‘River’ rarities and greatest hits dominate Springsteen’s Madison Square Garden concert

From left, Nils Lofgren, Jake Clemons and Bruce Springsteen.


From left: E Street Band members Nils Lofgren and Jake Clemons, with Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen performed at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, in the third show of his River Tour, showcasing the 1980 double album that gave him his first real radio hit, “Hungry Heart,” and established him as an artist capable of filling arenas in America and Europe. This tour is in some ways new territory for Springsteen, in that it is a heavy dose of nostalgia, something he has arguably managed to avoid for every other tour in his career.

Show opener “Meet Me in the City” (see video below), a great live song that works perfectly in that slot, was the one “new” song of the night. It was written for the River album, yet was unreleased until Springsteen recent boxed set “The Ties That Bind,” a retrospective of The River including this and many other outtakes. It has never been played in concert before this tour and it was exciting to hear. The band sounded vital and inspired in the performance.

What followed was the entirety of The River, played in sequence. This is a somewhat challenging concert experience. To diehard fans, there is a lack of spontaneity that keeps them coming to shows throughout the years, and to casual fans there is a lot of unfamiliar material in the almost two hours it takes to play the 20 songs from The River.

Since I’m in the diehard category, the highlights of the show, for me, were the album’s ballads, many of which are rarely played. “Drive All Night,” “Fade Away” and “Point Blank” were my favorite performances from the show, and they are all slow, brooding songs. I would imagine many of the people who were seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time last night felt very differently, and enjoyed the faster rock numbers more.

With The River over, what followed was essentially a condensed typical Springsteen show, with an hour of music left in the evening. Easily the most powerful portion of rock ‘n’ roll in the night came in a string of three classics – “She’s the One,” “Candy’s Room” and “Because the Night.” The band sounded as good as ever, and it was something of a relief to be back in regular concert mode, not knowing what was coming next.

As a true fan, I hope to see this tour delve into other River era outtakes and cover songs. As great as it always is to see Springsteen live, the show as it stands seems like a compromise of sorts, playing an album of mostly rarities and then essentially a short greatest hits set. As long as Bruce is revisiting his past with the performance of this record, I would love to see him go further down that road and try some new things with the rest of the show, challenging his audience even further instead of playing tried-and-true crowd-pleasers.

It’s never a bad thing hearing “Thunder Road” and “Rosalita,” but if any tour called for a departure from the norm, it is this one.

Springsteen’s next two shows are Friday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and Sunday night at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Here is the setlist. Songs from The River are in bold.

“Meet Me in the City”
“The Ties That Bind”
“Sherry Darling”
“Jackson Cage”
“Two Hearts”
“Independence Day”
“Hungry Heart”
“Out in the Street”
“Crush On You”
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”
“I Wanna Marry You”
“The River”
“Point Blank”
“Cadillac Ranch”
“I’m a Rocker”
“Fade Away”
“Stolen Car”
“The Price You Pay”
“Drive All Night”
“Wreck on the Highway”

“She’s the One”
“Candy’s Room”
“Because the Night”
“Brilliant Disguise”
“Wrecking Ball”
“The Rising”
“Thunder Road”
“Born to Run”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”

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