Dressed down in a pink T-shirt and jeans, Bruce Springsteen is pacing an arena-size stage crammed into the empty Asbury Park Convention Hall – a gymnasium-like structure where the band is rehearsing for its new world tour. Clarence Clemons, relaxing on a stool in a gray sweatsuit, fiddles with his sax and cracks jokes as Springsteen provides meticulous direction to the E Street Band. Tonight is the second of two open-to-the-public rehearsal shows behind the new Working on a Dream tour, and the group will be ironing out the last few kinks in front of an intense hometown audience. Dissatisfied with the previous night’s gig, Springsteen is completely reinventing the show, and even songs that survive the set-list change are under tight scrutiny. “Just remember,” he says after two consecutive run-throughs of a raved-up version of the Nebraska track “Johnny 99,” “if we don’t get it, we do it until we get it.”
The tour, which kicks off April 1st in San Jose, California, comes just eight months after the last E Street Band tour and will hit multiple festivals, including Bonnaroo and Glastonbury in England. “We saw it as a good opportunity to expose Bruce to people who haven’t seen him before,” says Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau. “Maybe some younger people.”
As the band repeatedly rehearses the show’s new opening combo – “Badlands” into Working on a Dream‘s “Outlaw Pete” – drummer Max Weinberg’s 18-year-old son, Jay, hangs near his father, soaking up the energy. In June, while Max is occupied by the premiere of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, Jay will take over on drums for at least six dates of the European leg of the tour.
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After the rehearsal, Jay – who plays in a New York punk group called the Reveling – sits backstage with his father and chomps chicken teriyaki while other members of the band and crew dip marshmallows into a huge fondue fountain. Wearing a Black Flag T-shirt, Jay seems remarkably relaxed for a teenager expected to memorize 36 years of Bruce Springsteen songs and play them at sold-out soccer stadiums across Europe. “I watched them play night after night on the Magic tour last year,” he says, pointing to his head. “All the songs are up here.”
When the fans lining the boardwalk are finally let in, they get a concert 25 minutes shorter than the previous show’s, with 10 songs that weren’t played the day before. Backup singers Curtis King and Cindy Mizelle, who joined Springsteen on the 2006 Seeger Sessions tour, help recreate Working on a Dream‘s Sixties-style layered harmonies. Throughout the set, Springsteen selected tunes that reflect the current economic problems – including the 1980s chestnut “Seeds,” a full-band rendition of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and a cover of the 19th-century ballad “Hard Times (Come Again No More).” “We’ve had an enormous moral, spiritual and economic collapse,” Springsteen told Jon Stewart recently. “Our band was built from the beginning for hard times.”
After a gorgeous version of the Working on a Dream track “Kingdom of Days,” the lights turn out and Jay replaces Max at the kit. The crowd roars as the teen drummer bashes out “Lonesome Day” along with “Radio Nowhere” and “Born to Run.” Springsteen’s eyes shine brightly as he smiles and yells to the crowd, “What a difference a day makes!”
This story is from the April 16, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.