Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA
It might not be the best performance of Springsteen’s career, but this show at the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles certainly qualifies as perhaps his most emotionally charged. Billed as “A Night for Vietnam Veterans”, the show begins with a poignant introduction from disabled vet Bob Muller, who also helped organize the entire thing. Springsteen then comes out to make a short, heartfelt speech of his own before he and the band launch into an extraordinary cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain”. Eventually, the entire affair turns into another one of Springsteen’s signature marathons, where he seemingly exhausts his entire catalog of songs, and then some, all for a tremendously worthy cause.
Winterland, San Francisco, CA
The Winterland Ballroom was concert-promoting icon Bill Graham’s final bastion of live, indoor entertainment in the City by the Bay. By 1978, the 5,400-capacity converted roller rink had hosted nearly everyone who was anyone in rock music, from The Band to Van Morrision, the Sex Pistols to Led Zeppelin. Two weeks before it was set to close its doors, with a big blowout hosted by the Grateful Dead, Springsteen and the E Street Band rolled into town. From the beginning with “Badlands”, it’s clear that the group is white hot and feeling confident, but to open up the second half of the show with the unreleased song “The Ties That Bind” is absolutely next-level stuff.
The Main Point, Bryn Mawr, PA
Imagine yourself as one of the 300 or so fortunate souls crowded into this small coffee house outside of Philadelphia to see Bruce Springsteen in the early months of 1975. You have your copies of Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle sitting on the record player at home, but you’ve heard he might play some new material tonight. Picture yourself hearing “Born to Run” or “Thunder Road”, when it was still being called “Wings for Wheels”, for the very first time in that kind of setting. This actually happened, and it was a magical moment for all those there and for the timely thousands at home or in their cars who tuned in a few hours later to hear it being broadcast over the radio. Fortunately, more than a few people pressed record on their stereo at the time, and we can still put ourselves in that moment today.
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
In 1980, The Boss and the band made the comparatively short drive up I-95 from New Jersey to Long Island to help the native New Yorkers ring in the New Year with a bang. Clocking in at nearly four hours long, this gig stood as the longest continuous performance of Springsteen’s career for over 30 years; that is, until he finally shattered that mark in 2012. However, it’s not just the sheer length that makes the gig special; there was clearly a festive energy at hand, and the entire show was both loose and exciting. Even as the clock strikes midnight and Clarence Clemons hits the audience with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”, the party has only really just begun, thanks to a raucous 16-minute version of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and another half-dozen songs, including a medley of Detroit hits to follow.
Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ
The crown jewel and the undisputed heavyweight champion of Springsteen’s live shows took place 20 minutes outside of Newark, New Jersey, at Passaic’s rustic 1,800-capacity Capitol Theater. If the Darkness tour really was Springsteen’s greatest run of dates, then this gig was the moment where it all came together. Broadcast over WNEW Radio, this was the first show of a three-night stand, and the stunning recordings that have been passed down throughout the years make it clear that Springsteen and the E Street Band tore the roof off the joint.
Springsteen’s always managed to imbue a high degree of fire and brimstone into his songs, but the material here is red hot with arguably the greatest performances of “Racing in the Streets”, “Because the Night”, “Fire”, and “Thunder Road”. Despite those gasps of musical transcendence, the emotional high point of the entire affair arrived when “Professor” Roy Bittain’s 1978-only piano instrumental kicked off a volcanic rendition of “Prove It All Night”. Never before has Springsteen sounded as powerful or energized than he does in the 10 minutes of that one song.