On Sept. 23, Bruce Springsteen turned 63 years old, an age at which many guys have settled into a quiet life of golf, gardening and grandkids.
What was Springsteen doing at the midnight hour?
He was on stage at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in front of 55,000 people, 90 minutes into a three-hour show that, due to a rain delay, stretched until 2 in the morning. It was the first time he was playing a show on his birthday since 1988 -- "Tonight I'm going to be another year older, IF I don't get a lightning bolt up my ass," he announced -- but that's besides the point.
Where: Consol Energy Center, Downtown.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $68-$98; call 1-800-745-3000.
What's notable is that Bruce Springsteen is 63 and he's still playing the kind of rock-till-you-drop marathons that most artists half his age couldn't pull off. YouTube clips from the Wrecking Ball Tour show him crowdsurfing, climbing the outside balcony at the Apollo Theater and plopping into a row in Philly to gulp someone's beer.
It's been another exuberant tour and another exuberant year for the Jersey rocker who started 2012 by opening the Grammy show with the new single "We Take Care of Our Own" and closing it in a jam with Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and more.
Also in February, timed to the release of "Wrecking Ball," he did a brilliant hour on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," in which he hilariously appeared as himself, circa 1975, to perform an earnest version of "Whip My Hair," and later merged the E Street Band with The Roots for a killer version of "The E Street Shuffle."
In March, there were two warm-up shows for this first E Street Band Tour in three years, first at the famed Apollo in Harlem, followed by one at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where he also gave a passionate keynote address on the history of rock 'n' roll.
The tour then began in Atlanta on March 18, where fan site Backstreets wrote that the band's two months of rehearsal "paid dividends in a confident, electric performance."
There's a marked difference between this Wrecking Ball and the Working on a Dream Tour in 2009. Stan Goldstein, who blogs about Springsteen for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, has been to 18 shows on this tour. He says, "I don't think Bruce was very confident in that [last] album because he basically dropped playing most of the album. It became freewheeling and sign-request." [In Pittsburgh, the E Street band did its first "Like a Rolling Stone."]
"It came down to a point where he played two songs or even one song from the album toward the end of the tour. This tour, he's still playing about six, seven songs a night off of 'Wrecking Ball," so the vibe is that he really has something to say with this album, and he's still saying it. And it's also 'Let's have some fun, too,' and he's reaching back and playing stuff. The great thing about a Springsteen concert is you never quite know what you're going to get."
The bittersweet side of Wrecking Ball is that this is the first E Street Band tour without the beloved Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in June 2011. Taking his place is a five-man horn section that highlights Jake Clemons, his nephew.
"He's part of the horn section, but he's really taken a role where he's taken over many of Clarence's signature sax solos," Mr. Goldstein says. "He's the nephew, he's got the name and it's like, 'Listen to him, he's fantastic.' He's done the 'Jungleland' solo. Many of us wondered, 'Would Bruce ever play 'Jungleland' again?" and it came out late in the tour in Europe this past summer, and he's only done it a few times. That's Clarence's famous solo."
Jake's approach, the blogger says, is to play Clarence's solos "almost note for note, but you can tell it's Jake's style, too. It's very emotional when he does these solos. It's turned out the best it can be, is a good way of putting it."
There are three backup vocalists, including Michelle Moore, who provided the first recorded rap on a Springsteen song on "Wrecking Ball's" "Rocky Ground."
"It's a huge sound, and Bruce is as energized as I've ever seen him," says his friend, local rocker Joe Grushecky, who saw him in Cleveland. "We were hanging around before the tour came out. He said, 'I'm gonna come out and burn the house down.' That's pretty much what he's doing.
"It is a high energy rock 'n' roll show, and he has so much material, he can go in many directions. One of the secrets of Bruce as a performer is, it's so big, yet he makes it seem like he's talking to you personally."
Thus far on the trek he's been joined on stage by, among others, Peter Wolf (Boston), Tom Morello (Austin and LA), Eddie Vedder (Chicago), Dr. John (New Orleans), Sir Paul McCartney (London), Gary U.S. Bonds and original E Street drummer Vini Lopez (New Jersey) and his mom, Adele (a few cities).
Based on past experience here, we can guess that Mr. Grushecky will join that stellar list. What's it like jumping up there cold and trying to match all that intensity?
"It's a real rush when you come up the steps and the stage opens up and you see all the people out there and the lights. It's a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll be asked again."
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. First Published October 25, 2012 4:00 AM