Decades later, When historians and epidemiologists look back on the Covid era, they will likely struggle to pinpoint the exact moment when the epidemic ended in America and normal life resumed. Some will likely point to August 2021 as the day vaccination rates reach 70 percent, while others will look to April 2022, when airlines ditched the mask mandate, or even Joe Biden’s mandate. 60 minutes interview a few months after he bluntly declared the end of the epidemic, despite protests from members of his own administration. Others may still say that moment is yet to come.
From another perspective, however, it happened on February 1st at 8:01 PM EST when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida to kick off their world tour. A thunderous performance of “No Surrender” in front of 20,000 screaming, mask-less fans.
The moment followed an agonizingly long six-year hiatus from the E Street Band, including numerous tour postponements due to Covid concerns and a flurry of outrage over Springsteen’s decision to dramatically raise ticket prices this time around. “I know it was unpopular with some fans,” Springsteen said Rolling Stone late last year in his only speech to date on the controversy. “But if there are complaints down the road, you can get your money back.”
No one was heading to the punt in Tampa as No Surrender was carried over into the Ghosts from the 2020s. A letter to you. By now, the E Street Band might just need a few shows to shake off the six-year rust all fears were gone. They were locked in tight, beaming with joy and feeding off the frenzy of the crowd.
It was also a slightly different incarnation of the band, which now included four backup singers (Curtis King, Michelle Moore, Lisa Lowell, Ada Dyer), a five-piece horn section (Kurt Rumm, Barry Danielian, Eddie Mannion, Ozzy Melendez, Jake) : Clemons) and drummer Anthony Almont, in addition to the regular crew of Susie Tyrrell, Charlie Giordano, Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Gary Talent, Roy Beatan, Patty Cialfa and Max Weinberg.
An 18-piece set might seem like a lot, considering the original E Street Band got along just fine with just five musicians, but this show covers a lot of musical territory, including selections from Springsteen’s 2022 Soul Records From the LP. Only the strong survive, and no one felt superfluous. This was especially true on “Kitty’s Back,” when Springsteen gave almost everyone in the band a little moment to shine. A few songs later, he invited background singers to the front to close vocals with him on “Nightshift,” a 1985 Commodores classic that was one of the evening’s surprise highlights.
The long layoff made E Street standards like “Promised Land,” “Out on the Street” and “Prove All Night” sound fresh and vital again, while dark. Nebraska deep cut “Johnny 99” has become an arena anthem. But the most emotional moment came in the middle of the night, when the entire band left the stage, leaving Springsteen alone with his acoustic guitar.
Addressing the crowd for the first time of the evening, he told the story of the creation of his first band, Castiles, with childhood friend George Theis. “Cut to 50 years ago,” he said. “Another summer day I found myself standing at George’s deathbed…His death would leave me as the last living member of my first band. It’s like standing on the tracks with the warm light of an oncoming train coming down on you. It brings clarity of thought and purpose that you might not have thought about before.”
He continued his story. “I went home and about a week later George died. Shortly after that I wrote this song. It’s about the job we choose, the friends we choose, the passion we followed as a child. On the 15th, everything is tomorrow. At age 73, many yesterdays. Good bye. That’s why you should make the most of it now.”
The arena went completely silent when he sang “Last Man Standing”. A letter to you to a live audience for the first time. The song focuses on his memories of Theis and the difficult realization that he is now the last of Castile. “Flock of angels, lift me up somehow,” he sang. “Somewhere loud and hard and loud/Somewhere in the heart of the crowd/I’m the last man standing now.”
Few artists outside of Springsteen could have created such an intimate and heartfelt moment on a basketball court called an oil company. He followed it up with another scowl A letter to you song, “House of a Thousand Guitars,” before bringing everyone to their feet for a smoky “Backstreets.” The main set ended with ‘Because the Night’, ‘She’s the One’, ‘Wrecking Ball’, ‘The Rising’ and ‘Badlands’. The band has been celebrating 70 years since they last played together, but somehow they played those songs with the same fire and passion they had decades ago.
After a quick bow, the band didn’t even bother to cross the stage exit radius until the encore set. It kicked off with a live premiere of ‘Burnin’ Train’ before the house lights came up for a euphoric double take of ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).’ They then returned to their 1984 hits with ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’, although the latter was a slightly stripped-down version as she didn’t bring the inimitable Courteney Cox on stage to dance. (This could have been due to concerns about Covid, which could also explain why he wasn’t crowd surfing at any point in the night.)
The night ended with a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” complete with a video tribute to the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, and a solo acoustic “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which once again brought the arena to complete silence.
This is another song about saying goodbye to a loved one and a reminder that “death is not the end”. As Springsteen sang it, it was hard not to think about Jeff Beck, David Crosby, Tom Wehrlein, Barrett Strong and all the other icons we’ve lost in recent weeks, or the fact that artists of Springsteen’s generation are using his own . words have much more of yesterday than tomorrow. But whatever the future holds, Springsteen and the E Street Band are finally back on the road, and they’ll be there for at least another year. Let’s enjoy every second of it while we can.
Here is the full list.
1. “Not giving up”
3. “Prove All Night”
4. “A letter to you”
5. “Promised Land”
6. “Out on the Street”
7. “Candy’s Room”
8. “Kitty’s Back”
9. “Glossy camouflage”
10. “Night Shift” (Commodores Cover)
11. “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” (Ben E. King cover)
12. “The E Street Shuffle”
13. “Johnny 99”
14. “Last Man Standing”
15. “House of a Thousand Guitars”
16. “Back Streets”
17. “Because the night”
18. “She’s the One”
19. “Wrecking Ball”
20. “The Riser”
22. “Burning Train”
23. “Born to Run”
24. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
25. “Days of Glory”
26. “Dance in the Dark”
27. “Tenth Avenue Freezing”
28. “I’ll See You in My Dreams”