Bruce Springsteen has joked about being a "prisoner of rock 'n' roll" for about 40 years, and by now he might as well be wearing an orange jumpsuit.
The guy wraps one of the longest, if not the longest, tour of his life -- the combined Wrecking Ball/High Hopes run going back to 2012 -- and four days later, he's right back on stage with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers for a two-night stand at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.
Weren't there exotic beaches calling his name? Weren't there things wife Patti needed him to fix around the house? Maybe she just likes to get him out of there, which is fine, because Pittsburgh fans were once again the beneficiaries.
Soldiers & Sailors is a familiar stomping grounds for the Boss. He was here for Houserocker shows in 2010 and 2011 and then returned in 2012 for an Obama rally.
"Hello, Pittsburgh, it's great to be back," he said Thursday, taking the stage by himself with an acoustic guitar. "I'm the opening act for Joe Grushecky."
He launched the set quietly with "Mary, Queen of Arkansas," a far cry from anything he played at Consol Energy Center with the E Street Band last month, when he didn't touch anything from the first two albums. He dipped into "Tracks" for "Two for the Road," flashing his whistling skills, and saying "This is a song about time, time passes-- shame about that," he offered "Kingdom of Days," rising up with a fragile falsetto.
The ever-gritty Houserockers came out and countered with a couple of album title tracks, "East Carson Street" and "Somewhere East of Eden," sandwiched around the Southern call-and-response blues "John the Revelator."
The combo set had plenty of staples from the Springsteen-Grushecky ouevre, including "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Never Be Enough Time," both with screaming solos, and the longest, most chugging "Pumping Iron" ever played, with rollicking solos all around. They also revisited "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "The Promised Land," the co-written "Code of Silence," funny rarity "Frankie Fell in Love" (which they did together at Consol) and charged-up showstopper "Light of Day."
They freshened the set with Springsteen, by request, doing the alternate "Racing in the Street '78" that turned up on "The Promise," and going Jersey soul with a song he passed on to Southside Johnny, "Hearts of Stone." The Backstreets people will have to confirm but he introduced the "Tracks" cut "Leaving Train" as "a song that's never been played" and the Houserockers did the "world premiere" justice with a version that screamed down the rails.
The Boss also had a blast pulling out the Stax-style rarity "Savin' Up," with the great chorus of "You better start savin' up/for the things that money can't buy."
The most playful moment of the night was their comical duet of Grushecky's new song "I Still Look for Sixty," with Springsteen laughing through the verse about gray hair growing out of his ears. Grushecky reinforced the point of the tireless prisoner of rock 'n' roll by cranking up his own "Born to Rock" late in the set.
The Boss, who absolutely thrilled the crowd by finishing with a solo "Incident on 57th Street," just did a whopping 182 different songs on the last tour with the E Street Band. On Thursday, he got a chance to push that number toward 200 in another spirited night with his Pittsburgh crew.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.