I’m still kind of in disbelief that I get to write this. I saw Bruce Springsteen in a theater. I, who was born 15 years after the last tour where he played theaters, saw The Boss in a theater. And he was amazing.
If you’re looking for a proper review of the 2021 run of Springsteen on Broadway, The New York Times and Rolling Stone have great pieces for you, putting the performance in perspective relative to his previous run of this show, the events of 2020, and how Broadway as a whole feels with it being the first show returning post-pandemia. But I cannot provide any such balanced account. Instead, I will provide my account.
I arrived at the St James Theater July 9th around 7:30PM, just thirty minutes before showtime. I was only in New York City one night, a pit stop between where I had vacationed for the past week and my home here in Boston. Although I’ve never been one to dress up for the theater (even Broadway), I was definitely gonna dress up for Bruce. My navy and white dress perfectly complimented my denim Live 75/85 embroidered jacket, a piece of promotional swag I am truly lucky to possess. The mood of the crowd and staff was jovial. Everyone was very excited to be able to be there, work there, just generally get out and do something after the year we’ve all had. It wasn’t just New Yorkers or Northeasterners there either. One couple in the merch line had come all the way from Georgia for this admittedly rare opportunity to see Springsteen in a theater. Picking up a mug from the merch stand, it was clear that the people staffing it were all, to some degree, fans and very happy to be interacting with other fans.
Having gotten my souvenir, proof to myself and the world that I had attended this momentous occasion, I made my way to my seat. I was blessed enough to have an orchestra seat and a stupendous view of the stage. I was Orchestra Right near the piano, meaning it’d consistently be very easy to see the performance, whereas Orchestra Left would have to strain to see him for considerable amounts of the show.
The show has been considerably reworked since the 2017-18 run that you can see on Netflix. Eleven of the sixteen songs from that run remain, with mostly the latter half of the performance being reworked. While the discussion of his DUI arrest and the hilarity of the United States v Bruce Springsteen hearing in “Zoom court” was at the beginning of the show, the first half was largely unchanged in script and structure. It definitely did have an energy and excitement that had built up from a year off the road. Live performance has always been a major component of Springsteen’s therapy, fueled by the working class ethos he brings to touring, and this Blue Collar Troubadour let it all out on that night. “Fire,” a crowd favorite of the 1978 tour and hit for the Pointer Sisters, was sung as a duet with Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, in a high point of the night.
The bluesed out rendition of “Born in the USA” served as the bridge between the fairly strictly autobiographical first half of the show and the larger, more political second half. It discusses many if not all the themes he had talked about with the former President on Barry O Presents The Brucecast, but whereas there were elements of American political society that those two couldn’t quite face, he discussed those elephants in the room on stage. The gift he has for dramatic and grandiose rhetoric truly shined when talking about the attacks on voting rights and rise in violence that preceded a bone chilling rendition of “41 Shots.” Although the ending run of “The Rising,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” gave a 100cc shot of optimism to the heart, he closed on the melancholy song of facing mortality from his latest record “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”
As I strolled back to my hotel room after two and a half hours of truly otherworldly showmanship, I was still shaking. I had seen the Future of Rock and Roll in a once in my lifetime opportunity, aided by the intimacy of a mere 1700 seat venue. There was a spring in my step all the way back and the next morning. My afternoon bus arrived and for the flash in the pan stay I had, it was the brightest flash of my life.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.
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