On March 20, I wrote a post about my 20 favorite Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert surprises over the years — the ones, at least, that I happened to witness personally — and asked readers to let me know their own favorites, from the concerts that they have seen.
Here are some of the responses, unedited, Thanks to everyone for your input! I have added some videos, whenever possible.
(There are 13 shows left on the North American leg of Springsteen’s The River tour, including stops at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, March 28, and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, April 23 and 25. After that, Springsteen has concerts scheduled in Europe from May 14 to July 23.)
Boy, having seen over 50 shows there have been a lot of surprises. I’ve seen several of your’s Jay, so will leave them out. I tend to lean towards the unusual opener or encore, and it would take me hours to really dive into this, but here are a few:
8-25-78 New Haven Coliseum: Seeing him open with “Good Rockin Tonight”
11-7-27-80 MSG: Seeing him open with “Born to Run”
9-7-84 Hartford Civic Center: Playing “Rave On” in the Encore (Buddy Holly’s BD)
8-1-99 Brenden Byrn Arena: Seeing him open with “Backstreets”
5-8-00 Hartford Civic Center: Opening with “Roulette” and “Honky Tonk Woman” intro to Darlington County
7-1-00 MSG: “Lost in the Flood”
12-13-2002 Pepsi Arena Albany: Final Encore “Around and Around”
8-31-2003 Giants Stadium: Opening with “Cynthia”, killer “Kitty” on first encore
9-22-12 Meadowlands Arena: Just the fact that they went on after the thunderstorm delay was a surprise!
5-13-14 Times Union Arena Albany: Seeing him Open with “Don’t Change”
5-18-14 Mohegan Sun Arena: “Santa Claus” (to the delight of my Daughters) and “Seven Angles”
2-8-16 Times Union Arena Albany: “Detroit Medely” in the Encores
Probably can list a dozen others, but this was fun!
My most memorable Springsteen moment came in June of 1981 at The Old Waldorf in San Francisco when Bruce crawled across the top of the table right next to me to join Gary U.S. Bonds on stage. There were only about 300 people at the show, and many of us had bought tickets in the hope that Springsteen would make a surprise appearance. The Boss didn’t disappoint as teamed up with Bonds for several songs including Quarter to Three, Jolé Blon and This Little Girl. Having seen Bruce and the band on the first River Tour just a few months earlier, it was an incredible thrill to be a mere five feet away on this unforgettable night.
My first & biggest Springsteen surprise was November 11, 2010 at Woody’s Roadside Tavern when Bruce showed up to play with TIMEPIECE.
Second was April 2, 2011 when Bruce showed up for Nicky Addio’s show at the Wonder Bar honoring the Westside music of Asbury Park, NJ. Here’s the playlist of my videos.
Third was July 17, 2011 when Bruce showed up at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park to sing & play with The Sensational Soul Cruisers. Here’s the playlist of my videos.
Ive been fortunate to see so many amazing things when it comes to Bruce, but one night at Cheers in Long Branch my friend Sal and I were there to see Bobby Bandiera and Bruce came in. We said Hi, then left him alone. There weren’t many people at all there and we were sitting at the bar and Bruce and Patti’s Dad were at a booth. Bruce comes walking by my bar stool and I said “Hey Bruce, are you taking off?”, he says, “No, im gonna give Bobby a hand!” so he hops up there with Bobby and they to Mustang Sally and Lucille. Just two songs but that was a big surprise and alot of fun! Ive been fortunate enough to have so many amazing Bruce nights, but that particular one was so much fun!
Two of the biggest for me….
Opening the show with Incident On 57th Street at the First Union Center on the closing night of the 6 night run in Philly on the Reunion Tour. First time the song had been pulled out in almost 20 years.
Oh, and since we’re still in Philly….The Price You Pay.
The 10th Avenue moment in ’93 at CAA was the loudest crowd I have ever heard at a Springsteen show, and may be at the top of my surprise list.
I think the greatest Bruce surprise performance that I have seen was in April 1977, the so called “Chicken Scratch” tour, when Bruce and the E Streeters stepped in to help support Southside Johnny who had been hospitalized with strep throat. Johnny had four shows scheduled over two nights at the then Carlton Theater in Red Bank, NJ (now the Count Basie Theater). The shows were going to have to be cancelled because of Johnny’s illness, but instead radio and newspaper announcements were made that the shows would go on with the Asbury All-Stars (I still have the hand-painted poster promoting the show that appeared on an easel in the lobby of the theater thanks to a friend who worked there then) standing in for Johnny. The first night it was a mystery as to who the Asbury All-Stars were. But by night two (I had a ticket for the second show that night) word had spread that the night before Bruce and his band had joined forces with the Jukes. The theater vibe was electric before the show started. I had a third row center ticket and when the theater lighting went dark the energy level exploded. The stage lights mistakenly flashed on for a second and imprinted in my memory was the image of all the members of both bands, with Bruce and Steve Van Zandt stage front. The crowd erupted even more. The lights went black again for a few seconds and then came up again as the combined bands launched into the Jukes song “This Time Is For Real.” Steven, who managed the Jukes back in that period and either wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s songs with Bruce) took lead vocals, with Bruce singing the songs that he had written (i.e. The Fever). They went through virtually the entirety of the Jukes’ then two album library, with a mini set in the middle when Ronnie Spector joined them to sing several of the Ronnettes’ hits capped off by a duet with Bruce on his song “You Mean So Much To Me (Baby)” which Johnny and Ronnie had recorded together on the Jukes first album. After coming out for encores and ending with the Jukes show topper, Sam Cooke’s “We’re Having a Party,” the audience lights came up and the roadies started shutting off the amps, usually a sign that the show had ended. It was well after midnight, but a about a third of the crowd remained and moved to the front of the orchestra section of the theater chanting for more. After what seemed 15 minutes of chanting, the roadies came back onto the stage and began turning on the music amps again. The energy in the crowd erupted when Bruce and the E Street Band, accompanied by the Jukes horn section, emerged again on stage and launched into another full set of their own songs, ending finally with the Jackie Wilson classic “Higher and Higher.” Bruce was in the middle of his legal issues with former manager Mike Appel during that period and wasn’t able to record, and played publicly only sporadically, so you could feel the pent up energy that he and the band were releasing. I remember finally leaving the theater at about 2:30 a.m., ears ringing, soaked in sweat, exhausted and thinking to myself “I’ve never seen anything like that before, but I want to do that again.” That was what I consider my first E Street Band show (I’d seen Bruce a number of times pop up on stage with other bands at the Stone Pony and the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, but not with his band of brothers backing him. I was converted that night and have been an avid follower ever since.
I have been a Springsteen fan ever since I discovered Rock n’ Roll as a young teenager in the early 1980s. As long as I had been a fan, I never had the opportunity to see him live until my 40s and after I had moved to Europe. My wife bought me tickets to his July 31, 2012 show in Helsinki, Finland as a birthday present. Much to my surprise my first Springsteen show turned out to be the longest show of his career, exceeding four hours. I am taking my kids to see him in Denmark this summer and very much looking forward to it.
Milwaukee 1980, at the end of Crush on You, Bruce said, “Let’s play Midnight Hour”. The band went right into it like they had been rehearsing it all week.
I was at a Sting show at Madison Square Garden in 1988. The Amnesty tour had been announced but hadn’t started yet. Sting came out for the last encore, where he had always played an acoustic “Message in a Bottle.” Instead, he said, “I want to play a song written by a friend of mine,” and started singing “The River.” Midway through the first verse, Bruce walked out. I think the audience lost their collective minds at once. What a moment.
Also, a few years back April 2008, the Tampa show right after Danny passed away, when they opened with “Backstreets” and the crowd was sobbing from the get go.