Denver is about 1,700 miles from the swamps of Jersey, and yet the Front Range showed up with love and energy, respect and recognition on Tuesday evening for one of the greatest musical acts of all time — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The beloved Jersey boy’s stop at the Ball Arena is his seventh visit to the Denver venue and the 12th show of an extensive North American tour that runs through December, with the entire production already operating as an impressively well-oiled machine. With one of the more infamously diehard fanbases in music culture, fans came from all across Colorado and beyond to the Mile High City to experience the man, the myth, the legend, “The Boss.”
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Springsteen has been long known for serving one of the best performances in live music, aided by his on-stage charisma and seemingly effortless showmanship skills. Plus the support of the E Street Band, whose numbers seem to rise over time, which on Tuesday included guitarist Steve Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg, guitarist Gary W. Tallent, bassist Nils Lofgren and violinist Soozie Tyrell, among others.
Saxophonist Jake Clemons gracefully filled the shoes of his late uncle Clarence Clemons, aka “The Big Man,” taking on the role with the same talent and style his uncle was known for. With a handful of backup singers, dueling keyboards and drums, a full horn section and his iconic tight, black, sleeveless ensemble, Springsteen was singer, storyteller, guitarist, dancer, conductor and impresario, all in a night’s work.
Not many people can command a room the way Springsteen can — bringing a crowd of 20,000 to dead silence just moments after commanding those same 20,000 to shout the same lyrics in unison. This happened in cycles over the course of the evening as he led the E Street Band through 26 songs without stopping. The setlist spanned the entirety of his career, from 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle to last year’s Only the Strong Survive. There were covers, like the Commodores’ “Nightshift” and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” Of course, there were also big hits, fan favorites and rarities that spanned nearly three hours and brought on all of the feels.
“No Surrender,” “Ghosts,” “Prove It All Night” and “Letter to You,” kicked off the setlist, with “The Promised Land” following as the first of the evening’s highlights. There were a number of signs to be seen in the crowd, one of which proposed a trade: a fan’s trucker hat for Springsteen’s harmonica. As soon as Springsteen saw the sign, it was a done deal, and a fair trade. He wore the hat until the end of “Out in the Street.” The second highlight of the night came with the sensual “Kitty’s Back,” which made the arena feel like an intimate jazz club and got the whole room grooving. A slow and drum-heavy “Johnny 99” was next and saw all hands on deck, creating a full-band sound to contrast the acoustic studio album version fans are used to.
Classic tune and band anthem “The E Street Shuffle” came before the 17 supporting musicians took their leave from the stage and left Springsteen alone with his audience. Before moving into the next song, we were told the story of Springsteen’s first band, The Castiles, founded in high school with his late friend George Theiss. Taking a moment to honor Theiss and reflect on the sanctity of our time here on Earth, you could hear a pin drop as Springsteen began to play “Last Man Standing.” Back-to-back fan favorites and singalongs came in the form of “The Rising” and “Badlands” to close out the set, followed by a hasty group bow.
Without missing a beat, Springsteen and crew dove straight into a six-song encore all with the house lights on, running through the best of the best and turning the energy level up to a maximum. “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run,” “Rosalita,” “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” were raucously performed to the sheer glee of the crowd. No matter his star status, Springsteen never fails to thank his band through lengthy introductions, which he did in full before making his infamous, ovation-earning announcement: “You’ve just seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, legendary E Street Band!”
As the arena reverberated with hoots, hollers, and chants of “BRUUUCE,” we were delighted once more with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” leading to the 17 players of the E Street Band taking their second bow and final departure from the stage. Just the man, his guitar and 20,000 adoring fans for one more song, Springsteen left us with an acoustic “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and thanked the audience — “Denver, the E Street Band loves you.” Well, Bruce, the feeling is mutual.