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Shades, sideburns and ‘Viva’: Springsteen plays first Vegas show since ‘02

Updated March 24, 2024 - 6:05 pm

On this night, he was the Pit Boss.

“Good evening, Las Vegas! Did you lose your money? Did you loooose your money?” Bruce Springsteen shouted Friday night at the top of his long-awaited show at T-Mobile Arena.

When the crowd roared, he answered, “Somebody lost their money! Otherwise we wouldn’t be here!”

Wearing a black, button-down shirt with the collar and sleeves rolled up and matching jeans, Springsteen called out, “We’re gonna make you feel like the luckiest people in the world tonight!”

Springsteen and his E Street Band then flew into “Roll Of The Dice,” from 1992’s “Human Touch.” The lyric fit Springsteen’s gambling-tinged greeting: “Well I’ve been a losin’ gambler. Just throwin’ snake eyes. Oh love ain’t got me downhearted. I know up around the corner lies.”

Swept up in his first Vegas show in nearly 22 years, Springsteen donned a pair of Elvis-styled shades and glued-on sideburns. A fan threw a pair of fuzzy dice on stage — the type Springsteen would hang from the rear-view mirror of his 1969 Chevy Camaro SS convertible — and the Vegas party was on.

Springsteen even sprayed champagne (we expect that was the beverage) on those up front. A bubbly shower is usually the mark of a victory. But it was only the beginning. Deep into the set, Springsteen uncorked “Viva Las Vegas,” to joyful response.

The selection fulfilled drummer Max Weinberg’s expectation that he would be “surprised if there wasn’t” a Vegas song in the show.

Familiarity and nostalgia reigned throughout the show, which carried on for 2 hours, 45 minutes. “No Surrender,” “Prove it All Night” and “The Promised Land” were in the opening burst. The muscular “Spirit of the Night” closed with a crescendo usually reserved for a band’s walk-off. “Hungry Heart” brought on the famous sing-along that has spanned generations.

The show was also remarkable for what it didn’t present. Springsteen was not latched into a harness to fly across the arena (not that there’s anything wrong with that). No pyro. No lasers. No strobes. No wardrobe changes. Just enough video panels, above the stage and high at the sides, to get a good look at the performers.

No, this was a straightforward rock show, not that different from what Springsteen produced in his previous stops in Vegas — or at any other point in his decadeslong career.

The primary E Street Band players have reunited for this tour, which was halted in November as Springsteen was treated for peptic ulcer disease. Nearly 30 shows were rescheduled, including Saturday’s. Thin and fit, Springsteen showed no effects from his health concerns.

The show was Springsteen’s first Vegas performance since a show at the Thomas & Mack Center on Aug. 28, 2002. The show was listed as a 7:30 p.m. start but went off at about 7:45 p.m. Doors were at 6:30, a comparatively tight one-hour timeline between doors and the show’s opening.

But the sellout crowd was mostly in place when Springsteen took the stage, and by the time he lit up into “Lonesome Day,” the night’s second song, the entry delay seemed forgotten.

The Boss reassembled his core E Street Band mates, guitarists Stevie Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, keyboardists Roy Bittan and Charlie Giordano, bassist Gary Tallent, sax player Jake Clemons (nephew of original sax legend Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011) and guitarist and violinist Soozie Tyrell.

Springsteen also employed a five-piece horn section and four backup vocalists. The only missing band member was Springsteen’s wife, singer and guitarist Patti Scialfa. Scialfa was not part of the band at Tuesday night’s opener in Phoenix, either.

The Boss didn’t mention his hiatus from Vegas specifically, with “Viva” as his musical tribute to the city. The house lights were up for the encore set, with the crowd singing along with “Born To Run,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Glory Days” (the crowd roaring as Springsteen and Van Zandt sang into the same mic), “Dancing in the Dark,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (with Springsteen boldly walking a lap around the crowd in the floor section) and the acoustic “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”

It was one haymaker after another, with the 74-year-old rock star asking the crowd, “Do you want to go home?” “NOOO!” was the full-throated response, from a crowd peppered with those with salt-and-pepper hair.

Springsteen’s capacity to reach capacity on an arena tour — with 50 more dates on this series — has impressed even his bandmates.

“In this world now, we’re not being replaced,” Van Zandt said Thursday after his appearances at Rock Academy of the Performing Arts (RAPA) at Delta Academy in North Las Vegas. “What we do is kind of a dying part of the craft, part of the art form. Only a few people can do it, play stadiums or arenas.”

Others have shown they can move the masses. But as he showed in his return to Vegas, there is only one Boss.

Celine’s power play

Maybe she’s tuning up for a return to the stage.

We speak of Celine Dion. The former Colosseum at Caesars Palace superstar chilled at another NHL game Thursday night, attending the Boston Bruins-New York Rangers game at TD Bank Garden. The groundbreaking (and also ice-breaking) Las Vegas Strip resident headliner appeared unannounced in Bruins’ locker room and read the team’s starting lineup.

Alongside her sons Nelson and Eddy Angélil, Dion was a guest star in the Bruins’ pregame routine, introduced by Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, a fellow Québécois.

Dion arrived in a light-pink trench coat and matching slacks, slipped on her glasses and went for it.

“Thank you so much for getting ready for me tonight,” Dion said to the casually dressed defenseman Brandon Cario. She sang out forward Danton Heinen’s name. She reached high notes in announcing the rest of the Bruins’ starting group of David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Swayman.

Dion and her sons drew cheers during the game as they sat in a VIP suite. They were featured on the video screen as Dion blew kisses, formed a heart with her hands and played air guitar as Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” played on the house system.

How Dion’s activity is related to a potential return to live performance has not been spelled out. Reps for AEG Presents, which books and co-produces all shows at Resorts World Theater, did not return requests for comment. Officials have only said they remain optimistic she will perform again on the Strip.

Dion announced in December 2022 that she suffered from the rare autoimmune disorder Stiff Person Syndrome. She has been unable to return to the stage, rescheduling her postponed dates at Resorts World Theatre and on her international “Courage” tour.

Dion has recently made several such public appearances, presenting the Grammy for Album of the Year to Taylor Swift in February L.A. She has also attended a pair of Golden Knights games, when the Montreal Canadiens were in town last November, and as the Edmonton Oilers visited the week after the Grammys.

On March 9, Dion was spotted entering a limousine in New York City, for reasons unexplained. On March 15, Dion recognized International Stiff Person Syndrome Day, stating on social media that fighting the condition “has been one of the hardest experiences of my life.”

Dion was also named the Bruins’ “Fan of the Game,” but the home team went down to defeat, 5-2.

Tee’d up

Atomic Golf is a fortress in a neighborhood that is not. I say this as someone with a view of that community, and who drives through it almost daily, just west of The Strat.

I’m already calling the new attraction Top Golf North, as it is so similar — Top Golf dipped in day-glow paint. It’s beautiful, energizing, even. I love that the driving range can be used for multiple events — the Desert Dogs have reportedly inquired about playing lacrosse in that space.

You can host a music festival of Vegas bands, even. Let’s get on that idea.

Four levels, 103 golf bays, multiple bars and the quite-mod Cosmic Lounge are a few highlights. Atomic Golf was buzzing, packed, for its media preview on Wednesday night. But as we know, success is determined not on opening night, but two weeks after opening night. Or 2 p.m. next Tuesday. It’ll likely take 200 people per day to break even. So it’s a marketing challenge.

But the scale, innovation and investment is impressive. More of this, at The Strat and surrounding areas.

Cool Hang Alert

Catch Empire Records at 9 p.m. Friday at Rocks Lounge. A resounding cover band; a less-than-resounding, no-cover admission fee.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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