Bruce Springsteen fueled my dreams when I was a teenager, but since then I’ve accumulated enough life experience to have tense imaginary conversations with him.
“C’mon, Jay! You can do it! Just believe, man!”
“Screw that, Bruce. It doesn’t work.”
“No! No! Don’t lose heart, brother! You can make anything happen if you just hold on!”
“That’s bullshit, Boss. I tried that, and it blew up in my face.”
“Come on! Come on! One, two, three, four...is anybody alive out there?!”
And so it was that I found myself at Bunker’s on Tuesday night, rippling with goosebumps while the world’s #1 (by their accounting) Bruce Springsteen tribute band swung it into “Prove It All Night.” Damn it, Bruce! Damn it.
“Bruce,” in this case, was Matt Ryan, verified by me and an informal panel of two other diehard Springsteen fans—photographer Alexa Jones being one of them—to be an absolutely uncanny ringer for the Jersey Boy in both looks and singing voice. (Speaking voice, less so; he sounds kind of like Marlon Brando doing Tom Waits doing “Snooki” Polizzi.) Ryan honed his Boss-aping skills over several years in Legends in Concert on the Vegas strip, giving him a charmingly indefatigable quality. There were in the neighborhood of 50 souls at Bunker’s on Tuesday night (cover was $12), and they needed some coaxing to take the dance floor—but Ryan drenched himself in sweat trying to get them there, and ultimately succeeded.
There’s a certain purity to a really good tribute act—you get the thrill of hearing immortal songs played live, without the zing of having them performed by the original artist but also without the baggage. A tribute act is under no obligation to play recent material (the newest number in Bruce in the USA’s set was “Brilliant Disguise,” a song only one year younger than Lady Gaga), and they’re forced to work as hard as the original acts worked when they themselves were playing uncool Minneapolis bars on weeknights. They’re also ageless: Bruce in the USA give us the E Street Band preserved in amber, with a Clarence Clemons who can remain standing for the entire set (the original Big Man is now 68) and a Little Steven who’s never even heard of Silvio Dante.
It was a hell of a fun show, and a true tribute to Springsteen, faithful enough that it didn’t need to reduce the man and his music to a cartoon. Even Springsteen’s most accessible pop hits—as Ronald Reagan famously failed to recognize—carry dark undercurrents and bear layers of meaning, and the songs were reproduced with enough fidelity to make those layers apparent. Bruce in the USA is “as close as you can get to seeing the real thing in concert,” says the band’s website. True enough, and in some ways—not all ways, but in some ways—it may be even better.