Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band’s Denver Return is Not a Typical 73-Year-Old’s Concert

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Carly Philpott

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform their 2012 hit “Wrecking Ball.” With songs from all six decades of Springsteen’s career with the band, the Denver stop of his 2023 tour was another sign that the Boss is as good as ever.

Musician Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band are on tour, recently coming to Ball Arena. Two of our staff members, Editor-in-Chief Carly Philpott and Assistant News Editor Peter Philpott, sat down to talk about the performance.

Peter Philpott: You don’t often see someone in their mid-70s rocking and rolling in front of  21,000 people, commanding the stage, and ripping his shirt off. Then again, I suppose Bruce Springsteen is not the average someone.

The way that he commanded the stage and captivated the audience really was contradictory to his age, but he does have a reputation for putting on a great show. I have to say, he more than lived up to it.

Carly Philpott: Right from the start, Springsteen jumped into his usual concert rock persona. He started with “No Surrender,” a rebellious teen rock anthem, and immediately wowed all of us with his exceptional energy and vocals. I agree with you, Peter: this was not the typical concert of a 73-year-old.

By far, what stood out to me about this concert was the presence of Springsteen’s entire original E Street Band, with the exception of his wife Patti Scialfa, who wasn’t in attendance, and the two members who have passed away, including saxophonist Clarence Clemons. But despite the now-aged band having been together for 50 years at this point, they still play together so well. Clarence Clemons has been replaced by his nephew, Jake Clemons, and he and Springsteen play off each other like old friends. And the hilarious facial expressions and vocals of Steven Van Zandt brought so much to the stage.

PP: You talk about chemistry, and I agree that it is the number one factor in making his concerts such an experience. Clarence Clemons was equally famous for his friendship with Springsteen and his saxophone ability. While Jake Clemons might never achieve that status, he had charisma and humor and the ability to really entertain the crowd.

I could never claim to be a devoted Springsteen fan, and because of that, the concert gave me the chance to be introduced to some of his older songs that don’t come on the radio anymore. When he played “Thunder Road,” I recognized it, but I didn’t truly listen to it. After the concert, I listened on Spotify and on CD to older albums like Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., but also new albums like Letter To You. But because Springsteen played so many songs from all over his career, I got to hear songs I had never heard before.

One of the best parts of the concert was the touring musicians. You had Jake Clemons, leading the E Street Brass, and he was able to produce sounds I didn’t think possible from a tenor sax. At some points, the trumpets and trombones had the chance to perform a solo, which was crazy. The trumpets were able to reach impossibly high octaves and the trombone had so much flow and personality in his playing as well. The background vocalists gave a more blues-y sound to some of the songs, which only improved them. I think the most genius thing about the concert was how the original E Street members played so well with the touring band.

CP: Right, and another thing that makes Springsteen and the E Street Band so iconic this late in their tenure is how little their musical style has changed. Songs like “Letter To You,” “Ghosts,” and “Burnin’ Train,” all of which he played in Denver and all of which were released on the 2020 album Letter To You, are the exact same Springsteen style that fans have loved since 1973. Meanwhile, the band can still play early, beloved songs such as “The E Street Shuffle,” “Born To Run,” “Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out,” “Prove It All Night,” and “Backstreets” and still knock them out of the park. Meanwhile, the band also played “Nightshift” (a Commodores cover) off of Springsteen’s 2022 album Only the Strong Survive, which is a collection of R&B covers.

Springsteen’s reminiscence of his previous work and career in his newer releases are what have made them so successful, and one prominent example of this is his song “Last Man Standing” (also off of Letter To You). Before jumping into a heart-wrenching acoustic version of this song, Springsteen told its backstory: the last living member of his 1960s band The Castiles, George Theiss, had died in 2018, and Springsteen wrote this song to commemorate how it felt to be the last one alive.

“It gives you pause to think – it’s like you’re standing on the railroad tracks, and there’s the white hot light of an oncoming train bearing down on you, and there is an incredible clarity of thought and purpose that you may not have previously experienced,” Springsteen told the Ball Arena crowd. “So I went home, and about a week later, George passed away. And a little while after that, I wrote this song.”

Springsteen’s quiet rendition of the song, which I had not heard more than a couple times beforehand, and his introduction to it were certainly the highlights of the concert for me.

PP: The concert was electric for another huge reason: crowd engagement. The crowd knew every word, and especially on songs like “Out in the Street” and “Glory Days,” Springsteen’s voice was drowned out by the screaming fans. I especially enjoyed “Wrecking Ball,” the title track of his 2012 album. It sounded empowering, and even though Springsteen had been rocking and singing and running around the stage for an hour straight, he performed the song with the same energy and bounce as every song before. Every person in that arena knew every word of the encore, which featured some of Springsteen’s most famous work like “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark.”

Speaking of the encore, the sequence of songs was legendary. It was about a third of the length of the concert, and it was full of songs that were crowd pleasers, and recognizable to people who weren’t avid Springsteen fans.

A notable thing about this concert, and the entire tour, was the absence of “Born in the U.S.A.” And he hasn’t played the complete version of the song regularly since the 90s. In his annual tours in the 2000s, he began performing it as an acoustic medley that made the song near unrecognizable. There are a few possible reasons for this exclusion, and one is just that he and the band got tired of playing it. But the other reason that is entirely possible is because of the political world. “Born in the U.S.A.,” when analyzed, is about the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans and the betrayal of blue collar workers in America. However, because of its title and chorus, many misunderstood it as a patriotic tune. Trump supporters used it during his 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Maybe Springsteen doesn’t want to associate himself with right-wing politics.

CP: Some fans were definitely disappointed to not hear “Born In The U.S.A.,” but I wasn’t. Springsteen has used this tour to return to his rhythmic roots through older albums such as The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle and his new Only the Strong Survive, and he played almost all of his most beloved rock songs as well.

It’s hard to know when Springsteen will retire from big tours like this one, although he has said this won’t be his last. Regardless, seeing Springsteen this far along in his career truly was something special, and it’s safe to say that in his seventh appearance at Ball Arena, Springsteen was still on top.