Twenty days before his 74th birthday, Bruce Springsteen proved once again that he is among the world’s most energetic and thrilling entertainers. Closing out a three-night residency at MetLife Stadium, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performed 28 songs in a non-stop three-hour set. The band, now a sprawling 19-piece touring outfit complete with a horn section and backing singers, raised the figurative roof (in an open-air stadium) by expanding on the recorded versions of audience favorites, deep album cuts and vintage cover songs.
A proud New Jersey native, in 1973 a then-unknown Springsteen titled his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park. Since becoming a mega-star with Born to Run in 1975, every Springsteen concert in his home state legitimizes New Jersey as more than just a state one drives through to get somewhere else. After an arena tour earlier in the year, followed by a European tour, Springsteen and his band dedicated the summer to stadium dates, and the only stadium in New Jersey that can hold 50,000 fans is MetLife Stadium. This homecoming residency was special to fans who have followed Springsteen since his local club nights.
Springsteen has performed before large audiences for nearly 50 years, yet for better or worse, this tour, his first with the E Street Band in seven years, is his most unique. First of all, it is the first band tour since the Boss concluded his lengthy Springsteen on Broadway engagement, where he mastered stage dynamics by performing almost identical performances meticulously as a nightly routine. Secondly, Springsteen – who is an expert on story songs – constructed this tour uniquely with an overarching theme set by Letter to You, his 2020 album which explored mortality, the passing of time, aging, and death while stressing the importance of seizing the day before it disappears forever. These two factors may explain why on this tour, unlike its predecessors, the set ists spin on a core 25-ish songs, with a handful of other songs and an occasional rarity periodically penetrating the evening’s set list. In addition, like the Broadway show, the monolouges and choreography are much the same night after night. Nevertheless, Springsteen and company still offer more spontaneity on stage than any other headlining band around.
Some 50,000 people filled MetLife Stadium on Sunday, September 3, as they did for the two previous shows on the Wednesday and Friday before. They arrived trusting in the Springsteen legacy and the expectation that he and his band would provide a night to remember. Especially on the closing night, Springsteen fulfilled all expectations.
Deviating from the earlier part of the tour, where Springsteen and the E Street Band often started the program with “No Surrender,” “Ghosts,” and “Prove It All Night,” the three MetLife shows opened with “Lonesome Day,” “Night,” and “No Surrender.” The tour has scarcely featured two of these songs – “Lonesome Day” and “Night.” On the third night, Springsteen then introduced “Two Hearts,” the first time he has played the song with the E Street Band since 2017.
Springsteen’s voice was gruffer than it was at the shows at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center in April of this year and he used the low pitch to his advantage. Riding crisply over the wall of sound that his expansive band provided, Springsteen ably delivered stirring vocals with passion and urgency. He also played blistering leads on his guitar, matching the intensity of his fellow guitar aces Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren.
The 21 songs of the main set included several fan favorites, including “Prove It All Night” and “The Promised Land.” The band also played “Something in the Night” from Darkness on the Edge of Town, a song Springsteen rarely performs live. “Spirit in the Night” from Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, saw thousands of fans singing along to the tale of Crazy Janey, Wild Billy, G-Man, Hazy Davy, and Killer Joe. Springsteen sang “Atlantic City” with backing from the band rather than solo; it was only the third time they performed the song on this tour.
Halfway through the show, Springsteen spoke at length about the late George Theiss, who in the 1960s invited a teenage Springsteen to join his band, the Castiles. Springsteen mentioned that his friend’s passing made Springsteen the last living member of his first band. This led into Letter to You’s melancholy “Last Man Standing,” with Springsteen on acoustic guitar accompanied sporadically by only Barry Danielian on trumpet. This bled into “Backstreets,” a song that similarly reflects on carefree youthful friendships. In a tender segment, Springsteen’s monologue resumed with him stating that “I still have your 45s, your books, that guitar that always had one broken string.” Placing his right hand to his heart, he concluded, “The rest of you I will keep right here, until the end.”
From there, the show’s pacing began to rocket. Ninety minutes into the show, the time when most bands are ending their performances, Springsteen and the E Street Band began a string of high-energy fan favorites including “Because the Night,” “She’s the One,” “Badlands,” and “Thunder Road.” The band took a bow after “Thunder Road,” so figuratively the remaining 60 minutes was the encore, even though no one actually left the stage.
To begin the encore, pianist Roy Bittan and violinist Soozie Tyrell launched into Born to Run’s “Jungeland,” a song which on this tour had only been performed at Madison Square Garden. Jake Clemons splendidly played the sax solo that his uncle, the late Clarence Clemons, made his signature. The rousing set zoomed higher with the house lights turned on for “Born to Run,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” a medley of covers by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels in the 1960s (only the third time on this tour), “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” The latter song featured a montage of projected photographs of two deceased E Street Band members, Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons.
The setlist at the closing show at MetLife Stadium was indeed special. It was simply a better playlist than the previous two New Jersey nights. The last night included a tour debut, “Two Hearts.” Springsteen and band performed “Something in the Night,” “Jungleland,” “Detroit Medley,” and “Jersey Girl” on the closing night and not at the two previous shows. Perhaps most significantly, Springsteen and band performed seven of the eight songs on the ground-breaking Born to Run album. Three tour mainstays, “Ghosts,” “Glory Days,” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” were sacrificed and not performed on this night. Unfortunately, “Hungry Heart,” “I’m on Fire,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” and “Tunnel of Love” were not part of the current tour’s repertoire.
Springsteen performed only two Letter to You songs at this concert. On opening night in Tampa, he played six. In previous shows, “Ghosts” at the beginning and a solo acoustic interpretation of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” at the end were treated as bookends to establish the subtle threads of mortality, loss, and grief. On this more joyous night, the fans were sent home instead with a sweet and sentimental full-band interpretation of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” previously played on this tour only at the Prudential Center in Newark in April. (The song came with dating advice from the Boss.)
“Hold onto your baby, put your arm around her,” said Springsteen while accompanied by Charlie Giordano’s accordion and Steven Van Zandt’s mandolin. “C’mon and give her a kiss!” The audience sang “sha la la la la, la la la la” as they exited the stadium.
No concert experience compares with seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform live. Springsteen’s repertoire surprises, his dedication to the fans (including his numerous walks along the edge of the stage to hand slap his fans), his energetic stage antics, and the quality of his music make for an evening like no other. For six decades, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s concerts have been among the greatest shows on earth. This is especially true when the concert is set in New Jersey.
Prove It All Night
Something in the Night
Letter to You
The Promised Land
Spirit in the Night
Nightshift (Commodores cover)
Last Man Standing
Because the Night
She’s the One
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Detroit Medley (Devil with a Blues Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, Jenny Take a Ride, C.C. Rider)