The past decade meant a live comeback for many legendary musical artists. 2000-2009 saw old rebels like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Levon Helm, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and many others embark on dynamic tours and release solid albums after years of flopping and silence. But no other reanimated rock and roll cadaver proved that he was still kicking like Bruce Springsteen, shotgunning the world with some of the most relevant, diverse, and just plain best music of his career, and more importantly for audiences, his best concerts ever.
Now any fan, hater, or blog troll of CoS knows that this isn’t the first time we’ve gushed about The Boss. But simply put, the guy hasn’t missed a mark with his past four albums. Sure, there’s been the occasional goofy or overly sentimental track here and there (“Worlds Apart”, “I’ll Work For Your Love”, and “Kingdom Of Days” rank among his lowest songs), but each album has succeeded in wildly different ways, which made each of his tours all the more interesting in daring.
The release of 2000′s Live In New York City and 2002′s The Rising and their subsequent tours proved to be a cathartic, celebratory live experience for Springsteen fans in America, not only because of the sheer joy of seeing The E Street Band together after a decade plus separation, but also because of the therapeutic healing over the September 11th attacks. As hokey as that sounds, The Rising was truly the perfect album for 9/11, a meditation on the alienating catastrophe with music and lyrics that miracuously addressed sorrows both global and personal. Having audiences sing and hear the music out loud was a communal experience equal parts southern choir and rock show.
The tours behind Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions were a bit more jarring for E Street fans, simply because of the more rustic sound of each album. The haunting acoustic folk of the former and rabble rousing dixieland brass of the latter were a departure from the wall of sound assault of The Boss’ crack band, delving into more experimental territory than audiences had ever seen from Springsteen, particularly with his usage of oddball instruments like the stomp board on the Devils & Dust tour. But in retrospect, these tours added a splash of diversity to Springsteen’s live pallet, incorporating eerie intimacy and hambone politics to his live repertoire, proving that 2000-2009 was a decade that offered fans flesh and blood offerings of every one of his sounds, from the grandiose to the sparse.
The Magic and Working On A Dream tours closed out the decade with the biggest shows of Springsteen’s career. At three hour plus marathons with the E Street Band, The Boss treated each concert as a summary of his entire discography and influences, throwing in the best cuts from each album (even his much lamented efforts of the 90s) with random covers suggested by the audience, and most surprisingly, a series of shows each dedicated to a full disc. Fans flocked to milestone concerts in 2009 to hear Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The River, and Born In The U.S.A. played in their entirety. And of course, no one can forget his awe inspiring political stints with the Vote For Change Tours and various events surrounding the election of Barack Obama. Hell, the guy even played with the Arcade Fire and headlined Bonnaroo.
But more importantly than the setlists were the shows themselves. Regardless of the song, Springsteen and company attacked each one with speed, passion, and ferocity; traits that are staple to the band during any year, sure, but the end of the decade showed how gracefully they had truly aged. Each performer has grown into themselves, showing a firmer stage presence and stance that allowed them to broadcast their explosive gospel with more precision and grit than ever before. And while The Boss himself is nowhere near as unhinged as his freewheeling seventies performance, he used this to his advantage, never laying all his cards on the table and saving his best antics for the encores. Simply put, no other live band without gimmicks can beat them. Period.
Rumors are abound of Springsteen dissolving The E Street Band once more, and with no shows on the horizon, anyone who saw The Boss during the past ten years should consider themselves very lucky. But for the optimists in the crowd (and Springsteen would want it that way), let’s hope 2010-2020 is another decade of incredible music and incredible live shows. Bruce Springsteen, may the hair on your head never grow gray (even if it already has).