Bruce Springsteen emerged onstage last night at South Philly’s Wells Fargo Center, trailing a formidable parade of his musical family from the E Street Band, whose membership ultimately climbed to 18, including backup and horns. Springsteen paused in the spotlight before a cheering sold-out arena, right arm raised in silent salutation, left hand cradling the neck of his iconic battle-worn butterscotch 1950s Fender Esquire.
At 73 now, the Jersey rocker appeared vibrant as ever, in a partially unbuttoned black dress shirt, short-sleeve cuffs rolled up some over his upper arms in a sort of signature ‘50s-era look, with nearly full head of hair, now gray but styled youthfully with back and sides buzzed. “If you just looked at the outside,” noted the singer introspectively in a 2016 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, “it’s pretty alpha-male, you know. Which is a little ironic because that was personally never exactly really me – I think I created my particular stage persona out of my dad’s life, and perhaps I even built it to suit him to some degree. When I was looking for a voice to mix with my voice, I put on my father’s work clothes and I went to work.”
At their first Philly appearance in almost seven years, the ensemble opened with Born In The U.S.A.’s “No Surrender,” and continued on to deliver a nearly three-hour set of some twenty-five songs curated from their prolific back catalog. Heavy on Born To Run and Darkness At The Edge Of Town, they mixed in a few deeper cuts too, as well as covers of Commodores, Jimmy Cliff, and Patti Smith classics. Backed by longtime drummer Max Weinberg, Springsteen regularly led little expeditions during songs to engage fans at the stage’s edge, or out onto a low catwalk – often joined by saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of longtime E-Streeter, the late Clarence “Big Man” Clemons – before falling back into the ranks, flanked by guitarists Nils Lofgren and “Little” Steven van Zandt. (Notably absent was Springsteen’s wife, E Street guitarist Patti Scialfa.)