Springsteen on Broadway: A night with a magician and his magic
…together they’re gonna boogaloo down Broadway…
Bruce Springsteen “New York City Serenade,” 1973
We seek it. We crave it. We often can’t find it. Be it physical, emotional or spiritual.
But on a muggy October night in New York City, in a theater that was built in 1921, the guy who stood at the center of the stage promised that he was part Magician. And those of us who were lucky enough to be in the house would get a look behind the curtain at part of his magic act.
It was Bruce Springsteen. On Broadway. Springsteen on Broadway.
What transpired on the stage of the Walter Kerr Theatre was intimate in ways that artists rarely achieve. Respectfully, most never try for that level of magic.
But as he has throughout every stage of his career, Bruce Springsteen once again delivered a performance for the ages.
I was verified. I was code-ified. I was broke-ified. I was in the house.
Through nothing other than dumb luck, etc. (karma, perhaps?), I had a ridiculously great seat. Row A in the Mezzanine, right on the aisle.
It’s a show. Not a concert. I took to heart the whole "no phone" thing and turned it off and buried it deep in my pocket. I wanted nothing to take away one little bit of what I was about to experience. The audience was completely respectful and reverent throughout the entire performance.
The "no picture" thing makes sense, too, and I figured that at the end as the performer was taking his bows that that might be an appropriate time to snap a picture or two. It was and I did.
Though certainly not a book reading, Springsteen’s year-old autobiography “Born To Run” is one of two foundations for the show. Naturally, the other is his music. The two are interweaved into what becomes two hours that went by way too quickly.
The stage is sparse, but comfortable. There’s plenty of room, and also just enough prop type stage trunks for the ghosts to weave in and out of. For there are ghosts aplenty. Without question, the Boss Ghost of the whole night is Bruce’s late father, Douglas Springsteen. Same as the book. Same as some of Springsteen’s greatest songs. But there’s grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and Clarence and Danny and Terry and all the rest. They are all, in some fashion, part of the Magician’s story on this night.
There can’t be a bad seat in the house. The audio is pristine. To great effect, Springsteen is comfortable enough to at times stand off mic and let his voice carry the house without amplification. That’s special magic.
His first visit to the piano is for “My Hometown.” And there, his hometown becomes your hometown and my hometown and he becomes like the Stage Manager in “Our Town,” narrating a past that could be 50 days ago, or 50 years ago.
I hadn’t seen “My Father’s House” performed live since 1996 at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, Connecticut. It’s heartbreak, but in this setting and in this show it’s more than that. It’s contrition and redemption.
I’ve never heard as stunning a version of “The Promised Land” as I did last night. Nothing on the “Joad” or “Devils & Dust” tours remotely compares. Preceded by a declaration of love for the desert, we got an intimate, gut-wrenching performance that burrowed into the very heart and soul of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.
The blues and pain of “Born In The U.S.A.” led to happy, and a love-fest for the E Street Band and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” The Big Man joins the band, and we are alive and vital in the promised land. Cause without the band, the magic is not complete.
Then there’s Patti Scialfa, striding confidently to center stage to share the spotlight and the love. And we go to “Tunnel of Love,” which was released 30 years ago this coming Monday (10/9). As we learned in great detail from the autobiography, that without her, the story that we’re experiencing is nowhere near the same. They are familiar voices on “Tougher Than The Rest,” a song that they’ve sung together many times since 1988.
The first time that they performed “Brilliant Disguise” together as a duo was on 4/4/05 in Red Bank for the VH1 Storytellers series. That show is really the other thing that I can compare Springsteen On Broadway to, even so, not so much. This is driven in its focus. It’s a complete show. It’s a body of work in and unto itself. And it’s still a work in progress, with some tinkering still going on until it’s “official opening” next week.
Speaking of magic, “Long Walk Home” is a song that I’m always fond of playing on the radio. In context of this show, it’s a centerpiece and a masterpiece. Again, a stunning performance.
A zillion years ago, 40 actually, when I was breaking in on free-form FM radio, it was all about the segue. Melding two songs together that had the same beat, same theme, same whatever was the magic. And when you nailed it, there was nothing better. And when one of your fellow DJs acknowledged it, you were on Cloud 9. It’s funny to think about now, but days or weeks could go by and someone could bring up a particularly spectacular segue and you’d go “YEAH!” Now, you’d be texting the daylights out of the whole thing and that would be that.
But I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a better segue than the one that Bruce Springsteen pulled off last night, seamlessly moving from the Lord’s Prayer into “Born To Run.” It was chilling and haunting and moving and breathtaking. And ultimately exhilarating.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect night.
In Bruce World, I’ve seen/heard that “this is a show that you see once and because nothing’s going to change why would you want to see it again blah blah blah.”
As I was hustling down 8th Avenue to Penn Station to catch the train home, making my way through the soft Indian summer rain, I came upon one of the many bodega-type stores that you see on the streets of New York City. The bright “lottery tickets sold here sign” caught my eye. I stopped and bought one for the Mega. The guy laughed and asked “just one?” I nodded and said “sometimes that’s all it takes.”
For if I were to win, I’d be able to go again and again and again. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, you are lucky enough. If you’re not holding yet, keeping working the ticket lottery and your friends and fellow fans.
The Magician and his magic. Sometimes that’s all it takes.