by Julian Spivey
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts are basically the music version of a religious experience. You might not feel this way going into the arena, but after almost three-and-a-half hours of the greatest rock and roll act there’s likely ever been you’re going to come out feeling like your soul has been saved.
Springsteen and the E Street Band gave their all for the Oklahoma City crowd on Sunday, April 3 at the city’s Chesapeake Energy Arena as a part of the 2016 The River Tour held for a re-release of Springsteen’s timeless 1980 album, which includes outtakes and tracks that didn’t make the initial cut.
On every stop during this tour Springsteen and the E Street Band perform the entire The River album, which if you didn’t know is a 20-track double album, from start-to-finish with “Meet Me in the City,” a truly terrific track that didn’t make the album cut, preceding it.
Following the same 21 songs from The River every night, Springsteen has been throwing in about a dozen or so greatest hits to fill out his epic concerts. This final act, if you will, is legendary enough in its own right to be considered potentially the greatest concert I’ve ever seen, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Springsteen is my favorite rock and roll artist of all-time, but he has so much terrific music that prior to this tour I had never paid enough attention to The River. When I found out he was adding more tour dates and one of those would be in Oklahoma City, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from my hometown, I knew I had to go and would need to take the two months before the show date to essentially learn The River, other than stuff like the title track and “Hungry Heart,” which were already among my favorites of Springsteen’s discography.
Not only did this binge of The River pump me up for what would become the best concert experience of my life – and that’s saying something; I’ve been honored to see some truly great acts and shows – but made me realize Springsteen’s so much greater than I even previously realized and I already thought he was the greatest of all-time.
I don’t know what it is about this region of the country – I live in central Arkansas and the concert was in central Oklahoma – but it doesn’t seem the people in this part of the country appreciate Springsteen as much as they should and as much as other portions of the country does. I say this because the arena wasn’t really that close to being sold out, which is truly a travesty when it comes to an act of this caliber. Springsteen concerts are the things of legend and because of that alone every seat in the building really should’ve had a butt in it. I shouldn’t complain too much, because the lack of a sell-out resulted in me and my wife moving to much better seats than we had paid for for about two-thirds of the show. I remark on the attendance to prove a point that Springsteen gives his all and more during every single show, even when the seats aren’t completely filled. He is 66 years old and puts on a show with more energy and intensity than acts 40 years younger and he feeds off of the energy and reactions of the crowd superbly. Despite the arena not being sold out those who were there were among the E Street faithful.
From the moment Springsteen and the band started into “Meet Me in the City” we knew we were going to be in for quite a ride. When an act decides to perform an entire album, let alone a large double album, from start-to-finish you probably should expect some ebbs and flows throughout the show, but through Springsteen’s intensity and the fact that there isn’t a single weak song of the bunch on The River this was never felt.
That’s not to say I didn’t have favorite performances from this portion of the show. Binging the entire album non-stop for much of the two months between purchasing tickets and the show allowed me to develop relationships with certain songs that instantly became favorites during the show like “Independence Day,” “Fade Away,” “Stolen Car” and “Point Blank.” The River is one of Springsteen’s more raucous records with stuff like “I’m a Rocker,” “Ramrod” and “Cadillac Ranch,” which are all amazing to rock out to live, but I definitely found myself smitten more with the slower, more introspective stuff on the album.
That being said, jamming out to stuff like “Two Hearts,” “Hungry Heart” and “Out in the Streets” might be moments that stay in my mind for a longer time. “The River” has always been one of my favorite Springsteen ballads and hearing it live (he didn’t perform it the first time I saw him live in Kansas City in 2012) was a bucket list moment. It’s probably one of my 10 favorite Springsteen tracks period.
The great thing about Springsteen is he knows exactly what his loyal fans want to hear. Many artists who do a tour where they perform a full album, which doesn’t seem to happen frequently, would simply perform the album and maybe do a couple to three hits during an encore and call it a night. That final act I mentioned previously after Springsteen completed The River would have made for a perfect concert set list in its own right. In this final act Springsteen, whose intensity and energy really seemed to rise throughout the show, performed both fan-favorites and some of his most iconic classics in another hour-plus of what amounted to musical heaven. You knew the final act was going to be a potentially life-altering experience when he kicked it off with “Badlands,” something every Springsteen fan loves to rock out screaming at the top of their lungs.
Springsteen followed this with a string of classics like “The Promised Land,” “Because the Night” and “The Rising.” Then came the moment I’d been waiting many years for …
When I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band in Kansas City three-and-a-half years ago it was the greatest concert I’d ever seen and remained that way until Sunday night in Oklahoma City, but it still didn’t feel complete to me. This is because he didn’t perform my all-time favorite song – not just Springsteen song, but song in general – “Thunder Road.”
When I saw him grab a harmonica and step to the mic on Sunday night I knew a moment I’d always hoped to see was about to come true. I’m frankly a little surprised this moment where Springsteen started into that great harmonica opening of the song didn’t make me tear up, but I guess I was having far too much fun to worry about tears. I do wish I had a photograph of the smile on my face at this moment though. “Thunder Road” is a song that’s between four and five minutes long, but it seemed to fly by in the moment. My only regret from the whole night is time couldn’t slow down for just a bit so I could savor the moment just a little longer. But, Springsteen was flying the entire night and when Jake Clemons’ epic saxophone ending to “Thunder Road” launched into the E Street Band doing “Born to Run” I’m surprised the roof of the arena didn’t blow off at that very moment. It was the most electrifying concert moment I’ve ever seen. Thousands of Springsteen lovers in unison screamed “Born to Run” at the top of their lungs, almost as if we all knew at that very moment that life couldn’t possibly ever be better than this.
You would think this would make for a killer concert ender, but it’s almost as if Springsteen was still revving up. “Born to Run” turned into a rip-roaring performance of “Dancing in the Dark,” with four lucky concertgoers – including a father and son – getting to go up on the stage to dance with “The Boss” and the E Street Band. This led into a frantic performance of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” a song every Springsteen loyalist should really hope to see live at some point in their lives and I’m so happy he performed at Oklahoma City, because it’s another he didn’t get to in Kansas City in 2012 as part of his Wrecking Ball Tour. ‘Rosalita’ launched into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which has kind of become Springsteen and the E Street Band’s theme song and has taken on more of an importance following the death of long-time saxophonist and Springsteen friend Clarence Clemons in 2011.
What happened next is a moment I’m still not certain as to how didn’t just keel Springsteen over on stage with a heart attack and might in fact prove that he isn’t human when he performed an uproarious version of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Shout,” complete with jumping up and down on stage throughout much of the performance. This was a performance that seemed like it was going to be the show-stopper and honestly should’ve been, but Springsteen seemingly not wanting to leave the stage finished up with a performance of “Bobby Jean,” the lone performance from his iconic 1984 album Born in the U.S.A.
Springsteen and the E Street Band is the perfect mixture of musicians who give their all for every show during every song for more than three hours with a songwriter who seems to be in tune with the feelings and emotions of his fan-base. This combination leaves you feeling like you’re a part of a community, experience, like Springsteen is speaking directly to you even though like-minded brethren are bouncing, dancing, screaming and generally freaking out all around you. It’s something you really have to see and hear and feel not just with your eyes and ears, but also your brain and your heart to truly understand. It’s like an out of body experience set to music and you never ever want it to end.