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Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band alive and well in 3-plus hours of thunderous hits

The pent-up demand for Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band had put ardent fans on edge.

Would the Boss' energy be the same after the rocker was forced to cancel last year's show in March due to illness and then a rescheduled performance in September due to a peptic ulcer?

Did the 74-year-old still have the stamina to navigate a stage for more than three hours? To gyrate with his guitar and hit the high notes of ballads and rock classics? To remember the lyrics as he's done for more than four decades in over 1,300 concerts with the band?

The answer, from about 20,000 devotees at Sunday's concert at Nationwide Arena, was a resounding, deafening "Yes." It was the band's first show in Columbus since 2016.

The tone was set in the opening bars of "Youngstown," a nod to the Rust Belt factories that build the weaponry "that won this country's wars," but then died off to leave empty shells and unemployment. A searing guitar solo by Nils Lofgren infused the song with powerful shards of despair.

And like the canon blast after a Columbus Blue Jackets' goal, "Lonesome Days" followed, with a jarring rim shot by drummer Max Weinberg, a percussive human metronome throughout the sell-out concert that lasted about three hours and 10 minutes.

Springsteen, in a short-sleeve denim shirt, black vest and purple tie, appeared to relish the arena crowd. With eyes often closed, he channeled deeply personal songs like "The Promised Land," The Rising," and "Ghosts."

His grimacing was not from bad joints, but during his guitar solos, thrashing the strings during extended versions of favorites such as "Streets of Fire."

He didn't pause much between songs, often exchanging one guitar for another by tossing it to a stagehand, as Weinberg continued to strafe the crowd with nonstop rhythmic transitions.

During "Spirit in the Night," Springsteen graciously walked behind the stage to focus on those seated behind the band, sauntering at times for effect.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed for three-plus hours for the eager Columbus crowd April 21. 

He ended up in front, resting his legs on the edge of the stage and his back against saxophonist Jake Clemons, whose uncle Clarence Clemons, also a sax player, was one of Springsteen's closest friends.

While mortality and distant youth were themes that may have resonated with the older crowd, many of whom were in high school or college when Springsteen blasted into stardom in the late 1970s and early '80s, there were also some younger fans.

Michelle Grinestaff and her husband, Jared Schuetter, brought their daughters, Claudia, 14, and Vivian, 12, both of whom had memorized many of Bruce's hits.

"She's been playing Springsteen their entire lives," said Schuetter of his wife.

Grinestaff's attraction followed her father Jerry's, a rabid fan who, two years ago died of pulmonary fibrosis. The night before his passing, she told him she really wanted him to come to last year's concert with the girls. "He said to just make sure you have a good time," she recalled, halting to wipe a tear.

She vividly recalls that Springsteen's "Racing in the Street" was playing while to spoke to her dad. She hoped she'd hear it Sunday night.

Sure enough, the concert's 19th song, "Racing in the Street," was a beautiful rendition of love, loss and redemption with exquisite interplay between Roy Bittan's piano and Charles Giordano's organ. The audience quickly silenced, seemingly in hushed awe of Springsteen's meticulous alchemy of music and lyrics, considered by many among his best work.

The Boss still is in top form, telling the audience that his little "bellyache" from last year is a memory. "It's all good now," he said. He even skipped across the stage at one point during "Hungry Heart."

Springsteen seems to thrive on the adulation, but not in a selfish manner. He's keenly aware of audience temperament. And knowing when to end a marathon show is about having empathy for the crowd, which stood most of the night.

Typical of the band's recent encores, the iconic "Born to Run" led a string of hits, including "Rosalita (Come out Tonight)," "Bobby Jean," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."

Full, bright arena lighting illuminated the crowd during a medley of oldie covers, including a Detroit medley, "Devil with the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly and C.C. Rider," among others.

Brothers Darrell and Don Miller, of Hilliard, both in their early 60s, recalled before the concert training for high school basketball with a coach playing the song "Born to Run" endlessly to inspire track workouts.

Columbus fans welcomed Bruce Springsteen with open arms at Nationwide Arena on April 21. 

"It's the one song not on my playlist," said Don, "because I had to run laps to that thing for two years."

Darrell couldn't help wonder how much longer Springsteen can keep running.

"He's going overseas. This might be his ride off into the sunset," he said.

The blast furnace of a performance is the tour's last in the U.S. as the band now heads to Great Britain to begin its European tour. It returns in the fall, including two shows in Pittsburgh on Aug. 15 and 18.

Toward the show's final encore, "I'll See You in my Dreams," from his 2020 album, "Letter to You," Springsteen bent over in feigned (or likely real) exhaustion.

"I don't think you got anything left," he challenged the crowd, which answered in a deafening roar. "Are you saying you can outlast the E Street Band?"

A test of an artist's emotional reach is often found in the most distant seats. In the upper bowl, at the far end of the Nationwide stage, fans could be seen dancing, pumping their arms and waving.

Springsteen looked skyward, opened his eyes and smiled broadly.

Springsteen's setlist

  1. "Youngstown," tour debut; first time since 2017
  2. "Lonesome Day"
  3. "Prove It All Night"
  4. "No Surrender"
  5. "Ghosts"
  6. "Letter to You"
  7. "The Promised Land"
  8. "Spirit in the Night"
  9. "Hungry Heart"
  10. "Trapped," Jimmy Cliff cover
  11. "Streets of Fire," tour debut, first time since 2016
  12. "I'm Goin' Down," tour debut, first time since 2017
  13. "Nightshift," Commodores cover
  14. "Racing in the Street," sign request
  15. "Last Man Standing," acoustic, with Barry Danielian on trumpet
  16. "Backstreets"
  17. "Because the Night," Patti Smith Group cover
  18. "She's the One"
  19. "Wrecking Ball"
  20. "The Rising"
  21. "Badlands"
  22. "Thunder Road"


  1. "Born to Run"
  2. "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"
  3. "Bobby Jean"
  4. "Dancing in the Dark," followed by band introductions
  5. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out"
  6. "Detroit Medley"
  7. "Twist and Shout," The Top Notes cover

Encore No. 2

  1. "I'll See You in My Dreams," solo acoustic


living is easy with eyes closed

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