Bruce Springsteen As Memento Mori At The Toyota Center

Now down to only one band member with COVID.
Now down to only one band member with COVID. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Toyota Center
February 14, 2023

"Remember, thou art mortal."

That ancient Roman warning wouldn't seem to apply to Bruce Springsteen, whose Herculean shows with the E Street Band belie his age. And even though the man has moved past the need to talk about his childhood and his complicated relationship with his father, as was often the case earlier in his career (and at his recent Broadway residency), he clearly hasn't lost his ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand.

The Valentine's Day show from the E Street Band at Toyota Center started out about like you'd expect. They opened with "Night" from Born to Run for the first time since 2017, then launched into "No Surrender," with particular poignancy given to the Boss's delivery of, "There's a war outside still raging, you say it ain't ours anymore to win." "Prove It All Night" was a solo showcase for Springsteen and saxophone player Jake Clemons. More significantly, "Ghosts" and "Letter to You" (from the album of the same name) made appearances.

And Soozie Tyrell and Steve Van Zandt were back from illness, even if fellow guitarist Nils Lofgren was still "Out with COOOOVIIIID," as Springsteen put it when he dedicated "Out in the Street" to him. Like Robin Zander and Mike Cooley, Van Zandt is one of the eternal rocker dudes. Maybe the eternal rocker dude, and he was clearly having the best time. His solo at the end of "If I Was the Priest," a crowd request that apparently hasn't been played live since the early '70s, was magnificent.

Springsteen's ability to pull something like that out of his hat on a whim is just further testimony to the depth of the band's catalog. And as such, it was something of a disappointment that the middle section was bogged down by the likes of a rambling 15-minute rendition of "Kitty's Back" (from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle), "Candy's Room" (a perennial set list resident that I admittedly just don't get), and "Don't Play the Song (You Lied)", one of the few cuts from Only the Strong Survive, his most recent album of Motown covers.
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Little Steven is back, baby.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Even the Boss's prowess as a performer couldn't maintain the enthusiasm during that stretch. "Nightshift" (a cover of the Commodores' classic) was interesting, partly because of backing vocalist Curtis King, Jr.'s performance, but also because of the evening's now burgeoning theme.

After the extended bathroom break and old standards like "The E Street Shuffle" and "Johnny 99," Springsteen brought the room down a bit with "Last Man Standing," describing it's significance for him as the sole surviving member of his first band, the Castiles. This was the most intimate the man got with the audience last night, continuing the larger trend.

The rest, as they say, is Springstory. The crowd, already mostly on their feet for the bulk of the show, were there for good starting with "Backstreets" and continuing through "Because the Night" — showcasing a blistering guitar duel between Springsteen and Van Zandt — "The Rising," and "Badlands."

Springsteen introduced the encore with a faux public service health announcement before playing [deep breath] "Thunder Road" (dedicated to the Houston Food Bank), "Born to Run," "Rosalita," a Born in the U.S.A. dyad of "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," before closing out with a sparse rendition of "I'll See You in My Dreams."

An interesting choice of closing song, but one faithful to the show's central theme of impermanence. At 73, and with more of his contemporaries passing away, Springsteen is clearly more cognizant than ever of his own mortality, as he mentioned how the death of Castiles co-founder George Theiss (which also inspired "Ghosts") caused him to reflect on the important of savoring every moment.

Maybe next time, skip the extended jams. Life's short, after all.

Personal Bias: I celebrate (almost) the man's entire catalog.

The Crowd: Okay boomers.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I was supposed to see the Rolling Stones before Charlie Waters died."
"You mean Roger Waters."
"What did I say?"

Random Notebook Dump: "You can understand why he plays 'Born to Run' every time; what a response."

No Surrender
Prove It All Night
Letter to You
The Promised Land
Out in the Street
Candy's Room
Kitty's Back
If I Was the Priest
Nightshift (Commodores cover)
Don't Play That Song (You Lied) (Ben E. King cover)
The E Street Shuffle
Johnny 99
Last Man Standing
Because the Night
She's the One
Wrecking Ball
The Rising

Thunder Road
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
I'll See You in My Dreams
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With Jake Clemons and the Mighty Max Weinberg.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar