In a 1978 video of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing “Rosalita,” security guards peel three or four rabid girls off of The Boss as the song comes to a close, but not before one of them manages to give him a nice, long French kiss. Catching his breath, Bruce stumbles back to the microphone, raises his arms and screams, “Hey!”
Thirty years later, there are no tongues down Springsteen’s throat, but the electric excitement and enthralled passion that resounded in that “Hey!” still pulses through the E Street crew. Even with the recent death of organist Danny Federici, to whom the band paid tribute with a video montage that opened Wednesday night’s sold-out show at John Paul Jones Arena, The Boss and his dedicated group still bring it from beginning to end.
Just a few chords into opener “Loose Ends,” a tune from the late ’70s that wasn’t released until the 1998 box set Tracks, and Bruce’s forehead and blonde Telecaster were already beaded in sweat. “Radio Nowhere” from 2007’s Magic followed and, as it came to a close, Bruce, guitarist Nils Lofgren and drummer Max Weinberg consulted with each other before agreeing to launch into “No Surrender,” the sole ’80s track to make it into the night’s set.
Spruce Bruce! Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt got loose with the E Street Band at the John Paul Jones Arena during a long and ripping set.
The band hit its first peak with “Gypsy Biker,” also from Magic, as Bruce and guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt exchanged fiery dueling solos at center stage. The energy resonated around the room while Bruce took a moment to tell the crowd about the group’s progression of tour vehicles, from original drummer Vinnie Lopez’s Ford to an Econoline van to a Central Jersey bus and “eventually a real bus like the country acts tour in.”
That recollection segued into “For You,” from the band’s 1973 debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and the band ran through a few more ’70s tunes before focusing the remainder of the set mostly on material from Magic and 2002’s The Rising. Lofgren spun in circles during his solo on “Prove It All Night” and Clarence Clemons coolly laid down his saxophone lines throughout. Springsteen introduced “Living In The Future” as being about “what’s happening right now,” referring to wiretapping and other breaches of civil liberties. “It’s stuff that they told you only happens somewhere else,” he said.
It feels almost criminal to bring up Springsteen’s age, because he just doesn’t show it. The man is 58, but didn’t appear to have an ailing or apathetic bone in his body. He slid across the stage during “Mary’s Place,” scraped his guitar against the microphone stand on “She’s The One” and perched himself within the reach of fans almost as often as he was at the microphone.
After returning to the stage for an encore, Springsteen gave a shout out to Richmond’s Robbin Thompson, who he, Van Zandt and Federici played with in their early band Steel Mill. “We could play two places back in those days,” he said. “New Jersey and Richmond.”
A four-song wallop of Born to Run tunes followed, with The Boss holding his axe over his head during “Meeting Across The River” and the E Streeters providing a terrific build-up on “Jungleland.” Naturally, the album’s title track followed and Springsteen’s excitement was clear as he chucked his guitar at his roadie and returned to the stage for “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
Keyboardists Charles Giordano and Roy Bittan grabbed accordions for the final number, “American Land,” from The Seeger Sessions, and, as the lyrics rolled on the TV screens on either side of the stage, the crowd sang along, Springsteen introduced the band, and the “heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, earth-shockin’, hard-rockin’, booty-shakin’, earth-quakin’, love-makin’, Viagra-takin’, history-makin’, legendary E Street Band” called it a night.