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Classic Album Review: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band | Live in New York City / Complete Video Anthology 1978 – 2000 / Blood Brothers DVD


This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

Like a lot of folks, the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen live, there was one thing I couldn’t figure out: Why did the crowd boo at the end of every song? They weren’t booing, of course. They were just calling The Boss by name: “Brooooooooce!”

You have to wonder if Bruce was similarly confused the first time it happened. I presume he’s become used to it over the years. By the time you get through all 145 minutes of Live in New York City — his superlative set taped at two Madison Square Garden shows in 2000 — you’ll be used to it too. Oer the course of these two CDs, you’ll be hearing a lot of “Brooooooooce!” That is, when you aren’t hearing the crowd of Springsteen fanatics cheering their heads off or belting out every chorus so loud that they sometimes drown out the band.

It’s little wonder these folks were excited. Bruce’s long-awaited 1999-2000 tour with the E Street Band was the hottest ticket around — the reunion of arguably the most exciting blue-collar American rock outfit on the planet. Not to mention that these shows were the final dates on the tour. So you can’t blame them for being a tad enthusiastic.

If you’re any kind of a Springsteen fan, you’ll be excited too. Within minutes of hitting play on Live in New York City, you’ll realize what a sheer unmitigated joy it is to hear the E Street Band again. I forgot just how good they were — Max Weinberg’s precise, firecracker drumming; Dan Federici and Roy Bittan’s ringing keyboards; Clarence Clemons’ majestically squawking sax; Steve Van Zandt’s ragged Keith Richards-style harmonies. Amazingly, they’ve still got it. For a band that sat out much of the ’90s, their playing hasn’t dropped a stitch. And for a bunch of 50-year-olds, they still rock as hard as they ever did.

Maybe harder. Live in New York puts the pedal to the metal right off the line, with the band barrelling through three heavy hitters — My Love Will Not Let You Down, Two Hearts and, fittingly, Prove it All Night — as if they do indeed have something to set right. And as they work through a well-paced set that resurrects seldom-heard old tracks (1973’s Lost in the Flood), ignores many classics (although a hidden track has one essential song that isn’t listed on the label) and unveils drastically retooled versions of hits (Born in the U.S.A. is now a haunting Delta blues moan), the E Streeters make it clear this reunion isn’t just a nostalgic romp or half-assed cash-grab. They mean business. Even when the set gears down with brooding takes on Nebraska’s Atlantic City and Mansion on the Hill, followed by an epic, meandering version of The River, the band’s intensity and focus never waver.

The most potent moments come on two new tracks. The yearning and inspirational Land of Hope and Dreams affixes a jabbing guitar and a soulful backbeat to a melody that reverberates with echoes and elements of the gospel standard This Train. The elegiac American Skin (41 Shots) examines racism through the death of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant gunned down by New York cops while reaching for his wallet. (Springsteen’s most moving song since Streets of Philadelphia, American Skin bodes well for the new studio material the band has reportedly started crafting.)

But as you’d expect from Springsteen and co., this set is also a helluva party. The second CD is a looser affair that kicks off with a raucous version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, featuring one of Bruce’s trademark tall tales and his carny-barker band introductions (“The foundation of the E Street nation, the Tennessee terror, Mr. Garry W. Tallent!”). There’s also a propulsive version of Ramrod, a faithful 11-minute singalong of Jungleland, and the touching closer If I Should Fall Behind, an ode to commitment on which several band members split the lead vocal.

Sure, I could gripe that they altered the running order and left off a ton of songs the band played (including Thunder Road and Growin’ Up). But really, the only thing you’re missing with Live in New York City is the accompanying video, airing on HBO this month. Those without a subscription will have to make do with two other new Springsteen releases: The Complete Video Anthology and Blood Brothers.

The CVA is exactly what it sounds like — all those clips you’ve seen on MuchMusic. There’s that old live version of Rosalita with Bruce getting swarmed by smoochy girls, those stark black-and-white clips from Nebraska, all the videos from Born in the U.S.A., that footage from Streets of Philadelphia. The second disc has some nifty extras, like live talk-show performances of Ghost of Tom Joad and Born in the U.S.A., along with an alternate mix of Secret Garden. Still, the Complete Video Anthology pales next to Blood Brothers, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the band’s ’95 reunion to record new tracks for their Greatest Hits album. The scenes of Bruce patiently teaching the gang his new songs and then painstakingly crafting them until they find the sound he’s after make this a must for any fan. By the end, don’t be surprised if you catch yourself sitting in your living room with lighter held high, shouting “Brooooooooce!” at the TV.