Bruce Springsteen at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. (photos) - Reverb

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Pepsi Center, 11/19/12 (photos and review)

Stage-diving. Tubas. Santa Claus. Crowd-surfing. And no politics.

Who would’ve thought Monday’s Bruce Springsteen show at the Pepsi Center could have been summarized so bizarrely?

Sure enough, it was all there. And everything fans expected from Springsteen and his E Street Band was also present. Singalongs. Slow dances. Sweaty high-fives. That ever-recognizable squint. And a long, passionate set of songs that have evolved over 40-plus years of American songwriting to define multiple generations and presidential campaigns.

Springsteen’s quintessentially sprawling set on Monday at the Pepsi Center was a wild ride that had the near-capacity crowd howling for more. Springsteen played for nearly two and a half hours before breaking for his encore, and the crowd wanted more. He played hit after hit, sharing his mic generously with the crowd, and the fans still wanted more. Springsteen crowd-surfed 50 or 60 feet of human hands early on in the show, spanning the distance from a mid-arena platform to the main stage, and the audience Bruuuuuu’ed for more.

Springsteen is a man of the people, the savior of the working class, and as he was carried across the crowd — truly a site to behold — he came off as a messiah of sorts.

And that’s par for the course for Springsteen, who cleverly started his Monday show with a rollicking take on Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” — this only a few nights after focusing on his 1982 classic “Nebraska” during an Omaha, Neb., stop. The E Street Band had their frontman’s back all night — and they were strong, packing five horns, three back-up singers, two key-ticklers, two percussionists, two guitarists, a bassman and a violin player (among other shared instruments).

The night moved forward with crowd-pleasers “I’m a Rocker,” “The Promised Land,” “Hungry Heart” (a.k.a. the stage-diving/crowd-surfing song) and the new “We Take Care of Our Own,” which was the first single off his 2012 record “Wrecking Ball.”

The songs are important, as any Springsteen mega-fan will attest. But more pressing is the feeling of being near the Boss. Springsteen has a smile that is more infectious than the office cold. He has an enthusiasm that is as genuine as it is boundless. When he looks your way, the connection is real. And when he grabs your hand, that current is live.

More exciting than Springsteen’s steady gaze is the look of his fan — the young girl he brought up to help him sing, or the older dude who landed a high-five when the artist was making his way through the crowd — when they come into contact with him. He’s a rock star, yeah. But he’s also more than that. He’s Bruce.

Some of the other moments that made Monday so memorable.

During “Wrecking Ball,” there was a lights-up ovation during the lyric, “My home’s on the Jersey shore,” a subtle nod to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Seven members of the band closed the Celtic-tinged “Death to My Hometown” on the apron of the stage, a group exercise in windmilling and wailing. It was powerful.

At one point, a particularly frisky Springsteen bounced up and down like a prize fighter, asking: “Who here has never seen the E Street Band before?” After a large portion of the house responded vocally, he continued his bravado bounce: “That’s good. I like to have something to prove each night … I got work to do. And I fucking like doing it. Yes, I do.”

Springsteen later got literal in talking about post-Sandy life in his “adopted hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey” as he introduced “My City of Ruins,” a song often linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (The song was written before 2001 — about Asbury Park.) “It’s heartbreaking to see so much of that washed away,” he said. “But it’ll be back.” Springsteen introduced the large band before later ad-libbing, “Are you missing anybody?” And the crowd was. Tenor saxman Clarence Clemons, a.k.a. the Big Man, passed in June of 2011. It was the first of multiple tributes to their fallen comrade.

The arena floor turned into a New Orleans dancehall during a mid-set “E Street Shuffle.” Talk about a great party.

Later, when Bruce collected signs from the audience for requests, he started with “Bishop Danced” from a young girl. “If a 12-year-old girl wants a 40-year-old song, we’re going to do it for her,” he said, almost nervously. “We can do it. We’re the E Street Band. And if not, you can go home and say we fucked one up.” Springsteen took a few seconds with his band and a handy floor-embedded teleprompter before looking back to his five-piece horn section: “Horns, be ready for something. I don’t know what.” Other requests followed, including “Human Touch” and “Savin’ Up,” which he’d written for Clemons — and he dedicated the jam to the Big Man on Monday night.

A favorite cover of the band’s, “Raise Your Hand” was as political as Springsteen seemed to get all night. Which is to say, it wasn’t political at all, though it was easy to read into the song’s inclusion as the singer preached to his adoring flock mid-song: “Is there something you want? Is there something you need?”

A pre-encore “Badlands” had the night’s most serious hand-clapping. And the encore was loaded with the hits you’d expect, including a searing “Born to Run.”

We expected a memorable night of rock ‘n’ roll. And that’s what we got. So it’s not right to say that we were surprised that Springsteen gave it his all for three-plus hours. But we’re still thankful that the magic is still alive and well on E Street.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and editor at The Denver Post.

John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.

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  • Big Dog111

    Bruce Springsteen is a man of the people. He stands up for the little guy. A regular blue-collar Joe. A union man. A bona fide working-class hero.

    And, when he’s not busy being all that… he’s a tax-dodging liberal hypocrite worth over $200 million who pretends to be a farmer to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on his property taxes that would have otherwise funded the welfare programs he pretends to care about.

    • RB

      He actually IS a farmer. He converted dozens of acres of his property outside Colts Neck, NJ into an organic produce farm several years back. As such, he is entitled to whatever property tax benefits are associated with such operations.

      On the other hand, he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a wide variety of charitable organizations, including food banks in every city he visits on tour. He also is a staunch advocate of expanding government programs for the needy, as I am. Unless you are willing to pay more in taxes to fund these programs, you aren’t very likely to be advocating for them.

      The hypocrisy is on the part of those who oppose paying more in taxes to improve welfare to the needy, yet claim to be “charitable” or “Christian” in spirit.

    • theaterlon

      He also refuses to acknowledge that his promoter AEG is owned by an anti-union billionaire scumbag who books him into nonunion venues whenever he can.

  • Colleen Smith

    “I’m all shook up.” STILL! Phenomenal show! Great work, Ricardo Baca and John Leyba!

  • Kevin

    Bishop Danced, not Dances, but close

    • http://www.denvereverb.com Ricardo Baca

      Thanks, Kevin. Corrected.

  • Bruce rocks

    Off the Charts Show, band and crowd. Truly inspiring…….and more fun than a rocking high school prom –

    and the comment from the “dog” show he is really just a small, negative, low life who wishes he was relevant in life. Go hate on your small worthless life….that’s all you got

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.blea1 Stephen Blea

    THE BOSS WAS JUST AWESOME!! GREAT PICS BY JOHN LEYBA!!

  • AliCatCO

    The concert was one of the best I’ve ever been to (and I’ve seen The Boss live five or six times)! “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and the video tribute to Clarence Clemons was moving.

  • Barb k

    Amazing show! Came all the way from Cleveland to see the Boss. Didn’t think they could equal the Cleveland April show but they did! A very different show but still amazing!

  • wimpy

    does anyone know the songs Bruce played for the encore? We left after Badlands. Want to know what I missed. thanks.

    • DConn

      Land of Hope and Dreams
      Across the Borderline
      Born to Run
      Bobby Jean
      Dancing in the Dark
      Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
      Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

  • intheBiz

    Not to burst anyone’s bubble but all Bruce shows are very scripted. From opening remarks by him to picking a kid up onstage to sing with to crowd surfing. It happens at every show 90% of the time.

    Setlist rarely changes cept for the request part from the crowd.
    The exception is when he plays at home : Giants Stad.
    4 hrs + is the norm on those nites.
    Wrecking Ball was written in ’09 on his drive up to start the first of 5 gigs that closed old Giants stad. right before demolition.

    And do not just passively write about the E Street band. Using terms like “bassman fiddle player” etc. Name the players they deserve it These guys & gals are the back bone of all Bruce music. Did you know that Clarence’s son plays horns in the group ?????

    As for bigdog , well just shows how one sided people can be
    Bruce donates not just money but time to many charities especially Food Banks
    Free speech rules in the USA but some people should engage brain before starting mouth.

    So don’t get me wrong I love Bruce and he is a awesome entertainer. But writer, don’t make it out to be more special than it really is just cause he played Denver.

    • RB

      This simply is not true. Bruce changes his setlist nightly; just look at the most recent shows in St. Paul, Omaha, and Kansas City and you will see very little duplication among any of those setlists. There is a core group of songs that rarely changes in a few spots in the show — the Wrecking Ball material and then the hits in the encore. Other than that, it is wide open. Few other artists of Bruce’s stature take the risks he does with his set lists and changes them on a nightly basis. He does not do the crowd surfing every night, although bringing a kid onstage during “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” has become a recent tradition. Last night he played three songs he has only played once or twice before, including one he hadn’t played in 20 years.

      As for Giants Stadium, no. He has never played a four hour show there. In fact, the only time in his career he has ever actually played over four hours of music (not counting intermissions or encore breaks) was this summer in Helsinki, Finland. Contrary to your statement, Bruce’s shows in New Jersey are rarely among his more memorable.

      Last night’s show was Bruce at his loosest and most goofy; it was not a “serious” show. He avoided most of his dark, intense material in favor of the light, upbeat party tunes. That made it fun for first-timers, but not so much for fans of his more downbeat side such as myself. Still, it was a fun night. Remember, he’s 63. Let that sink in a bit. He does more in one concert than most performers half his age. Amazing.

    • baildog

      quick note clarifying things – while Clarence Clemons is gone – it is his nephew Jake Clemons that plays with the E Street Horns,

      Garry Tallent – bass, Steve Van Zandt – guitar,Max Weinberg – drums, Roy Bittain – piano, Nils Lofgren – guitar (all of whom have been in the E Street Band in some cases since 1973) Soozie Tyrell – violin, Charles Giordano – organ, Curt Ramm – trumpet, Barry Danielian – trumpet, Clark Cayton – trombone, Jake Clemons – saxophone, Eddie Manion – saxophone, Everett Bradley – percussion/vocals, Curtis King – vocals, Cindy Mizell – vocals, Michelle Moore – vocals not there was Patti Scialfa – vocals

      and while there are some songs that are fairly common at a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band show – there are changes that happen all the time – set lists vary and shows as well – when he last played Denver in April 2009 the mood of the show was different – a bit more about hard times – this show had the feel of a relaxed, out to have a good time vibe…

    • http://www.facebook.com/sheila.beltramo Sheila Beltramo

      ” Did you know that Clarence’s son plays horns in the group ?????”
      Try nephew…….. Try getting your facts right. While dissing others posts…….

    • cd

      Inthebiz…. You must not have seen Springsteen in the last 10 years. Tell me a show from the last 2 tours that was identical to the previous. And especially this year, his summer tour was so lights out. Before talking like an expert, and sounding like an idiot, better check your facts bubble burster!!

  • Munnybel

    It was amazing! It was my first time ever seeing The Boss and I even got to hold his hand! AMAZING!

  • Masiosare

    Not political, you say? Every song on the new album is a call to arms against the captains of industry who’ve sacked the country. Listen to the military, almost revolutionary verses of “Death to My Hometown.”

  • Rose

    I was there. Great show. Just wondering if anyone else noticed …..why didn’t he sing “Born I’m the USA”???

    • RB

      It’s a song he rarely plays anymore in the U.S. He does play it at most of his European shows though.

  • Rose

    Ooops I mean ”
    Born in the USA”

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheila.beltramo Sheila Beltramo

    I SAW GOD AND HE WAS DRESSED AS BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.
    I was either Up Dancing and Singing or just staring jow dropped in AWE, He WORE the audience OUT,he put us ALL to shame,his fire his dedication to his ART, his stamina I have seen EVERYONE,This was THE BEST Concert of my life!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheila.beltramo Sheila Beltramo

    excellent review~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

  • LI Guy

    This was only my second Bruce show, having seen him at Madison Square Garden in December of 1980 on The River tour. Although that was a remarkable show with plenty of songs from Darkness On the Edge of Town (my personal favorite Springsteen album), this concert was almost as good. The breadth of material he’s able to draw from now is obviously wider and the band is still top notch and, amazingly, Bruce still has the passion and energy he had when he was 30. I definitely won’t be waiting another 32 years to see him again. In fact, I came home from the show and immediately got on line to see if there was a way that I could see him a little later on this tour. It didn’t work out but I’ll definitely be there at the next Denver show (and maybe some others in the NY/NJ area!)

  • oldrocker

    What’s crap about Bruce being worth $200 million? So, he’s not worth it…no one is. On the other hand, he’s given us 40 years of great listening, inspiration, and incredible memories….compare him to The Fortunate Son (Romney)…worth $250 million and has given us nothing but malarkey….

  • oldrocker

    Oops…gotta say…Bruce falls down in one big area…never gives shows in hinterlands…how can he know America if he never visits northern Rockies or northern Great Plains….come on, Bruce!…just you and Gary (he lives in MT) and a drummer would be just fine….(even Stones, Elton John, Dead, REM, etc. have been to MT…)