“This is the last official night of our ‘Magic’ tour,” announced Bruce Springsteen from the stage. At least, that’s what he said in St. Louis before unleashing an epic, loose show that wowed the unwowable and flapped the unflappable. But if St. Louis marked the end of the tour, what, then, were Springsteen and the E Street Band’s doing a few days later in Milwaukee, for Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary?
The hardcore sniffed that since this wasn’t an “official” show and that anyone making the trek to the open-air, open-seating Veteran’s Park concert grounds was bound for a let down. Self-anointed stat keepers treated it like an exhibition game, played out of competition. Some fans griped Bruce and crew would phone it in (as if), but clearly these sour-grape naysayers had no idea what they were talking about. With a whopping 31 songs and over three-and-a-half hours of non-stop action, the “last show of the last shows” marked yet another one for the ages, showing Springsteen and the E Street Band at the unlikely peak of their powers and camaraderie.
In the anything-goes spirit that attends all of Springsteen’s end-of-tour moments, the epic set was full of special moments. With a rousing “Good evening, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts!,” Springsteen waited just a single song before wading out not into the crowd but onto the crowd. The giddy band barreled through the rarely played “Wooly Bully,” a song “that every bar band worth its salt should know.”
In the middle of “Glory Days,” Springsteen hopped off the stage to say hi to his sister. For a moving version of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” Springsteen brought Danny Federici’s son Jason on stage to play accordion in a touching tribute to his late father. An out-of-tune start to “Rosalita” necessitated a quick guitar change, and later a second guitar change at its end after Springsteen broke a string. “Racing in the Streets” was dedicated to Harley-Davidson patriarch Willie G., and at the end of the night,” the group tackled the biker standard “Born To Be Wild,” with Springsteen declaring, “It had to be done!
For sheer physicality and stamina alone, the show was a marvel. Springsteen even continued to use the stage as a political platform, despite the perhaps less committed to the left crowd, with “Livin’ in the Future” and “Youngstown,” the latter of which might have been read as a related response to made-in-America mainstay Harley-Davidson’s recent round of layoffs. Opener Alejandro Escovedo was more explicit in his politics, complaining that the only bad thing about George W. Bush leaving office was that he was heading back to his home state of
And then there was the old school frat rock of “Seven Nights to Rock,” which transformed the crowd of over 50,000 into a one huge house party, not to mention the predictable effect of such reliable anthems as “Born to Run,” “Badlands” and “Thunder Road,” or hits like “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
Even considering all of Bruce and the band’s past achievements and high water marks, there’s no reason to doubt his claim that this has been “the greatest tour of our lives.” Certainly in terms of scope and scale it matched past peaks. Certainly in terms of endurance, it was remarkable. Certainly in terms of emotion, it was near unmatched. And most importantly, in terms of the future, it was nowhere near the end of the road.
“We’ll be seeing you,” announced a sweat-drenched and exhausted Springsteen, huddling with his band after thanking the entire crew by name. “We’re only just getting started.”