On a recent evening in late May, the empty Izod Center arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is vibrating with the stop-start sounds of the E Street Band rehearsing. As Bruce Springsteen eases the group into his 1973 classic “Lost in the Flood,” the band locks in around the powerful, metronomic rhythm being pounded out by its newest member, 18-year-old drummer Jay Weinberg — filling in tonight for his father, Max, who’s preparing in L.A. for the debut of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show.
When the song picks up steam, Jay hits a wild, near-metal fill, his long hair whipping past his face like vintage Dave Grohl, a shattered piece of drumstick flying by Springsteen’s head. “Those are the songs he doesn’t know,” Springsteen says, smiling as he leaves the stage. “Wait till you hear the ones he does.”
Backstage, all the buzz is about Jay. “When you sit on this stage, you have to be able to play like [Booker T. drummer] Al Jackson a little bit, like Keith Moon a little bit,” Springsteen says. “The range of drumming you have to do, the references you need to understand, you’re not supposed to be able to do that at 18.” Jay sits down with his girlfriend and grandmother for a pre-show bite: chicken breast, rice and asparagus (“the easiest things to digest before a show”). “Bruce gave me a list of about 200 songs at the beginning,” Jay says. “He was like, ‘We’ll start on these and work on others throughout the tour.'”
Since the E Street Band reunited in 1999, Jay’s seen hundreds of shows — his parents would pull him and his sister out of school for months at a time, home-schooling them on the road. “The reunion tour was when I first realized what my dad does for a living,” Jay says.
But when Jay started playing drums — just four years ago — he was inspired more by Slipknot, whom he saw at Ozzfest, than by his dad. “One day I came home and he had set up one of my drum sets in the basement,” Max says. “He’d come home, do his homework and play drums for four or five hours.”
Last summer, when the Magic tour hit Giants Stadium, Jay sat in during soundcheck on “Born to Run.” “He killed,” remembers Max. So when the group gathered for the encore the next night, Springsteen invited Jay to play “Born to Run” for real — in front of 80,000 New Jersey fans. “It takes one song to know what somebody’s about,” Springsteen says. “What he’s doing isn’t something you can hire. He’s incorporated almost all of his father’s essential moves — the stops, the starts, where the hat splashes — and mixed it in with his punk style.”
At the Izod Center, Jay elevates the crowd with his powerhouse drumming on “Adam Raised a Cain”; exhorted by Springsteen (“C’mon, Jay!”), he takes an intense solo on “Radio Nowhere.” When the band gathers for its curtain call, Springsteen thrusts Jay’s arm skyward. “Jay was a wrecking crew out there,” Springsteen says in his dressing room after the show. “Everybody stopped during ‘Rosalita’ — never happened before. He picked the band up and put everybody right back on the one.”
Jay, who just finished his freshman year of college and plays in a New York prog-metal band called the Reveling, is currently filling in for his dad on European dates with Springsteen. “The energy on that stage is seriously untouchable,” he says. “The E Street Band is one big family, and to be included in that blood brotherhood — nobody can take that away.”
This article is from the June 25, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.