Oh, you thought Bruce Springsteen was done?
When the applause began, the chords of his first song, “No Surrender,” were still ringing through Chicago’s Wrigley Stadium. Of course Springsteen was done. On the opening night of his North American tour (get tickets here), after the 73-year-old had played through the usual two verses and choruses, his longtime comrades in the E Street Band paused. Isn’t that what it sounds like when a song finishes — a pause? But as the clapping of some 40,000 people reached its crescendo, The Boss raised his hand, and “No Surrender”came roaring back to life. It was the first of many false endings, as Springsteen thumbed his nose at the very idea that the music should stop.
From “No Surrender” the E Street Band launched straight into “Ghosts” and “Prove It All Night,” while Springsteen never ceased moving. He raised his hands when they weren’t strumming a guitar, paced when he wasn’t rooted to the mic, and rocked his knees rather than stand flat. The first time he even briefly stood still came moments before “Letter to You,” when he swapped guitars with a roadie — an interaction as smooth and well-rehearsed as anything else on stage. The disruption lasted mere seconds before he was back at it. Many artists one-third Springsteen’s age would be gasping for breath, and here he was bounding into his fourth song.
We know younger artists can struggle with their stage stamina because last weekend Chicago hosted Lollapalooza. We watched bands wilt in scorching heat and fight to rouse rain-soaked audiences. We also saw the many tricks musicians use to catch their breath — the video clips, the audience banter, the clever ways to disguise a pause. But all of these things stop the music, which is a problem for Bruce Springsteen. So he avoided the problem by never needing to catch his breath. He may not move a spryly as he did five years ago, but his endurance is world-class.
Springsteen did talk to the audience but in very short bursts, such as asking, “Are you ready for a road trip?” before “Darlington County.” He gave a harmonica to an 11-year-old boy, and a lot of his communication with the crowd was nonverbal. During “Kitty’s Back,” after the E Street Band had taken turns with solos, Springsteen began his guitar part by holding a single note for a comical length of time, all the while wiping his brow as if dying of hard work — a guitar hero dad joke.
He’s clearly having fun even after some 50 years with the E Street Band, shouting “Max!” or “Steve!” to get the audience’s attention before Max Weinberg or Steven Van Zandt did something impressive. As drummer, Weinberg acted a bit as Master of Ceremonies, helping transition between songs and setting the tone with his body language. And Van Zandt remains a delightful ham, shredding on his paisley guitars and mugging for the cameras. Jake Clemons, who has been touring saxophonist since the death of his uncle Clarence Clemons, has emerged as a fan favorite, and got loud cheers at the start of every sax solo.