The E Street Band shuffles into Pittsburgh tonight with a touch more swag.
Fifteen years after their Boss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 10 members of Jersey's finest (past, present and deceased) finally gained entry during the ceremony April 10.
Bruce Springsteen revealed that night at the podium in Brooklyn that a few days before his 1999 induction, guitarist Steve Van Zandt lobbied him to insist of the Hall that the whole band go in with him. Of course, the eligibility period is 25 years after your first album and that debut, "Greetings From Asbury Park," was labeled a solo record. Coupled with that, the '90s was a down decade for the E Street Band.
Springsteen said of his '99 status, "I was proud of my independence, we hadn't played together in 10 years, we were somewhat estranged, we were taking the first small steps of performing and we didn't know what the future would bring, and perhaps the shadow of the old grudges still held some sway. ... At the end of our conversation, he said, 'Yeah, yeah, but Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, that's the legend.' "
Of course, the guitarist was right, and if you want to hear the difference, you can compare your copies of "Born to Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" to "Lucky Town" and "Human Touch." Mr. Van Zandt noted at the induction that he was a little surprised that the Boss had touched on that personal conversation.
"That was one of the most moving parts of it," drummer Max Weinberg says of the induction, in a phone interview. "I had known a bit about that conversation, and I thought it was a wonderful way to acknowledge -- as he said -- the devil's-advocate posture that Steve has always been known for. This was a major conversation between the two of them, and I was sitting there the other night, and I gotta say it brought tears to my eyes."
Obviously, no one in the band ever begrudged Springsteen for his entry.
"It's our view, everyone in the E Street Band, that no one deserves induction as an individual more than Bruce," the drummer says. "Of course, life goes on and it was a shame that Danny [Federici] and Clarence [Clemons] couldn't be there to accept, but we keep on, and I'll tell you, when you have that trophy in your hands, I've never experienced anything like that. I think I won a shark once at the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach for my kids. You're walking around with this big heavy symbolic recognition of the work you've done."
This year marks the 40th year in the band for Mr. Weinberg and Roy Bittan, and they happened to be the two members on the podium with their predecessors -- drummer Vini Lopez and pianist David Sancious. Mr. Lopez was dismissed from the band in 1974 after he got into a fight with the band's road manager, thereby missing the breakout "Born to Run" and the fame and fortune that came with it. You'd think it might be awkward.
"We have a great relationship, and he's a very up guy," Mr. Weinberg says. "I've known Vini forever. What people may have lost over the last 40 years is that I'm from north Jersey, they were from southern-central Jersey, and Vini's reputation as a drummer when I was 20 made it all the way up to north Jersey. He was known as a hot, fiery drummer. So the work he did on those first two albums, particularly the second one, to me is very charming. Ernest 'Boom' Carter was my immediate predecessor in the E Street Band, and he was in the band a few months and he only got to record one song -- 'Born to Run.' That's a pretty good one."
The E Street Band has been more fluid than ever in recent years, partly for somber reasons, with the horn section, including nephew Jake Clemons, replacing the late Clemons, and Charles Giordano replacing Federici. The big story on this part of the tour, and on the "High Hopes" album, is the addition of Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who is currently in while Mr. Van Zandt is in Norway filming the Netflix series "Lilyhammer."
There have been grumbles here and there from E Street purists that the Rage guitarist -- with his noisier, scratchier style -- is a bit too metallic. Mr. Weinberg has been a fan since the Rage days.
"Maybe because I can see the long arc of Bruce's career," he says, "I can see that any time you bring in an innovative new element, some people are going to like it, some people aren't going to like it. I remember when Pete Best left the Beatles and Ringo came in, he took a lot of heat from the fans. It's like when my son filled in for me. He was a punk drummer, so he brought that sensibility, and Bruce used it. So, to me, it makes all the sense in the world. When I listen to [Tom's] guitar playing and his scholarship in music and in other areas, he's a fantastic addition to what we're doing. When he plays 'Tom Joad,' to me, that's exciting."
Along with the requests and a repertoire that reaches into the hundreds, another E Street touch on this tour has been the regional nods, such as playing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" in Australia and, more surprising, Lorde's "Royals" in her native New Zealand.
"I thought that was great," the drummer says. "If you read the words, it's obviously very in line with the types of things Bruce sings about. So to me, it was natural. I got a note 'Check out this song by Lorde,' which I'd heard, a couple hours before the concert, and the crowd went crazy. One of the conversations we've had as a band is that regionalism has been lost in music. It's all very homogenous. What Bruce did in South Africa and Australia and New Zealand, for a moment, brought that regionalism back into music."
Pittsburgh has witnessed this for years with the band inviting Houserocker Joe Grushecky on stage toward the end of one of its three-hour marathons.
That set time, by the way, is tough on any drummer, and plenty of aging rock bands have had to replace drummers to keep the engine running hot. Not E Street, even though Mr. Weinberg turned 63 this month. He says when son Jay went from playing the usual 35 punk minutes to three hours, "I must say there was a newfound respect coming from the younger crew in my house."
What The Boss does, at 64, is borderline supernatural, but it's not too surprising to Mr. Weinberg, who has seen the full progression from speaker-jumping to crowd-surfing.
"It's a leap of faith," he says. "He's, first of all, monumentally strong and in amazing shape, and it's very much in line with what he used to do when we were in our 20s: diving off speakers, running around dancing. I've seen him break up fights in clubs we used to play, just jump down and get between two guys battling it out. So it's not surprising. There's strength on a deep cellular level with Bruce."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg