As Bruce Springsteen casually strolls onto the Verizon Center’s stage, there is no question as to why he is, and will always be, The Boss. He exudes confidence in the all-black wardrobe and ear piercings of a true 66-year-old rockstar. He smirks at every corner of the stadium, then back at the rest of the black-clad E Street Band as they coolly await his cue. They have done this before.
“Are you ready to be entertained? To be transformed?” he bellows, while the crowd clambers, “BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!” Like that he launches into the entirety of the 1980 record The River for which this current tour is named, smiling the whole time.
It is rare to see a concert where an album is performed in its entirety, let alone in consecutive order. By starting off with “The Ties That Bind”, and running through the set list, it evokes the character of the original album (before the times of shuffle), maintaining the order in which the tracks are intended to be listened.
The River is an appropriate record choice for the tour, touching on universal themes of work, family, fun,“dancing, lonely nights, and of course, tears.” It’s a profound album that explores trying to “get inside” the river of life. Bruce explains that he originally thought, “if I could write about [these themes], maybe I could find out more about myself…maybe I’d get a little closer to the answers I was trying to find.”
Throughout the sold-out arena, the audience, fans both young and old, enthusiastically headed down The River with the band, standing for the entire first quarter of the concert. The adoring hollers of “BRUUUUUUUCE” in between songs cultivated a much more relaxed vibe than the squealing teenage girls you might find at a modern pop concert. And the fans had more to enjoy than just the music. Bruce’s clutching at the audience’s hands during “Sherry Darling” and crowd surfing across the pit during a vamp in “Hungry Heart.” Max Weinberg striking a pose after every tune. Steven Van Zandt, Jake Clemons, and Bruce all belting into one mic together during “Out in the Street”. In addition to the theatrics, the band transitioned seamlessly between tracks, leaving no break in energy for the audience. Time passed inconspicuously quickly, and by the end of the first disc in the album’s set, the band shifted to a more mellow mood.
After Bruce and Van Zandt harmonized through the slower-paced “I Wanna Marry You” about the first breath of love, in all of its glory and tentativeness, the band transitioned to “The River,” an equally tender song written for Bruce’s sister that featured the show’s first use of harmonica. For someone with such a raspy, rocker voice, Bruce sure can make an audience swoon with that soul-piercing harmonica melody and vibrato, softening the higher vocals.
Disc two of the album kicked off with Roy Bittan’s practiced fingers whirling across his keyboard, joined by layers of guitar and bass until Bruce appeared and mesmerized the crowd with “Point Blank,” reflecting its painful message of loneliness and disillusionment. The single spotlight on Bruce highlighted the somber nature of this section, as he serenaded the audience with “Stolen Car” and the question of losing yourself in wasted relationships. The band finished up the The River portion of the concert with “Wreck on the Highway,” declaring that the subtext of the album was time, and advising to do something good with life before it slips away.
To pick up from the reflective moments, the group burst into “Prove It All Night” and essentially a series of Springsteen’s greatest hits, calling out to the crowd to “shake your booties!” They played “Thunder Road” and threw the house lights on Hoya-basketball style for “Born in the U.S.A.” and other fan favorites. The band sang, the audience sang; the audience danced, the band danced. With the lights on, there was no longer a distinction between E Street and everyone else. Just people: dancing, smiling, and living life. A young boy wound his way to the front of the pit on his father’s shoulders and got to strum the Boss’s guitar, and after a few calls of, “because I’m not getting any younger!” and, “I’ll give you $5,” Bruce danced with two star-struck women on stage.
Van Zandt, feather earrings swaying, and Bruce wrapped up the show with “Rosalita”, before finishing with The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”, during which everyone danced out of the stadium fulfilled by such an energetic performance.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are truly legendary. Still doing what they love 44 years after their founding and making people happy throughout the journey, the band instills an enduring message that there is a lot of life to live out there. The result is a mutually unspoken awe between both the fans and the band, and a truly unforgettable performance.