Yes, I prefer a tribute band to the real thing. No, I don't find that weird at all. This isn't the first time I've raved about Matt "Fake Bruce" Ryan and the boys, nor will it be the last. I'm told there are at least a dozen other cover bands based on The Boss, but I've only seen Matt's. There's no reason to try the rest when you've already had the best.
What makes a Bruce in the USA show more enjoyable, and occasionally more memorable, than an actual Springsteen concert is the simple straightforwardness of it all. Bruce Springsteen plays 60,000-seat stadiums, which means a) a decent amount of travel to oft-inconvenient venues, b) poor sightlines, c) pricey tickets with additional parking costs and d) expensive drinks/food.
Basically, you're paying for the experience. That's not to slight Bruce and the E Street Band; they consistently put out new material and perform distinctly different three-hour shows every night of massive worldwide tours. But the coordination and cost involved in attending a Springsteen concert often sucks out some of the fun. The best part of a Bruce Springsteen show is saying afterwards "Holy shit, I just saw Bruce Springsteen."
Compare that to Bruce in the USA, who provide power-packed 150-minute shows for $15 in wonderfully compact clubs and theatres all across the United States. Matt Ryan sweats as much as Springsteen himself, and works just as hard. If he ever learns how to slide across the stage, you won't be able to tell the difference. And I haven't even mentioned Fake Clarence Clemons, Fake Steven van Zandt and a delightful keyboard player who always has time for a few kind words and a fist-bump after every show.
It's never not worth the effort...even if that effort is massive. In early February, Bruce in the USA's Boston show (he usually does two a year) coincided with a record-setting storm that was burying the city in cold white powder. I'd snuck in the night before, praying that the snow would be light. It was not looking good.
The city was essentially a ghost town, but a pocket of devoted fans were tweeting at Matt and begging the band to make the drive from Brooklyn to Boston. Myself included; we made it clear that if Bruce in the USA found their way, they'd play to a captive audience.
After hours of waiting, word eventually trickled out that the show would go on. It still seemed a little dicey -- the government had shut down the roads -- but a pesky state mandate wouldn't stop The World's No. 1 Tribute to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from driving into the storm for the sake of rocking.
The subway was shut down and cabs were nonexistent, so my friends and I bundled up for the two-mile walk from Central Square in Cambridge to the Paradise Rock Club. Upon arrival, we were amazed to find over a hundred dedicated Springsteen fans had also made the trek.
And if we looked surprised, well, the shock on Fake Bruce's face when the band took the stage was unmistakable. They probably expected a dozen weirdos; instead, they got ten dozen. And because only the most devoted fans would consider such a journey in the first place, everyone who showed up was beyond ready to rock.
Adding icing to an already delicious cake, Fake Bruce paused before one of the show's first couple songs to credit my friend Matt Kakley, who wrote a wonderful profile of Bruce in the USA several years ago and has been in the band's good graces ever since.
"We want to thank our loyal fans in the Boston area," Fake Bruce bellowed from the stage, "including Matt Kakley. Thanks, Matt."
Kakley was thunderstruck; the band even invited him to the green room for a few beers after the show. And while the two Matts were canoodling in the Paradise's backstage area, Fake Little Steven spent a few minutes chatting with my friends and I about the show and how "nuts" we all were to come out in the middle of a snowstorm.
Enthusiasm goes both ways with Bruce in the USA; if you love them, they'll love you right back.
Bruce in the USA will be at The Hamilton in Washington, DC on Friday, May 10. If you're not there, you better be dead or in jail.