Prove it all night, really. On Wednesday, at the first of two sold-out shows at Wrigley Field, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band issued an official statement to anyone who cares about live rock ‘n’ roll: After 50 years together, the community isn’t ready to step back or step back. The group’s cleverly themed set encouraged the crowd to embrace the same determination.
They began their exciting three-hour performance with “No Surrender,” a statement anthem that served as a motif and distilled the essence of “We learned more than a three-minute record, baby / We learned more than we learned in school.” Springsteen’s ethics. They then smashed eight songs before making a single pause. Tight, focused, controlled, agile, capable, prepared: Springsteen and Co. held a master class on what a hard-working group can achieve and what decades of chemistry look and sound like.
Enriched with a four-piece chorus and a five-piece horn section in the process, the group has become hits in almost every style that has emerged over the past seventy years. Juke-joint blues, Southern soul, upbeat R&B, hardscrabble folk, boogie-woogie, country and Western, gospel, jazz, funk, surf, Tex Mex – all shaped and filtered through a widescreen rock ‘n’ roll lens. The group’s adventurousness and ambition were matched by their energy, enthusiasm, and an uncanny ability to constantly find other gear.
Springsteen and company are using local dates as a launching pad for the next leg of an international tour that began in the US in early February, ventured abroad in the spring, and will continue in North America through mid-December. Probably for the first time in his career, Springsteen faced backlash for very high ticket prices—largely due to “dynamic pricing”—which conflicted with the working-class values on which he had built his reputation. While most of the raised prices have fallen, some top followers have recorded that their relationship with the Boss has deteriorated permanently.
You are right. But Wednesday’s concert showed that in an age where rock ‘n’ roll no longer dominates or dictates public speaking, disgruntled fans are missing out on something unprecedented. So, a crack band that attacks every song as if life depends on it, treats shared experience as a sacrament, and maximizes the social aspect without the aid of the show.
Perhaps the extra spark was owed to the band’s seven-year gap between gigs in the Chicago area – most recently played here at United Center in August 2016 – the longest interval since the E Streeters’ breakup in the late ’80s and their reunion in the late ’90s. . Or maybe Springsteen and his friends cleared up confusion earlier in the tour.
Not to say that Springsteen in 2023 is the same as Springsteen in 2012 (previous Wrigley appearances), let alone 1984 or earlier. A few key differences: Instead of relying on spontaneity or converting the set list for each show, it currently sticks to a template and only changes a few songs. He talks less. His cramped legs, gravity-defying leaps and superhuman lung capacity are a thing of the past. A little over a decade ago, Springsteen expanded its staff; It can play up to 18 people depending on the song. It also rarely entertains fans’ requests to hold handwritten signs anymore.
None of these changes recorded a negative impact. In recounting classics like “Days of Glory” and “Thunder Road” with fine-tuning of tone, tempo, and purpose, Springsteen showed a keen awareness of age, situation, and environment that few great artists could grasp—especially if nostalgia remains the crux of the matter. His realization extended to the heightened perception of loss that accompanies aging and witnessing the death of his friends.
The 73-year-old New Jersey native addressed mortality with a clear directness in back-to-back songs. While the stark “Last Man Standing” may have appeared as a measured, sincere plea that Springsteen muttered to comfort her grief and calm her uncertainty, the fiery “Back Streets” emerged as a reminder, tribute, and promise. The singer-guitarist repeated as if in a trance, the arrangement changing from almost silence to a series of thundering crescendos.
Wearing a black button-down shirt, blue jeans, and bright oxblood-colored boots, the slender and fit Springsteen sang with a slightly deepened range and struck most of its intended notes. Darker, rougher, and rawer than even ten years ago, his voice had the worn, leathery feel of a punctured baseball glove. It proved to be tailor-made for life-affirming material that primarily eschews heavy topics and promotes stamina, romance, faith, adventure, celebration, and liberation, both spiritual and physical.
It is connected to the unwavering rhythmic motor of drummer Max Weinberg, whose percussive combinations evoke everything from punches piercing plaster walls to steam trains speeding on railroad tracks, and bassist Garry W. Tallent, whose understated presence and black sunglasses radiate coolly. The E Street Band opened fire from all directions. They’re cool (“Out in the Street”) and out of the way (“Kitty’s Back”), hanging out on neighborhood street corners (“The E Street Shuffle”), and throwing big parties (“Mary’s Place”).
For the strumming horn sound of “Darlington County,” the band envisioned a happy barn dance with the violin, where the band members prioritized impromptu fun over perfection. Springsteen welcomed more jokes during the rave-up between the singer and Steven Van Zandt, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and “Glory Days,” each sent with slapstick humor, silly poses, and exaggerated banter. shit? To some extent, yes. But it’s also a brief, harmless piece of joy and a testament to how much the musicians enjoy each other.
In addition to the dynamite interaction that regularly occurs between Springsteen, Weinberg, and saxophonist Jake Clemons, this type of friendship underlined the value of seeing (and not just listening to) the band. Like Springsteen’s still underrated guitar playing. His lively techniques—poking and poking wires like a cat scratching a scratching post, pumping his right arm like an oil well in aggressive chords, turning blade solos into weapons for backstreet fights—were both visual and auditory delights. So is his dominance of the group and his innate devotion to the crowd.
Springsteen uses a different engine than most of us. In many cases, he dared the audience to keep up with him, as “Promised Land” and “Ball of Destruction” challenged everyone to overcome devastating lies, shattered dreams, and tough times. He has descended the stairs to field level multiple times, interacting with fans, fulfilling the wishes of a few lucky people, and strengthening their bond, resulting in the crowd serenading him for the first two lines of “Thunder Road.”
He reciprocated love and added the following advice to lines of messages in the lyrics and uplifting choruses of many of his songs: Embrace the possibilities of “living in the now.” Carpe Diem. No retreat, no surrender.
Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.
Set list for August 9, 2023, Wrigley Field:
“Prove it All Night”
“Letter to You”
“The Promised Land”
“on the street”
“Nightshift” (Commodores cover)
“E Street Mess”
“The last man standing”
“Because of the night”
“She’s The One”
“The Barren Lands”
“Born to Run”
“Rosalita (Get Out Tonight)”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Tenth Avenue Ice Cream”
“I will see you in my dreams”