The jeans aren't as skintight as they used to be. His once dark brown hair is now more salt than pepper. And with his blue Western shirt tucked into his jeans, his waistline suggests that maybe he's not doing quite as many abs-tightening crunches anymore.
Bruce Springsteen, long the age-defying rock star, almost looks like the 73-year-old grandpa that he is.
But once he and the expanded E Street Band tore into "No Surrender" Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to open his first Minnesota concert since 2016, it was obvious that there is no surrendering for the Boss — not to age or to COVID-19 that has sidelined some of his musicians on this month-old tour or to the fan blowback over exorbitant ticket prices.
Springsteen's 2¾-hour performance was the most rewarding, spirited and fulfilling late-career Twin Cities concert probably ever by a rock icon of long standing. He was more energetic and in better voice than Paul McCartney. He had more compelling recent new tunes than Elton John. He played way longer than the Rolling Stones. And he covered a greater range of material than Bob Dylan. Maybe Neil Young could compete if he tours arenas or Madonna when she comes this summer.
Springsteen, rock's mythic concert marathoner for six decades running, is setting new standards six years after earning rave reviews — and a Tony Award — for "Springsteen on Broadway," his one-man show featuring stories and songs about his life.
Like the Broadway masterwork, Springsteen's current arena show was a carefully structured, smartly paced, 26-song retrospective, with both a purposeful message as well as a sense of liberating fun. In front of 18,000 overjoyed fans, he touched on 10 of his 21 studio albums (including five tunes from 2020's "Letter to You" and one from last year's soul covers, "Only the Strong Survive"). There were early deep tracks (1973's multi-movement "E Street Shuffle"), a slew of rockin' arena favorites (including the heroic anthem "Promised Land," the dramatic mini opera "Thunder Road") and a few message songs reflecting on friendship, mortality and faith.
As band members and old friends have passed on, Springsteen has grown more ruminative and unabashedly philosophical, adding numbers like 2020's "Last Man Standing" to contemplate life's phases after staking his claim in 1975 as a young man with dreams in the jubilantly escapist "Born to Run," a highlight once again Sunday.
He introduced "Last Man Standing" by talking about the first band he joined at 15 and how he recently said farewell to its last other living member, who died of cancer. "At 15, life is all tomorrows and hellos," the Boss reflected, "later it's a lot of goodbyes … so make every moment count every day."
With the eight-member E Street Band augmented by a percussionist, four additional horn players and four backup singers, Springsteen was able to refresh old material, notably the 1973 jazzy jam "Kitty's Back," the brass-enriched "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and the New Orleans seasoned "Pay Me My Money Down," one of the night's golden moments.
The backup singers elevated the always uplifting "The Rising" and the Commodores' "Nightshift," heard on Springsteen's "Only the Strong Survive." Frankly, the smooth soul song was too musically subtle for an arena, but its words rang true for a fabled blue-collar trouper who proves it all night in concert.
Unlike on previous arena tours, Springsteen seldom slowed down, save for the confessional power ballad "Letter to You" and the aforementioned solo acoustic "Last Man Standing."
Springsteen isn't as kinetic as he used to be. No adrenaline-fueled dashes across the no-frills stage ending with him sliding on his knees. He did a little playful dance here and there — like a dad imitating his own "Dancing in the Dark" video.
Even if his glory days are behind him, Springsteen still managed to throw 95 mph fastball after fastball with no pitch clock necessary. One song fed into the next. One, two, three, boom!
Unlike the past, he didn't talk much and pretty much stuck to the same set list and limited-banter script heard on other nights on this tour. However, what he lacked in spontaneity, conversation and physicality of old (an observation, not a complaint), he compensated with deeper and nuanced musicality, especially thanks to terrific arrangements using the five-man horn section.
His guitar work was galvanizing, notably during the blistering "Prove It All Night" and his bluesy solo on "Kitty's Back." His overwhelming joy (and mugging) during "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" was infectious. His passion was as unbridled and urgent as ever. He still performs as if this were his last show ever.
After playing five exhilarating encore selections with all the arena lights on, the Boss dismissed the band, turned down the lights, strapped on his acoustic guitar and harmonica rack and downshifted to "I'll See You in My Dreams," part lullaby, part benediction, part farewell. At least, for now.
Was this the best Springsteen show the Twin Cities has ever witnessed? It depends which ones you've seen. Some performances are mythical in our memories. Some 48 years after the Boss' indelible Minneapolis debut at the Guthrie Theater, this concert only enhanced his reputation on the Mount Rushmore of live rock 'n' roll performers of his generation.
1. No Surrender
3. Prove It All Night
4. Letter to You
5. The Promised Land
6. Candy's Room
7. Kitty's Back
8. Pay Me My Money Down
10. Burnin' Train
11. Working on the Highway
12. The E Street Shuffle
13. Last Man Standing
15. Because the Night
16. She's the One
17. Wrecking Ball
18. The Rising
20. Thunder Road
21. Born to Run
22. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
23. Glory Days
24. Dancing in the Dark
25. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
26. I'll See You in My Dreams