By Drew Olson Special to Published May 13, 2009 at 4:27 PM

During the "stump the band" segment of a show last Friday night inside the basketball arena at Penn State University, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band launched into a cover of The Who classic "My Generation" and the singer used the appropriate snarl to sing the line "Hope I die before I get old."

It was a great rock moment -- a song written by frustrated 20-year-old Brit Pete Townshend in 1965 delivered by a defiant, seemingly ageless American rocker who will turn 60 in September.

When Springsteen and friends visited the United Center Tuesday night in Chicago, age was an unavoidable sub-plot in a spectacular show. The crowd was a mix of mostly baby boomers, some with kids in tow, and Gen Y hipsters who may have discovered the band from parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings or the most recent Super Bowl.

While most of the musicians on stage were old enough to be their parents -- or even grandparents -- the youngsters in the audience found someone to identify with.

Jay Weinberg, the 19-year-old son of Springsteen's longtime drummer Max, took over the kit midway through the nearly 3-hour set and brought an intensity and muscularity to the music that was impossible to ignore. Jay Weinberg's stint was reminiscent of when Dave Grohl sat in with Tom Petty's Heartbreakers after longtime drummer Stan Lynch left the band and it provided a stark contrast to stage right, where Charlie Giordano filled in at the organ for Dan Federici, who died of melanoma during the band's previous tour, and sax player Clarence Clemons, looking every bit of age 67, needed to sit down for long stretches.

At stage right, the space usually occupied by Springsteen's wife and backup singer, Patti Scialfa, was empty. Bruce explained that she was home, recovering from injuries in a horseback riding accident and keeping an eye on the couple's teenage kids.

One way to do that is to invite them to join the band.

With Max Weinberg slated to fill his duties as bandleader as Conan O'Brien takes over "The Tonight Show" from Jay Leno in June, the younger Weinberg will fill in for his father full-time during the band's European tour and should provide a boost of energy during what traditionally are more raucous shows than the stateside affairs.

Not that energy is deficient on E Street.

Springsteen commands the stage like few performers in rock history, his shows setting a nearly impossible standard for younger bands. The band showed no signs of fatigue from a show the previous night in St. Paul. The show opener "Badlands" segued into a triumphant "Spirit in the Night," a song that thrilled the "old-school" fans.

Springsteen always tries to weave a theme into his setlists, and it was hard to miss the one Tuesday night. "Our band was built for hard times," he said in recent interviews, and it was clear that the struggle to find hope and faith in the face of adversity -- economic or otherwise -- was on his mind.

Four songs into the evening, he launched into the title track of his latest CD "Working on a Dream," which gave way to two "Nebraska"-era songs -- "Seeds," with imagery of homeless families in oil country and "Johnny 99," about a laid-off auto worker who goes on crime spree. Those songs were followed by a searing reading of "The Ghost of Tom Joad."

Needing a break from the "heavy" material, Springsteen launched into the "stump the band" segment of the show, collecting signs from the audience for songs from the band's vast catalog as well as cover songs.

The winning selections on this night included "Trapped," a Jimmy Cliff song that the band can practically claim as its own after playing it for decades, along with "Candy's Room" from "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and a spirited reading of Tommy James and the Shondells' "Mony Mony."

"In keeping with our recent tradition, we'll try to play something we've never played before," Springsteen said, before conferring with consigliere Steve Van Zandt.

"Doesn't this have a weird bridge or something? Maybe it's just a weird part in the middle?"

When the proper key was discovered Springsteen stepped to his mic to begin the song and asked "How does it start?" He was reminded "With the drums...." and the band was off to the races and Springsteen seemed surprised, and maybe a little pleased, when many in the crowd provided the X-rated call-and-response that seems to accompany that tune wherever it plays.

After "Mony Mony," Max Weinberg turned the kit over to his son, who hammered home the final 13 songs. The band reached liftoff at the end of the main set and kept the momentum going with a spirited reading of "Jungleland" in an encore that ended with "Dancing in the Dark" and "Rosalita" -- songs guaranteed to please fans of any ages.

Here is the complete setlist from the show:
Spirit in the Night
Outlaw Pete
She's the One
Working on a Dream
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Candy's Room
Mony Mony
Waitin' on a Sunny Day (w/ Jay Weinberg, through the end)
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run
Hard Times
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Dancing in the Dark


Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.