Thirty-one years later -- Monday night -- I saw Bruce and the band again in the Greensboro Coliseum and, to borrow a Springsteen-like sentiment, my faith has again been rewarded. I didn't want it to end.
If it had to end, having him close the show with 'Thunder Road,' 'Land of Hope and Dreams' (a new Springsteen anthem), 'Born To Run,' 'Dancing In The Dark,' 'Rosalita' and 'Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out' was the way to send us out the door after nearly two hours and 45 minutes of new music, old favorites and a coming to grips with the reality that Clarence Clemons isn't coming back but the magic of the E Street Band isn't going away.
Springsteen is 62 years old but seems at least 20 years younger. He doesn't play the marathon shows he did in his youth and he only slid across the front of the stage one time Monday night, splashing water on his jeans to make sure he made it last. But the magic of Bruce and the band is in the feeling as much as the music and that remains.
He's touring in support of a new CD, 'Wrecking Ball,' a collection of songs about the recession-induced problems that have wobbled our country. The new songs are strong and angry and pointed, an odd mixture of rock, folk, Irish and gospel sounds that somehow works together. Played live, the new music -- particularly 'Jack Of All Trades' and 'Rocky Ground' -- soars in spots.
The thing about a Springsteen show is the joy it brings, not just to the audience but to Bruce and the band. The Coliseum was full and most of the audience was like me, well into mid-life with mortgages, soft bellies and gray creeping in. A Springsteen show is a gathering, one where I saw friends was Washington, Charlotte and Columbia before the lights went down.
Springsteen's concert joy is contagious. He said in an interview a few years ago that he'd come to realize that being on stage with his band is what he's meant to do. When you think he can't give you more, he always does. It's why I have friends who've seen him more than 100 times and why, having seen him close to 15 times myself, I'm hoping he'll add a Charlotte show this fall when he and the band return from a summer in Europe.
This tour is different because the Big Man is gone, his role on the sax replaced brilliantly by his nephew Jake Clemons, the band's new star. During 'My City of Ruins,' Springsteen alluded to the loss of Clemson and Danny Federici a few years earlier. "If you're here...and we're here...they're here," Springsteen said as chill bumps filled the big arena. I know there were chill bumps on my arms, anyway.
When he closed the show with 'Tenth Avenue,' his song about meeting Clarence, the band went quiet when Springsteen said, "This is the important part" and sang the line about a change being made uptown when the Big Man joined the band.
For more than a minute, the music stopped as Springsteen held the microphone in the air and listened to the cheers. They were for Clarence but they were also for another night like Monday night.
Photo: Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas on Thursday, March 15, 2012.(AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)