People think that Bruce Springsteen performed at the famed New Jersey rock venue, The Capitol Theatre in Passaic, many times. But he made just five appearances there.
There was a three-night stand on the Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour, in 1978. There was a surprise guest appearance with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes on New Year’s Eve, 1977. And there was his debut there, on Oct. 18, 1974.
Springsteen wasn’t even supposed to headline the ’74 show. He was billed second, as the show’s “special guest star,” and was scheduled to perform after opener Don Fogelberg, and before headliner John Sebastian (see ad, to the right). But after seeing Springsteen do his soundcheck, Sebastian let Springsteen close.
In a 2015 interview for backstreets.com, the show’s promoter, John Scher, told me:
“I was just sitting in the empty theater, watching what was going on, and John Sebastian came over and sat down next to me. We were just bullshitting. And then, 10 minutes, 15 minutes into bullshitting, the E Street Band started playing. And in those days … they took every second they were on the stage very seriously. They weren’t just fucking around. They were playing. I can’t remember how long they soundchecked for. Somewhere between a half hour and an hour, I would say.
“When they were finished, Sebastian turned around to me and said, ‘There is not a chance in the fucking world that I’m following this! Not a chance, John. There’s nothing you can say that will get me to close the show.’ And I said, ‘Look, you’re the headliner.’ He said, ‘I don’t give a shit. I’m not following this!’ And so, after I determined that he wasn’t screwing around, and he was dead serious, I went backstage and talked to Bruce. And I said, ‘Here’s what Sebastian said. Will you close? Do you mind?’ And of course he didn’t mind. He was fine. And Sebastian was great. But Bruce followed him.”
Also impressed was George Kanzler, the rock critic for New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger. In the review above, Kanzler — who had not been blown away by Springsteen’s music up to that point — described him as “one of the very few rock performers I’ve ever seen so totally in control of his onstage image” and “a complete performer who has mixed Dylan, punk rock, Spector and a love of the underdog into an irresistible stage mix.”
Here is the show’s setlist, according to setlist.fm:
“Incident on 57th Street”
“Spirit in the Night”
“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”
“The E Street Shuffle”/”Havin’ a Party”
“It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”
“She’s the One”
“New York City Serenade”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”
“A Love So Fine”
Thanks to Guy Sterling, who found the review; Wally Stroby, who passed it along to me; and George, whom I worked closely with for many years at The Star-Ledger and learned a tremendous amount from.