Bruce Springsteen is like some kind of car– Maserati, Lamborghini? — that goes from zero to 60 in 2 secs. That’s what happened when he took the stage at Madison Square Garden last night with the enormous and gifted E Street Band. Maybe it was more like a rocket blasting off. Bruce is 72, so fit that at the end of show he rips his shirt apart to show his mighty chest and proclaim, “I am the Lion King.”
The show starts with “No Surrender” and “Ghosts” and feels like you’ve walked into the middle of a show. The group begins at warp speed. Have they been playing somewhere else and you just found them? How could be they be going 100 mph from the get-go? I was thinking maybe Bruce thinks it’s all a continuous show. They just wake him, then put him to sleep, then reactivate him again. The E Street Band just comes in like a cyclone.
Mind you, I’m watching this show with distractions: Paul McCartney and wife Nancy are sitting just above me. In their section are Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy Pollan; Ben Stiller and Adam Scott, having a “Severance” moment, with their respective wives. I see a lot of other people I recognize in their section including actor Keegan Michael Key, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chief John Sykes, and my old friend Leslie Sloane, the great Hollywood publicist, who’s dancing like she’s Courteney Cox in the “Dancing in the Dark” video. When the people in my section on the floor see this group, they start taking pictures of them like they’re seals at the zoo. They’ve also spotted “East New York” actor Richard Kind, and everyone wants a selfie.
Other celebs included Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Michael Gandolfini, and Broadway stars Andy Karl and wife Orfeh.
Back on stage, Bruce and co. command attention. How could they be better than ever? But they are. The show is exactly three hours, and even though Bruce is getting the crowd to shout “We won’t go home,” it’s better that he realizes for once we must go home. So he packs in four hours of excitement into three, never takes a break, a sip of water, a bathroom break, never flags, and is so authentic and genuine it almost breaks your heart. We don’t deserve this.
Since it’s 2am, I’ll give you a couple of highlights: first of all Max Weinberg, age 71, is a mother on those drums. He’s the driving force, just pounding away, killing it. How he doesn’t collapse when the show is over, or during it, is anyone’s guess.
Huge moments during “Kitty’s Back” for all the players. It’s an especially difficult number combining jazz solos with swing and rock. It was mesmerizing.
The main show has 19 songs including “Out in the Street,” “The Rising,” and the poignant “Last Man Standing,” plus “Badlands” and some other top notch Springsteen cuts.
But the last hour brought “Jungleland” for the first time since 2017, followed by a Murderer’s Row of favorites: “Thunder Road” — the final sax solo is the signature sound of the E Street Band. Listen to it, you’ll see what I mean. No other short piece of music from the catalog defines them this way.
Then: the lights come up for “Born to Run” and stay up through “Rosalita,” “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” There’s nothing like hearing and seeing 20,000, lights up, singing every word, doing call backs with Bruce, freaking out to the sizzling guitars of Little Steven van Zandt and Nils Lofgren. Nothing. It’s a glorious feeling. Bruce make a small town of out a massive group. People who don’t know each other are dancing together.
The show ends with Bruce alone on stage, under a hot spot light, singing his “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” After all that celebrating, the grace note is funereal. He’s confronting the death of dear friends and looking at his own mortality. The original “I’ll See You in My Dreams” from 1924 was a love song, a lullaby. But Springsteen has turned the idea on its head. It’s a sad song, but realistic: “Death is not the end.” We can only hope and wonder.
Wherever Bruce Springsteen is playing on this tour, get in there and see him. That’s an order.
PS McCartney, below, stood for most of the show and made it all the way to the end.