We were told by the North Charleston Coliseum agents and the papers that this was the first time in 30 years Springsteen and the E Street Band had played in Charleston. I suppose I could confirm this with a quick Google search, but I'd rather not. I'd rather just believe what I'm told in this particular instance because there was at least 30 years worth of anticipation ripping through the sold-out crowd Saturday night. And nothing about the night was disappointing. (Well, almost nothing...but I'll get to that in a second.)
The E Street Band jumped onstage at around 8:10PM in the dark and, after all the players had taken their places, a spotlight came down on Springsteen with his larger-than-life companion, Clarence Thomas. (Springsteen announced him as, "the biggest man you've ever seen" during encore introductions.) "We thought we'd start tonight with some beach music," he said at the mic, Telecaster firmly in place. And they proceeded to tear through a version of "Double Shot of My Baby's Love" by The (original) Swingin' Medallions. After that, they rarely came up for air. They played for three hours and fifteen minutes, but we could have easily stayed for three hours more. "You can't take no more!" Springsteen taunted the crowd after a second encore. But we could. And we did. The band came back to play a ten minute version of "Twist and Shout" before leaving for good a 11:20.
Let me just say that every band in America can take lessons from Springsteen and the E Street Band. And I mean every band. Radiohead have nothing to show against them, Coldplay are minuscule in comparison, and U2 can only manage to ape his style with bombastic stage lights. (By my guess those are the biggest bands currently working. The Rolling Stones are good, but I've never seen them live.) Bruce spent most of his time down in front communing with the audience, taking posters with songs requests, giving other folks a chance to sing, and making grown women swoon. For those in the front row, general admission, they may not be able to live August 16, 2008 down.
Highlights from the set included, "Because the Night," "The Rising," "Jungleland," "Streets of Fire," and (of course) "Born to Run." Hell, even "Dancing in the Dark" was fucking awesome to hear live. But really, the greatest moment of the show, for me, was the intense up full-band version of "Atlantic City." Nebraska is holy territory and it's minimalist structure and recording should not be toyed with lightly. But Springsteen knows what he's doing to his songs and the live, full-band version is even better than the recorded version. That's right, better.
And as for the disappointment I mentioned earlier...well, not everyone got to hear every song they wanted to. My brother wanted to hear some tunes of Darkness On the Edge of Town and The Seeger Sessions to no avail. But when you're one of the greatest legends in rock music and American history, and your back catalog of music stretches farther than most bands' eyeliner, you can do like the sign from an audience member in the front row says, "Play Whatever You Want."