Hammersmith Odeon, London, England
For years, decades even, this show got a bad rap mostly due to Springsteen’s own negative reaction at the time to the built-up publicity campaign surrounding his English debut. Legend has it that the singer went on a tear, physically ripping down posters around town that declared, “Finally London is ready for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.” As it turns out, however, the recordings of this November evening reveal a tremendous performance from Bruce and the band that begins with a chilling, near a cappella rendition of the just released “Thunder Road” as well as amazing performances of “Kitty’s Back” and “Spirit in the Night”, the latter of which finds Springsteen crawling completely offstage and losing his famously oversize beanie in the process. While the official album, mastered by Bob Clearmountain, sounds fantastic, do yourself a favor and check out the DVD assembled by Thom Zimny to really get a sense of how on it Springsteen and the E Street band were at the time, despite what they considered to be a less-than-perfect performance.
The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, OH
While some might contend that his outings supporting either The River in 1980-81 or perhaps Born in the U.S.A. in 1984-85 eclipse the 115 dates that he put together behind Darkness on the Edge of Town, most agree that Springsteen and the E Street Band were never better live than they were in 1978. In fact, a case could be made that this entire list should comprise of shows taken from that single year alone. This stop in Cleveland isn’t the best show from that vaunted run, but the band’s performance at the modest Agora Ballroom is certainly transcendent enough to merit inclusion here. Clarence Clemons, in particular, gives it his all with a truly incendiary sax performance on “Jungleland” and the cheeky inclusion of a snippet of the Village People’s “Macho Man” on “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”.
Madison Square Garden, NY
Following an 11-year absence, Springsteen’s highly anticipated reunion with the E Street Band culminated in the legendary halls of New York City’s Madison Square Garden — and damn was it a doozy! By this point, the group had played nine other shows in the Knicks’ home stadium and had performed all across the world over the past 14 months. They had become a well-oiled machine by this point, and every member was intent on putting together something special across all three and a half hours they were onstage for this final curtain call. Springsteen was particularly caught up in the emotions of it all, choking up some after playing final number “Blood Brothers”. You might want to keep a Kleenex nearby yourself while listening to this one.
The Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
This gig at the intimate Roxy Theater off Hollywood’s Sunset Strip sounds like the wildest party you’ve ever attended. The streets literally overflowed with zealous fans hoping to get in on the experience, even if it was through the muffled sound of the front door opening and closing. To make things even more special, Springsteen also decided to give three classics their live debut that evening: “Independence Day”, “Rave On”, and “Point Blank”. The entire madness was captured and broadcast over the radio on KMET and has become a bootleg staple for decades since.
Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ
There’s a feeling in the air here that’s impossible to shake even three decades later: The prodigal son returned home. By 1984, Springsteen was riding high on the smash success of Born in the U.S.A. and was no longer strictly New Jersey’s own. The Boss was a global superstar, on par with the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Nevertheless, while those around him began to see view him in a decidedly different light and newer audiences required bigger venues and multi-night stands, Springsteen was more or less the same performer. There were a few personnel changes, specifically the exit of “Miami” Steve Van Zandt (although, he made an appearance at this show for one night only) and the introduction of Grin guitarist Nils Lofgren and Springsteen’s future wife Patti Scialfa, but that played into the expansive reach of this tour. Everything was “big,” from the Miami Horns to the backup vocals to the triple-guitar attack, down to Springsteen’s own glistening biceps.