FOXBOROUGH – The news reports before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rolled into Gillette Stadium on Wednesday were sort of unbelievable.
First it was 3 hours and 52 minutes. Then it was 4 hours. And then 4 hours and 4 minutes.
That’s how long some of their recent performances had lasted, breaking their own record – multiple times – for the longest concert they’ve played in North America. They’ve been proving once again what we already knew: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are the Energizer Bunnies of stadium rock.
To answer your question: No, they did not set a new record on Wednesday, the last night of the River Tour. But at 4 hours and 2 minutes (with no intermission, and nary a sip of water), they came mighty close. When Springsteen jokingly hobbled offstage toward the end of the night, wearing a James Brown-like cape that said “The Boss” on the back, he had earned the punch line.
The truth is, Springsteen does not give bum concerts anymore. Or if he does, it’s certainly not apparent to his legion of fist-pumping fans, from knee-high kids to graying men and women in vintage Springsteen shirts.
It turned out “The River,” his landmark 1980 album, was not the focus of this last stretch of dates. The set list cut across Springsteen’s discography, with a notable emphasis on his first two albums, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” and “The Wild, the Innocent the E Street Shuffle,” both from 1973.
Perhaps because his memoir, “Born to Run,” will be released later this month, this was Springsteen deep in storyteller mode, vividly recounting the origins of his oldest songs. With Springsteen starting it alone on guitar, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” was so heartbreakingly direct that it suggested he was still nursing an old wound.
The magic of a four-plus-hour show is that Springsteen can please the diehard and casual fans alike. Audience requests (“Radio Nowhere”), relayed on homemade signs, joined deeper cuts (a cover of John Fogerty’s “Rockin’ All Over the World”) and massive radio hits (“Hungry Heart,” “Born to Run”).
Springsteen is the people’s rock god, the consummate showman who makes both his ballads and his anthems sound as if they’re meant just for you. And he’s hellbent on connecting. During “Dancing in the Dark,” he invited fans onstage and danced with a young woman before she rocked out on guitar alongside her idol.
The only thing more ferocious than Springsteen’s endurance was that of the E Street Band. Guitarist Steve Van Zandt remains the Boss’ perfect sidekick, a comedic and musical wildman. On saxophone, Jake Clemons continues to make his late uncle Clarence proud. And someone should check on Max Weinberg today because surely his arms are bound in casts after his nonstop pummeling on the drums.
Foxborough officials extended Gillette’s curfew by 15 minutes, to 11:30 p.m., but Van Zandt didn’t seem fazed earlier in the day when a fan’s tweet asked him about it. “We don’t do curfews,” he wrote back. Thankfully, he was right.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.