Monday, May 27, 2013

Living a dream - Springsteen in Europe

On December 1, 2012, I woke up at 3:00 am to buy tickets to see Bruce Springsteen in Munich, Germany. 

I have said it before on this blog. I love Bruce Springsteen. This comes from my father. When Springsteen released his Live: 1975-1985 album, Dad bought it on vinyl and recorded it onto tapes so that we could listen to it in the car. And we always listened to it in the car. My first vivid memory of hearing Thunder Road is during one of these car trips. I fell in love with the free spirit that Springsteen was urging Mary to be, so much so that on my own wedding day, I walked down the aisle to this very song. 

I told you. I love Bruce Springsteen. 

Now I am far from some of the über fans whom I have met who follow Springsteen from show to show to show to show, seeing him upwards of 20, 30, even 90 times. But I did decide that 2012 would be my year of Bruce. So when the Wrecking Ball tour was announced, I bought tickets to shows at Madison Square Gardens in New York, at Wrigley in Chicago, at MetLife Stadium in Jersey, and of course, back home in Ottawa.

I figured four concerts was it. I mean, I had effectively doubled the number of times that I have seen a Springsteen concert - a noble achievement in a few short months. Plus I got into the Pit in Chicago and touched the Boss. What else was there. It was time to get back to reality. Besides, the Wrecking Ball tour was wrapping up. The fun was over. 

But then I read a rumour on my favourite Springsteen blog that there would be new dates announced in Europe. And on this same blog, I have read about European fans. If the concert reviews can be believed, they are legendary in their enthusiasm for the Boss. Perhaps even slightly more crazed than Americans. So a little voice kept whispering over and over and over again in my ear, "You will never have this chance again, Jay. You'd better go see him, Jay."

For the next few days, I followed Springsteen news religiously, until the rumours were confirmed and his website - the mark of authenticity - announced a bunch of European dates. Unsure of how Hubby would react, and whether or not he would tolerate another trip, I worked up a soliloquy in my mind of how I would broach the topic. It went something like this:

"Honey, I know that you said the Ottawa show was it for you and that is fine, and I totally respect that but I will never forgive myself if I miss an opportunity to see Springsteen in Europe because this is probably his last tour there and he has just announced a whack of dates and you don't even have to come with me because I will totally go by myself and make a long weekend out of it, or if you do want to come, we can see him in London because I know that you love London, and it would be awesome if you could come with me but I totally understand if you won't, which is totally fine but then I will be somewhere in Europe by myself this spring cause I will just die if I miss this chance!"

There are purposely no periods in that paragraph. Because that is exactly how it came out of my mouth. In one great big run-on sentence so that Hubby wouldn't have a chance to interrupt. 

Although he looked completely perplexed by my diatribe, he surprised me with a modest, "Yeah, sure. I totally get it. Where else is he playing? We've already been to London. Let's go somewhere else."

I could have jumped him right there. But I didn't. Because I'm a lady. And because I was too busy pulling up the bookmarked page on my laptop to show him all of the possible shows we could go to. 

In the end, we narrowed it down to two shows: Werchter, Belgium (I have Flemish roots and figured I could make a vacation out of visiting the country of my grandfather's family) in July and Munich, Germany (the city of beer, and I kind of like beer) in May. We chose Munich. But not only because of the beer. Because of its proximity to Vienna, where I had never been and have always wanted to visit. Because Springsteen announced four dates in four different German cities, leading me to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Germans love the boss as much as I do. Because neither Hubby nor I had ever been to Germany. And because May - aka springtime - seemed like a more pleasant time to travel in Europe than the hot and sticky July high season. 

All good reasons. With one exception. The so-called springtime weather has not yet emerged. Since arriving in Munich, it has been unseasonably cold and rainy and cold and rainy and freaking cold. Now I know that I am a strong Canadian girl and that I should be the last person complaining about a little bit of wind. But here's the thing. Lonely Planet promised me high-teens to low-twenties. And sun. They also promised me sun. So I packed dresses and shorts and skirts and t-shirts. At least I had the sense to pack a rain jacket, one pair of pants, and a rain poncho. Which is good against the rain but does nothing against the cold. So for the concert, I had to improvise by layering up whatever I had. 

Layer 1 - yoga pants, white t-shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, and first pair of socks:

Layer 2 - no one would see it, but the requisite Springsteen t-shirt (from the Chicago show):

Layer 3 - a ridiculously thin cardigan (for overtop of my cute spring dresses) and a pair of Hubby's pants, cause he was smart enough to bring a few pairs:

Layer 4 - red bandana to channel Born in the USA and another ridiculously thin hoodie:

Layer 5 - a polar fleece, that I bought in Munich because of the inadequate clothing that I have with me for the weather:

Layer 6 - for good measure, I added my running wind-breaker:

Layer 7 - my goretex rain jacket, bought primarily for dog walking:

Layer 8 - a rain poncho and an extra pair of socks:

It took me 15 minutes to get dressed. (Of course, pausing to take pictures may have hindered my progress in this regard...) but at least I stood a chance against the expected 10mm of rain and the ever-plummeting-towards-6C-(43F) temperature. 

The ticket said that the show would start at 7:00. Now I have been to enough Springsteen concerts to know that he never starts at ticket time. And I had no interest in freezing my ass off any longer than I needed to. So I told Hubby that we could leave the hotel around 6, stop downtown for a slice of pizza, and then aim to be at Olympic Stadium for 7:30. Luckily for us, the trip took less time than we thought it would. We were in our seats at 7:10, just in time to see the Boss's motorcade drive into the stadium. By 7:15, the man himself came out on stage, and strummed through an acoustic version of "Who'll stop the rain?" Then the lights came on, the band came out, and the show began! A good number of fans had still not even arrived, but clearly, Springsteen wasn't going to make those who had spent all day long in the rain wait one minute longer. 

Rain-gear clad Springsteen fans getting off the train at Olympic Stadium:

Starting early with an acoustic version of "Who'll stop the rain?":

Now from this photo, you have probably guessed that I was not in the pit. Indeed, I was in the stands. I had the chance to purchase floor tickets, and at 3:00am on December 1, I had quite the philosophical debate with myself about whether or not I should. But in the end, and I don't remember why, I opted for seats. From a weather perspective, this turned out to be a good choice. The stands were under cover, and so unlike the hordes on the floor, we did not get rained on. In fact, with all of my layers, I was actually quite warm throughout the night. Score one for me, right?

Well... Not so fast... 

Remember those legendary European crowds I mentioned a few paragraphs back? I just assumed that you could not be considered "legendary" if you stayed sitting down all night. I was sure that everyone would be out of their seats, rockin' it out, the minute the band hit the stage. 

Not quite...

There was only a handful of people standing up. Seriously. Only a handful. It was like watching a concert back home in Ottawa. Luckily for me, the woman in front of me was one of the handful standing. Unluckily, the woman behind me was not. And so, throughout the second song, she kept tapping me and asking me to sit down, and ordering me to tell the woman in front of me to sit down too. At one point, she pulled out the "I paid to see this concert, not your back" line, and I kind of wanted to punch her. Instead, I just told her that I also paid to be here (inside voice: and if you wanna play that game, lady, I win because I had to buy a $1000 plane ticket to get here) and that I would not sit down because the people in front of me were standing. She tapped me a few more times, but I steadied my resolve and ignored her. By the end of the second song, she gave up and left me alone. 

I, however, had a lump in my chest. I am, after all, Canadian. Which means that I am bred to be polite. And although I was very annoyed by the constant tapping and nattering at me, it is not in my nature to be rude or uncompromising to others. And who wants to feel bad about themselves at a concert? Plus I worried that she might try to have me kicked out or something. But worst of all, I felt seriously let down by all of these reviews about the incredible European crowds. Incredible crowds don't sit down at a rock concert. They don't get upset at someone who is having fun. I spent the first 20 minutes of the concert on edge, wishing that I was out in the rain on the floor with the people who really understood what it meant to be at a concert. 

But then Springsteen took his first sign request - Seaside Bar Song. And his second - Rosalita. Holy. Shit. A never-released B-side (until he released 4 cd's worth of B-sides, of course), and my favourite song off of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle (not to mention the song after which I named my car). Only a handful more people rose from their seats, but there was a shift, a feeling that something magical was about to happen. 

And then, a few songs later, it did. The Boss announced that he would play the entire Born in the USA album. The. Entire. Album. 

Me and Hubby right after finding out he would sing the entire USA album. Must have something to do with my red bandana:

Now Thunder Road may very well be my favourite song, but I wasn't even born when it was released. My first Springsteen album, the one that I listened to non-stop, the one that I ordered from Columbia House, was Born in the USA. I was 8 years old, and I was in love with the man. I used to walk around the schoolyard and tell all the girls that I was going to marry Bruce Springsteen when I grew up. I listened to my tape every night before bed. I jammed a vacuum cleaner hose between the couch cushions like a microphone and strummed a badminton racket like a guitar, rocking out to Cover Me over and over and over again. And well into adulthood, I continued to dislike Courtney Cox, for the simple fact that she - and not me - got to dance in the dark with the Boss. 

So yeah. Being at a concert where the entire USA album was played - including I'm on Fire, the best 3-minute love song ever written - was a big 'effin deal. 

Clearly, the German fans thought so too. Because this got them all off of their asses and onto their feet. Pretty much for the rest of the show. 


And that is why I love Springsteen. Because he can transform a cold, wet, grouchy, austere crowd into a harmonious brotherhood. There, on that shitty, shitty night, tens of thousands of people came alive as they witnessed something truly special. Even the lady behind me was on her feet, dancing away and smiling at me whenever I glanced back to see the crowds behind me. 

The show lasted just under 3 hours. Twenty-nine songs. All in the rain and the wind. Sure, the band wasn't as sharp as they could be, and probably didn't really want to be out there. But they stayed. They delivered. 

They gave me another unforgettable Springsteen experience. 

Danke shön, Springsteen.