Die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans, especially ones from Milwaukee, know about the famous "bomb scare show."
The Boss and his band were booked for the Uptown Theater on Oct. 2, 1975. Future classic "Born to Run" came out that August, and later that October, Springsteen would end up on the covers of Time and Newsweek.
Forty minutes into the set, the band pulled the plug, after someone called in a bomb threat. When Springsteen and the band came back three hours later, he confessed to the crowd they had been "drinking our skulls out," and he shared a fresh tale about an exchange with a concerned bartender that night who asked Springsteen, "Son, son, are you loose?"
"Are you loose" became a running line the rest of the night — and Milwaukee fans, and Springsteen himself, tend to shout it out when he plays Milwaukee gigs.
Bruce Springsteen, left with Steven Van Zandt, center, and Milwaukee DJ Bob Reitman at the Uptown Theater concert on Oct. 2, 1975 in Milwaukee. The concert is famous in Milwaukee and among E Street Band fans, known as the "bomb scare show." (Photo: Robert Cavallo)
Evidently, Columbia Records had planned a post-show party in Milwaukee, a routine procedure for every tour stop at the time, Van Zandt said. With the show on pause while police tore the Uptown apart, the party started early.
"I grew up with Bruce, we were very tight, and that's the only time I've ever seen him drunk in public," Van Zandt said.
But what fans don't know — until now — is that the "bomb scare show" almost didn't happen.
Not because a bomb was ever found. Because Springsteen was so bombed, Van Zandt said he could have ended up in the hospital that night, or worse.
"I remember very specifically not being able to enjoy the buzz on the way back to the show," Van Zandt said. "He kept trying to crawl out the window and onto the roof of the car."
"I was holding him in the car with all of my might," Van Zandt said between laughs. "We almost lost Mr. Springsteen that night. History would be quite different."
Teaching kids through music
Suffice it to say, Van Zandt will not be that "loose" when he plays the Pabst with his new 15-piece band the Disciples of Soul — although, with the show happening on Halloween night, fans are welcome to come in costumes, he said.
And if you're a teacher, he's offering another special treat — a free ticket.
It's a gesture of thanks, but Van Zandt's also trying to spread the word on his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation's new TeachRock curriculum. A decade in the making, the 140 lessons available cover all grade levels and can be used for multiple courses, not just music classes. The curriculum is also free to use, available at teachrock.org.
Teachers getting free tickets for the Pabst show are asked to attend a free, hourlong TeachRock workshop before the concert, which includes an introduction to the curriculum, a special shirt, networking, some food, a visit from Van Zandt and more.
"This curriculum helps teachers immediately gets kids' attention," Van Zandt said. "I don't care how shy they are, it doesn't matter what race, what gender, every kid is into music. Our lessons trace where an artist comes from and offer a little historical context about the music."
Getting back to his roots
Van Zandt's tour with his new 15-piece band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, is also a history lesson of sorts — of rock and roll and also the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's influences.
"It's the most exciting band I've ever put together," Van Zandt said. The group, which formed last year, includes three backing female vocalists and a five-piece horn section.
"We are playing 10 subgenres during the show," he said. "There's everything from doo wop and blues to soul and hard rock to folk rock to salsa. Occasionally we'll throw a reggae song in, cinematic stuff from the blaxploitation era or (famed spaghetti Western composer) Ennio Morricone."
"Not only am I reconnecting the audience to my work, but I'm reconnecting me to my work," Van Zandt said. "I have been completely separated from it for 25 years. A lot of people don't know I'm a songwriter or singer or arranger or a producer."
Disciples of Soul released the studio album "Soulfire," which reworks some older Van Zandt tunes, and this year's "Soulfire Live!," but the band is already close to finishing up a genre-jumping album set to be released next year, this one featuring all new original songs.
While Van Zandt's getting reacclimated with his music skills, he isn't completely abandoning his other famed gigs.
His acting career, however, is on a break at the moment. A "Sopranos" prequel, "The Many Saints of Newark," is in pre-production, but the film is set 30 years before the start of the famed HBO series, and Van Zandt isn't reprising his role as mafioso Silvio Dante. But he's excited about the project, which is being co-written by show creator and Van Zandt's friend David Chase.
Van Zandt's beloved "Underground Garage" syndicated radio show and SiriusXM channel are stronger than ever, reaching more than 100 countries.
"We recently counted up the number of bands we've introduced to the world over the past 15 years," he said. "It's over 1,000, playing rock and roll for absolutely no logical reason, other than they love it, which makes you want to support them." (Of those 1,000, at least one of those bands is from Milwaukee, the terrific power pop group Sugar Stems.)
And despite a rumor that Van Zandt might retire from Springsteen's E Street Band, he took to Twitter in August to set the record straight. "Don't worry. I retire when they pull my guitar from my cold dead hands," he wrote.
That said, the E Street Band is on a break right now, which allowed Van Zandt to work on Disciples of Soul. That's because Springsteen's been busy with his blockbuster Broadway residency, which ends in December.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on March 3, 2016. (Photo: Michael Sears / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Van Zandt said no decisions have been made if the E Street Band will tour next year. If that's what the Boss wants, that's what they'll do. If not, Van Zandt plans to tour with Disciples.
"He certainly has earned some time off," Van Zandt said of Springsteen. "He's been working hard five days a week for 15 months. We were joking its the first legitimate job he's ever had."