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Springsteen Hits Grand Slam At Wrigley

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band storm Wrigley Field next month, it will mark the Boss’s first shows in Chicago in almost three years. But it will also be historic: Bruce and his band will be the first musical performers to have played in all four of Chicago’s professional sports venues. With reverent nods to the other hallowed venues that Springsteen has played in Chicago over the years, from the Quiet Knight to the Uptown Theater to the Rosemont Horizon, here’s a look at Bruce’s soon-to-be-completed “Chicago Grand Slam.”

Soldier Field, August 9, 1985

1985 was a special year at Soldier Field. The Bears won every game they played there, on the way to the team’s only Super Bowl championship. Perhaps Springsteen’s legendary show at Soldier Field before the start of that season was a good omen. In the summer of 1985, Soldier Field served as the only venue in Chicago that could hold Springsteen’s growing fandom. It was 1985 that a scruffy rocker from New Jersey, who had long enjoyed a loyal following and reputation for phenomenal concerts, morphed into an American icon. “Born in The U.S.A.” had ruled the charts for more than a year. Stadiums in the United States became the go-to venues for seas of new and old Springsteen followers.

Tickets to the show were general admission only, and estimates of the crowd were set at 70,000 fans. It’s likely that no single concert in Chicago has ever drawn so many people. The setlist was a whopping 28 songs, and the show ran for more than four hours. Springsteen wasn’t the first to play at Soldier Field (Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones had played there in the 1970s), but nobody will ever play to a bigger crowd than he did on that day.

The Cubs that year were the defending NL East champions, but they had dropped to ten games behind the Mets on this day after a loss at Shea Stadium. The White Sox, who were managed by Tony LaRussa, beat the Royals at home as the concert was going on. They were in second place in the AL West, a game-and-a-half behind Kansas City, the eventual World Series champions. And yes, the Cubs were in the NL East back then, while the White Sox were in the AL West. It was that kind of a simpler time. Glory Days, you might say.

In music news, Chicago was in the running to be named as the host city for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The five finalists were Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and some city in Ohio that I can’t think of right now.

United Center, September 27, 1999, and subsequent dates

For nearly a decade beginning in late 1989, Springsteen pursued a range of musical interests including solo shows. By the time Bruce reunited with the E Street Band, Chicago Stadium had been replaced by United Center, which became the host to many sold-out Springsteen shows. Perhaps because of pent-up demand, Springsteen played three nights there in 1999, and returned in 2005, 2007, and 2009.

The cavernous dimensions of the UC might seem inhospitable to Springsteen shows usually marked by both intimacy and exultation, but having seen one of his shows in person (the first show in October, 2007), I can confirm that Bruce and the band have had no trouble blowing the roof off of this venue. That show was played on the final day for baseball in Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The White Sox were not in Detroit that day but in Minneapolis, where they beat the Twins 3-1 on a double by Brook Fordyce in the 9th inning. The Sox were in second place in the AL Central, but trailed the Cleveland Indians by 24 games. The Cubs, on that day, were the only sixth-place team in baseball, sitting at 29-and-a-half games behind the Cincinnati Reds and the Houston Astros. And the Bears, under new head coach Dick Jauron, were off to a 1-2 start, on their way to a 6-10 finish in the NFC Central.

U.S. Cellular Field, August 13, 2003

Springsteen and the band went back outdoors in 2003, taking their “Rising” tour –featuring an album of work inspired by the tragedy and heroism of 9/11 – to select stadiums in the summer and fall. U.S. Cellular Field was one of these special destinations. The Rolling Stones played the inaugural concert in this venue in 2002, when it was still known as New Comiskey Park.

After the naming rights were sold in early 2003, Springsteen became the first—and so far the only—major act to play a concert at U.S. Cellular Field. Several other major league ballparks were on that tour’s itinerary, including Fenway Park in Boston. After Springsteen played the first-ever concerts in Fenway that September, Jimmy Buffett played at Fenway in 2004, and also played the first concert at Wrigley Field in 2005. Since then, Wrigley has been the big-league concert venue of choice in Chicago.

The White Sox, obviously, were on the road when Springsteen and his band came into town, losing 2-1 to the Anaheim Angels. At 63-57, the Sox were in second place and a game behind the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central. The Cubs, in their first year under Dusty Baker, had a nearly identical record at 62-57. They found themselves in third place in the NL Central, trailing both Houston and St. Louis. The team got rolling after that, and claimed the NL Central title before, well, you know…

Wrigley Field, September 7-8, 2012

Since Buffett in 2005, the Police, Elton John, Dave Matthews Band, Paul McCartney, and Roger Waters have all played Wrigley Field. But Springsteen’s devoted following, and the novelty of playing this venue for the first time, assured that the two shows set for next month would quickly sell out. The shows are destined for a special place in the history of Springsteen’s performances at Chicago’s sports venues. Springsteen and the E Street Band are coming off a European tour of widely praised shows. In London, Springsteen – after bringing Paul McCartney on stage – had the plug pulled on him by police for violating a curfew. Bruce recently played before 100,000 fans in Copenhagen. Yes, Copenhagen.

So with the Grand Slam upon us, Bruce fans may be asking themselves which September show to attend. The answer: Both, if you can. At Fenway Park, fans were stunned to be treated to a pair of Springsteen shows that featured 18 different songs on the second night. Both shows ran three hours plus.

It’s worth pointing out that after Springsteen played Chicago’s other sports venues, championship banners followed for the Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox. For hopeful Cubs fans, it may be worth noting that Bruce is likely to play one tune at Wrigley that invariably becomes a sing-along and that includes these lyrics, “Don’t worry we’re gonna find a way…I’m waitin’ on a sunny day.”

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ROB HARRIS will be at the first Springsteen show at Wrigley on September 7. His thoughts on baseball, life, and other matters are online at bluebattinghelmet.wordpress.com.

STORY ART: Main image made in-house; photo courtesy Jo Lopez.

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