When in Rome, See Springsteen
The concert was unlike any concert I’ve ever been to — Bruce Springsteen or otherwise — and I’ve been to over 100 of his shows. This one had an international festival-like flair. Walking by the sun-splashed columns of the Colosseum, en route to Circus Maximus, where gladiators once battled for their lives, added to the uniqueness.
As we entered the venue, the anticipation and excitement were palpable. Concertgoers of every age, and from all over the world, wore T-shirts and headbands from shows long ago and far away. We met diehard fans from Germany, Paris, England, and the U.S., who’d flown in just for the concert.
The crowd was surprisingly orderly, given all the rain, most tried to assemble along the elevated part of the arena, which allowed a good vantage point of the stage. Unless you were willing to brave the day’s rain (many did, but not us), you were relegated to an elevated area about halfway to the stage, which meant you were watching the show from multiple screens, as Circus Maximus is 300 meters long. No matter. There were hot dog vendors and ample cold beer, so we enjoyed the simple pleasures.
The concert started earlier than most, and we sadly missed Sam Fender, who opened for Springsteen, and, I was told, was very good.
To the adoring crowds’ delight, Springsteen and his epic E Street Band opened with “My Love Won’t Let You Down” and segued into an edgy “No Surrender”. As the band gathered steam and got into a higher gear and groove, so did the 60,000 E Street loyalists. European audiences don’t necessarily sing along with every song, as they do in the U.S., that can make for a less-engaged crowd, and an American band has to adjust. But by the time Springsteen led off “Promised Land” with his raucous and radiant harmonica solo, the crowd and the band were in sync. (There were subtitles for the locals!)
“I’ve done my best to live the right way
“I get up every morning, and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind, and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”
The rest of the night was one to remember and I’m sure few will ever forget it.
Now the crowd began to engage and sing and dance. Not much pot or even smokes but I’m pretty sure the guy dancing next to me was on mushrooms. The glaze in his eyes was unmistakable and he kept touching his toes as if to make sure they were still attached to his body
About midway through the show, we were treated to an emotional acoustic version of “Thunder Road”. Everyone knew the words and joined in.
Then came sing-along versions of “Born in the USA”, “The Rising”, “Dancing in the Dark”, “Badlands”, Bobby Jean”, and “Mary’s Place”, after which a sweaty and revived Springsteen dramatically shouted in a thick Italian accent:
“Roma! Roma! Roma!”
For his 60,000 adoring fans, who were all now putty in his hands, and being the artist he is, Springsteen continued to create more musical art to remember.
He wound down the show with electric, lit-up renditions of “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, both of which the crowd knew by heart and sang along to.
At the end, he skipped “Rosalita” and went right to his customary unplugged-with-harmonica rendition of “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. I’ve seen this show five times and this version was especially emotional. When he got to “Death is not the end, somewhere we will live and laugh again”, he seemed to be telling the crowd that this would be his last live performance in Rome.
Even without “Rosalita” and “Jungleland” and his talented background/harmony singer wife Patti Scalfa, it was an amazing show. The sound was sometimes muffled, and there was a slight delay with the screens, creating a drive-in movie feel at times. Springsteen’s voice has aged, and he didn’t reach some high notes, but he performs with the same intense passion and soul that has marked his whole career. Springsteen is still an epic performer and Nils (guitar), Little Stevie (guitar and vocals), Jake (sax), Max (drums), and sister Suzy Tyrell (vocals and fiddle), and “Prof” Roy Bitten (piano) still rock hard and live up to the legendary expectations they bring “night after night after night.”
It was a perfect night in the Eternal City — the rain held off as we listened to one of the greatest rock musicians of our time in an historic venue.