He danced with a girl celebrating her 10th birthday and with a young woman leaving for college the next morning. He mugged Three Stooges-style with his pal Steve Van Zandt. And he gushed about a hand-made sign by a fan featuring a photo of the most interesting man in the world.
Bruce Springsteen seemed to be having too much fun on Sunday night at United Center in Chicago.
This was the Boss’ second trip to the United Center on this year’s The River Tour. Despite what the tickets and T-shirts said about the tour, this was not the song-by-song recreation of the 1980 coming-of-age album “The River” that Springsteen brought to United Center and St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center this winter. Instead of a 21-song revisiting of “The River,” the Boss offered only eight “River” tunes – along with 24 other hits, deep tracks and requests.
The concert didn’t challenge the 4-hour record Springsteen and the E Street Band set last week in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But none of the 20,000 Chicago fans is complaining about this 3 hour, 35 minute treat on a rare arena show on the stadium-leg of this tour..
The Boss added a new wrinkle – an eight-musician string section – that accompanied him on the opening “New York City Serenade,” a 12-minute epic from his second album. It wasn’t exactly a party starter but thereafter the Boss tore into a ferocious half-hour of favorites, -- starting with "Prove It All Night" and ending with "Mary's Place" – that served notice that this was going to be a fierce and focused performance.
Springsteen seemed more engaged with the crowd and more gleeful than usual. During “Dancing in the Dark,” he danced with three different females – first an excitable fan of “3+ decades” (according to her sign), then a 10-year-old celebrating her birthday and a giddy girl with a sign “I’m leaving tomorrow for college.”
Springsteen got positively silly during “Rosalita,” clowning with Van Zandt, which he’s done before when they’re face to face. But the Boss seemed to roll with this cheesy shtick more than he has in the past. Then during the encore of "Shout," Van Zandt even pulled out a James Brown bit and put a sequined cape (emblazoned with "The Boss") on the Boss' shoulders before he did a false exit.
Among the many highlights were the full-tilt "My Love Will Never Let Me Down," the fierce "Promised Land," the guitar-propelled "Because the Night," and the galvanizing as ever "Badlands" (featuring the exuberant and insistent Jake Clemons on sax),
By the way, the string section joined the E Street Band for another number, “Jack of All Trades.” But that was it.
This show didn’t have a thematic focus and didn’t deliver any big messages, save for “Murder Incorporated” and “American Skin (41 Shots)” performed back-to-back.
Springsteen didn’t tell back stories about songs, make any political speeches in this election year or even talk much. He did respond to requests (from fan-made signs) that provoked a little commentary.
For instance, he mentioned that “None But the Brave” was an outtake from “Born in the USA,” and he read the sign that said "I swear I'll drive all night to hear Backstreets" and added a line about the most interesting man in the world, whose photo was on the sign -- it was Bruce, not the Dos Equis guy.
Maybe the funniest moment was when Springsteen landed back onstage after crowd surfing during "Hungry Heart" and he held up a small booklet. "Someone passed me a copy of the Constitution," he announced. "That's the kind of crowd I draw."
Springsteen didn’t mention his forthcoming album,"Chapter and Verse," that will be released next month in conjunction with his memoir, “Born to Run.” The only plug for it was a slide on the giant video screens as fans exited.
If the memoir is as much fun as the usually very earnest Boss was on Sunday, then all Springsteen fans are in for a delightful read.