Music Review | Bruce Springsteen Vivas in Vegas

Chuck got tickets to the fourth annual Survival Sunday anti-nuclear benefit for his 16th birthday, and his mom drove us down to the Hollywood Bowl on a hazy June day in 1981. I was a very young 16 hailing from Mayberry, where Opie was a hair edgier than me, so everything at the concert was an eye-opening thrill, except for maybe the troughs. Why did we have to pee in a trough? I held it for six hours.

And then the crowd. They were enthusiastic and anti-nuke, so good people, right? Except when they started to boo. I couldn’t believe it. Why were they booing? This was a benefit, and those artists were working hard to entertain us, to save us from nuclear annihilation. Even if you didn’t like this Bruce Springsteen guy they announced, why would you boo him? As a fellow musical theater artist, I was appalled.

Then Chuck told me that they were yelling, “Bruuuuce!”

Oh. Okay. That’s cool.

They were still yelling, “Bruuuuce!” in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena on March 22, and I merrily “Bruuuuced” along. Springsteen is now 174 years old, but his concerts remain longer than a Martin Scorsese movie. There were 37 births, 12 marriages, and an Ironman completed before the first encore. Between “Prove It All Night” and “No Surrender,” I subscribed to the pay-per-view for the cage match between Springsteen and Diana Nyad.

Springsteen is tireless. After last year’s gray-hot summer, when I saw a parade of AARP rockers, I thought I understood what it took to rock out with your walker out. You needed a band that does long instrumental jams, endless banter, costume changes to take catnaps, and backup singers to cover up your one-octave range.

Springsteen does the opposite. As one song ended, he yelled out, “One, two, three!” and slammed into the next song. He prowled the catwalk into the crowd, high-fiving fans and spraying them with champagne. He screamed out all his songs, and was visibly pleased with himself that he still has his falsetto.

When other elder-acts would have taken a break, Springsteen gave the E Street Band a rest and sang a solo. If there was a jam to be had, he had his harmonica ready. He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen not leave the stage between any of the 37 encores. I’m 16 years younger than the bastard, and I had to pee seven times during the concert — he didn’t hit the troughs once.

Springsteen was completely present in Las Vegas. He opened the show asking, “Did you lose your money?” and then jammed on “Roll of the Dice.” Later, he did a rollicking version of “Viva Las Vegas,” some time after he had already worn a pair of sunglasses with an attached mullet.

Most impressively, Springsteen pole-danced.

I’m no Bruceologist, so I don’t know if this is a normal thing for him — but somehow his microphone stand was planted so firmly on the stage that he could grab on to it and swing around. He didn’t slide down it, and no singles were tucked, but he did a couple of kid-swinging-around-the-tetherball spins.

All of this was in service of what was a weirdly cogent theme — Bruce Springsteen was raging against the void. Wait — wasn’t this one o’ them rock ‘n’ roll shows? Sure, but it was a concert with some thoughts no longer constricted by a bandana. As a fellow musical theater artist, I was thrilled.

Larger themes of mortality were all built into the parts of his playlist that I assume stay more consistent for this tour. Bruce doesn’t banter, because who has that kind of time, but the three times he talked, it was all about death.

First was a story about George Theiss, who recruited Springsteen into his first band, and whose deathbed Springsteen would be standing over 50 years later. Next were some still raw thoughts and glimpses of his recently deceased mother, and finally a few words and pictures of the Big Man.

So … kind of a bummer? Nope. Heartfelt and meaningful, but I don’t think Springsteen was bringing any sadness to the arena. He was all about energy, and the local Vegas party, and fighting back. This was a joyful thumb in death’s eye, an ecstatic Matrix Reloaded Zion dance party bacchanal. Two hours into the show, he pounded his chest and screamed at the crowd, but I don’t think he was trying to pick a fight with us — I think he was trying to pick a fight with death. The tour’s subtitle should be, “Suck it, Death.”

He carped so much diem that when he called on the audience, “Can you feel the spirit?” Robin Williams showed up to ask him to take it down a notch. Even the moment when he ripped his shirt open could be seen as a rending of the garments, or at least another challenge to the reaper, because he was laughing at something when he did it. I started to think I was reading too much into it all, but then after 40 days and 40 nights in the Vegas desert, his final encore was “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”

I’ll see you in my dreams

Yeah, up around the river bend

For death is not the end

And I’ll see you in my dreams

I’m no Bruceologist, but it seems like Springsteen’s still got some things to say.



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