Hitting consecutive shows by Springsteen and the E Street Band in Omaha and St. Paul provided interesting insight into the culture of Springsteen.
You see, every show I’ve seen with the E Street Band is much like an old-fashioned tent revival in the church of rock and roll. Bruce and the band preach a gospel of music that reaches into the essence of your musical soul. And that’s what made Omaha and St. Paul different.
In Omaha, the preachers were full of hellfire and brimstone. In fact, I thought Nils Lofgren would burn the place down with his solo on “Reason to Believe” and the band provided a helluva lot of inspiration with “Jungleland” and “Detroit Medley” in the encore (they replaced “Kitty’s Back” on the handwritten set list). But the fact Springsteen hadn’t been to Omaha in 30 years made the vast majority of the audience revival newcomers. It wasn’t until the encore that the audience’s intensity began to match the level of the band. Yet there is no doubt many were converted as the band played in excess of 2 1/2 hours. In fact, for me much of the concert was almost like seeing newcomers welcomed to the fold.
In St. Paul, on the other hand, there were far fewer newcomers and significant numbers of longstanding church members. Not only is St. Paul a mainstay on Springsteen tours, it was the site of a November concert in support of Magic. But the audience shows why Bruce keeps coming back. The intensity level and excitement of the crowd started about where Omaha ended. There were far more here with a deep appreciation of the roles of each band member and who truly feel the strength of both their musicality and Springsteen’s songwriting.
A casual observer might call some of the extensive audience participation Pavlovian. Yet it is more of a collective celebration, one where a significant majority of the crowd exalted in opportunities for collective chant, choruses and call-and-response. Thus, even though it was largely the same set list, this was more of a shared exaltation. In fact, to continue the revival metaphor, many were speaking in tongues by the time the encore rolled around.
The congregational sense was not just reinforced by the performance and the passion of the crowd. We met at least five other people who, like us, had been to the Omaha show Friday night.
Sure, we drove nearly a thousand miles, spent more time on the road than we did listening to the shows and dropped more than a few coins on tickets, meals and motels. But to experience the jubilation of E Street Nation twice in three days is something I would do again in a heartbeat.
Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land
“The Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town