Madison Square Garden. New York City. On a cold night in March, members of my family and I got to take in the Bruce Springsteen make up concert. This concert was originally supposed to happen on a Sunday night in mid-January and then the blizzard of ’16 hit thus postponing the concert. So, two months later, the sold out crowd was told that the band would make it up to us on that night.
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band were on tour in support of The River box set release that had come out in the fall of 2015. It was a mammoth set of re-mastered originals, rarities, outtakes, and b-sides that also included a making of DVD. Springsteen got the notion that it would be nice to tour behind this release. He then decided to perform the original released album in its entirety. That’s a lot of songs. And for Springsteen fans, that’s a lot of the set being known before entering the venue. And anyone who has ever seen The Boss in concert knows that varied setlists are one of the best parts of the show.
Which is what made my 19th witnessing of Bruce Springsteen live, one of the strangest. I have never known that much of the set before entering the building. Knowing which song was going to be performed next as they came up to start the night ruined a lot of the mystique of a Springsteen concert.
I realize The River is a majestic album filled with beauty. I also realize that it was the album that produced Springsteen’s first top 10 hit (“Hungry Heart”). But going into the show, I wasn’t super excited about seeing all of the songs played. The River does have a few clunkers and a few songs that I never paid much attention to. And playing all of The River left little room for surprises. I like surprises---especially at a Springsteen concert.
Thus, we settled in and prepared to hear The River in its entirety. Seeing all of The River wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I mentioned, it was just different. And it did contain some highlights. I would get to hear “Independence Day” live for only the 3rd time. I would get to hear a couple of my favorites (“The Ties That Bind” and “Cadillac Ranch”). And I would hear some rarities that could be very interesting (“Crush On You,” and “I’m A Rocker”). All in all, it was going to be a surreal Springsteen concert experience for me.
The night began with The River outtake, “Meet Me In The City” and the crowd was on their feet immediately. The performance of this song was tight and true to the version contained on the box set. I enjoyed hearing it live for the first time. After the end of the song, Springsteen talked about the snowstorm that delayed the original show and discussed what The River meant to him when he first wrote it. It was an album about growing up and dealing with adult problems for the first time. With that, the band kicked into “The Ties That Bind” and we were off and rocking.
The River has a lot of good moments including “Sherry Darling,” “Two Hearts,” and the aforementioned “Independence Day.” Hearing all of those songs early was a nice highlight for me. Most of those songs I’ve only seen live once or twice over the years. “Crush On You” was absolutely magnificent and has since become one of my go to songs when I want to hear Springsteen. The same can be said for “The Price You Pay.” These were two songs that I liked, but never paid a lot of attention to prior to that evening. Hearing them in concert gave me a new appreciation. If the point of playing The River in its entirety was to turn fans on to songs they may have forgotten or never paid much attention to, then you could say “mission accomplished.”
During the performance of “Ramrod,” the video screen showed an elderly women to the side of the stage dancing along to the music. She was just rocking out having a good time. When Springsteen went to her side, we realized that she wasn’t just any elderly woman, it was Springsteen’s mother! Wow! He and she danced side by side and then turned and did a little tush shaking for the camera and the crowd, which got a huge ovation from all in attendance---a memorable moment indeed.
When the closing notes of “Wreck On The Highway” rang out in the arena, chills covered my body. This was due in part to knowing I had witnessed Springsteen history, and partly because now we were in uncharted territory. What would the band play next? Where were we heading?
An exceptional three pack of “Badlands,” “Because The Night,” and “Brilliant Disguise” came next, much to my delight. This was the way to kick off the unscripted part of the evening. Then when “Brilliant Disguise” ended the stage got dark and the band got silent. Moments later the silence was broken by Roy Bittain’s hand going over the piano keys and playing the opening notes to “Meeting Across The River.” I screamed my appreciation along with the rest of the crowd. This also meant that “Jungleland” had to be next.
“Meeting Across The River,” into “Jungleland” was a brilliant performance. It’s always been one of my favorite one-two punches in music album history, just an exceptional segue from one song to the next. I’ve only see this combination live one other time (during the 2003 Giants Stadium run), so it was nice to have it back once again. “Jungleland” was as amazing as ever. Jake Clemons now owns the solo toward the end of the song and he has become extremely comfortable performing it. And he absolutely nailed it on that night.
And if “Meeting Across The River” into “Jungleland” wasn’t enough, we were then treated to the Born To Run opener “Thunder Road.” This was very unexpected and very welcomed by me. Born To Run is my favorite Springsteen album and hearing a total of 5 songs from the record did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
All in all it was another fine night of Springsteen in concert. And while it wasn’t my favorite Springsteen concert, it was still a solid show and one that I am glad I went to see. And yet, The River in its entirety is also the reason that I didn’t go to more of the local area shows. With the band aging as they are, this could be the last time we get to see them on tour. I hope not, but at this stage of their career, every time could be the last time.
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
The Wreck On The Highway
Because The Night
Meeting Across The River
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out