Backing Bruce Springsteen on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night was a near-surreal experience for The Roots drummer ?uestlove. "During rehearsal, when the producer said, 'Ladies and gentleman, 'Because The Night' with the Professor and Little Steven, here's Bruce Springsteen and The Roots' — I couldn't move," ?uestlove tells Rolling Stone. "And they were looking at me like, 'Okay count the song off.' And I was like, I said, 'Holy shit. I heard that.'"
He adds: "I mean, I've done some intense playing on our show, but that was the most intense playing I've ever done. He completely surpassed any expectation I've ever had for any mythical god of rock figure."
In a rare talk show appearance to promote the new Darkness on the Edge of Town box set, Springsteen chatted with Fallon on the couch about everything from his brother-in-law to the setbacks of new technology. Alongside The Roots and E Street band members Steven Van Zandt and keyboardist Roy Bittan, he ripped through five-minute takes of rockers "Because the Night" and "Save My Love" — and hilariously dressed up as himself circa 1975 for his own take on Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair."
Before the show, the band rehearsed for 90 minutes, running through "Because the Night" six times and "Save My Love" four times. "[Bruce] was just like, 'Hey, you do what you do,'" ?uestlove says. "'I don't want you to be Max Weinberg. I want you to be you.'"
But soon, during a take of "Because the Night," the drummer got found himself in one of Max Weinberg's familiar dilemmas. "Bruce and Little Steven were giving me the exact opposite instructions — It was kind of like good cop, bad cop," he says.
"There's a moment on the bridge where Bruce said, 'You got to watch Steven's body language. He will come over, bend his knees — that means to bring the dynamics down. Play to a whisper," he adds. "But then two seconds later during the song Springsteen's looking at me like, 'Yo man,' jumping up and down and Steven is like on his knees. My band's laughing at me because they know exactly, you know, the type of quagmire I'm in right now. One guy is telling me he wants to see blood drawn because he wants me to play real powerful and the other one wants me to bring it down a little bit."
He met them in the middle. But on TV, nothing was brought to a whisper. And just as Springsteen has been known to do in arenas, the band went over their allotted set time. "If you look at the last 20 seconds [of "Because the Night"], all of us are literally in a circle. It's like no one else is in that room except Little Steven, the Professor, Bruce, and all seven of my guys," says ?uestlove. "We're totally disregarding the minute mark and the deadline. I'm surprised they got it all on there 'cause Lord knows we went 32 bars over. We were supposed to end after the end of the bridge, but we just kept going. None of that stuff was expected — the guitar solo."
But "Whip My Hair" will be the moment fans remember the most — Springsteen decked out in his classic beard, sunglasses and leather jacket while Jimmy Fallon is dressed as a 1970-era Neil Young, duetting on Willow Smith's viral hit. It was Fallon's idea, but "[Bruce] was absolutely game for it, especially dressing up as his 1975 self," says ?uestlove.
He's silent for moment. "I just got a text from Jay-Z saying he's watching right now and it's incredible."