So much has changed.
The set lists are different, as are some of the musicians performing them. The star has turned 62, which puts him in the same age bracket as many of his fans. Seventeen studio albums, representing seemingly as many different musical vibes, styles and approaches, have come and gone.
One thing, however, remains defiantly the same for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band:
Their mission statement.
“We are here on the same mission we’ve pursued night after night, year after year,” Springsteen said near the start of his band’s show Tuesday in San Jose. “We are here to manifest the joyous power of rock ‘n’ roll music and shoot it straight into your heart.
“We want you to wake up tomorrow morning and say, `What the (expletive) happened to me? I feel different.’”
What had happened to the approximately 15,000 fans who filled the HP Pavilion to capacity was nothing less than the full-throttle E Street Band experience. It was three hours of purely intoxicating rock ‘n’ roll, which likely did leave some people feeling a bit hung over the next morning — but in a very good way.
The performance was remarkable basically from start to finish. It was one of those nights when Springsteen — arguably the most acclaimed live act in rock history — actually managed to surpass his own legend. He was fiery, passionate and very much in control, working the crowd with the conviction and focus of a preacher in a revival tent.
He accomplished all that despite the fact that longtime sideman Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s tenor sax player since 1972, wasn’t there. Clemons died in June, leaving a major hole in the E Street Band that Springsteen wisely decided not to fill in conventional fashion. It would’ve been a disservice to everyone involved to just hire another saxophonist, so, instead, Springsteen enlisted a five-piece horn section.
The horn section provided plenty of punch to the 26-song set, which gave fans plenty of reasons to scream “Broooooooce!” The star of the evening was feeling frisky — far friskier than any 62-year-old rock star has the right to be — as he led his locomotive of a band through such all-time fan favorites as “Badlands,” “Thunder Road” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”
It’s pointless to try to single out individual songs as distinct highlights — given that there were 26 worthy candidates. Yet, there were moments, like when drummer Max Weinberg would propel an anthem to ridiculous heights or when Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren would trade ferocious guitar riffs, which simply seemed like rock ‘n’ roll incarnate.
What a show.
In retrospect, we definitely should’ve seen this coming — and, no doubt, some fans did. Springsteen always seems to shine the brightest whenever we need him the most. His ability to speak to the times — such as on 1984′s politically charged “Born in the U.S.A.” and the post-9/11 effort “The Rising” — is, perhaps more than anything else, why he deserves to be called “the Boss.”
His latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” is a pull-no-punches reaction to the economic crisis that many families are currently dealing with in this country. It’s a dark, brooding piece that many critics are hailing as one of the Boss’ best.
Springsteen included a number of “Wrecking Ball” tracks in Tuesday’s set, including opening with a double shot of “We Take Care of Our Own” and the album’s great title track, and the reception was tremendous. The last time we saw a batch of new Boss material so eagerly embraced was on 2002′s the Rising tour.
After closing the main set with the immortal “Thunder Road,” the whole 16-piece group would return for a six-song encore that seemed to get better with each number. Springsteen took no prisoners as he hustled his way through dynamic versions of “Out in the Street,” “Born to Run,” Dancing in the Dark” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). The band would end the show with a touching video tribute to Clemons on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” leaving the crowd to walk out into the night with the joyous power of rock ‘n’ roll still beating in their hearts.
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