WASHINGTON, D.C. – For more than an hour, Bruce Springsteen played.
No talking, other than to bellow “WASHINGTON!” as the first notes of “No Surrender” unfurled from the instruments of the E Street Band.
No posing, other than his iconic stance – surely unintentional by now – of leaning forward with his trusty Fender guitar dangling down his back.
Just an opening parade of sinewy songs from 1978 (“Prove it All Night,” “The Promised Land”) to 2020 (“Ghosts,” “Letter To You”), all presented with the vigor of a man three decades younger than Springsteen’s apparently ageless 73.
On Monday, nearly two months into a tour six years in the making, Springsteen and the incomparable E Street Band blasted through two hours and 45 minutes of relentless musical history with smiles, shared microphones, slapped hands and ace musicianship.
As the crew winds down this first run of U.S. arena shows – they head to Europe in late April, come back for stateside stadium dates starting Aug. 9 in Chicago and return to arenas to circle the West in November and December – here are some reminders about why they are so treasured.
Bruce Springsteen’s set list is packed with highlights
Let’s back into this. “Born to Run,” performed during the encore with the houselights up, is still the most thrilling live concert moment ever.
Not engaging in any arguments.
It just is.
But before a closing slate of songs worthy of an Encore Hall of Fame (“Thunder Road,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Dancing in the Dark” among them), Springsteen and the band barely breathed during a marathon of music. Debut songs from 2020’s excellent “Letter to You” album – including the title track – couched with a deliciously soulful “Nightshift” from his current “Only the Strong Survive” covers album, inserted with the surprise of “Trapped,” Springsteen’s cover of the 1972 Jimmy Cliff memory.
But the show’s pinnacle moment was “Kitty’s Back,” an effortless segue from “Candy’s Room,” that spotlighted the four-piece E Street Horns joining saxophonist Jake Clemons. Springsteen air conducted the horn section before wringing sweet high notes from his guitar, his face the picture of pained ecstasy. It’s an exhaustive achievement.
The E Street Band is a collection of MVPs
Springsteen performing solo is always moving and memorable.
But Springsteen performing with his trusty team, including consigliere/guitarist Steven Van Zandt coolly observing the crowd and scampering around in his Hugh-Hefner-meets-“Pirates of the Caribbean” garb, is the stuff of magic.
Max Weinberg remains a human metronome who still never breaks a sweat and evokes stamina envy in every drummer; few sticksmen besides Charlie Watts and Larry Mullen Jr. have done so much with such a basic setup.
Nils Lofgren might not whirl as much as he did in younger days, but his unfettered guitar solo and air kicks during “Because the Night” showcased his innate passion.
Roy Bittan’s piano segment during “Kitty’s Back” simply dazzled, and the steady undercurrent of melody he provides in Springsteen’s songs should never be discounted.
Bassist Garry Tallent, in his banker’s attire and shades, is the unobtrusive anchor of every song that flies off the stage.
And let’s not forget honorary E Streeters Soozie Tyrell, a multifaceted magician on fiddle, guitar, tambourine and backing vocals, and Jake Clemons, who has earned every massive clap he receives more than a decade after stepping into the long shadow of his famed – and beloved – uncle Clarence Clemons.
Springsteen and the E Street Band are healthy and hearty
Since the tour kickoff, multiple members have missed shows because of COVID-19, including Lofgren, Clemons, Tyrell and Van Zandt. In March, three shows were postponed in Connecticut, New York and Ohio (all have been rescheduled for fall) because of unspecified “illness” within the band.
But on Monday in D.C., the mighty E Street team was at peak strength, though Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, was not present onstage – not an unusual occurrence as she typically only pops in for certain shows throughout a tour.
Springsteen concert tickets are selling, regardless of price
The Boss ignited rare pushback from his devoted base when ticket prices were unveiled last summer. Though the cost to see Springsteen is comparable to other major music stars touring this year – Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Madonna – some fans, including the loyal team behind the long-running fan site, Backstreets, complained that even the small proportion of tickets selling for thousands of dollars were too many for this working class hero.
But prices didn’t become the roadblock many predicted.
At D.C.’s Capital One Arena, hardly a speck of space could be found, with every seat – including those behind the stage – filled and a general admission pit at the front of the stage packed (the venue holds more than 20,000).
A look at some of the remaining spring arena dates indicate few are balking. Madison Square Garden (Saturday) is sold out, Baltimore (April 7) has a dozen or so tickets for $299 and the closing date of the current U.S. arena run in Newark (April 14) is also sold out.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bruce Springsteen delivers the most thrilling live concert moment ever