Decades from now, When historians and epidemiologists look back on the Covid era, they will probably have a hard time pinpointing the exact moment the pandemic ended in America and normal life resumed. Some will likely point to the day in August 2021 when the vaccination rate reaches 70 percent, while others will highlight April 2022, when airlines remove their mask mandate, or even Joe Biden. 60 minutes interview a few months later when he openly declared that the pandemic was over despite protests from members of his own government. Others may still say that that time is yet to come.
From another perspective, though, there’s a strong case that it happened on February 1 at 8:01 pm EST, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage at Tampa, Florida’s Amalie Arena and began their world tour. a thunderous rendition of “No Surrender” in front of 20,000 screaming, maskless fans.
The moment follows six painful years of E Street Band inactivity – including several tour delays due to Covid concerns – and a torrent of anger over Springsteen’s decision to dramatically raise ticket prices this time around. “I know it’s not popular with some fans,” Springsteen said Rolling Stone end of last year, in his only comment to date on controversy. “But if there’s a complaint on the way out, you can get your money back.”
Nobody in Tampa seems to be heading towards the refund line as “No Surrender” segued into “Ghosts” from 2020’s Letter To You. By this point, any fears the E Street Band might need a few shows to shake off six years of rust are gone. They are locked tight, beaming with happiness, and feeding off the frenzied atmosphere in the crowd.
It’s also a slightly different incarnation of the band that now has four backup singers (Curtis King, Michelle Moore, Lisa Lowell, Ada Dyer), a five-piece horn section (Curt Ramm, Barry Danielian, Eddie Manion, Ozzie Melendez, Jake. Clemons) , and percussionist Anthony Almonte in addition to the regular crew of Soozie Tyrell, Charlie Giordano, Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Garry Tallent, Roy Bittan, Patti Scialfa, and Max Weinberg.
An 18-piece band seems like overkill considering the original E Street Band got along with only five musicians, but this show covers a lot of music, including selections from Springsteen’s 2022 Soul Covers LP Only the Strong Survive, and no one felt superfluous. This is especially true on “Kitty’s Back,” when Springsteen gives almost everyone in the band a little to shine. A few songs later, he invited a backing singer to the front to lock voice with him on “Nightshift,” a 1985 Commodores classic that was one of the night’s surprise highlights.
The long layoff made E Street standards like “The Promised Land,” “Out in the Street,” and “Prove It All Night” sound fresh and important again, while dark. Nebraska deep cut “Johnny 99” was turned into an arena song. But the most emotional moment came midway through the night, when the entire band left the stage, leaving Springsteen alone with his acoustic guitar.
Addressing the crowd for the first time in the evening, he told the story of forming his first band, Castiles, with childhood friend George Theiss. “Cut forward 50 years,” he said. “On another summer day, I found myself standing by George’s deathbed…The feeling that he was going to leave me as the last member of my first band. It’s like standing on the tracks with the hot lights of a train coming at you. It provides clarity of thought and purpose that you have never thought of before.
He continued his story: “I came home and, about a week later, George died. Not long after that, I wrote this song. It’s about the jobs we choose, the friends we choose, the passions we do as children. At 15 , tomorrow is all. At 73, there are many yesterdays. Many goodbyes. That’s why you have to make the most of today.”
The arena came to a complete hush as he sang “Last Man Standing” from Letter To You for the first time to a live audience. The song focuses on his memories of Theiss, and the harsh realization that he is now the last of the Castiles. “You angel, take me anyway,” he sighed. “Somewhere high and hard and loud/Somewhere deep into the hearts of the crowd/I’m the last man standing now.”
Few artists outside of Springsteen can create such intimate and heartfelt moments in a basketball arena named after an oil company. He was followed by another mellow Letter To You track, “House of a Thousand Guitars,” before bringing everyone back to their feet for the blistering “Backstreets.” The main set ended with “Because the Night,” “She’s the One,” “Wrecking Ball,” “The Rising” and “Badlands.” The band has celebrated many 70th anniversary since they last played together, but somehow they play the song with the same level of fire and passion they had decades ago.
After taking a quick bow, the band didn’t even bother going through the charade of leaving the stage before the encore set. It started with a live premiere of “Burnin’ Train” before the house lights came on for a euphoric double shot of “Born To Run” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” They then returned to their 1984 hits with “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark,” though the latter was a slightly truncated version because he didn’t bring wannabe Courteney Coxes on stage to dance. (This could be due to the Covid problem, which could also explain why he’s not crowd surfing any time of night.)
The night closed with “10th Avenue Freezeout” – complete with video tributes to the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici – and the acoustic solo “I’ll See You in My Dreams” which again brought the arena to total silence.
This is another song about saying goodbye to loved ones, and a reminder that “death is not the end.” As Springsteen sings it, it’s hard not to think about Jeff Beck, David Crosby, Tom Verlaine, Barrett Strong, and all the other icons we’ve lost in recent weeks, or the fact that artists of Springsteen’s generation, use themselves. word, have more yesterday than tomorrow. But whatever happens in the future, Springsteen and the E Street Band are finally back on the road, and they will be there for at least a year. Let’s enjoy every second of it while we still can.
Here’s the full set list:
1. “Don’t give up”
3. “Prove All Night”
4. “Letter to You”
5. “Promised Land”
6. “Out on the Road”
7. “Candy Room”
8. “Back Kitty”
9. “Brilliant Disguise”
10. “Nightshift” (Commodores cover)
11. “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) (Ben E. King cover)
12. “The E Street Shuffle”
13. “Johnny 99”
14. “The Last Man Standing”
15. “House of a Thousand Guitars”
17. “Because of the Night”
18. “He’s the One”
19. “Wrecking Ball”
21. “Small Land”
22. “Burnin’ Train”
23. “Born to Run”
24. “Rosalita (Out at Night)
25. “Day of Glory”
26. “Dancing in the Dark”
27. “Tenth Avenue Freest-Out”
28. “I Will See You In My Dreams”