Rock music, like baseball, is a simple game. Uniquely American, both pastimes thrive on fan participation owing to the promise of immediate satisfaction. There are some basic rules for each, but after that, it’s all subjective. Play three chords from start to finish or run 3 bases around a diamond-shaped infield. Your choice. Touch all three, make it home and you score.
Bruce Springsteen brought his game to Wrigley Field last weekend. He scored. Two sold out shows that are henceforth known in Twitterspeak as #Wrigley1 and #Wrigley2.
He hit it out of the nearly century-old ballpark Saturday night, over the arms of 45,000 greying, balding fans (many with their kids), over the roof parties, beyond the fans loitering in the neighborhood and probably (just for fun) cracking a window on a downtown skyscraper as his home run blowtorched it’s way into the chilly depths of Lake Michigan. No doubt the Friday night show was a barnburner, but Saturday night was different, playing 14 songs not heard the night before. And two hours in…the rains came.
Our group headed to the ballpark early on Saturday. The pre-Springsteen concert meal would definitely be at Wrigley and it would be a Chicago Dog. Vienna Beef is the hot dog vendor for Wrigley Field and they don’t disappoint. Served on a plain or poppy seed bun provided locally by the Gonnela Baking Co., the franks come in two choices: all beef for $6.00 or a High Plains Bison Dog “The Chicago Cubs Official Lean Meat” for $6.50.
This was not a lean night. Knowing my fitness trainer would laugh at me regardless, I chose the all beef dog with the poppy seed bun and bought it from a kiosk in the clubhouse just as guest Tom Morello joined Bruce for an angry version of Death To My Hometown. Hearing the searing guitar solos from inside the clubhouse, I had to get back to my general admission standing area in front of the stage. The nice girl at the kiosk could see the urgent look on my face. She hurried, giving me an extra spoonful of sautéed onions. I dressed the Chicago dog with every condiment available…red peppers, fresh tomatoes and a radiant neon green relish. I don’t want to know what makes that relish glow, but it’s good. These folks know how to make a great hot dog. A cold Old Style draft beer complimented my ballpark staple. It hit the spot. Chicagoans love their draft beer and I love them for that.
Chicago dog and beer in hand I made my way back to the front of the stage just as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder took the stage for a heartfelt duet on My Hometown followed by Vedder stealing the spotlight (at Bruce’s invitation) and remaking Darkness On The Edge Of Town into his own anthem. Spectacular. Beautiful.
The Atlantic Magazine’s Jeff Goldberg recently wrote, “if the E Street Band at full throttle doesn’t fill you with joy, you’re probably dead.” He’s right. Springsteen doesn’t disappoint, in fact, he’s never disappointed. With charisma to burn, the musician shows no signs of stopping. He has the physical stamina and fitness of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Backward body bends over a bolted steel mic stand are his yoga. The voice and flashy musicianship remain solid and energetic. New, young band members compliment the remaining, founding core of the band. What is it after 40 years of playing rock music that makes the 62-year old New Jersey icon kill it on a beautiful Saturday evening at Wrigley Field in 2012? I’ve no idea and it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left for him to do except play the game and entertain…and make a nice paycheck doing so.
When the rain (actually a downpour) began two hours into an already high energy show there was a brief ‘oh crap’ moment. Didn’t last long. No one really headed for the exits. Fueled by beer suds, the audience relished in it. Springsteen surveyed the faithful crowd. He seemed pleased. The rain was a surprise twist that rallied the singer. Whatever set list there once was had washed away.
With a wry smile and drenched Telecaster in hand, he said, “The rain feels good. Treat it like a benediction” and immediately launched into a grand slam of visceral nuggets from the vast Springsteen canon, beginning with a blistering version of Badlands followed by Thunder Road, the hip hop-infused Rocky Ground and a final crushing 5 pack of Born To Run, Rosalita, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Ave. Freeze-Out and the Irish-tinged American Land. Frequent trips to the extended riser out in the audience left water pouring off the guy. At one point he grabbed a beer from someone in the audience and chugged it. I hope it was the Old Style draft. As he played Rosalita’s frenzied guitar lead on his back in a pool of water, I thought, wow that guitar will need new strings and electronics before the next show. (This is a road guitar. The famous Fender Esquire of Springsteen lore has presumably been retired.) Or perhaps like when a hitter breaks a bat, he just grabs another one. Mr. Springsteen has other bats. He played extra innings until the audience was satisfied. He made it to home plate. His batting average remains perfect. It’s a simple game.