Learning to ride the waves: Indigos, Springsteen, Obama

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Concerts, crazy weather, and oh yes, a little election…

Indigo Girls in concertOn 11/2 I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time in a couple of years. I am not wild about their most recent album, but always enjoy seeing them in concert. I was in the front row (which seldom sucks) at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, which is one of my favorite concert venues; it’s a renovated old movie theater, large enough to feel like a show but small enough to feel relatively intimate. I’ve seen a lot of great shows there.

The Shadowboxers opened – young band out of Atlanta. I have to admit that their music is not completely my cup of tea; they’re a little bit pop for me, but they did what they did very well. Good vocals, nice harmonies, good energy onstage. I can imagine them doing well on radio and garnering a pretty decent audience. I was reminded of how I felt about fun. when I saw them open for Janelle Monae, actually, and that was right before they got so popular you couldn’t avoid them.

Indigo Girls’ set was higher-energy than I’ve seen from them the past few times, due at least in part to having the Shadowboxers as their backing band. I love seeing IG with a full band, and it had been a while! They pulled out a few songs they don’t usually do without a band, like “Trouble” and “Tether” (which was absolutely killer) and an exceptionally funky “Shed Your Skin.” Quite a good show overall.

Bruce Springsteen & Steven Van ZandtAnd then there was the next night: Mr. Springsteen in Louisville. I’ve already written up some of the musical highlights over at Blogness, so I won’t rehash those here. Instead, a few more personal thoughts.

Louisville is only about 80 miles from home for me, so it was lovely to see a Springsteen show without having to fly, drive for hours, or even get a hotel room. I’d persuaded my friend Karen to go with me, so we left in the morning in the midst of a cold rain and arrived in downtown Louisville in time to meet up with some other friends for lunch. (Side note: the Bluegrass Brewing Co.  is terrific! Nice selection of beers, and good food for both vegetarians and carnivores – I had some vegan bbq wings that were very tasty, and Karen’s bison burger looked great too.)

We watched a sleet/rain mixture outside the windows for a while, and when that let up, we headed across the street to the arena to get our wristbands. (For those unfamiliar with the process, General Admission ticketholders obtain numbered wristbands, which are given out from 1-4 pm. Then at 4:30 you have to be back at the venue, where they draw an allegedly random number; the person whose wristband matches that number gets to be first in line. It is not a complicated procedure, although some audience members and some venue staff try to make it complicated sometimes.) Then we had a couple hours before we had to be back, so – back to the BBC for dessert and coffee. (Bourbon bread pudding with caramel sauce, for me – fantastic.)

And then back to the arena, where venue security did not seem to know which end was up. Usually they line up wristband-holders in several queues by number – the 100s here, 200s here, and so on. There were some barricades set up to create queues, but there was nothing else going on. We all milled about, then security tried to sort us into lines … sort of. Basically we stood there smooshed together (which is really fun when you are 5 foot 1 and mildly crowd-phobic, let me tell you – especially when somebody nearby is being rude enough to smoke). Fortunately we were under an underpass; I say “fortunately” because the nasty cold rain started up again, so we were dry, although it was noisy as hell under there.

Finally they announced how many wristbands they’d given out (six hundred and some) and how many would be allowed in the front part of the GA floor, aka the pit (300) – and drew the number. We did some fast math and figured that our group had missed the pit, but not badly; we’d be within the first 40 or so people onto the back part of the floor after the pit people went in, which meant we had an excellent chance of being right on the back rail – a great place to be, actually. So we were content.

pit wristbandsAnd then they started letting people in, keeping track of wristband numbers, making sure we were in order. This is the part where you start feeling a bit like cattle, but it’s also the part where you are closer to getting into the actual arena. They checked my number, scanned my ticket, inspected my small shoulder bag… and then… slapped a second wristband on me. A pit wristband. We were all a bit dumbfounded, realizing that after not making the pit, suddenly … we’d made the pit! Apparently they decided to let more people in than originally planned, and we were lucky.

Then there was more waiting. And more waiting. Did I mention there was waiting? I don’t really mind the waiting, to be honest; even when I’m at a show by myself, by this point I’ve made friends with the people around me in line, and we usually find enough common ground to be quite congenial. When you’re with friends, it’s actually kind of fun. You speculate about where you will end up on the floor, scheme about which side of the stage to head for, text distant friends to let them know you’re in the pit… then before you know it, you’re being ushered into the arena.

I’d been of the opinion that we should head for the back of the pit, where there’s a smaller stage set up and where Bruce usually stands to sing at least a couple of songs. I figured we’d have a chance at being “up close and personal” for a few minutes that way, and probably a little better visibility for us short people than we’d have packed into the center of the pit. Others in my party wanted to go for the center of the pit, so I followed along. As we settled into our spots and sat on the floor to (three guesses) wait some more, I’m afraid I got a little cranky and snappish; it looked like I was going to have some tall and broad people right in front of me, and I dreaded having one of those shows where I never get to see the actual stage. Also I’d only had about four hours of sleep the night before, so I was a bit of a toddler who’d missed her nap. (I’m learning, after all these years, that sometimes the same events can bring out both the best and the worst in me. I am such a Gemini.)

Springsteen with the horn sectionI shouldn’t have worried. Once the band came onstage I could see well enough, though I occasionally had to crane my neck around one person or another. And the show was intensely energetic! The third song was “Hungry Heart” and this is where Bruce usually goes to the platform in the back of the pit and then crowd-surfs his way back up to the stage. And, well, we were right in line. Bruce checked in with the people at the platform, made sure they were ready to catch him, then turned his back and fell gracefully onto the sea of waiting hands. Don’t steer him off to the side, I pleaded silently… and then, there he was. Okay, so you don’t necessarily have a lot of options as far as which particular little bit of Bruce’s anatomy presents itself to you when he crowd-surfs over you… and, well, sorry, Bruce – we probably should have been properly introduced before I laid hands on your, er, posterior. What was I supposed to do, DROP HIM?!? No. Certainly not.

The crowd-surfing thing, from underneath, was actually kind of wild. I’d seen it from up in the seats, and I’d seen it from over to the side of the pit, but I’d never actually taken part. The rush of people trying to get closer to the man himself is intense. There were people pressing at me from three sides, and then as Bruce – the eye of the hurricane – passed overhead the tide shifted and I was being pushed in the other direction. It felt like being wiped out by a big wave and just having to trust that you will surface head-up when it passes. Surface I did, and there were different people around me than there had been before the surf, but my friends were still nearby and I actually had a better view from there on because a couple of the taller people had been shifted over to the side a bit.

It was a show of extremes. “My City of Ruins” had me in tears, thinking of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and about how much I regret not having visited the Jersey shore before. “Streets of Philadelphia” was a song I never would have expected to get in Louisville, and it was intensely emotional for me; that song came out right around the time my dad died, and lines like “my clothes don’t fit me no more / I’ve walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin” are a devastatingly poignant description of what it’s like to see someone gradually fade away. The song was beautifully performed and it wrecked me. Then the transition into the most ferocious, determined “Atlantic City” I’ve ever heard, into a soaring “Because the Night,” into the always-primal “She’s the One” – that might have been one of the finest four-packs I’ve ever gotten at a show.

Springsteen & Van Zandt - the clowns! I’ve never been to a Springsteen show I didn’t love. I’m not sure I would put this one in my top five of all time, but it was certainly one of the most intense in a way, one of the most present and participatory shows I can recall. And you know, it was strange – but good – to end up in my own home a couple hours later, instead of in a hotel room or somebody’s guest room.

On Monday, the guy whose posterior I’d been standing underneath on Saturday night was flying around on Air Force One – accompanying Barack Obama to campaign rallies in Madison, Columbus, and Des Moines. I saw pictures throughout the day of this and you know what, it blew my mind a little bit. I wanted to go back to 1978 and tell that shy 17-year-old holed up in her room writing bad poetry that someday, that scruffy rockstar whose posters were hanging on her wall would be flying around on Air Force One with the President. (Not to mention that writers for Slate and the New York Times would be assigning said formerly-scruffy rockstar some measure of the credit for a presidential campaign victory. Whoa.) And that she would, despite being a perfectly respectable (oh hush) middle-aged lady, still be standing in line for hours and getting as close to the stage as possible and going absolutely crazy at that same guy’s concerts.

I don’t think she would believe me. I think she would probably demand to find out what I was smoking.

I won’t try to go back and tell her that the President Bruce would be flying around with would actually be a couple of months younger than me. And African-American. My face doesn’t like being laughed in all that much. 🙂

Next stop… Kansas City!

Bruce Springsteen

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