What makes a great live performer? What makes people filing out of a concert utter such phrases as “mind-blowing,” “killed it” or “religious experience”? Is it the cult of personality, the overflowing charisma of the person onstage that can make you feel like you’re in the presence of greatness? Is it boundless energy and stamina, the kind that results in drops of sweat forming during the first song and puddles on the stage three hours later? Is it a sense of a singular moment, that you’re experiencing something unique, not the same performance given in New York the night before or in Charlotte a few nights later? Or maybe it’s something as simple as hearing great songs: one after another, after another, after another.
Bruce Springsteen can comfortably put a checkmark next to each of these questions. It’s not just that he’s unquestionably one of the best live acts around, but that he reached that status almost 40 years ago and hasn’t let up. Generations of superstars have come and gone, yet the Boss, 62, remains at the pinnacle of rock-and-roll. When he comes to town with the E Street Band, it’s not simply a concert — it’s an event. Somebody will log on to StubHub today, buy a ticket for Friday’s very-sold-out concert at Nationals Park for upwards of $1,000 and, hours later, walk out of the stadium debating whether to do it again for next week’s shows in New Jersey.
One unique aspect about this D.C. show is the venue, Nationals Park. Whenever the Boss has played in town in recent years it has been indoors at Verizon Center. But lately, Springsteen has been trading basketball arenas for ballparks. His itinerary on the Wrecking Ball tour has included stops at Fenway Park (Boston), Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia) and Wrigley Field (Chicago). The large outdoor venues offer a great opportunity to enjoy Springsteen from a fresh perspective but also pose a new challenge when it comes to putting on a show. These stadiums were built for baseball, not for rock-and-roll.
Nationals Park has hosted only two other major concerts, Elton John and Billy Joel in 2009 and Dave Matthews Band in 2010, but ballpark officials and concert promoters have used those experiences to help prepare for Friday’s show. The setup, overseen by Live Nation, began after the Nationals game against the Marlins on Sunday and involved putting up speakers and delay towers — which help deliver quality sound in large venues — and building the center field stage, according to Catherine Silver, vice president of ballpark enterprises and guest services. The most important factor is making sure there’s no lag in sound anywhere in the park, whether you’re up front or in the upper deck.
But if there’s one performer who can make you feel like you’re standing right next to him, even if you’re seated a few hundred feet away in the nosebleeds, it’s Springsteen.
Read on to get a taste of what to expect at Friday’s show and to learn how to make your experience at the concert an easy one.
The anatomy of a Bruce Springsteen setlist
Reviews from the archives
Concert photos: Then and now