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Springsteen, band leave fans wanting more

The famous rocker and his E Street Band launch their new tour with an unprecedented concert on TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It was 8:30 in the morning, not 8:30 at night, TODAY co-host Matt Lauer noted Friday, not a time when rock stars are famous for being awake, let alone coherent.

Yet there they were, rocking Rockefeller Plaza, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

The Plaza was packed for the unprecedented live concert on TODAY, with many people camping out overnight to get prime viewing locations.

And Springsteen didn’t disappoint, launching into songs even before the show began its broadcast at 7 a.m. EDT and continuing on and off for the next couple of hours, playing multiple encores, and being what he’s always been — arguably the best live performer in the business.

Lauer looked over the vast crowd and asked Springsteen what he thought of so many coming out so early to hear him sing.

“This is the same crowd you get for the dancing bears. They show up for anything,” Springsteen joked. Then, simply and humbly, he added, “I appreciate it.”

Later, addressing the crowd before another song, he quipped, “I must want to sell some records bad to be up here this early.”

At 58 years old, and four years after the band last played together on tour, Springsteen has reunited the band first formed in the early 1970s, when he was a kid growing up poor with big dreams on the Jersey Shore. Their new album, “Magic,” acclaimed as a return to his musical roots, is being released on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and the band is starting a tour of the United States and Europe — their first in five years — on the same day in Hartford, Conn.

They’ve had just seven rehearsals for the tour, but they sounded as if they’d never been apart.

“Something happens when you get on the stage with Bruce,” his longtime saxophonist, “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons, told Lauer. “You feel born again. I’m ready to rock.”

Early reviews say that the music on “Magic” is clean and true to the band’s roots.

“What I let myself do on this record, I went back to my romance with great pop music, great pop singles,” the prolific songwriter said about “Magic.” But there’s more than just music. “I threaded it through with lyrics that throw the music off a little bit and subvert the music,” he explained.

He said the theme of “Magic” is infused with issues of the day. “It’s pretty much what’s happening now,” he told Lauer. “I like the songs to be read both personally and politically.”

Then, as a preamble to another number, he told the audience what his music is about: “The things we love about America — cheeseburgers, French fries, the Yankees battling Boston ... the Bill of Rights, trans fat and the Jersey Shore.”

It is also, he said, about rendition and the war in Iraq and the erosion of personal freedom. They are, he said, “things that shouldn’t happen here. We plan to do something about it. We plan to sing about it.”

The audience roared with approval, just as they have for the more than 30 years that he’s been the voice of the baby boomers.

The Springsteen legend tells of a rebellious kid who fell in love with the guitar and rock music at the age of 7 after seeing Elvis Presley on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He bought his first guitar at 13, and his mother had to take out a loan to pay for his first good guitar, a $60 Kent, an event he honored with a song called “The Wish.”

Jersey roots
A blue-collar child of the Jersey Shore, born in 1949 in Long Branch, N.J., Bruce was the son of a bus-driver father and legal-secretary mother. He was the middle child and only son of Douglas and Adele Springsteen.He first played lead guitar and sang in a band, the Castiles, in 1965. A few years later, he started to assemble the group of musicians — most of them also from New Jersey — who would, in 1974, take the name the E Street Band.

Among them were guitarist Steve Van Zandt, bass player Garry Tallent and keyboard player Danny Federici, and “The Big Man,” saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Guitarist Nils Lofgren replaced Van Zandt in 1984, and when Springsteen reassembled the group for his new album and tour, both Lofgren and Van Zandt signed up to play together.

Also with Springsteen for the “Magic” tour are Roy Bittan, a member since 1974, on keyboard; Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, on vocals and guitar; violinist Soozie Tyrell, who first played with the group in 1992; and drummer Max Weinberg, a member since 1974 who took a leave of absence from the Max Weinberg 7 and “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” to tour with Springsteen.

The band was originally called Steel Mill, and went through several other names until it settled on E Street, and it was the group that played such Jersey Shore clubs as the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and started to collect the passionate fans who follow them to this day.Springsteen got his big break in 1972, when his manager at the time, Mike Appel, got him an audition and a contract with Columbia Records. The following year saw the release of “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.," which included the single “Blinded by the Light.”

The album was critically acclaimed but was not a huge commercial success. That came three years later, in 1975, with the release of “Born to Run,” named for the lead single. The album also included “Thunder Road” and “Jungle Land” and landed him on the covers of both “Time” and “Newsweek.”

His best-selling album, with 15 million copies sold in the United States, is “Born in the U.S.A.,” released in 1984. He’s won 15 Grammys, an Oscar for the theme song to the movie “Philadelphia,” and sold more than 60 million albums during a career that shows no sign of winding down.

Married to Scialfa, his second wife, in 1991, the 58-year-old legend is the father of three children, Evan James (born 1990), Jessica Rae (1991) and Samuel Ryan (1994).