Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen: Their history together (WATCH VIDEOS)

springsteen costello

Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello performed together on Costello’s “Spectacle” TV show in 2009.

Bruce Springsteen has been an influence on Elvis Costello from the very start of Costello’s career. “I wanted to somehow make magic out of the things around me, the way he did on his first two records before he broke through,” Costello has said.

Costello’s early work made a big impact on Springsteen, too. Appearing on the “Spectacle: Elvis Costello With …” television show in 2009, Springsteen said, “Elvis’ first three records were a hurricane. He’s made great ones, since, all of ’em. But you had the perfect storm, the first three records … It was just like, ‘Whoah.’ ”

For the past two weeks or so, I have been posting Elvis Costello songs to my Facebook page: One song a day, from each of his albums, in chronological order. (I am also collecting the entries here.) So I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at Springsteen (now 71) and Costello (now 66), performing together or just performing each other’s songs, over the years.

Here’s what I could come up with, in chronological order. As always, the brucebase.wikidot.com website was an invaluable resource. The website elviscostello.info provided some useful information as well.

Springsteen and Costello both backed one of rock’s most legendary performers at “Roy Orbison & Friends: A Black & White Night,” which took place at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles on Sept. 30, 1987, and was filmed for a Cinemax special. Here’s one number from that show:

Costello first released his version of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” as the B-side of his “It’s Time” single in 1996. It was also on the 2003 compilation, Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen.

Costello made a guest appearance at Springsteen’s Dec. 8, 2001 holiday show at Convention Hall in Asbury Park. The duo performed a medley of Costello’s “Alison” and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown” and “The Tracks of My Tears.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find audio or video. But I was at that show and can attest to the fact that it was a magical moment.

In tribute to Joe Strummer, who died in late 2002, Springsteen, Costello, Steven Van Zandt and Dave Grohl performed The Clash’s “London Calling” with Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Tony Kanal (of No Doubt) at the 45th annual Grammy Awards ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York, on Feb. 23, 2003.

Springsteen has performed “What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace, Love and Understanding)” a number of times over the years. Here he is doing so at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11, 2004, as part of a star-studded show on the Vote for Change tour (supporting John Kerry’s presidential campaign). The E Street Band backed him and others, including John Fogerty, Eddie Vedder, The Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Keb’ Mo’ and R.E.M. members Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck. The song, of course, was written by Nick Lowe, but people associate it with Costello because of his cover of it on his 1979 album with The Attractions, Armed Forces, and the arrangement here is the Armed Forces arrangement.

At the Feb. 8, 2006 Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Springsteen and Costello both participated in the grand finale, a performance of Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” in tribute to the great R&B singer, who had died in January. I couldn’t find audio or video of this one, either.

Springsteen and members of the E Street Band appeared on an amazing episode of Costello’s “Spectacle” TV series, filmed at the Apollo Theater in New York on Sept. 25, 2009. Here is the complete show (shown in the U.S. on the Sundance Channel), in two parts.

Nov. 7, 2009: A special show at Madison Square Garden — Springsteen and the E Street Band included The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in its entirety, in the set — got even more special when Costello joined the band for the show’s closing song, a cover of the Jackie Wilson hit, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”

Go to the 10:25 mark here to hear Costello and Ian Prowse (the show’s opening act, invited back out to sing backing vocals) sing a bit of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” during “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool on May 13, 2012.

Springsteen and Costello both appeared at an Oct. 16, 2012 event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Little Kids Rock organization and honoring Steven Van Zandt and the late Clarence Clemons. Other participants included Dion, Darlene Love, Southside Johnny, Ruben Blades, Gary U.S. Bonds and Max Weinberg. Springsteen and Costello were both on the crowded stage for the grand finale, “I Don’t Want to Go Home.” Springsteen is at center stage; Costello is most clearly visible around the 4:50 mark.

Here is Costello and Mumford & Sons in 2013, performing a medley of Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi.”

Costello performs “Brilliant Disguise” at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park on Nov. 6, 2018, in a medley with his own “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror.”


Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.


Custom Amount

Personal Info

Donation Total: $20.00

Explore more articles:

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter