During previous visits to Milwaukee, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have combined to make music, magic, memories and a fair amount of history.
From the famous "Bomb Scare Show" in 1975 at the Uptown Theater to the roof-raising outing at Miller Park in 2003 and the 31-song extravaganza that closed out the "Magic" tour and Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary bash on Labor Day weekend in 2008, the group has packed power and pizzaz into its local performances.
Don't look for that trend to end on Sunday.
Nearing the end of a grueling tour in support of his 16th album, "Working on a Dream," Springsteen will deliver a beginning-to-end performance of "Born to Run," the 1975 album that established him as major force on the rock and roll scene (and landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek at a time when those publications shaped much of the public discourse).
The full-length album performances (other cities have been treated to "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Born in the USA" and, in recently in New York, "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" and "The River,") have mixed with a popular "stump the band" request segment from the last tour to add sizzle to 2 1/2-hour concerts that, while still powerful, had become a bit familiar.
Sunday will mark the sixth time the E Street Band has hit Milwaukee since the group reformed for a reunion tour in 1999. For hardcore fans and curious newcomers, the question is both unpleasant and unavoidable:
Will this be the last dance?
Though he still tears around the stage and crowd-surfs with the energy of a teenager, Springsteen recently turned 60 years old. Sax player Clarence Clemons is 67 and has battled a slew of health problems detailed in his recent biography that included knee replacements, back surgery, kidney trouble and a minor heart attack.
Most E Street fans believe that, outside of Springsteen himself, Clemons holds the key to the band's touring future.
Steve Van Zandt left the band in the mid-1980s, but Springsteen hired Nils Lofgren and continued. (Both men are currently in the lineup). Organ player Danny Federici died of melanoma during the "Magic" tour, but the band pressed forward with Charlie Giordano from the Seeger Sessions band. When Max Weinberg's late-night duties with Conan O'Brien on NBC prevented him from attending some shows, his son, Jay, a college freshman, sat in admirably.
The almost mystical connection between Springsteen and Clemons, which was captured on the iconic cover of "Born to Run" and displayed on stage for nearly 40 years, would be almost impossible to replicate.
Writing for Springsteen fan site backstreets.com, Marya Morris described the scene at the end of a show Tuesday night in Cleveland thusly: "At show's end Bruce clearly didn't want to go. Clarence chidingly took the Fender from him as they stood for the ovation. The band filed off stage as the two of them stood side by side, alone on stage for a long goodbye, leaving us to wonder if they'll be gone for good."
After spending most of the last few years playing shows, including a memorable turn at the Super Bowl in January in Tampa and at the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anniversary show at Madison Square Garden, there is little doubt that Springsteen and the band are going to take some time away from the stage.
If the show Sunday ends up being the group's last local appearance, the inclusion of "Born to Run" and Springsteen's penchant for treating every show as if it were his last should make for an unforgettable night. Springsteen will likely play four or five songs before launching into the harmonica intro for "Thunder Road," which will kick off the eight-song "Born to Run" arc. The second half of the show will mix new songs with old, and the sprint to the finish will leave the crowd just like always -- sweaty, satisfied and wanting more.
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 OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.