Bruce Springsteen at Pepsi Center, 4/10/09
At his age, Bruce Springsteen could easily just coast into his twilight years and live off the interest of an already well established legacy. Hell, at this stage of his career, he could phone in a medley-driven revue like some of his contemporaries, and no one would blame him. But judging from his performance this past Friday night at the Pepsi Center, the Boss isn't interested in laminating his AARP card and eating soft food at an hour when we're still digesting lunch. Instead, he's performing with fervor and urgency of a man half his age.
The guy's stamina is truly dumbfounding -- especially to those of us who actually are half his age. After more than two dozen songs and nearly three hours, Springsteen looked as energized at the end of the set as he did at the beginning. As my friend Curt pointed out, on most week nights, many of us in the crowd are doing well just to stay up past the late news, and we were completely spent just from standing around and watching him perform.
Needless to say, Springsteen is a well-oiled and perfectly calibrated machine.
And the endurance of the E Street Band -- several of whom have had bum hips replaced over the years -- is equally as impressive. Keeping stride with the Boss can't be an easy task. The band didn't really get much of a breather until a little past mid-set when Springsteen slowed things down briefly with "The Wrestler," a welcome respite to be sure.
About ten or so songs in, as the Boss's gray shirt was soaked through and turned the same color as his vest, drummer Max Weinberg was looking noticeably winded. Yet somehow, by the end of the set, he seemed miraculously reinvigorated. His timing on later tracks like "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and set closer "Glory Days," was still impeccable. And his prowess was matched by the other members of the band, particularly Nils Lofgrin, whose masterful fretwork often gets overlooked, but whose solos and playing style was dependably mesmerizing.
But even more impressive than Springsteen and his bandmates' vitality, was his demonstrated and unparalleled ability to connect with the fans. Over the course of nearly 180-minutes, the Boss inspired frequent sing alongs, most notably on "Waiting On a Sunny Day," and spent nearly as much time on the edge of the stage within arm's reach of the faithful as he did on stage.
After playing a harmonica run at the end of "Tougher Than the Rest," in which Springsteen's better half, Patty Scialfa, added sublime harmonies, the Boss collected handmade songs from the crowd, each bearing song titles like "Prove It All Night" and "E Street Shuffle" (which he played next after "Darlington County" and stacked them neatly next to Max Weinberg's drum riser. And then one by one, he dutifully pulled each one from the pile and leaned it up against the mike stand and played the requests.
The gesture was fitting. Even after all these years, he and the band still manage to channel the verve of a bar band in an arena setting. In fact, despite being surrounded by thousands of other fans, the Boss has an uncanny ability to make you feel like this very performance, this song - hell, this verse -- is just to you. Before launching into "Seeds," in one of the few moments he devoted to stage patter, when he promised to take all the bad news and good news and build a house - of faith, of love, of sexual healing -- with just the power of music and us, we all believed him, mostly because it genuinely felt like he could carry us on his back and wash away all our troubles with a song. Likewise, during rustic spiritual "Hard Times Come Again No More," when he lauded the efforts of the Rocky Mountain Food Bank, talking about how we've lived through some tough times and how organizations like this are the only things that stand between kids going hungry and having something in their belly; it felt like he'd been reading our mail.
At this point, it's not even a question of whether or not Springsteen has aged gracefully. At times, it almost seems like he hasn't aged at all. As a performer that's certainly true, but also as a songwriter. While there's certainly some blind spots in Springsteen's catalogue, there's a number of tunes on the past two records that are every bit as listenable and relevant as his most celebrated work. And how many artists of his stature can you honestly say that about? Even more noteworthy, Springsteen and his band perform the newer cuts with the same excitement, reverence and intensity as the better known and much better regarded material.
I've seen the Boss numerous times over the years in different configurations (with the E Street Band, without, by himself with just an acoustic) and let me just say, nothing -- and I mean nothing -- compares to seeing him live with the E Street Band. If you haven't experienced this yet, add it to your bucket list this minute! As the outfit closed with "Glory Days," with the house lights blaring, I thought, to hell with Ringling Bros., man. This is the greatest show on earth!
Personal Bias: I'm an unabashed Springsteen fan, and consider it a privilege to have had the chance to have seen him as much as I have.
Random Detail: A guy behind me marveled at how cell phones have become the new lighters.
By the Way: The Boss must have at least a dozen identical blonde Telecasters. The guitar tech handed him a new one after every song.
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
Pepsi Center - 4/10/09
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Working On a Dream
Tougher Than the Rest
The E Street Shuffle
Prove it All Night
Waiting on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Racing in the Street
Kingdom of Days
Born to Run
Hard Times Come Again No More
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land of Hope and Dreams
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