Review: Bruce Springsteen makes 'the most of right now' to open tour in Tampa
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked like their lives depended on it.
In a way, it did. Mortality, and its motivational properties, were a central theme in the opening show of the band's 2023 world tour Wednesday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
Springsteen performed a poignant solo acoustic “Last Man Standing” from the band's 2020 album, “Letter to You.” He introduced it with the story of the 2018 death of George Theiss, the Boss' bandmate in the Castiles of Freehold.
“His passing would leave me as the last surviving member of my first band, so it's kind of like standing on the tracks with the hot light of an oncoming train bearing down on you,” Springsteen said. “It brings a clarity of thought and a purpose that you might have not previously experienced.
“At 15, it's all tomorrows. At 73, it's a lot of goodbyes,” Springsteen said. “That's why you have to make the most of right now.”
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Right now, after two runs of “Springsteen on Broadway," and downtime due to COVID-19, it's time to rock. The Springsteen classics abounded on Wednesday. “Candy’s Room” segued into “Kitty’s Back,” and after the lights came on, “Born to Run” was followed by “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”
Earlier in the show, “Backstreets” was followed by “Because the Night,” complete with an incendiary Nils Lofgren guitar solo.
The E Street Band is big and powerful, with 19 members that included a horn section and choir, who laid down some of the smoothest harmonies heard on “Nightshift,” the Commodores cover from Springsteen's 2022 soul-themed album, “Only the Strong Survive.” It's another song that deals with loss (Marin Gaye and Jackie Wilson). The Boss’ crushed-velvet tenor was enhanced by the silken backup provided by Anthony Almonte, Curtis King, Michelle Moore, Lisa Lowell and Ada Dyer.
On the instruments, Mighty Max Weinberg is still very mighty, and bassist Garry Tallent powers up with soul and rock rhythms. Keyboardists Roy Bittan and Charles Giordano provide spark and sparkle. Little Steven Van Zandt lays key guitar leads, and Soozie Tyrell lends sweet harmonies and sweet fiddle strings.
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Patti Scialfa, Springsteen’s wife, engaged in playful back and forth with the Boss, and added vocal accents. Jake Clemons, the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew, charged up the arena on his solos. He's a natural showman, and it seemed a shame to keep him at the back of the stage with the horn section for most of the night. Clemons, by the way, uses his uncle’s saxophone on stage.
“Anyway I get to experience my pop’s presence is special to me,” said Jarod Clemons, Clarence’s youngest son who was at the show. “It’s so beautiful to hear that horn again. It’s like the sound never left.”
Near the end of the show, Springsteen and the band paid tribute to The Big Man with a video during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
E Street fans love horns, and Curt Ramm and Barry Danielian on trumpet; Eddie Manion on sax; and Ozzie Melendez on trombone are among the best in the business. Their play with Clemons on “Kitty's Back” and “Johnny 99” soared.
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Bittan led the band from an entrance tunnel in the middle of the stage at 8 p.m. Van Zandt, who has dropped considerable weight since the last tour, doffed his flared Spanish hat at the crowd.
Springsteen came out last to the loudest cheers: “Bruuuuuce!”
The band then charged into the “Born in the U.S.A.”-era hit “No Surrender” to start the show.
Up next for the tour is Friday at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, then it's back to Florida for two shows: Sunday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, and Tuesday at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
Wednesday's concert was two hours and 45 minutes of revved-up rock, soul and remembrance, performed by a group that's not ready to say goodbye.
They're making the most of the right now.
Tampa concert setlist
Prove It All Night
Letter To You
The Promised Land
Out in the Street
Don't Play That Song (You Lied)
The E Street Shuffle
Last Man Standing
House of a Thousand Guitars
Because the Night
She's the One
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
I'll See You in My Dreams
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Bruce Springsteen Tampa review: Band makes the most of right now