Bruce Springsteen Live Review: E Street Band deliver life-affirming succour in flawless opening night

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band fire on all cylinders on the opening night of their 2024 tour in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt perform at Footprint Center on March 19, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona

by Jason P. Woodbury |
Updated on

Bruce Springsteen

Footprint Centre, Phoenix, Arizona, March 20, 2024

Bruce Springsteen has one question for the 18,000 plus Tuesday night crowd at Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix, Arizona: “Do you feel the spirit? The audience’s emphatic roar, loud enough to compete with the thundering din of the 17-piece configuration of the E-Street Band rallying behind the 74-year-old Boss indicated a hearty yes. The spirit was felt. Equal parts gospel revival, R&B/soul revue, and battering ram rock and roll barrage, the opening night of Springsteen’s 2024 tour paired firecracker rave-ups with poignant reflections on mortality.

Springsteen was originally scheduled to perform here in November of 2023, before a bout with peptic ulcer disease - “a motherfucker of a bellyache” as Springsteen put it - resulted in a six-month postponement. But the rest and downtime clearly did its work. Stalking the stage in a red flannel and slim blue jeans, his Fender Esquire draped on his back, Springsteen looked rangy and eager.

As “Brooooooce” chants filled the air, the band took the stage promptly at 7:30, bounding into Lonesome Day with galvanic force. Immediately, the power of the E-Street Horns was made clear, as was the swinging force of drummer Max Weinberg - the MVP of the night’s discography-spanning, two-and-a-half-hour set. The show’s first section came fast and hard, alternating between ‘70s classics like Prove It All Night and Darkness On the Edge of Town to more contemporary selections like Ghosts and Letter to You, from his 2020 album of the same name. Not many legacy acts can interject newer material this way, maintaining its hold on the crowd - but then again, not many bands play like this, either: nary a pause between songs, all sweat, effort, and dramatic flair.

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During a blistering Two Hearts, guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt and Springsteen adopted a familiar pose, standing face to face around a single microphone. Their camaraderie was palpable, even after nearly five decades of concerts like this one. Van Zandt’s cheeky Nixon impression at the song’s close - peace signs flashing and a vigorous head shake - added a conspiratorial flair to the duo’s stage antics, made all the funnier by the fact that current U.S. President Biden was in town too, wrapping up a campaign stump speech with a visit to El Portal, a local Mexican restaurant just a few blocks away.

After an apocalyptic and harmonica-drenched Promised Land, the band settled into a cool down moment, luxuriating in the R&B contours of Ben E. King’s Don’t Play That Song and The Commodores’ Night Shift, both featured on 2022’s covers album Only The Strong Survive. With bassist Garry Tallent putting down a solid foundation, a quartet of backing singers made their way down from the risers to join Springsteen in a dancing reverie at the foot of the stage. Bruce even permitted himself a momentary breather: sitting with vocalist Curtis King at the lip of the stage, he marveled at King’s falsetto range, far outside the bounds of Springsteen’s own voice.

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Phoenix and Springsteen have a storied history; bolstered by freeform radio play and sell-out gigs, the city was one of the first to offer him a commercial foothold outside of the East Coast. Phoenix shows usually feature a nostalgic spiel about his past experiences here, but last night, Springsteen dedicated his mid-show rap to his first rock and roll band, The Castiles. Alone with his acoustic guitar, he dedicated Last Man Standing to George Theiss, his bandmate, who passed away in 2018, leaving Springsteen the sole surviving Castile. “Death brings a certain clarity, a certain clarity of thought,” Springsteen mused. “Death’s final and lasting gift to us, the living, is you get an expanded vision of the life you could live yourself.”

As if to underscore the point, things revved up from there and wouldn’t let up again. Bolstered by Roy Bittan’s cascading keys and iconic saxophone solos administered by the towering Jake Clemons, who joined the band in 2012 following his uncle Clarence’s passing, the gritty noirs of Backstreets and Badlands possessed manic energy. Not to be outdone, guitarist Nils Lofgren brought a frighting, nearly Sonic Youth-worthy noise solo to “Because The Night,” spinning in circles and fluttering across the fretboard sans guitar pick.

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The arena lights lit for the last quarter of the show, the band dug deeper in, ripping through Thunder Road, Born to Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), and Dancing in the Dark, fitting as the lack of dramatic stage lighting revealed just how sweaty everyone was - especially when Bruce tore his shirt open, revealing his open chest to hoots and cheers. Springsteen abandoned his guitar (tossing it with daredevil intensity to his tech throughout the night) and waded into the front rows, selecting one of a handful of song request signs in the audience, a plea for Twist and Shout from an 18-year-old attending his first concert. Grinding it out with the enthusiasm of the world’s most successful bar band, Springsteen and Van Zandt joked about keeping the festivities going all night. “Fuck the curfew,” Van Zandt cheered - even though he had his own Wicked Cool Records after party to get to at the nearby Crescent Ballroom.

No doubt, the audience would have welcomed even more, but it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be left to give. Shaking hands, clasping shoulders, and beaming widely to each individual member, Springsteen bid the band farewell and once again picked up his acoustic, offering a solitary and sparse “I’ll See You In My Dreams” to close out.

“Death is not the end/I’ll see you in my dreams,” he sang, a final note of melancholy and remembrance to all those who’ve gone before him. The reading was devoid of maudlin sentiment. Instead, it reinforced one of the songwriter’s most resounding lines: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” As the audience shuffled out and into the cool spring air, that gladness was painted on their faces, the spirit lingering with the ringing in our ears.


Lonesome Day


No Surrender

Two Hearts

Darlington County


Prove It All Night

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Letter to You

The Promised Land

Spirit in the Night

Don't Play That Song (You Lied)


Mary's Place

Last Man Standing


Because the Night

She's the One

Wrecking Ball

The Rising


Thunder Road

Born To Run

Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Glory Days

Dancing in the Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Twist and Shout

I'll See You in My Dreams

Photo: John Medina/Getty

The Best Of Bruce Springsteen is out April 19 on Sony Music as a 2LP, CD and expanded digital version. Pre-order a copy: Amazon | Rough Trade | HMV

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