The end of the road is about two months away, and for many fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the big question is what's next?
After spending the past two years circling the globe numerous times on back-to-back tours behind two albums, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will perform their final show November 22 in Buffalo, NY. The burning question on the minds of Springsteen fans here is, how "final" is final?
The answers to that may have come this week — well, sort of anyway — in a conference call held by band members Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, and Roy Bittan. Those same answers, as reported in articles this week at Billboard and Backstreets magazines (among others), however may have left the biggest question still largely unanswered.
"We are gonna take, I don't know how long — a year, year and a half, two years," Van Zandt said, before adding, "You never know, do ya? It could be the last show, could be the last tour. You never know. We do every show like it's our last show, anyway. But don't wait around; if you're waiting to come see us, come now. This is a good time to see us."
In other words, as to the question of whether or not this is the end of the road called E Street, the answer seems to be kinda', sorta', maybe. Here is what we do know:
The E Street Band does need the break. After two years which saw the band release two albums, lose a member (keyboardist Danny Federici, who lost his battle with melanoma), play the Super Bowl, and tour more or less non-stop, it could be argued that they are coming off one of the most active, but also tumultuous periods of their entire career.
Keep in mind as well, that these are not young men we are talking about here. Despite their advancing ages, it can also be said that the soon-to-be-concluded marathon treks behind the albums Magic and Working On A Dream saw the band playing some of their most high-energy shows ever.
We also know that at least some of the various band members have day jobs to go back to. Max Weinberg has been going back and forth between the WOAD tour and his duties on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (with his son Jay filling the E Street drum stool on many dates), and Van Zandt has his syndicated Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show. As for the rest of the guys?
Clarence Clemons — whose health has been an ongoing source of both rumor and genuine concern — has a book coming out on October 21, a memoir called Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales. Nils Lofgren has both a solo career and a successful online business teaching guitar lessons. Keyboardist Roy Bittan also has his own solo album in progress, titled Out of the Box, which he hopes to complete in time for a 2010 release.
With that already known, here is what we can make some educated guesses about as to what the rest of the future holds:
Springsteen missed the deadline for a 30th anniversary remastered edition of 1978's Darkness Of The Edge Of Town last year, and is likely to miss it in 2009 as well. But we do know that he is still working on it, and that an eventual release is planned — most likely next year.
Rumors of the set also featuring a bonus DVD with live footage from the legendary 1978 Darkness tour also seem to be pretty solid. The most likely source of this will be footage known to exist from tour stops in Phoenix, Dallas, and New York. Other possibilities for the set include a disc of outtakes, such as the coveted-by-fans full band version of the rare track "The Promise."
However, next year also represents the 30th anniversary of The River, so it is also possible — and even likely — that some sort of remastered version of that album will see the light of day as well. The 1980 double album is known to be a favorite of Steve Van Zandt's, although Springsteen himself has stayed notoriously away from playing such songs from it as "The Price You Pay" at his shows, making it a regular fixture on the wish-lists of some hardcore fans.
With the recent attention to remastering the back-catalogs of classic artists like the Beatles, U2, and the Rolling Stones, you have to figure that the Springsteen camp has been considering this as well. Early albums like The Wild, The Innocent, And The E Street Shuffle in particular could certainly use the digital upgrade. And then, there is always the long rumored Tracks II rarities box to consider. So there is no shortage of possibilities for new Springsteen projects coming down the pike.
A live DVD culled from the past two tours is also a strong possibility. Many of the shows are known to have been filmed, and most agree that Springsteen and the E Street Band's performances from 2007-2009 were among the strongest of their entire career.
As for Bruce himself? The most commonly held wisdom is that a more stripped-down solo album in the mold of Nebraska or Devils & Dust will likely be next, and could be out as soon as next year. A solo acoustic tour, or possibly one with a smaller band would likely follow if this were the case.
But of course the million dollar question is, what of the future of the E Street Band?
In the conference call this week, band members were predictably vague. But it's hard to imagine Springsteen retiring such a recognizable brand name at a time when they are hotter than ever. If Springsteen makes another rock and roll record — which he almost certainly will a year or two down the road — it's hard to imagine a tour taking place without guys like Lofgren, Van Zandt, Garry W. Tallent, and Bittan being on board — as long as they are healthy anyway.
Less likely to be back would be Clarence "Big Man" Clemons — as unimaginable as that might seem to some fans. As frail as some of Clemons health issues are now, the Big Man has been a trooper these past few years, doing his sax solos from his personal throne onstage. I can't imagine him coming back for another year-long jaunt around the world in a couple of years though. Max Weinberg's status is also iffy, given his commitments to Conan O'Brien — although the good news is that his young son Jay stands at the ready to assume the drum kit.
So is this the end of the road for the E Street Band? In its present form, probably. However, my best educated guess is that we will see another tour from some form of Bruce Springsteen's venerable crew — with a few familiar faces as well as some new ones — in about two years.
What's next? Stay tuned.