Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – performing The River: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 11/8/09

It’s been a little over a week since Bruce Springsteen returned to the NY Metropolitan area.  After closing down Giants Stadium with two performances each of Born To Run and Born In The U.S.A apiece (but sadly only one of Darkness Of The Edge Of Town), the two Garden shows looked to be even more special.  Earlier that week, it was announced that on the first night, he would play The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and on the second, the entire 20-song double album, The River.  Neither of these had ever been performed in their entirety and the second show looked to be an especially ambitious project, even for The Boss.  Then again, Bruce wouldn’t have tried if he knew he wasn’t up to it.

Up to it was putting it lightly.  After modifying the lyrics to “Wrecking Ball” to suit The Garden crowd with a shout out to Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, he introduced the album.  With the packed house hanging on his every word, Bruce told the crowd that this would probably be the only time he’d perform the whole record due to its length.  He then discussed (at greater length than he usually does on stage) the context from which the album came.  He suggested that it was the start of more the mature themes that would define Nebraska and Tunnel Of Love and reminded the audience that it was written during a recession.  But rather than spell out the possible parallels to the present day, he simply “brought us down to The River!”  With that, he launched into the album’s opening trio of “The Ties That Band,” “Sherry Darling” and “Jackson Cage.”  The first two were even more fiery than usual and “Sherry’s” reference to taking the subway back to the ghetto was met with approval by the crowd.  “Jackson Cage” was so rock solid, you’d never know how rarely he plays it. 
But even the old war horses seemed more vital when played within the context of the whole album.  Bruce and Steve’s duet of “Two Hearts” was the perfect set up for an emotional “Independence Day.”  “Crush On You,” one of the evening’s nuggets was played balls-out, after Bruce facetiously introduced it as a “classic.”  “I Wanna Marry You” was played as a duet to Mrs. Springsteen.  After the soul searching of “The River” and “Point Blank,” “Cadillac Ranch” brought the house down.  “I’m A Rocker” sounded great with the added trumpet.  After stunning versions of “Fade Away” and “Stolen Car” (not performed with the band since 1985), ” “Ramrod” seemed to have more gravity than its usual freewheeling self.  With a more mature voice, literally, “Stolen Car” was as haunting as it’s ever been on record. 

"The Price You Pay,” only recently resurrected for the closing of the Spectrum, was fantastic and segued into a “Drive All Night” that was a show into itself.  “Wreck On The Highway” was even more bittersweet than it was intended because it meant that the journey through this most joyous yet complex work was over.  “Atlantic City” seemed like a perfect selection and was a version for the ages.  Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” not played since the Tunnel Of Love Express Tour, was the perfect rave-up to kick off the encores.  Bruce also led the band through an impromptu “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” which led into “(Your Love Is Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”  Bruce revived this one for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts and played it the night before with Elvis Costello.  It fit perfect with this set of songs.  On this night, no one was complaining.  Not even close. 

*Wrecking Ball 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, Ramrod, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, Wreck on the Highway, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Atlantic City, Badlands, Born to Run, Seven Nights to Rock

*Sweet Soul Music, No Surrender, *American Land, Dancing in the Dark, Can’t Help Falling in Love, Higher and Higher
* – With Curt Ramm On Trumpet

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