Is there a more surprising sentiment in the current gloomy hour than optimism? Or, at a time when half a country seems to be at war simultaneously with the other half and itself, unity? Perhaps even more disconcertingly, that long abandoned sensation, hope?
Most live events, whether sporting events or concerts, tend to evoke a sense of community. But this past weekend at two shows with little in common — Jerry Seinfeld's 100th appearance at the Beacon Theater on Saturday night and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the UBS Arena on Long Island on Sunday — the collective emotional response felt almost naturally heightened, and suddenly similar.
It's not just the concept of synchronicity itself that is so out of sync with our era of division. The sense of community also doesn't seem to stem from the same audience demographics – overwhelmingly white, slanted male and overall… not young. Something more than nostalgia for their former selves appears to be playing out. It's almost as if both shows reconnected audiences with previous shows cultureone of our current unlimited entertainment frenzy can no longer deliver.
Bruce Springsteen is 73 years old and Jerry Seinfeld is 68 years old. Both reached their peak of popularity in the pre-internet, pre-iPhone, and pre-streaming era. Back then, a show was something you watched as it happened, not on demand. As Chuck Klosterman notes in his 2022 book, “The Nineties”, TV at the time was built on the idea that you could only watch at any given moment. “Seinfeld” offers an incredibly thrilling experience, filmed in front of a studio audience: “For more than a decade, ‘Seinfeld' was the most popular, most transformative, live-action show on television,” wrote Klosterman.
Entertainment is almost always a shared experience, less purely personal, more universal and, in some ways, more accessible. You can buy concert tickets without the total crash that Ticketmaster has caused. Springsteen, with his E Street Band, was once voted into by readers of Rolling Stone the best live action of all time, owes its popularity to tours and live albums. And through this 2023 tour, Springsteen has made a special effort to keep tickets at a reasonable price.
Both Springsteen and Seinfeld peaked at very different political moments in this country. The 1980s and 90s had their problems of course, but the predominant mood was that things were generally fine in America or at least would be for the better. Even those who didn't share Ronald Reagan's “morning in America” platitudes felt united in their opposition. And the division that existed in the 90s, which is now enjoying its own cultural renaissance, feels like a sandbox tussle compared to today's dark polarization.
Seinfeld and Springsteen also became popular in an era when stars still had mass appeal and made far-reaching cultural influences. In our highly performative culture today, there is an authenticity that contrasts with the respective public personas, which have remained fairly consistent over time. Even when Bruce befriends Barack Obama and Jerry drives around in luxury cars, neither seems elitist or overly intellectual.
And perhaps there is particular resonance in the fact that both liberals of this classical tri-state region remain of broad appeal across the country, a consensus that is rare. Springsteen, of course, channels hardworking, neglected Americans — Vietnam vets, blue collar workers, underclass. Seinfeld's shtick is more urban schmo, messing with everyday life, confused by its absurdity. But in projecting casual Joe-ness—no small feat for two middle-class kids turned multimillionaires—both have a way of making their audiences feel heard.
Even for these non-worshippers, witnessing the strong bond between Springsteen and his fans is an amazing experience. During moments of melancholy and mourning (“Last Man Standing” is dedicated to a friend who recently died from his first band), I could feel the arena crowd locking onto Springsteen's face. The low cry of “Bruuuce” between songs and the way Springsteen meets his fans' upraised arms as he struts across the floor towards the end of the night for three hours feels like a timeless and almost transcendental fellowship. “Do you want to go home?” Springsteen called out to the audience rhythmically to repeat “Nooooos” in response. They mean it.
The Seinfeld compact set is under an hour (“Cut it all, cut it,” he told Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” last fall), it also leaves his audience with a real desire to stay in the moment. Seinfeld has given them what they wanted – relatable comic set pieces, lighthearted laughs at weightless topics, amusement rather than anger. There's an almost dizzying buoyancy in the air, and despite whatever horrors might occur outside the theatre, inside, it feels like everyone is in line.
“Seinfeld” is now streaming on Netflix. Springsteen is on Spotify. But there's something about watching these players connect with an audience so ready to meet them that offers a deeply life-affirming reprieve in this divisive and devastating post-Covid moment. The joy, the positivity, this “together” feeling feels exactly what I've been missing.