On Saturday afternoon six formidable women (Yes, I include myself! :)) packed themselves into a sexy silver 4×4, turned Wrecking Ball up real loud and got ready to grow young again. As we went barreling along the highway way above the speed limit, I felt like I was living dangerously for the first time in my life. (Yes, I know that’s a bit sad, but so be it.)
Of the dangers of Johannesburg I did not see anything. I saw thousands of excited people streaming into the beautiful stadium affectionately dubbed The Calabash and groups of friends preparing boerewors on gas fires and drinking lots of beer. I saw diehard fans from Europe who had spent the day in the African sun for that treasured place right in front. I experienced a level of anticipation that I have never felt at any other show of an international artist.
Bruce Springsteen had not only conquered Cape Town during the last week, he had conquered South Africa and evoked much more media attention than I had anticipated. On Saturday the nation (or rather the rock-loving part of the nation) was ready for him.
We only had to spend one hour in the hot sun (and got moderate tans) before we were orderly led to the golden circle right on time. After a quick scramble and a difficult decision (Right in front, but way to the side versus a bit back but only slightly to the left) which I later regretted (as Bruce spent considerable time right on the spot where we would have been), we could sit down and settle in for some serious waiting and beer drinking (not my strong point). Anticipation was in the air. I was silently hoping that the show would not start as late as in Cape Town as I suck my stash of Super C’s and watched the stadium filling up.
And then it happened: A few guitar chords and people frantically scrambling to their feet. Bruce was there for a few preshow songs. I am not sure how I got to my feet so quickly. Neither do I know if people realized he only does a preshow on special occasions when he really wants to thank fans for their dedication and the hardships (including financial ruin) they are prepared to face for his shows. He looked relaxed in his sunglasses and checked shirt and immediately grabbed a sign that said I was your first black fan in SA. A short chat (which we could not really hear) and Working on the highway, I’ll work for your love (which I think was a request and he was not quite prepared for, and a great treat for me) and Growing Up set the scene for a great evening.
Dan Patlansky and his men appeared at ten past seven and gave me hope for a show that would start on time. As I do not know his work at all, I cannot really comment on their show, except that I liked the instrumental jamming-like number at the end the best (influence of my guitar playing son, certainly).
Then the hardest wait started as we hopefully watched the guys in black on stage, watched that white rope going up, coming down, going up, coming down … It was 20:50 when I was the first in my surroundings to spot Nils and Max and shout: “Hier is hulle!” (Here they are!). And at that moment, everything becomes worth your while. The money, the arrangements, the stress, the non-understanding of non-fans, the travelling, the waiting, the standing, the drunks around you, the elbows in your face (not mine, I am too tall), everything suddenly make sense when Bruce and his ‘small army’ fill the stage and proceed to blast 60 000 people (give or take a few cynics) away.
I am not going to discuss the show song by song. All real fans know where to get all the details on the internet, like the fact that this show consisted of thirty one songs plus the three of the preshow, that it lasted three hours en twenty two minutes and contained five tour premieres, bringing the total for the four shows at I think sixty three different songs. After four shows in one week details tend to blur into one great haze of happiness and tired feet. It is the emotion that stays with you. (And develop into the classic post-Bruce blues).
Once again there were lots of younger people around us. Some drank and irritated their neighbours, some knew every word of every song. It is not them that I will remember. It is the passion and energy I will remember, the solidarity of the crowd in the pit, the sweat and the tears and the laughs and the rain.
Yes, the rain. It started gently, drifting through the echoing lines of forty one shots … forty one shots … People were reluctant to break their concentration to put on rain gear, many just opting to get wet and enjoy it. The rain seemed to bring the show to another level, with Bruce (of course) coming out into the rain (also bringing the Horns), getting thoroughly wet and just enjoying it (surely it invigorated a man in his fourth over three hours show less than a week after arriving from across numerous time zones). But something else happened than the physical. The spiritual aspect of the show became more pronounced, making one think of a baptism, of the cleansing of sins, of new beginnings, of forgiveness and hope.
I could not take my eyes off Bruce’s back when he slowly walked backstage after the third lovely acoustic version of Thunder Road I had the privilege to hear in a week. I was not the only one. And it was certainly a bonus to catch another glimpse of him appearing next to the stage as we were ascending the stairs to leave.
The six women in the silver 4×4 were quiet on their way home. They will never by quite the same. In a good way, a very good way.
When we reached home at two in the morning, I could not sleep. The atmosphere, the exuberance in the rain, the happy faces, the raised arms lingered with me through the night, waking me early with Tom Morello’s guitar screaming in my head and Bruce’s face turned to the rain in my mind’s eye.
Yes, live goes on. Bruce and the Band have already left for Australia. But for many South Africans the memories will linger for many, many years to come.
For me they will stay forever.
Thank you to Nadia de Kock for the first and last photos.