Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at Madison Square Garden, it doesn’t get any better than this! Bruce is currently touring in celebration of the 35th anniversary of his 1980 double album, The River. The River has always been an album I liked, but I was never completely familiar with all the tracks. Gearing up for the show, I made an effort to change that. For the past week or so, I’ve been listening to The River non stop. The only regret I have is I wish I had done this a long time ago. Once I got past the big hits from The River (Hungry Heart, Out In The Street, The River) I realized three things, 1. I know a lot of these songs 2. What an idiot I’ve been for not listening to this album more 3. Damn this is good.
Bruce Springsteen is arguably the most influential American artist since Bob Dylan. His influence reaches far and wide, as he has inspired scores and scores of artists over the years. He also serves as the patron Saint of New Jersey. Bruce is the epitome of someone that has stayed true to his roots. Just ask people along the Jersey Shore about their own Bruce Springsteen stories. Whether he stopped in a wedding hall to say hi to newlyweds, joined a band on stage at a local watering hole, or was just seen hanging at the beach minding his own business. Bruce has always been “one of us” and that bond makes him so much more endearing to everyone in NY/NJ than anywhere else in the world. You might be a huge Springsteen fan from Chicago, but make no mistake he is ours, and his lyrics just connect more intensely with us. Whether you are sitting in traffic on the Garden State Parkway or drinking in a bar in Midtown, when Bruce comes on you get a sense of pride that you are listening to “the good kid” from the neighborhood that made it. Springsteen will always be ours, the rest of the country can have John Mellencamp.
At 66 years old, Bruce still plays with the energy and enthusiasm of a 20 something, oh and his shows still last over 3 hours with no break. There is a major differentiator between Springsteen and everyone else, The E Street Band. Not many “backing bands” are in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, The E Street Band are the exception. Even with the huge loss of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, The E Street Band still reigns as the most powerful backing band in the land.
With all the house lights on, Bruce and the E Street Band took the stage promptly at 8:15. As expected the crowd exploded in to the iconic “Bruuuuuuuce” cheer. Two by two, the E Street band assembled on stage, finally joined by Bruce himself. Bruce scanned the crowd and went in to his trademark “1,2,3,4” countdown to kick off the 1st show in the NYC metro area.
“Meet Me in the City” a River outtake, would kickoff the show. This was a perfect crowd/E Street band warmup song for the show. This song has everything that makes Springsteen and The E Street Band so different from almost every other rock band, and keep in mind this was an outtake!
After the first song, Bruce greeted the crowd and began to endear himself more to the crowd by commiserating over the recent 2 feet of snow that dropped in our area over the weekend. He gave a brief introduction of The River and the origins of the album. He spoke about where he was in his life when he wrote the album and what the album meant to him. Another 1,2,3,4 countdown and we were now traveling down The River.
The lead track, The Ties That Bind, would kick off The River portion of the night and Bruce would play the entire album in sequential order. The Ties That Bind is a very underrated song, and allowed me to do my first of many piss poor Bruce Springsteen impersonations of the night, mostly to the chorus “The ties that bii y iii y iii y iii nnnnd”
Sherry Darling was next in line, a song that is very reminiscent of Rosalita. A real party song that kept everyone on their feet, clinking beers to the chorus “I got some beer and the highways free”. Bruce and The E Street Band seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing these tunes. I’m sure from all the nights playing the greatest hits over and over, being able to revisit these seldom played tunes 35 years after their creation is a real thrill for the band, a real journey down memory lane. The back and forth between Bruce and Steven Van Zandt was awesome to witness. It seems the songs from the River have a lot of moments to share vocals, and Steve was more than willing to lend a voice. As Bruce and Stevie teamed up on the main mic, you could really see how much fun they were having.
Hungry Heart would be an early standout of the night. Bruce left the mainstage and started high fiving the crowd. As he sang and made his way through the crowd he ended in the middle of The Garden, there was only way he was going to get back to the main stage…by crowd surfing! Bruce checked with the crowd ” You got me?!” laid down and was back on his way to the main stage. Classic moment of the night as he yelled for ” Jakey” to play the saxophone solo.
Jake Clemons is Clarence Clemons nephew and did a great job all night hitting those signature sax riffs. Jake was born the same year The River was released, and as a descendant of the Clemons Clan it added a cool generational legacy for the E Street Band.
Following Hungry Heart is my favorite Bruce Springsteen song. I know it’s hard to put Out In The Street above Thunder Road, Born to Run, etc…but for me this is the ultimate Springsteen song. Everything you want in a Springsteen song, working man theme, epic sax solo, crowd sing along, and the whole E Street Band lends vocals. Bruce and band crushed this performance, extending the tune to allow for extended crowd participation.
As Bruce continued through The River, there were some lulls like any album has but for the most part everyone was thrilled to be hearing songs like Ramrod, Cadillac Ranch, & I Wanna Marry You. The River is a hodgepodge of musical influences, that keeps shifting and changing throughout the album which makes for a very enjoyable concert experience. For the introduction of The River, Bruce acknowledged his sister in the crowd. This only added to the “family” feel for the night.
Once The River was complete, everyone seemed to catch their second wind for the homestretch. This would be the big hit portion of the night. Because The Night kicked it off. Bruce wrote this song but didn’t include it on Darkness on the Edge of Town because it didn’t fit the album. Fortunately for Patti Smith, she would be the benefactor and would have her only hit song of her career. Nils Lofgren had an insane guitar solo during this song, where he has playing while spinning in circles. If anyone had thought some of The River made the evening a little too mellow or slow, no need to worry anymore.
The rest of the night was filled with Springsteen staples.
Brilliant Disguise, The Rising, Thunder Road, Born to Run, Rosalita and Dancing in the Dark. An “encore” set like this had a little for everyone. Surprisingly for me, Dancing in the Dark might have been my favorite moment of the show. The 80’s MTV staple had the whole Garden rocking and doing their best Courtney Cox dance moves.
The only disappointment was ending the show with a cover of Shout. Although a great song, it seemed unnecessary to do a cover to end the show. I guess even The Boss can make a mistake in choosing a set list, but at this point it’s nitpicking. After 3 plus hours of great songs and an even greater time, it was hard to imagine anyone leaving The Garden disappointed. Bruce has added some more dates to this tour and make it a priority to see this amazing show. The Boss and The E Street Band are still a can’t miss show.
Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
I’m a Rocker
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway
She’s the One
Because the Night
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)