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Bruce Springsteen's rock 'n' roll church is back in session with the E Street Band

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25: (L-R) Nils Lofgren, Jake Clemons, Soozie Tyrell, and Bruce Springsteen of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform on stage at Pechanga Arena on March 25, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)
Nils Lofgren, from left, Jake Clemons, Soozie Tyrell and Bruce Springsteen perform Monday night at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. (Daniel Knighton / Getty Images)

How this guy got his dog into a sold-out rock concert I can’t say.

But there he was, not long before the end of Bruce Springsteen’s gig here Monday night, hoisting a small bulldog onto an elevated walkway running across Pechanga Arena.

Springsteen, who’d come out onto the walkway to sing his indelible “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” clocked the pup as he passed by, then knelt down, entirely unfazed, to give it a little pat: just another supplicant looking for a blessing from the Boss.

With his stalwart E Street Band behind him, Springsteen has long conducted his marathon live show as a kind of secular religious revival in which he preaches a gospel of transcendence through abandon.

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“We are here to wake you, to shake you, to take you to higher ground,” he told the crowd in San Diego, which roared back in approval. “I plan on sending you home with your feet hurting, your hands hurting and your sexual organs stimulated.”

Yet last year, this rock ’n’ roll faith leader stepped away from his pulpit when a bout with peptic ulcer disease forced him off the road amid fears that he’d lost his ability to sing. In January, another blow arrived when his mother, Adele — a crucial booster early in his career and a frequent presence at his concerts well into old age — died at age 98.

Monday’s show, which had been rescheduled from December, was Springsteen’s third since he resumed his world tour last week after a six-month break. (He’ll play the Kia Forum in Inglewood on April 4 and 7.)

“It’s great to be back in San Diego,” he said at one point. “I mean, where the f— was I?”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Monday's show was Springsteen's third since he resumed his world tour last week following a six-month break. (Daniel Knighton / Getty Images)

Indeed, the Boss’ recent troubles seemed far from his mind throughout a rousing if somewhat standard-issue three-hour performance that delivered just what his fans have come to expect: fist-pumping songs about hope and redemption, affectionate covers of old rock and soul standards, a bit of squishy philosophizing regarding the fragility of life and just enough bum-waggling (in this case during a rendition of the Commodores’ “Nightshift”) to convince you that Springsteen is still enjoying pop stardom at age 74.

Then again, nobody goes to church to be surprised — the point of the thing, as Springsteen has always understood, is to be reaffirmed.

Here his voice was in strong shape in both the roaring uptempo numbers and the stately ballads: a keening bellow in “No Surrender” that he could downshift to summon a sense of gravelly desperation in “My City of Ruins.” He ripped shards of noise from his guitar in “Prove It All Night” and got his harmonica wheezing in “The Promised Land.” “Death to My Hometown” carried a faint whiff of Revolutionary War cosplay as several E Streeters temporarily became a miniature fife and drum corps. But it was fun to see Jake Clemons put his saxophone down to smack a bass drum hard enough that you could hear it without apparent amplification.

Other pleasures from the dozen and a half players crammed onto the stage at Pechanga: the unchanging sight of drummer Max Weinberg’s perfect posture, Nils Lofgren’s dive-bombing guitar solo in “Because the Night,” the gorgeous combination of Stevie Van Zandt’s slick leather trousers and extra-pointy boots.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Max Weinberg, left, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Van Zandt perform. (Daniel Knighton / Getty Images)

After 45 minutes or so, Springsteen introduced the members by name, then asked, “Are we missing anybody?” The answer was yes: As at his previous two gigs, the singer’s wife, Patti Scialfa, wasn’t in the band Monday, though he didn’t say why.

“Everybody’s missing somebody in this crowd,” he added with a touch of poetry.

The show was long — maybe too long — on tunes from Springsteen’s most recent handful of albums. (“Mary’s Place”? C’mon.) But once the hits started coming toward the end of the night, they came in a deluge: a luscious and muscular “Thunder Road”; “Born to Run,” delirious as always under the blazing house lights; an almost comically speedy “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” that he brought to an impressive standstill so the crowd could take the line about that “pretty little place in Southern California, down San Diego way.”

As a mover, Springsteen was maybe a little creakier than in the other shows I’ve caught over the last decade, at least until he came across that dog in his path during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Blessing bestowed, he stood with an ease that looked like purpose.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.