Bruce Springsteen Gets Loose on 'The Rising' Tour

Set-list surprises on second leg of yearlong tour

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt
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Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt
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Business is booming on the second leg of Bruce Springsteen's Rising tour, which kicked off September 22nd in Denver. The thirty-four-date outing is expected to earn around $40 million, with tickets priced at a relatively low seventy-five dollars. A longer run is planned for next spring and summer.

On the first leg, Springsteen didn't tinker much with the twenty-two-song set unveiled opening night in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Now he's loosening up. In Milwaukee on September 27th, Springsteen and the E Street Band revved up Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" as a surprise encore in homage to a Milwaukee night in 1975 that none of the E Streeters will ever forget.

"There was a bomb scare, so we had to clear out the show for a few hours," guitarist Steve Van Zandt recalls. "We went back onstage at midnight – it was the only time we ever played absolutely drunk. We threw out the set list, and 'Little Queenie' was the first thing we played. It was the best show we ever did. So when we did it the other night in Milwaukee, it was one of those, 'Who would remember this?' moments for us and the fans."

A few days earlier, on September 23rd, Springsteen paraded, in Elvis shades and fake sideburns, through a small party in Denver for his fifty-third birthday. Though his Elvis hasn't made an appearance onstage, Eddie Vedder did show up in Chicago on September 25th. The native of Evanston, Illinois, joined the E Streeters to sing "My Hometown," with Springsteen chiming in on harmonies. "We're doing a sound check, and look who walks in," Van Zandt says. Vedder was in town visiting relatives after Pearl Jam opened for the Who two nights earlier.

In contrast to the 1999-2000 reunion tour of Springsteen and the E Street Band, which surveyed 130 songs spanning the decades, the current tour is focusing on The Rising. "After the last tour, we had to come back with something new, or else retire," Van Zandt says. "It's risky – it's very rare for an arena show to be focused so much on a new album – but the audience isn't just tolerating the new stuff. They're coming to hear it."

Van Zandt says changes in the set will keep coming. "Check with us in a few more weeks," he says, "because it's gonna keep changing. I don't understand some of those bands who do exactly the same songs, the same moves, and they have all this production built into it so they can't change anything. We never stop trying to make it better."

This story is from the October 31st, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 908: October 31, 2002