by Jay Lustig
The Newark Star-Ledger
Saturday July 26, 2008, 5:08 PM
Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played at Hartford Civic Center, Conn., October.
Few people know what it's like to be 57 and play a stadium rock show. Max Weinberg does. And he can tell you, it's not easy.
"It is athletic, it is physical," said the drummer. "At points in the show, particularly in the first half-hour or 40 minutes, every muscle in your body is screaming."
Sunday, Monday and Thursday, Weinberg -- a member of New Jersey's leading rock group, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band -- will perform at the state's largest concert venue, Giants Stadium.
The band, which has presented some of the hardest-driving shows of its career on its 2007-08 "Magic Tour," has played at the stadium 16 times, with six shows in 1985, at the height of "Born in the U.S.A."-fueled Brucemania, and 10 in 2003.
The upcoming stand will be epic rock-'n'-roll. But it also raises a question: Will these be Springsteen's last Giants Stadium shows?
The stadium is scheduled to be closed and demolished in 2010, to make way for a new stadium. But it's not just that.
Springsteen is still a stadium-level attraction in Europe: He just completed a successful stadium tour there. But in the States, he mostly plays arenas. On the leg of his tour that begins tonight and ends Aug. 30, in Milwaukee, he has booked only one other Giants Stadium-sized venue: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Aug. 2.
The Giants Stadium concerts, with a capacity of 55,000 per night, did not sell out immediately -- a rarity for home-state Springsteen shows -- and there may be empty seats at some of them.
That doesn't mean he can't play a Jersey stadium again. But he may think twice about it.
TEARDROPS ON THE CITY
Springsteen, who declined, through a representative, to be interviewed for this article, is 58. The oldest E Streeter, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, is 66.
In April, keyboardist Danny Federici became the first E Street Band member to die, succumbing to cancer at the age of 58.
"It's been brutal," said guitarist Nils Lofgren, 57. "I've stood in front of Danny and run up on his riser for the last 24 years, and most of the guys go back a lot further than that."
Lofgren praised Federici's replacement, Charles Giordano, as did Clemons, who added, "It's like losing a limb and having to replace it with something else. It works, but it's not what it was."
When Springsteen was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in a May 4 ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, he didn't mention Federici by name. But it was impossible not to think of him as Springsteen meditated on the passing of time.
"You get a little older," he said, "and when one of those crisp fall days come along in September and October, my friends and I slip into the cool water of the Atlantic Ocean. We take note that there are a few less of us as each year passes."
Maybe Springsteen was thinking also of Terry Magovern, his longtime friend and associate, who died in July 2007. Springsteen wrote a song about him for his funeral, and included it as a bonus track on his 2007 "Magic" album. "All I know's I woke up this morning and something big was gone," Springsteen sang.
Bill Chinnock and Big Danny Gallagher, Springsteen contemporaries who helped put Asbury Park on the rock-'n'-roll map, died last year, too. And Madam Marie, the boardwalk fortuneteller immortalized by Springsteen in his song, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," passed away in June, the same month that Springsteen, still in Europe, sang via satellite at the memorial service for his friend and fan, broadcaster Tim Russert.
There are many references to death on "Magic" -- they are mostly of a political nature, reflecting Springsteen's horror at the war in Iraq. But the current tour, which has included dark "Magic" songs such as "Last to Die" and "Long Walk Home" on a nightly basis, has not been a mournful affair.
And judging by the set lists of the recent European shows, it's getting giddier by the minute, with covers of high-energy, crowd-pleasing songs such as "Twist and Shout," "The Detroit Medley," "Seven Nights To Rock" and "Summertime Blues," as well as lots of Springsteen-written rarities.
"The set lists are going nuts -- 'Drive All Night' being the big one, for me. That came out for the first time since the (1980-81) River Tour," said Christopher Phillips, who edits and publishes the fanzine, Backstreets. "For the most part, I prefer to see him in smaller venues. But when he gets to the stadiums, he tends to bring out covers, and those bigger songs that will really reach to the rafters. So to me that's one of the upsides of the stadium shows."
Some of the rarities have been inspired by signs that audience members hold up. Springsteen started honoring requests made in the manner in March and has continued doing so since.
British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who wrote about his extreme Springsteen fandom in his 2007 memoir, "Greetings From Bury Park," said Springsteen's willingness to take requests and shake up his set lists could mean he's thinking this will be his last time around, in stadiums.
"The spectacle of seeing him singing 'Hungry Heart' in front of 60,000 people ... I don't know when that's going to happen again," said Manzoor. "And I kind of get the feeling that he knows that himself. That probably explains why the set lists have been so loose, and this idea of taking songs from placards in the audience.
"Just before the summer holidays break up, in school, you go a little bit crazy -- I think there's a little bit of that, maybe."
FURTHER ON UP THE ROAD
It's impossible to say when the E Street Band will work together again. Springsteen's previous tour was with his newly formed folk-roots ensemble, The Seeger Sessions Band. Before that, he toured solo.
He may be contemplating more non-E Street projects. And one band member, Weinberg, may be compromised by another commitment. He leads the house band on the television show "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and has taken time off from that job to back Springsteen in recent years. But he may not be able to continue juggling in this manner when O'Brien's show moves from New York to California. O'Brien replaces Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" next summer.
"I make no assumptions about the future," said Weinberg, adding that he has found ways to balance his two jobs in the past and can do so again. He doesn't see being in California as a deal-breaker necessarily, as other E Street members are scattered all around the country (California, Arizona, Montana and Florida).
Lofgren and Clemons both said they have no interest in trying to predict the band's future.
"This is not a farewell tour in any sense of the imagination," said Lofgren. "Nobody's spoken a word about it having any kind of significance at that level."
"I never think beyond right now," said Clemons. "I'm concentrating on what we're doing now. And what happens in the future happens in the future."
Springsteen has never publicly suggested that he has given any thought to putting an end to any aspect of his career. And he probably never will.
"There ain't gonna be any farewell tour," he told Backstreets in August 2007. "That's the only thing I know for sure. ... You're only gonna know that when you don't see me no more."
Bruce Springsteen performs with Nils Lofgren and the E Street Band at the first concert to be held at Emirates Stadium, during his world tour, on May 30, 2008 in London, England.
(Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images Europe)
REASONS TO BELIEVE
Even though the three Giants Stadium shows weren't instant sellouts, the best seats were snatched up quickly and are being sold, in many cases, for hundreds of dollars above face value, on websites like eBay.com and StubHub.com. And if there hadn't been so many Jersey E Street shows in recent years -- 40 since 1999, not counting solo, Seeger Sessions or holiday shows, or New York gigs -- there would be more demand.
There is a precedent, of course, for musicians continuing to rock stadiums into their 60s. The Rolling Stones are doing it. The current lineups of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd -- two groups that predate the E Street Band -- could fill stadiums, if they wanted to.
There is little doubt that if Springsteen wants to keep the band going -- even if some of the musicians are unable, or unwilling, to participate -- he will do so. There have been many versions of the E Street Band over the past 35 years, and there could be more.
On April 21, Springsteen eulogized Federici at a funeral service at Red Bank's United Methodist Church. He ended by describing Federici as a lifelong member in good standing of the E Street Band.
He didn't just say E Street Band, though. As he has often done while introducing the band in concert, he prefaced the band's name with a stream of overblown adjectives: "house-rockin', pants-droppin', earth-shockin', hard-rockin', booty-shakin', love-makin' ... "
He kept going, starting to pick phrases more suited to the occasion. First came "heart-breakin'." Then "soul-cryin'."
And then, an unusual one to use at a funeral.