on it, I asked some of my friends who were there and have been going to Bruce shows for 30+ years what they thought of the show. They all agreed that it was the best show they’ve ever been to as well. So, what was it that made this show—this night—so special?
It was a combination of a lot of things. One reason is because it was a fundraiser ($3 million dollars were raised) for The Count Basie Theatre for their upcoming renovations. So it was a different kind of show from the outset. The Basie holds only 1,500 people, so it’s a very intimate venue, about the size of a high school theater. Also, due to the fact it was a fundraiser, tickets were priced much differently for this show than they are for a “regular” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show during a “regular” tour. As a result, there was a very unique mix of people in the crowd. I saw some beloved friends who I have gotten to know from going to Bruce shows, and also met some other very nice people who are devoted Bruce fans that I might not have met at a “regular” show. An important part of this audience were 37 wounded veterans who came from the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington for the show. From what I understood from the introductions, donations were made to the Basie so that these people could enjoy the show for free. Perhaps Bruce had this unique mix of people in mind when he was designing the setlist for the show. It certainly worked—regardless of whether you’re a casual fan who came to see a great night of entertainment to support the Basie and have a good time, or, if you’re a die-hard Springsteen fan frothing at the mouth to get into this show, chances are, you were familiar with the music. For many people in the audience, these songs were the anthems of their young adulthood. The fact that the evening took place just down the road from Tenth Avenue and E Street in Belmar, the boardwalk in Asbury Park, Highway 9, and so many other key landmarks—the foundations of so much of Bruce and the Band’s history—made it even more special.
Another factor that made the show so unique is that the material was presented as though it was brand new and fresh. Even for those who had been listening to these albums for 30 + years, there was a breath of fresh air and new life in these songs, because there was so much energy coming from onstage. The audience definitely reacted to that, which energized Bruce and the band even more, and it became a continuous cycle. From my seat smack dab in the middle of the middle of the center orchestra, the audience was electrified. I did heads-together sing-alongs with the people on either side of me, who were complete strangers. At one point Bruce jumped off the stage and “crowd-surfed”, allowing the audience to carry his body over their heads. It was incredible. These songs weren’t just performed one after the other in any kind of repetitious way—each one was a special adventure all its own. The result was a powerful whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Yet another reason this night was so emotionally charged is that it took place soon after the death of Danny Federici. He was there in spirit, though, and the thought was never far away, for me at least, that life is precious and fleeting and nights like these are very special.
This night was both a look back in history and a celebration of the present. It was about honoring the past and remembering your roots, while living in the moment and realizing “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”.