10 Thoughts After Seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band On What Could Be Their Final Tour

Rob DeMartin

10 Thoughts After Seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band On What Could Be Their Final Tour

Rob DeMartin

1. People pay to sit behind him. Sunday night, hundreds, maybe thousands of seats behind the stage at Nationwide Arena were filled by concert-goers who mostly could only see the backs of the performers, save for a few fleeting moments where the band turned around to acknowledge their presence. I go to a fair amount of concerts at arenas, and I rarely see a setup like that one. Normally there’s all kinds of stagecraft going on back there that would not be visible from the rear, video screens and what have you — and even if not, there aren’t many performers who could inspire a throng of onlookers to watch from behind. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band are a rare exception — both because their stage show does not rely on special effects and because the Boss is one of a handful of living legends who could fill up that part of the bowl.

2. I get why those people felt like they had to be there, even in less-than-ideal seats. Springsteen will turn 75 this year, and even if he maintains McCartney-esque stamina into his eighties, there can’t be many more of these epic E Street Band tours left. This show, in fact, was twice postponed due to Springsteen’s health concerns, as his doctors and wife/bandmate Patti Scialfa urged him to rest up after peptic ulcers rather than risk the situation escalating due to the stress of the road. I’d never seen him in concert, and even though I’m more of a greatest-hits guy where the Boss is concerned, I wasn’t about to let this chance slip past me. I had to see him live before one of us dies.

3. Not that you could tell Springsteen has ever been sick a day in his life. On the last night of this leg of the tour, as he had at every prior show, the Boss performed for more than three hours straight without ever showing signs of fatigue, usually counting off the next song while the last one was still ringing out. There are no opening acts when the E Street Band rolls through town. They have way too many songs to perform, and it seems like they love playing together so much that they could keep going for another three hours if venue curfews or audience attention spans allowed. His energy level was unbelievable. I had to sit down multiple times to rest my legs; meanwhile this dude my dad’s age was racing across the stage, shaking his world-famous ass on a catwalk, and singing anthems at full volume. After watching him do his thing Sunday night, the idea that he could outlive 40-year-old me feels increasingly feasible.

4. Even at three hours and 30 songs, Springsteen can’t come close to playing everything people want to hear. This show featured three tour debuts: Opener “Youngstown,” appearing for the first time since 2017, was a nice touch for an Ohio crowd, even if it’s not necessarily a tune casual Boss fans like me are clamoring for. The middle of the set saw “Streets Of Fire” performed for the first time since 2016 and “I’m Goin’ Down” for the first time since 2017 — songs you’d expect to make the cut for any Springsteen setlist, until now squeezed out by the abundance of available material. The later parts of the show became a hit parade, and even then there were no “Glory Days” or “Born In The U.S.A.”” or “Cover Me,” no “Brilliant Disguise” or “Tunnel Of Love” or “Streets Of Philadelphia.” The man left so many top-10 hits on the table, and we couldn’t even be mad because of all the classics that did make the cut.

5. I am not a real head where Springsteen is concerned. To me, a lot of these rugged heartland rock songs are interchangeable, which is what people always say when they haven’t put in the time to understand the intricacies of a genre. This is another way of saying I didn’t care which songs he performed as long as “Born To Run” was in there, as it inevitably was. (That song kicked off the encore portion of the show, without the band even leaving the stage.) But part of the magic of an E Street Band show is that even though the tracks start to blur together, they never get boring. The songs are outfitted with such big melodies — from the horn section, from the keyboards, from the background singers — and the band is so adept at making this music come alive that you always feel like you’re witnessing a legendary performance even when it’s from one of his not-quite-essential late-career dispatches.

6. On that note, E Street is such an unstoppable force that they create a forcefield of sorts, a temporary suspension of cynicism that allows them to get away with moves I would reject as corny from most other acts — sometimes acts that have expressly taken their influence from Springsteen, like the leathery old punk guys who shift over to folk-rock careers in a bid to sign to Anti-. It’s not only the solemn, salt-of-the-earth singer-songwriter fare that often rubs me the wrong way when anybody but Springsteen tries it. Springsteen likes to lock into silly little dances with his bandmates and break out covers of old-time rock ‘n’ roll hits like “Twist And Shout” at a moment in the show when playing one of his own timeless tracks would really be advisable. He’s been doing the “Detroit Medley” — featuring “Devil With The Blue Dress On,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “C.C. Rider,” and “Jenny Take A Ride” — since the ‘70s, so those songs have long been part of Springsteen lore. But a spin through his childhood jukebox can’t help but feel like falling action after so many burly anthems that each could have been the grand finale at a lesser band’s concert. The only thing stopping me from rolling my eyes was the sheer jubilance of the performance. His stage presence is such that not only does all that hokey stuff not come off as hokey, but you feel like you’re watching the coolest man in the world.

7. It needs to be pointed out more often that the E Street Band features both Conan O’Brien’s bandleader and a Sopranos cast member. And now a minor character on Curb! On a stage with four guitarists, rhythm player Little Steven Van Zandt seems like one of the least essential members of the group, a guy who’s mainly there to look cool and pick up Springsteen’s slack when the Boss is out carousing with the audience. But with his severe tough-guy features and wardrobe choices like the bandanna wrapped around his head, he definitely contributes to the feeling that you’re watching the the kind of old-school rock ‘n’ roll gang that’s on the verge of going extinct.

8. Jake Clemons, nephew of the late, great Clarence Clemons, took over his uncle’s old gig as saxophonist for E Street in 2012. He’s just as much of a powerhouse as Clarence used to be — a mountain of a man, with abundant swagger and a tangible chemistry with Springsteen. Every time he left the brass section to venture to the front of the stage was delightful. It helps that his uncle and Springsteen left him so many iconic saxophone parts to blare at these shows. I haven’t been able to get the graceful, grandiose climax of “Thunder Road” out of my head for days.

9. Nils Lofgren… the man can shred. I’d like to invoke the Shaq “I wasn’t really familiar with your game” meme in his honor.

10. In the middle of the show, while everyone else was taking a break, Springsteen did a solo acoustic version of “Last Man Standing” from 2020’s Letter To You, on which he grapples with the deaths of his teenage bandmates. His anecdote before the song was moving, as was the performance itself, and it implicitly raised the question of how much longer the Boss can keep this going. It’s hard to believe his body will be able to handle this kind of grueling regimen for many more years, and his cast of E Street bandmates has already begun to pass away — not just Clemons but also Danny Federici. Scialfa has already stepped out of the E Street lineup for this tour. With any luck, a decade from now Springsteen will still be out there like Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, and this time-tested unit will still be barreling through these three-hour rituals. But there’s no promise the E Street Band will ever ride again beyond this tour, so get to a show if you can swing it — even if you have to sit behind the stage.

“Lonesome Day”
“Prove It All Night”
“No Surrender”
“Letter To You”
“The Promised Land”
“Spirit In The Night”
“Hungry Heart”
“Streets Of Fire”
“I’m Goin’ Down”
“Racing In The Street”
“Last Man Standing”
“Because The Night”
“She’s The One”
“Wrecking Ball”
“The Rising”
“Thunder Road”

“Born To Run”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
“Bobby Jean”
“Dancing In The Dark”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”
“Detroit Medley”
“Twist And Shout”

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”

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