Bruce Springsteen – Live in New York City

Live In New York City (2001)

B+

1. My Love Will Not Let You Down 2. Prove It All Night 3. Two Hearts 4. Atlantic City 5. Mansion On The Hill 6. The River 7. Youngstown 8. Murder Incorporated 9. Badlands 10. Out In The Street 11. Born To Run 12. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out 13. Land Of Hope And Dreams 14. American Skin (41 Shots) 15. Lost In The Flood 16. Born In The U.S.A. 17. Don’t Look Back 18. Jungleland 19. Ramrod 20. If I Should Fall Behind

 

Hooray! Bruce finally took the hint that nobody gave a crap about him without the E Street Band and got the gang back together. And like any good aging rock star celebrating his 50th birthday with a reunion tour, the first thing he did was record a live double album at Madison Square Garden! What a groundbreaking move! Only a few more greatest hits albums and benefit galas to go and he’ll have gone Full Townshend (there’s a kiddie porn joke in there that I’m not going to make).

While Live in New York City does have many of the trappings of a typical cash-in–an “enhanced” lineup featuring both Little Steven and Nils Lofgren (who replaced Little Steven in the lineup after the Bandana-ed One split prior to the Born in the U.S.A. tour, which I don’t think I mentioned), corny-ass old dude showboating (god, the whole band introductions section of the absurdly drawn out “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is so stupid), thousands of Baby Boomers who paid 200 bucks a pop for seats screaming “BROOOOOOOOOCE” at every freaking opportunity–it also manages to surprise here and there, painting a picture of a band that was, while obviously no longer as relevant as they once were, intent on recapturing some of their old vitality. After all, this album was recorded nearly 20 years and seemingly billions of geriatric E Street Band world tours ago. Looking at it that way, Live in NYC is practically a historical document of a youthful band in their prime!

For one thing, Bruce and his fellow Jersey mooks spend much of the setlist concertedly not playing the hits. Ostensibly, the so-called Reunion Tour from which this album was culled was in support of Tracks, so it makes sense that a couple of songs from it showed up in the setlist. But had I attended this concert, I would have certainly been surprised when they opened with “My Love Will Not Let You Down”–and it works great as an opener–and when they busted out “Don’t Look Back,” a rockin’ nugget I had completely forgotten about since I last listened since I last listened to disc 1 of Tracks like a month ago. Not only that, but instead of the likes of “Thunder Road,” “Hungry Heart,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” we get diamonds in the rough like a fiery electric rearrangement of “Youngstown,” a countrified “Mansion on the Hill” featuring Little Steven on mandolin and Lofgren on what sounds like lap steel, and the savage guitar rocker “Murder Incorporated,” a new song from 1995’s Greatest Hits. Bruce pulling random obscurities out his ass on stage has become common practice in the years since Live in NYC was released, but at the time it was probably pretty unexpected.

Even some of the hits they do play buck expectations. Yes, we get “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” and motherfuckin’ “Jungleland” played straight. But “Atlantic City” is rendered in classic full-band E Street circus party rock style, “The River” gets this snaky late night soul revamp that miraculously doesn’t wear out its 11-minute runtime, and Bruce performs “Born in the U.S.A.” solo on acoustic in a manner that resembles neither the anthem version most are familiar with nor the version on Tracks from the Nebraska sessions, but rather a bewailing Delta blues song

Unfortunately, advancing middle age apparently did nothing to quell the E Street Band’s bloated jam band tendencies, so many of the songs on here long overstay their welcome. I already mentioned “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which clocks in at an excruciating 16 minutes, only like three of which are actually “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; the remainder is dedicated to ridiculous stage patter (“”Tonight I wanna throw a rock’n’roll exorcism, a rock’n’roll baptism, and a rock’n’roll bar mitzvah!” “I’m not bullshittin’ back here!”), lengthy band introductions, and Bruce breaking into half-assed renditions of “Take Me to the River” and that fucking “Red Headed Woman” shit song from MTV Plugged. Also, in addition to the always overlong “Jungleland,” we get two then-new songs, the since re-recorded “Land of Hope and Dreams” and the sadly more relevant than ever Amadou Diallo protest song “American Skin (41 Shots).” Both last over 10 minutes for no reason. I mean, I even like “Land of Hope and Dreams”! (“American Skin,” which sounds like nightclub music written by someone in a coma and features the stultifyingly bad chorus “Is it a gun?/Is it a knife?/Is it a wallet?/This is your life,” not so much). But come on. Then there’s the almost impossibly anti-climactic decision to close with “If I Should Fall Behind,” which was already one of the most plain boring songs in Bruce’s catalog before it was slowed down to like a third of its original tempo and five different members of the E Street Band were allowed to sing a verse.

But hey, as far as classic rock reunion tour live albums go, this is still about as good as it gets! Of course, that’s like saying, “As far as Trump administration cabinet members go, Elaine Chao is about as intelligent as it gets!” But I promise you, Live in New York City is far more palatable than Elaine Chao. You heard it here first.



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