Live In New York showcases best of `The Boss'
Scene Music Critic
As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's reunion tour came to an end last July, there was only one question on fans' minds: was the band sitting at the starting gate or had they just crossed the finish line?
With the release of Live in New York City, their first live album in 15 years, the band gives fans an amazing testament to the fact that they are sitting at the start of a great new period of their career. Springsteen cannot deny that he is 51, but he does show that he is still "The Boss" and ringleader of the best live act in the business.
This reunion tour was a success, both economically and critically, because it avoided the nostalgia that most reunion tours run into. The band came out with a sense of purpose every night and played songs revolving around the themes of friendship and loyalty, instead of simply plowing through a greatest hits concert night after night. Songs such as "Glory Days" or "Dancing in the Dark" were rarely even played, while relatively obscure tracks such as "The Ties That Bind" and "Mansion on the Hill" regularly found themselves on the set list.
The album covers Springsteen's entire career, representing eight of his 11 studio albums, and it opens with a powerful one-two-three punch as the band tears through intense performances of "My Love Will Not Let You Down," "Prove It All Night" and "Two Hearts."
The six-minute "Prove It All Night" lets the crowd know that Springsteen can still rock like he did when he was 25. Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt exchange inspired yells halfway through and the dark lyrics so prominent on 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town album still ring true as Springsteen sings, "If dreams came true, well wouldn't that be nice? But this ain't no dream we're living through tonight. You want it, you take it, you pay the price to prove it all night."
"Two Hearts" comes alive as never before as Springsteen and Van Zandt again share one microphone to tell us one of the most simple messages in rock and roll: "Two hearts are better than one, two hearts, girl, get the job done."
Despite the great hard-rocking numbers, this album's main aim is to tell the listener that Springsteen is not 25 anymore, and he knows it. The trick is that fans still believe he is.
The reworked version of "Atlantic City" bursts with more life than ever, and is still an example of the best lyrics Springsteen has written. "Jungleland" — an amazing track from Born to Run — is driven by the great piano intro of Roy Bittan and Clarence Clemons' unforgettable saxophone solo. Springsteen whispers the final verse before ending with the most memorable wail in rock history.
"Born to Run" has lost the sense of urgency that made it work so well in 1975. Something seems different as Springsteen tells the audience: "We've got to get out while we're young, because tramps like us, baby we were born to run." But the song's power and emotion is still felt 25 years after being written.
"Tenth-Avenue Freezeout" is 16 minutes long and transforms Springsteen into a rock and roll preacher. An extended version of "Badlands" is still one of the best live songs around, while "Out in the Street" is more fun than ever. "Lost in the Flood" could not get off the ground on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J, but in a new arrangement it becomes one of the stronger songs on the album.
The two real highlights are the new songs from the tour — "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "American Skin (41 Shots)." Both show Springsteen still has some of his best music ahead of him.
"Land of Hope and Dreams" is driven by drummer Max Weinberg and features some of Springsteen's most optimistic lyrics: "Big wheels rollin' through fields where sunlight streams, meet me in a land of hope and dreams."
"American Skin" is the real high point. Inspired by the killing of Amadou Diallo by four New York City police officers when they mistook his wallet for a gun, the song is one of the best protest songs ever written. The song slowly builds energy towards a powerful conclusion and stands as a beautiful tribute to victims who "can get killed just for living in your American skin."
The E Street Band had an interesting decade away from Springsteen: Max Weinberg became the bandleader on Conan O'Brien and Steven Van Zandt stars on "The Sopranos."
But this is where they belong: on stage creating some of the best music around with one of the best voices of his generation. Live in New York City is not about looking back on a career that has already gotten the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is about the future — how friendship can save and bring redemption.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, April 24, 2001