At around 7:45PM on July 11 as Synot Tip Arena on the outskirts of Prague was just starting to fill up, a man walked out onto the stage alone and strapped on a guitar.
No introductory music, no buildup, nothing. Then the screens go on and you hear that distinctive gravelly voice.
“Ahoj Prague! It’s great to be back!” followed by the acoustic/harmonica opening of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” At concerts, I’m accustomed to lots of buildup and anticipation and standing around before this happens, but Bruce wasted no time in getting started. My friends and I had just gotten our beers, met a Bruce fan from California as well as 2 diehards from Germany with American flags draped around them. They knew I was American when they heard me use the term “bucks” instead of dollars. We quickly realized that Bruce was ready to get started and had to make our way through the crowd ASAP.
Anyway, backing up a bit. I had tickets to the Bruce show in Prague for months and was really excited about it. Not only because I like Bruce’s music a lot, but also because it reminds me of home and reminds me of America. Listening to Bruce makes me feel nostalgic, patriotic, and entertained at the same time. His music has become such a part of my life over the years that I’ve concluded that in order to date a girl, one key criteria is they must appreciate the Boss’s music.
I went with my friends Devon and Sam who I learned were huge Springsteen fans too. They graduated a few TEFL classes after me and we met through mutual friends. And also, a few members of the current TEFL class came, as did my friend Erin who got an extra ticket when another current TEFLer backed out at the last minute. We were all extremely psyched to see The Boss in Europe.
After his acoustic intro, the E Street Band hit the stage and they immediately went into Badlands. When it came time for the sax solo, I wondered what that big quasi Brooklyn hipster dude with the fro and the giant sax would be capable of, but he belted it out just like his uncle! Jake Clemons was for real and consistently hit his uncle’s solos note for note.
As the show rolled on a Bruce and his band continued to crank out the songs, I noticed something with the crowd. Well, the Czech Bruce crowd deserves a section to itself!
The Czech Bruce Crowd: The Synot Tip Arena was quite packed. Clearly Bruce has quite the following, even if he’s playing in Eastern Europe. But, one big difference is that the crowd was much more docile than the typical American Bruce crowd. I’m an East Coaster so I’ve probably been subjected to some of the most dedicated Bruce crowds, so I really noticed this.
The front pit by the stage was filled with extremely dedicated fans, emotionally chanting with the Boss word for word, but those in the seats remained seated and many of those surrounding my friends and I simply enjoyed their personal space and nodded to the music. At one point, my friend Sam said to me “I feel like getting real rowdy” while my friend Devon continued to look around at the crowd, shocked, saying “this is a freaking CONCERT? What is everyone doing??” So yeah, in a nutshell, they were a little more docile, valued their space a bit more, and my friends and I were the loud, obnoxious Americans chanting BRUUUUUCE!!!!!! after each song and singing along loudly . Gotta represent
Here are some key differences. When they played “She’s the One,” typical American crowds will start singing in unison right as Bruce sings “Whooaaah she’s the one” and then once the band kicks in and Roy starts banging furiously on his piano, the crowd usually erupts into a dancing frenzy. However, this time around they just stood, nodded, and enjoyed the music while we were the only ones behaving like typical Boss fans.
*Another distinctive part of Bruce’s shows are the fact that the crowds always emphatically chant BRUUUCE!! to the point that it almost sounds like they’re booing him. Not this time around – more just half-ass cheers and clapping.
*This aloofness of the crowd proved to benefit us to some extent. When we wanted to grab beers or use the WC, the crowd parted for us like the red sea. They’re very considerate to passers by, where in America, you’d get swallowed up and wouldn’t be able to make it out once you reach a certain point in standing room only.
The Fan of the Night: Here is a story of our interaction with one particularly obnoxious couple. As Bruce and the band started rocking, the standing room crowd got closer and closer.
This overweight Czech couple was standing near us and kept telling us to “back off” and mind their space. I thought it was a little annoying, but my friend Devon couldn’t stand it. She repeatedly told them “this is a concert! There is no personal space! Deal with it! We’re American!” Picture them. The man looked like an overweight Czech cab driver and his wife looked strangely like Paulie from the Rocky Series. She gave me a few nudges herself when I got close to her, muttering something about “in Europe we….”
Near the end of the set, this man, Mr. Personal Space, started jumping around, fist pumping and totally feeling the music, and bumping into people in the process. Of course, Devon and I joined in just to prove a point, and of course, this hypocrite got his panties all up in a knot when we started joining, and pushed us. I grabbed him and said “if you stop, we’ll stop.” Anyway, this lovely couple didn’t ruin our night at all.
Bruce and the E-Street band were on top of their game tonight. Their set list was quite epic, and as the writer for Backstreets stated, they played the new stuff with a lot of energy and confidence. Some songs that I particularly liked live that I never thought I would were “Workin on the Highway” which really got the crowd moving, and where Bruce danced around like a Dave Matthews-esque farmer, as well as “Shackled and Drawn” where one of his backing singers came in and stole the spotlight with some strong duet vocals with the Boss.
He also put on a great rendition of “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” in which he grabbed a little girl from the front row who sang lead vocals in a heavy accent “Waiteeng…Waiteeng on a Sunny Day…Gona chase zeee clowds aweeyyy” as Bruce smiled and enjoyed the show and the suddenly upbeat nature of this stodgy Czech crowd.
In another kid-friendly moment, during “Dancing in the Dark“, he picked up a cute little blonde girl from the audience and danced with her in a way reminiscent of an uncle dancing with their little niece at a wedding.
Mom and Dad – they played solid versions of some of your favorites as well. Early on, they played Candy’s Room soon followed by “The Land of Hope and Dreams.” They also played “Thunder Road” which none of us really expected to hear. This made my TEFL crew really happy as none of them expected to hear that song live.
It was nice to see that in the front part of the crowd, there were tons of signs made by fans for requests, and as always, Bruce made his way into the crowd and honored them.
Usually I’m not one to idolize celebrities, but there is something about Bruce on stage, even at age 62 that gives him immortal icon status.
He’s the kind of guy that you can’t imagine meeting due to his world fame and amazingness, but at the same time, you can picture him pumping your gas for you at your local Jersey gas station. Even at age 62, Bruce is rocking the whole way though the show, dancing around, putting on a fan’s pink Cowboy hat as he danced to “Working on the Highway,” joked around with a fan who requested “Sexy and I Know it” by LMFAO (I was hoping for a cover there!)
Might I add, that everyone was there except for Patti. At one point, Bruce asks the crowd “Are there any red-headed Czech women in the house? Patti sends her love!”
Throughout the concert (which had amazing weather might I add), I felt like I belonged there.
In a land where my friends and I are constantly fumbling with a new language and being so far removed from everyone we know and love, it was nice to be thoroughly entertained by Bruce while acting like total American concertgoers and Bruce fans. As the American flag draped high overhead, we all felt proud to be Americans and proud to be Bruce fans. Its moments like this that help us realize that America is home and we’ll all return soon enough. Moments like this bond us together, make us feel patriotic and nostalgic, but at the same time also makes us gain a great appreciation for what we’re doing out here in Europe.
So near the end of the show, Bruce ripped off his shirt, and in a white V-neck, he collapsed to the ground, only to be revived by Stevie Van Zandt, who dripped a sponge soaked in water all over him. This revived him just in time to close out the show with an extended version of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ as well as an interesting closing choice: “Twist and Shout” – which of course, got us dancing like my great grandmother to end the evening.
Tenth Avenue Freeze out had a very special moment in it. As Bruce began the second verse, he shouted, “This is the important part!!!” And then proceeded to sing “When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band” followed by a slideshow commemorating the great Clarence Clemons.
A series of pictures ensued as the crowd cheered and my friends and I shouted CLARENCE!!!! and BIG MAN!!!! It was nice to see such a universal appreciation for Clarence. And Jake really nailed his part quite well. He didn’t go above and beyond. He just acted as a total Clarence replica, and that’s all we needed!
Bruce was the epitome of Boss-ness for this show. He opened up extremely modestly with no introduction and no band whatsoever. He attempted to speak Czech a few times, he played a great set list, he approached it with the kind of energy that makes me wonder whether or not the guy is on performance enhancing drugs, he honored his best friend, he played fan requests, he danced with little kids in a non creepy, father like way, played a killer encore, and of course, after the show, he stood by the stage exit and high fived every member of his band as if he’s a coach or team captain after a big game, captaining the E-Street band to victory.
I’ll always remember that night in Prague. I was in good company, in a foreign country, watching one of my favorite performers. Can it get any better than that? Again, all music aside, this experience is making me appreciate where I come from even more. Sometimes its moments like this that remind me of how awesome Americans are.
Here’s to the Boss! He’s 62 years old, but he’s nowhere near calling it quits. He can still bring the house down, even if that house happens to be way out in Eastern Europe.