The most memorable concerts I’ve attended in my life have been Bruce Springsteen performances. Particularly when he is with his usual backup, The E Street Band, his marathon sessions have an energy I’ve rarely encountered from anyone else. He’s not some blonde lip-synching with a bunch of muscled guys dancing behind her. His performances have a genuine feel to them and it’s almost as if 55,000 people have gathered around him in his living room.
This two-DVD set was filmed by HBO at the end of the first tour Bruce made with The E Street Band in ten years. The final ten sold-out shows were at Madison Garden in New York City, so it was a sort of homecoming for this Jersey Boy. It also meant bringing back bandmates who have gone their own way. Max Weinberg is the leader of the band on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Sopranos fans know Steven Van Zant’s work on that show.
I don’t remember Bruce playing the guitar all that much in the shows I went to in the early 1980s. He gives some tremendous performances, particularly during Prove It All night. He also sits down at the piano a couple of times, something I never saw him do before.
The first DVD in the set starts off with the hard-driving My Love Will Not Let You Down followed by Prove It All Night in which he and Miami Steve Van Zant engage in a vocal duel of sorts. Next comes Two Hearts. After three hard-driving songs in a row, it’s slowed down a bit with Atlantic City which sounds so different with the full band behind it as opposed to the cut on Springsteen’s Nebraska album. It’s followed by another slower number, Mansion on the Hill in which Bruce and his wife Patti sing together.
You’d think it was time to speed things up again, but Springsteen doesn’t go along with what’s expected. Next up is The River on which he plays harmonica with some incredible lighting effects with him in the shadows. There’s a beautiful shot of him onstage and half-lit in the beginning that I wish I could freeze and print out. This is followed by Youngstown which features some great guitar playing by Nils Lofgren.
Murder Incorporated speeds it up again a bit at this point, followed by an incredible rendition of Badlands. You can really see the crowd’s energy when they turn the lights up on this one and let everyone have a look. This goes into Out In The Street which lets every member of the band shine for a moment in the spotlight.
Many of the breaks between the different concerts or sequences aren’t distinguishable, but there’s one here and then it cuts to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out which descends into one of those long monologues Springsteen is famous for. This is followed by the always energetic and crowd-pleasing Born To Run.
To close out the first DVD of the set are two songs commenting on current society: Land of Hope and Dreams followed by the controversial American Skin (41 Shots). For the latter, Bruce asks the audience to be quiet during the song and there was much debate beforehand about how it would play in New York City.
The second disc starts out with Backstreets and that amazing piano introduction that I love and recognize immediately. Don’t Look Back follows, something less familiar, but played with just as much energy. Darkness on the Edge of Town comes next and that’s always been a song I thought went well with Backstreets It has a similar style, especially with the use of the piano throughout the song.
Lost in the Flood follows, another somewhat unfamiliar song, but it’s a great performance, particularly with Max Weinberg on the drums. It’s followed by a very different version of Born in the U.S.A. than most are used to hearing, but one I’m sure would not have been mistaken for a rousing, patriotic song as Ronald Reagan did in the mid-80s. It’s definitely got folk roots in this version.
Jungleland is next, and this DVD may be as close as some come to seeing it live. It’s a long song and the last time I saw Springsteen live, I was just lamenting that he didn’t play it anymore when he had it in his set. It’s really something special to see live as the song is a story and an epic with a full, rich sound that fills even the largest football stadium. I love Clarence Clemons’ sax work on this.
He follows this with Light of Day which is a song he wrote and was recorded by Joan Jett in a movie by the same name in the 1980s. It’s not something he’s commonly heard playing, so having it here is a treat. Prior to the next song, he extols the virtues of New Jersey, and in quite a funny way. He then cuts into The Promise which is a slower song with him primarily on the piano. The song falls back on the memories from another song, Thunder Road which just happens to be my favorite Springsteen song and what he cuts into next. It’s not quite the same as the recorded version, but it’s good just the same.
Ramrod comes as the set is winding down and picks things up again a bit. He closes out with If I Should Fall Behind which is a really great song for partners. Here he brings in the band one by one as if to say they are all there for each other. That’s really something when you think about how the band was split apart for so long and has seemed to come back together without any back-biting, unlike other bands.
What really makes a Springsteen concert work is watching all of them together on stage. They look like they are honestly having fun up there and cutting loose. This comes across on the DVD, which is good. That was something I was worried about.
The interview with Bob Costas as the “extra” is pretty good, giving a little bit of insight into why the time was right for this to happen. Some fans might be disappointed in the renditions of the songs here, but I wasn’t. Anytime you want to hear it exactly like the CD, you can put on the CD or queue up a track on your MP3 player. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City represents a chance to further your horizons and listen to the music a little differently as well as enjoy a Springsteen concert any time you want to.
• New York City Serenade with Bob Costas
• Photo Galley
Bruce Springsteen – Guitar, Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone
Nils Lofgren – Guitar
Roy Brittan – Keyboards
Danny Federici – Keyboards
Patti Scialfa – Guitar, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass guitar
Steven Van Zandt – Guitar
Max Weinberg – Drums