Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will likely play for about three hours when they hit the stage next week. The Boss and his band will start with a setlist that includes some standards — crowd favorites such as “Born to Run” as well as songs from his new album, “Wrecking Ball” — and then add in whatever Springsteen or his band decide to play. Ÿ If you bring a sign with your favorite song on it, Springsteen might see it and instruct the band to play it — even if the band has no idea how to play it.
“You always have to be ready,” E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren told us over the phone.
Springsteen wants to be emotionally engaged by every song, and he wants the audience to do the same. He often “calls an audible,” Lofgren said.
The guitarist told us a story about a recent gig where the first song was supposed to be “Because the Night.” Between the dressing room and the stage, Springsteen decided to open the show with “The Promised Land.” In the middle of the show, the Boss called for “Because the Night” again. The band obliged.
“Thanks to our history, we can all pull it off,” Lofgren said. “Bruce hand picked a group that ... thrive in that improv thing. You don't panic to where you freeze up. You might say, 'I don't have a guitar I want,' but he's already started the damn thing. You gotta have a sense of humor about it.”
Sometimes, Springsteen doesn't remember all of the lyrics, so someone will look them up and put them on a prompter at the front of the stage. The band often figures out the key and just jumps into the song.
For the E Street Band, it's no big deal.
“We have an extraordinary gift of a singer with hundreds of great songs,” Lofgren said. “Last tour, we played 192 different songs.”
For fans, it means you better know your Springsteen. Most nights are a mix of new and old.
A recent show in Pennsylvania featured songs from 10 Springsteen albums as well as four covers.
Will he play anything from “Nebraska” while the band is in Nebraska?
“Atlantic City” has popped up in some of Springsteen's sets, especially since Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore. In Chicago, Lofgren said, the band welcomed Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam to sing with Springsteen.
In the past, Lofgren was known for his trampoline. He'd perform flips during the show, but he's had to give it up as he's gotten older. Lofgren has also challenged himself to learn more instruments and broaden his musical horizons.
“I challenged myself in '99 to become the swing man, and I threw some more tools into the toolbox,” he said. “I've got 50 instruments on the road. Personally, I think it's the biggest toolbox in rock 'n' roll history.”
Every tour — and every night — for the band is a wild ride. Some shows have gone on as long as four hours. Lofgren, who's a bandleader in his own right that has released several solo albums, loves being in the E Street Band.
“I don't think there's ever been a band that's taken as many chances,” he said. “There's a beautiful musical recklessness that he's exploring.”
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