Yesterday 20 years ago I went to London to see my very first Bruce Springsteen concert. I remember how at first I was shocked that everybody was booing, not understanding it was in fact ‘Bruce’ they were shouting. Last Thursday I went with my wife to Paris and saw Bruce again, with a concert that many of the die hard fans have labeled ‘legendary’. Btw, I’m not a die-hard fan.
Instead of discussing how great it was, I want to use Bruce to look at both the experience economy and the economy of meaning.
One of the things that makes a Bruce Springsteen concert a ‘true experience’ is not such things as pyrotechnics or other inflatable objects (which still can be fun!). Yes, there are some screens but by today’s standards the light show is pretty old-fashioned. No, it is an experience because every concert is different. Take the 2 concerts in Paris. Both started of with a dual accordeon intro, but the first evening it was ‘La vie en rose’, the second night it was the very old French children song ‘Au Claire de La Lune’. The setlist that followed included 15 (!) different songs with the night before. On average there has been a tour premiere every night.
This gives going to a Springsteen-concert a sure element of surprise. You never know exactly what will happen, you just have to be there, because it will always be a one-off.
The main element of a Springsteen concert is meaning. Springsteen has always been some kind of troubadour with songs commenting political issues and reflecting stories and situations. A song about street racing becomes a reflection on getting older and taking responsibility. This element of meaning is also always present in his concerts, not as militant as for instance Bono preaches, but in the selection of songs and the little stories between songs.
Before the concert I was talking with some young first time Springsteen concert-goers, if that’s a word, and they were discussing why they came to this concert and didn’t want to see Madonna. Madonna was labelled as ‘fake’, not acting her age, putting out songs without a real meaning to them. Of course this may be a matter of taste, but as they were discussing this element of authenticity, the importance of giving meaning was shining through what they were saying.
One could also argue that Springsteen is hiding the fact that he’s wealthy. It is strange how many people still have the feeling that the singer will go back to work in the local car wash the next morning. He does have an image, he knows it and he tries to maintain it.
One could argue that a lot of what Springsteen does is staged, and this is in fact true. The whole band is very professional, for instance in how the always maintain a full use of the stage.
But professionality and authenticity are not antonyms. If you put on a show for an audience, you need to be a professional.