UNCASVILLE, Conn. — When Bruce Springsteen walked onstage at Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday night to close out his tour with the E Street Band, he asked the sold-out crowd if they had won or lost money at the casino.
The answer was of no consequence, however, as Springsteen declared, “Either way, we’re going to make you feel lucky tonight” as he and the band — 17 members strong — launched into the setting appropriate “Roll of the Dice.”
From that point forward it seemed as if Springsteen was hellbent on exhausting himself, the band, and the crowd, wringing out every last drop of energy, sweat, and fire for the final show on a tour that started over two years ago. The group roared through nearly 30 songs in almost three hours, often counting off the start of one tune before the last had ended.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
While the set list was dotted with popular concert singalongs — “Badlands,” “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” — Springsteen was also clearly in an expansive mood, taking offbeat sign requests and calling so many audibles that the musicians were constantly scampering and huddling, telling each other what song was next.
It was remarkable to watch as the group worked out arrangements nearly immediately to some songs that hadn’t been played all tour — or in the case of “Seven Angels,” ever — and then played them with remarkable precision. (And kudos to the teleprompter operator who uses that time to find the lyrics and load them.)
In addition to “Dice” and “Angels,” a welcome down and dirty rocker, other left-field choices near the beginning of the night included a jubilant “Leap of Faith” and the slow-burning whisper of “Frankie.”
Christmas also came early in the form of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” played at the behest of a little girl who brought her request sign onstage. And they also took another go at Van Halen’s “Jump,” which they had played earlier this year at an NCAA basketball event.
That last tune was among several that featured the newest addition to the touring band, Rage Against the Machine guitar alchemist Tom Morello, who contributed to the album “High Hopes.”
In addition to proving a capable fill-in for Eddie Van Halen on “Jump,” Morello added welcome intensity to the song “High Hopes” — a maelstrom of acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, and Springsteen’s impassioned wail — and tore it up on an incendiary “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” during which he and Springsteen shared the microphone and traded solos.
Springsteen’s steady microphone partner, guitarist Steven Van Zandt, was also in fine form after having missed part of the tour to film the second season of his Netflix series “Lilyhammer.”
He and Springsteen had walked out together, arms slung around each other’s shoulders, and were locked into a groove all night, at times harmonizing with intensity as on “Ramrod” and at others cracking each other up, as on a revved-up “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).”
While the night’s tilt was toward the upbeat, there were several more contemplative though no less energetic passages, including a brooding “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the biblical fire of “Adam Raised a Cain” — featuring a maniacally warped guitar solo from Springsteen — and the always uplifting “The Rising.”
Even with a whopping 17 members, Springsteen gave each musician a chance to shine in some way. (It could’ve been 18 but Springsteen’s wife, guitarist-singer Patti Scialfa, chose to sit the show out.)
The horn section in particular were a hit with the punch they added to everything from “Jump” to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” and their showmanship added a level of gaiety to the proceedings, particularly on an epic horn breakdown section of “Johnny 99.”
Saxophonist Jake Clemons was in particularly fine form, playing the epic solo from “Jungleland” with a skillful dynamism. Clemons appeared to choke up as he finished playing the solo created by original E Street sax man, his uncle Clarence Clemons, and Springsteen came over and laid his head on his shoulder after having given a hushed-to-howling vocal performance that seemed to have officially spent his energy.
Both Clarence Clemons and the late keyboardist Danny Federici were warmly recalled with video tributes during “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.”
Curiously, Springsteen did not introduce the band or engage in one of his customary bursts of testifying, instead sticking with letting the music do the talking.
Springsteen returned to the stage solo and sat at a small pump organ and thanked both the fans in the arena and the 4 million who had come out to see the tour for “one of the greatest musical stretches of our lives.”
With the help of his trio of backing vocalists he performed a meditative cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” that was part elegy, part lullaby, part prayer, sending the audience off with a message of hope.