‘Tramps like us’ : On the road with Bruce, Part 2.

‘Tramps like us’- Part 2 Chicago

I’m writing this in the airport whilst I wait for my flight back to the UK. It’s going to be a bit rougher than I would like, but I want to write this experience up before I leave, as I am likely to have lots of catching up to do when I get home and this might get pushed down the ‘to do’ list. As I explained in the last entry, field notes should also be written up as soon as possible after the event, so I feel it’s doubly important to get this down before the finer points are forgotten. Warning may contain typos and spoilers!


I have had a few more days in Chicago than Pittsburgh, but due to the insane temperatures, I did not leave my hostel much until the day of the concert. I’m not used to temperatures being much below zero and certainly not minus 15-18 as it has been here, so the first thing that struck me about this city was the cold. With bright blue skies overhead, the city’s skyline looked beautiful, but all I could think about was how hard it was to breathe and how without gloves on, the wind and cold felt like it was burning my skin. Even with jeans and boots on, the lower half of my body felt numb. So I spent the first day here writing up my field notes from Saturday night and checking the Ticketmaster website to see if any tickets for the concert had become available, because due to a slight ticketing mishap on my part, I had arrived without a ticket for the show. Through the Bruce fansites/forums I had found out that venues often release tickets or ‘drop’ tickets the day before the show, but the only tickets that were available were behind the stage, which wasn’t ideal, as I did not want to watch the band perform from behind for 3 and a bit hours. Yet there was one seat which was slightly to the left of the stage, and in a section close to the front. As time was running out, I took it. It gave me a totally different concert experience than ever before and as my favourite sociologist Goffman would put it, it literally let me see into the ‘backstage’ of a Bruce and the E-Street band performance.

I remember being taught about the layout of Chicago during geography lessons in high school and the layout of the city seemed familiar. With the Central Business District [CBD] spreading out from the city in a semi-circle/zone and with other semi circles/zones leading off from this, it seemed easy to get around. Forcing myself out of my hostel in the afternoon before the show, I went to explore Lake Michigan and the downtown area. The city surrounds the lake shore and it must be a wonderful place to come in the summer, but today the beach was covered in snow and ice and in part the lake had seemed to have frozen where it had washed up on the shoreline. After some advice from a local, instead of paying a lot of money to go up to an observatory deck in a high-rise building, I took the free elevator/life to the 95th floor where there was a bar. Here I could have a pre-Bruce beer overlooking the skyline of Chicago. While drinking my overpriced $10/£7 beer, I got chatting to a couple who were going to the concert that night, when they told me that they had to pay ‘silly money’ to get tickets as the concert was sold out, I kept just kept quiet and nodded. As time was ticking on, and the venue, the United Centre was a half hour train ride away, I paid the bill and left.



‘I’m on Fire’

This was the first back-to-back Bruce show I have ever done, so my excitement wasn’t at the levels it was a few days ago in Pittsburgh until I got off at the train station opposite the venue. I was not entirely sure where it was, but I spotted a couple who looked like typical Bruce fans [white, middle aged] and ask them if they were going to the show, and it turned out that my ‘BruceDar’ was correct, they were. Both, like the people in Pittsburgh, seemed impressed with how far I had travelled to see the show. As we walked to the venue through the cold streets, busy with traffic, we chatted about all things Bruce and how tickets were so hard to come by. Again, I kept quiet. When we approached the arena, there were already long lines of people waiting to go in. The couple I had been talking to had a different entrance gate to the one on my ticket, so we said out goodbyes. My line was already beginning to move when I joined it, and a couple came in behind me with two small boys, both aged under ten. With a huge picture of Bruce being projected onto the stadium above me, I turned and mentioned that bringing children was a clear example of great parenting skills and we all laughed. Both had been fans for many years and had been to around 30 shows, but it was the first time they that they have brought their sons. They asked me if I was touring the states watching Bruce, and I explained my story again. As we neared the entrance doors, I remarked on a picture of a handgun with the words, ‘no guns’ stuck on the door. Telling the family all about the used-car salesman from Pittsburgh, both parents groaned and told me that they hoped that I had met many other ‘genuine Americans’ on my trip and as we parted, they stressed that even though Bruce does attract all sorts of ‘crazies’, I should not think that all Americans thought like the used-car salesman. For the first time ever at any concert, my ticket was on my mobile phone, so when the assistant scanned my phone and it gave a reassuring beep, I breathed a small sigh of relief. The assistant printed out a small receipt, with my section and seat number on it, and I was in.

I bought another expensive beer and went to find my seat. The seat was behind the stage as expected, but I was much closer to it I thought I was would be. It was just behind the left hand side of the stage, with a great side view. Again I got chatting to other people who had arrived early, this time to Joe who worked in I.T and was born in Bruce’s home state of New Jersey and had moved to Chicago in 1999. Joe told me that he had seen his first Bruce show back in 1976, on the Born to Run tour, in a smallish venue in New York. And while he hadn’t seen as many shows as Pam from Pittsburgh, he had been to a show on every tour since then, quite some feat, following an artist for 40 years! As the start of the show crept closer, a couple [man and woman] came into the row behind me. Both seemed to be quite excited and the woman kept asking if Bruce would see her in these seats and if she would still get to dance with him. I turned in surprise and expressed admiration as from the way she was talking, it sounded as if they had met him before the show. The woman replied she was indeed going to dance with Bruce and it had been arranged. When I replied that I hoped he would be able to find her from back here, the man replied rather haughtily, “his people know where we are”.

When the lights dimmed a few minutes later and the band walked underneath the section and up onto the stage, the crowd burst into applause and everyone around me stood up and started cheering. I could see Patti and Steve a few feet below me and I had no need for the big screen above my head.

‘Taking It Easy’

The show opener with the same number, ‘Meet me in the City’ as the opening night of the tour in Pittsburgh and followed up with The River, in it’s entirely as expected. For the first hour of the show, I found it very hard to concentrate on the music. Being this close to the stage, I could see all the work that goes on whilst the band are on stage, most of which is normally hidden from the view of the audience in the backstage area. The guitarists [Pattie, Steve, Nils and Susie who stand to the left and right of Bruce] all have a separate guitar technician and change guitars after every song. Lines of guitars fill up the area and their technicians are constantly re-tuning, or opening or shutting cases and getting things ready for the next song. Up until now I had only ever thought it was Bruce who did this, with Kevin Burrell, who often has to catch a guitar that Bruce throws back to him, but this gave me a whole new perspective to how many people must work on a E-Street band show. Whoever was responsible for Patti’s guitars, was not having a very good night as he kept dropping things, fell over at one point and seemed to be getting a bit of a telling off from Mrs Bruce [Patti is Bruce’s partner]. The drummer, Max Weinberg, also seemed to change drum sticks and had a collection of different types [I’m no drummer] and different styles for each song. What also became apparent, was that while Bruce was the focal point of the show from the crowds’ perspective, he was also the focal point for everyone on the stage, as they all seemed to be watching him for changes and instructions. I could really see how ‘the boss’ really is ‘the boss’ from this close. [Spoiler ahead!] What was also slightly disappointing was that the stories Bruce told about his songs so eloquently in Pittsburgh, were all displayed on the teleprompter in front of his mic stand. I had always assumed these were off the cuff, but seeing this now, it all looked much more pre-planned. Reflecting on this, the afternoon after the show, it makes more sense to me now. If you want to make sure these stories are heard by your fans at each venue, there needs to be some structure and order to them, so everyone can experience them the same way.

I didn’t tear up till Bruce was introducing ‘Independence Day’, which I must have paid more attention to tonight. He told us that the song was a conversation between a father and son and that the lyrics tell the story about the compromises parents make and the dreams that die as people get older, dreams that people’s children are mostly unaware of. Next up was my bathroom break, ‘Hungry Heart’ and another guy in the row opposite me, must have also had the same idea as we rose in unison. On our way to the toilets, I asked him if he disliked this song as much as I did, to which he smiled and told me that he hated it almost as much as ‘Waiting on a Sunny Day’, which tramps seem to hate. For the next 5 minutes we talked about how many other songs could replace it and after getting a beer from the bar, we parted and returned to our seats.

After The River album had been played fully, Bruce and the band proceeded through a number of hits, some of which had been changed from Saturday. It was good to hear more songs, but as ever, there are always song that I want to hear and aren’t, I’m never happy! I was really surprised that Bruce messed up twice on ‘No Surrender’, stopping the band and exclaiming in shock, “I can’t remember how it goes”, before laughing and humming the opener under his breath and starting it properly on the third attempt.

The encore began with a cover of The Eagles song, ‘Taking it Easy’, as a tribute to The Eagles Guitarist Glen Frey, who died on Monday. Bruce did this song alone, standing in the spotlight with an acoustic guitar. Unlike with ‘Rebel, Rebel’ the tribute to David Bowie on Saturday, he did not introduce the song, or pay tribute to the musician, he just started the song in a soft, quite voice. The crowd quickly joined in and 100s of mobile phones were held aloft and the arena was filled with small white lights, it felt truly special. After he’d finished the house lights went on and the band burst into Born to Run and everyone joined in. That euphoric feeling overtook me once more, and again I thought, this is why I come to multiple shows. This was followed by one of my favourites ‘Dancing in the Dark’. It is during this song when Bruce usually gets somebody [usually female] up from the crowd to dance with him. I looked behind to see that the couple who had informed me about dancing with Bruce (and that Bruce’s ‘people’ knew where they were sitting) had not moved. In fact, Bruce went further than I’ve ever seen him go to pull up someone from the audience to dance with him, he jumped off the stage and ran around the side of the crowd to the middle section of the arena and pulled up a woman, who looked to be in her late 60s up onto the nearby platform, I smiled to myself, being ‘in the know’ obviously doesn’t work everytime! The said couple left soon afterwards. The show ended with Rosealita and Shout, and I sat on my own again for a few moments as I had done in Pittsburgh, before braving the crowds and the cold Chicago night and walked back to my hostel.

As Bruce put it during the concert, “we only have a finite time to do something good”, and after this wonderful time over the past few months, which has given me so many new experiences, I hope to take these words with me into whatever challenges the future holds.

I don’t know when I will post again, but the sociologist on tour will be back!


Set list

Meet Me in the City

The Ties That Bind

Sherry Darling

Jackson Cage

Two Hearts

Independence Day

Hungry Heart

Out in the Street

Crush on You

You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

I Wanna Marry You

The River

Point Blank

Cadillac Ranch

I’m a Rocker

Fade Away

Stolen Car


The Price You Pay

Drive All Night

Wreck on the Highway


No Surrender

Cover Me

She’s the One

Human Touch

The Rising

Thunder Road


Take It Easy (Eagles cover) (Solo acoustic)

Born to Run

Dancing in the Dark

Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)


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