Move over Connecticut and Kentucky, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band shared a Final Four shocker of their own Sunday night at the March Madness Music Festival at Reunion Park in Dallas. As rain-soaked fans expected to hear “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Let It Rain,” or even “Waiting on a Sunny Day” as the opening song, Springsteen opted instead for some fun and games. Taking the stage to “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the Harlem Globetrotters theme song, The Boss and guitarist Nils Lofgren engaged in a center stage tip-off and then launched into Van Halen’s “Jump.” The surprising and playful tune featured searing guitar solos from Tom Morello that would have even caught Eddie Van Halen off guard.
What wasn’t surprising about Springsteen’s concert was that it turned out be yet another excellent show from a rocker who shows no signs of slowing down (even at 64). Springsteen and band played 25 songs over the course of three hours, not even stopping for a break before the encore.
Following “Jump,” Springsteen led the E Street Band on a scorching five-song blitz that included “Badlands,” “Death to My Hometown,” “Cover Me,” “No Surrender,” and “Hungry Heart.” Just when it looked as if Springsteen would forgo his customary crowd surf during “Hungry Heart,” he took the plunge…making for some tense moments as it appeared that the younger fans had trouble keeping Springsteen afloat.
Joining the E Street lineup Sunday night was Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa (guitar/vocals) as well as Tom Morello (guitar/vocals) - the collaborative force behind Springsteen’s latest album, High Hopes. Springsteen only played two songs from the album, the title track which featured Morello playing guitar with his teeth, and the remake of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Morello fit in nicely with the band, but it would have been nice to have heard more from long-time E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren.
Springsteen slowed down the pace of the show with “The River” and “Atlantic City,” but then picked things up again with a rousing dixie jazz/Seeger Sessions version of “Johnny 99.” The song allowed the E Street horn section to strut their stuff with engaging trombone and trumpet solos. There was even a crowd pleasing cowbell solo…it’s a Texas thang!
Following “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Springsteen launched right into the encore. “I’m going to keep you warm,” Springsteen said before “Born to Run.” With “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” on deck, the small but spirited (and wet) crowd turned in their show-long hoots and hollers for boisterous singalongs, almost drowning out Springsteen’s vocals.
As the band began to walk off stage, Springsteen appeared to ask Scialfa a question. You could see her say, “Okay.” Then Bruce went to get his acoustic guitar and harmonica. What followed was a beautiful folk-style version of “Thunder Road” with Scialfa accompanying Springsteen on vocals. The crowd immediately fell into a hush, mesmerized by the classic song that — no matter how performed — never loses its magic.
Similar to Saturday’s Wisconsin vs. Kentucky Final Four basketball game, Springsteen’s concert on Sunday night came down to the very last second. Both events had all eyes fixed on a stunning, well-played performance. Only on this night…everyone walked away a winner.
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