BOSS BACK IN THE ‘BORO AFTER 2016 CANCELLATION
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bruce Springsteen pointed to the general admission pit fronting the stage after the E Street Band’s outstanding six-song encore Saturday night and laughed. In particular, he singled out one female superfan that he allowed to scream into his microphone twice during the show.
It was more of a banshee’s wail than a whoop and holler, which had Springsteen shaking his head in wonderment. The fan’s outburst provided one more intimate snapshot of a devoted crowd that’s grown up with Springsteen over the past 50 years, cheering an artist that forges extended connections with his audience, whether they’re standing in the front row or perched in the upper deck behind the stage.
Yes, it was a joyous occasion at Greensboro Coliseum, considering Springsteen canceled a 2016 date at the arena over North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill that prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms apart from their assigned gender at birth. The law was overturned one year later and Greensboro Coliseum now has a gender-neutral restroom on the main concourse.
Fast forward to 2023 and a total of 20,043 packed the coliseum, tied to a manifest with few seat kills, somewhat unusual for an end stage production, but certainly do-able given the stage layout was open in the back, providing 360-degree views. For Springsteen, playing the coliseum for the ninth time in his career dating to 1981, the concert produced the 11th largest concert crowd in the coliseum’s 64-year-old history. All told, Springsteen now holds three of the 20 highest attended events in coliseum annals, arena officials said.
“Best concert I may have ever seen,” said Scott Johnson, Greensboro Coliseum’s deputy director for 32 years, who could be seen walking the floor during the show, capping off a busy day that saw a swim meet, home show and a G League game on campus, plus Skid Row and Buckcherry at Piedmont Hall, a smaller concert venue that’s part of the complex.
You can bet lots of beer was consumed between the two shows: Springsteen generated a $16.08 per cap on food and drink, while the metal concert across the parking lot produced an average spend of $22.73. OVG Hospitality runs the food at all venues within the complex.
The 20,000-plus were treated to a lengthy, two hours and 45 minutes of hits and a few rarities. Yeah, it’s down from the 3 hours and 30 minutes the E Street Band was historically known for performing, but we’ll give a pass to the 73-year-old Boss and the elder statesmen and women making up about half of the current E Street Band lineup. To be honest, Springsteen probably could have played all night, given his peak physical condition. At one point late in the show, he ripped open his black buttoned down shirt, baring a physique more in line with a man half his age.
Considering the frenetic pace of the show, the E Street Band’s stamina was amazing. For the most part, they ripped through the 26-song set without pause. The one substantial break came midway through the concert for Springsteen’s solo acoustic performance of “Last Man Standing,” a poignant tune about Bruce becoming the final survivor of his first band, The Castiles, formed in 1965.
The content itself showed the band’s staying power, most notably Kitty’s Back, a lengthy, 15-minute jam that Springsteen recorded in 1973, and gives individual members an opportunity to shine, most notably Roy Bittan, known as “The Professor,” and a key piece of the group dating to the release of “Born to Run” in 1975.
The current tour repertoire showcases “Nightshift,” the Commodores’ 1985 hit that Springsteen covered on his newest album, “Only the Strong Survive,” a collection of R&B/soul songs originally performed by Jerry Butler, Frankie Valli, the Four Tops, the Temptations and Ben E. King, among others.
For baby boomers, “Because the Night” struck a familiar chord. Co-written by Springsteen and Patti Smith, who at the time leaned more to punk rock, the tune became a top 15 hit for the Patti Smith Group in 1978.
“Wrecking Ball,” played toward the end of the night, peels back a layer of Springsteen’s persona that shows a Jersey guy who remains a venue geek at heart. It was written in 2009 before the E Street Band played a series of five shows at old Giants Stadium, as an ode to the Meadowlands facility that was later torn down to make way for MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010.
The six-song flourish to the finish started with Thunder Road, flowing into Born To Run, Rosalita, Glory Days, Dancing in the Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. The house lights were turned on for those half-dozen tunes, a nice touch that lent a dramatic finality to the night and gave Bruce some additional safety as he maneuvered the crowd to sing “Freeze-Out” on a platform splitting the pit from floor seats.
The song added heartfelt memories of saxophonist Clarence Clemons and keyboardist Danny Federici through images flashed on the two videboards of them from past performances. Both were longtime members of the E Street Band dating to 1972. Federici died in 2008 and Clemons passed three years later.
Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, has made his uncle proud by filling his shoes through his immense talent on sax. Jake joined the E Street gang in 2012. Multiple times in Greensboro, he strode alongside Springsteen at the front of the stage to toot his horn with the same authority and flash that was his the Big Man’s trademark.
The show closed with Springsteen going solo for a second time on the song “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a single released in 2020 as a dedication to the late Michael Gudinski, an Australian independent music executive and a good friend of Springsteen.
Overall, the sound was impeccable and the video was crisp and timely, with close-ups of guitarist Stevie Van Zandt, the band’s consigliere, making a bold fashion statement as usual with his incredibly pointy boots, straight out of a fairy tale.
On the main concourse before the show, there were pinch points in traffic flow as fans swarmed the swag stand to gobble up $50 T-shirts and $90 hoodies. It’s one more example of how the escalation in concert merchandise pricing since the pandemic has not affected consumer buying habits, driving record per caps in some cases. The merchandise per cap was $16.36, certainly not Harry Styles territory, but still stronger than most concerts at the coliseum, Johnson said. Doing the math, gross sales were about $328,000.
The swarm gave some folks second thoughts that may have wanted to buy merch but didn’t want to get caught up in the tidal wave. Maybe it’s time for arenas and stadiums to huddle up with concessionaires and touring acts to develop a grab-and-go marketplace for concert retail. On the food side, those concepts stand among the highest revenue-producing spaces across sports and entertainment due to speed of service and convenience.
The Boss, the guy that stays loyal to buildings that have stuck with him over time regardless of the issues, would concur.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.