News Updated April 29, 2016

Supercut: The Ultimate Graceland Story

Forty years ago tonight, on April 29, 1976, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band stopped in Memphis, Tennessee on their "Chicken Scratch" tour. One of the highlights of the concert that night was the performance of "Knock on Wood" and "Raise Your Hand" with soul singer Eddie Floyd. But what truly marks that date in Springsteen history is what happened after the show. Late that night, along with Steve Van Zandt and publicist Glen Brunman, Bruce took a taxi to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley's home. His attempted meeting with the King has since become legendary among Springsteen fans, Presley fans, and rock fans in general, and it has even made its way into Graceland's Official Guidebook. Bruce has given numerous accounts over the years, both onstage and in interviews, ranging from hilarious to poignant. We've taken the liberty of combining Springsteen's retellings of the tale, as we present the Ultimate Graceland Story.

- photograph by Eric Meola

When we played Memphis, I guess I was about 26 — it was 1976, on the Born to Run tour — we played this little auditorium down in the middle of the town. We went back to the hotel after the show. Me and my guitar player, Steve, were sitting around, and we were looking for something to do, and we called up a taxi. It was real late at night — it was three in the morning. We told the cab driver, "Listen, we wanna get something to eat." We said we wanted to eat someplace outside of town. "And this guy says," I know, I'll take you to Fridays." And we said, "We don't want, like, a hangout — we want a place where we can go and eat. Take us some place quiet." And he said "I know a place right out by Elvis's house…." So we said, "Wow, you know where Elvis lives?" He says, "Yeah, yeah." I said, "Take me to Elvis's house right now."

He said, "Are you guys celebrities?" Yeah, yeah, we're celebrities. He says, "Do you mind if I call the dispatcher and tell him where we're going?" Sure, sure. So he calls the guy, says, "Joe, Joe, I got some celebrities in my cab." And Joe says, "Yeah, who ya got there?" And he says "I got, I got…" — then he shoves the mic right in my face, because he doesn't know who we are. So I say, "Bruce Springsteen." They didn't know who I was, but they were pretending to, you know? And the cab driver says, "Yeah, I got them, and we're going out to Elvis's." The dispatcher says, "Damn." He thinks we're, like, going out to have coffee with Elvis or something.

So it was about 3:30 in the morning, and we pulled up in front of Graceland. I remember I got out and I stood in front of those gates that had the guitar players on them, and the gates were all locked up. But there was one little light on in the window. And I said, "Steve, I'll bet that's his bedroom. I'll bet you he's in there reading right now." I said, "I can't stand here — I gotta find out if he's home. Steve, I gotta do it."

So we had the taxi-cab driver with us saying, "No, don't climb over that wall, because they got big dogs over there, and they'll eat you up. You're gonna be in trouble." But I gotta find out. So I climbed up over the wall, and I jumped down on the other side. I was ready to be attacked, but nothin' happened.

I started up the driveway — it's a long walk, 'cause the house is set way back. I started running up the driveway — and later on I thought that this was a stupid thing to do, because I hate it when people do it at my house. I can't say I like it when people come banging at my door at three-thirty in the morning... but I was filled with the enthusiasm of youth. And I was almost at the front door, just getting ready to knock, when I see this guy looking at me from the trees. And I figure I'm just going to go over and I'm going to say hello and tell this guy I just came to see Elvis.

- photograph by Eric Meola

So I walk over towards the woods, and out comes this security guy. And he says, "What are you doing?" I said, "Is Elvis home?" He said, "No, Elvis ain't home. Elvis is in Lake Tahoe.' And I said, "Are you sure?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah." So I said, "Oh. Well, can you tell him, uh, that I was here? Tell him Bruce Springsteen…" And he didn't know me from nobody, from Joe Schmo. I said, "I'm a guitar player, too, and I got my own band, and we played in town tonight, and I have some records that we made.…"

Well, now I'm pulling out all the cheap shots I can think of — you know, I told him I had my picture on the cover of Time and Newsweek… Elvis is my hero, my inspiration… all the things I never say to anybody. Because I figure I've gotta get a message through. I pulled out all the stops trying to, but he looked at me like I was crazy. I don't think he believed me. And he said, "Oh yeah, sure, buddy. Why don't you let me walk you down to the gate. You gotta get out of here." He thought I was just another crazy fan — which I was. So he took me by the arm, these two guards walked me down. They were real nice, and they unlocked the front gate, and they put me back out on the street. I felt pretty good about it, even though I didn't get to see him.

Later on, I used to wonder what I would have said if I had knocked on the door and if Elvis had come to the door. I don't know what I was doing. Sometimes at night I look back, I think, "Who was I expecting to meet?" I never got to meet him. I guess in a way it was better that it worked out like that. And the guard who stopped me at the door did me the biggest favor of my life. Because it really wasn't Elvis I was going to see, but it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear and somehow we all dreamed it.

I wrote ["Fire"] in about five minutes, with the idea that I was going to give it to Elvis back in 1976. It wasn't too long after that that he died, and that summer I just started listening to all his old records again and a lot of the new things... And I used to think a lot, and I used to wonder how it was that somebody that seemed like such a big winner could lose so bad in the end. It was so hard to understand how somebody whose music came in and took away so many people's loneliness and gave so many people a reason and a sense of all the possibilities of living could have in the end died so tragically. And I guess when you're alone, you ain't nothin' but alone.
- April 29, 2016 - compiled by Christopher Phillips and Shawn Poole from Bruce Springsteen's retellings to Rolling Stone (1977 and 1987), to Ed Sciaky (1978), and various concert performances in 1981, 1985, and 2008. An earlier version of this piece appeared in Backstreets #80.

On the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen attempting to meet The King by climbing the wall at Graceland, Elvis Presley — okay, Mark Wright as 'The King Sings The Boss' — pays tribute with "Fire." 

'The King Sings The Boss' will be touring the UK, performing shows after Manchester, Glasgow, Coventry and London on the 2016 UK River Tour. Email Mark at for ticket info, or join his Facebook page.
- April 29, 2016

Lawrence Kirsch has published two books of Springsteen photographs and fan stories: the recent The Light in Darkness, which is still available from Backstreet Records, and For You: Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen’s Legendary Fans, which is long out of print. Here's a chance to score a copy of his hard-to-find first book: In support of the Montreal General Hospital's Spring 2016 fundraising campaign, Kirsch is holding a raffle that starts today with a chance to win a brand-new copy of For You, which has been sold out since 2008.

The book, signed by the publisher, will be shipped to the raffle winner free of charge anywhere in the world, so everyone is encouraged to enter. Each $10 ticket you purchase gives you one chance to win, and a $15 ticket gives you three chances to win. Tickets can be purchased from today through May 9 with donations at, where the winner will be announced May 12. All funds collected will be donated to the Montreal General Hospital in loving memory of Lawrence's mother, Mrs. Aileen Kirsch. Click here for full details and to enter.
- April 29, 2016

In her first piece for NPR Music, Backstreets writer Caryn Rose was inspired by Saturday night's Brooklyn show to meditate on "the power of being able to mourn in public." Beyond tracing commonalities between Prince and Bruce Springsteen, Caryn also connects dots between the 2012 Wrecking Ball tour following the death of Clarence Clemons ("like attending a rock and roll wake every night") and this weekend's "Purple Rain" catharsis. Read: "Bruce Springsteen's Tribute To Prince Is A Lesson In Public Mourning" for All Songs Considered.
- April 28, 2016

More than three months after opening in Pittsburgh, the River Tour 2016 had its final stop of this spring leg on Monday night in Brooklyn. Originally envisioned as just a 22-city North American swing, which would have wrapped up more than a month ago, the tour's itinerary has continued to expand from city to city and country to country. So while this show was a punctuation mark with a celebratory feel, it wasn't a last dance: three weeks from now, a two-and-a-half-month European leg of The River Tour will begin in Spain. Though Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have brought this "little play" coast to coast and back again, finishing with a fourth show in New York City was no victory lap. Rather, it felt like a final lap, pedal to the metal.

Bruce was definitely standing on it, with a brisk River set where the pace never waned. At times it felt a little rushed, but the overall impression was that he and the band were simply letting her unwind. Vocally, Springsteen put everything on the table, from "you've been judged" in "Jackson Cage" to "pretty baby!" in "Drive All Night," and to say he was in fine voice doesn't cut it. If on many nights the takeaway from the River set is the E Street Band as precision auto, tonight was a reminder of just who sits in the driver's seat, and what a fine-tuned, high-powered instrument his voice is.

Not that you'd ever expect an uncommitted performance from Bruce. But his introduction of The River on Monday gave an extra reason why this 20-song sequence was delivered with such force: because it could be the last. Springsteen put a finer point on Saturday night's remarks about these Brooklyn shows being the final runs through the album sequence: "Tonight this is going to be our last official performance of The River from start to finish.... We're gonna open up our setlists over in Europe. So let's go down to the river one more time and see what we find." Surely there will continue to be speculation among fans, especially with at least one European promoter continuing to promise The River in full. But it seems clear that Bruce has decided to unlock these locked-down setlists. What we take from that "last official performance" statement is that it could happen again; Bruce could call that audible any time he wants. But it'll no longer be a guarantee.

And so, at this last scheduled U.S. show, a River sequence that left nothing in the tank, from Bruce's powerhouse vocals to his windmills on "Two Hearts." Roy Bittan hit the keys with that same intensity on the "Point Blank" intro, as Max Weinberg gave his cymbals the beating of a lifetime. There was just nothing rote about the performance, even the 37th time through. Springsteen was still tweaking certain portions, like the introduction to another breathtaking "Independence Day": "I was 24 or 25 years old and trying to talk to my father. He was never that vocal, so I thought, I'll write him a song. I'll write him a song."

Governor Chris Christie sang along (from his seat) on "Hungry Heart, asses were shaken (because it was "ass-shakin' time") on "Ramrod." Led by Bruce, the full-throated chant of the crowd practically turned "The Price You Pay" into "Badlands," though it's the choral vocals of the E Street Band's full front line on that one that still wows the most. "Drive All Night" built to an especially thrilling, heartwrenching climax, and before you knew it: "That's The River!" During the ovation, a friend said to me, "We may never see that again."

But even assuming, as Garry Tallent tweeted the day before, the River album will be played in Europe "Not in toto and not in sequence," that does open the door for a different kind of E Street magic. And as if to show us just what "opening up our setlist" looks like, Monday's post-River B-set was full of wildcards, an extremely rare stretch on this tour where you just didn't know what was coming next. A massive sign collection got underway after "Wreck on the Highway," and if you figured that Bruce would just find signs for songs he planned to play anyway, a placard for "Boom Boom" put the lie to that. "Alright," said Bruce, "An unusual request! John Lee Hooker!" He was grinning ear to ear as the E Street Band quickly found their muscle memory on this Tunnel of Love Express Tour standard, unrehearsed but a reminder that you still can't stump the E Street Band. "Come on, Professor!" Bruce hollered, and we went twice around with Roy soloing on the keys. Super-tight, they finished by stopping on a dime. Prince would be proud.

Throughout "Boom Boom," a sign for "Loose End" leaned against the drumriser in the background, a bit of a taunt — after all our yearnings for outtakes that came out so rarely, would he really grab that one next? You bet: "Steve Van Zandt's number one favorite right here!" It was a fantastic performance of a fantastic song, with Stevie killing the harmonies as he has since January, that we also hopes help confirm: these lesser-known songs do work live. There was no dip in energy. And if with this outting we're celebrating the River era, and the Ties That Bind box — and, make no mistake, celebrating Steve — then those outtakes are just too good to keep kicking to the curb.

So we had a classic cover and a River outtake instead of the setlisted "Candy's Room" and "She's the One"... surely now we'd get back to business as usual? Nope, another sign: "I've been Blinded By the Light! I'm 10 years old, and I know all the words. Try me!" Springsteen couldn't resist: "Are you sure? Are you sure? Get on up here!" The girl, Diana, hopped up and made good on her claim — no small feat, given that the songwriter himself admittedly couldn't do it. "That's impressive," he told her. "I don't know the words, I read 'em myself!" This was an abridged version of the song, with first only Bruce strumming lightly to accompany her, then the rest of the band coming in softly — after a few verses, he laughed, "Alright, you convinced me!" He gave her a hug and autographed her sign.

And then: "Trapped." Debuted with the E Street Band in 1981, this song harkens back to the original River Tour as much as any of Springsteen's choices so far, from "Here She Comes Walkin'" to the regular appearance of "Because the Night." "Trapped" never fails to work a crowd into a frenzy, and with its River-era connection it's surprising that this one hasn't come out sooner. (If there was any disgruntlement in the crowd at this point, it was from hardcores who had traveled around the country hoping for this kind of set: "He waits until the last night to do this??")

"Badlands" and a breakneck "My Love Will Not Let You Down" brought us back to setlisted tracks, but considering what they do to an audience, it was just an extension of the frenzy. "My Love" is a great example of an outtake that, with repitition, has become a much-loved live cut — you can't win if you don't play (it)! — with Bruce, Steve, and Nils cranking on their guitars in unision at center stage, and Max performing inhuman feats on fills and breakdowns. Cheers came from the crowd as the whole thing kicked back in.

Max turned in an astoundingly physical performance all night, as The River set has come to require. If this night was a victory lap at all, it was for the E Street Band, returning to the very space where they had been welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Inducted during the E Street Orchestra era, they returned to the Barclays Center stripped back down to their core, all of them shining individually and as a unit after three dozen full performances of 1980's magnum opus, perhaps the height of the classic E Street sound. And on one more audible, "Prove It All Night," Springsteen threw the song's monster solo to the hero of The River, a rare chance for Stevie to have that moment in the spotlight. But don't cry for Nils: as the encore opened with "Purple Rain," in the same slot where "Rebel Rebel" appeared as a tribute to David Bowie on this tour's opening night, Lofgren and his guitar once again provided a transcendent moment.

Brooklyn ate up the encores, all hands in the air for "Shout," followed by a bonus "Bobby Jean" for good measure, saying good luck and goodbye.... for now. Springsteen thanked the crowd for two great nights before a familiar farewell: "We love ya, we'll be seein' ya!" Count on it. The European River Tour begins May 14 in Barcelona.

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 26, 2016 - Christopher Phillips reporting - photographs by A.M. Saddler

That means you too: right now you can download Saturday night's performance of "Purple Rain" for FREE from On that page, you can right-click on the mp3 link — control-click on a Mac — to save the file to your computer.

Update: official pro-shot video

- Updated April 25, 2016 - photograph by A.M. Saddler

The Color Purple Reigns in Brooklyn, 4/23
Saturday night's performance in Brooklyn should have been something of a celebration. The River tour 2016, now 36 shows deep, was pulling in for two performances before heading to Europe. The tour has been remarkable for casting that record's 20 tracks in such a strong light, particularly because about half of them disappeared for so long after 1981. But the night belonged to just one number, and it was one that Bruce Springsteen neither wrote nor likely ever gave serious thought to performing: Prince's "Purple Rain."

Springsteen and the E Street Band walked on stage underneath purple light, the first sign that the show would mark Prince's passing. Band members wore purple: ties, shirts, and scarves. And their body language conveyed sadness: did the band actually wave and smile as usual? That's lost to the fog and YouTube. Once they took their places, Bruce began a tribute to a departed musician, his third this year.

The take was straight down the middle, heartfelt, and cathartic: the big question got answered early, driven home with a Nils Lofgren solo that sounded and felt like Prince himself might play, or as close as anyone else could get, anyway. "Purple Rain" was an obvious choice, but it fit perfectly: it was Saturday night in Brooklyn after all, and if one song had to reach every last person in attendance, this was it (though a fan's suggestion of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" goes straight to the top of covers the E Street Band could easily make their own).

"Meet Me in the City" came next, played in slot two for the first time, and the musicians barreled through it. Springsteen skipped the usual mid-"Meet" greeting and vamp, speaking first after it concluded. Sounding markedly subdued, he dedicated the evening's music to Prince. "There's never been any better," Springsteen said, citing his comrade's skills as a bandleader, showman, songwriter, and arranger. "Whenever I'd catch one of his shows, I'd always leave humbled. So, I'm going to miss that. And we're going to miss him." (Springsteen also said that Brooklyn marks "the last two nights we're officially playing The River from start to finish," which leaves much to conjecture.)

The River performance was another good one. Barclays Center is enormous, and its floor-to-ceiling dimension must be one of the taller arena configurations anywhere. But the sound is very good (hat tip, Jay Z!) and the place wasn't just full, it sounded full. Springsteen certainly heard the audience singing along all night, and not just its customary parts. It was a full-throated crowd that helped turn a mournful start, in fact, into a remarkable, celebratory rock show. Tempos were up a bit: "Cadillac Ranch" moved closer to the fast lane, and when Bruce didn't have spring in his step, he was on his knees, finishing "Crush on You" down front with an assist from a fan who held the mic so he could play guitar and conduct it to a close.

Purple light appeared throughout the show. It accented "Point Blank," which began with Roy Bittan, Garry Tallent, and Max Weinberg forming their nightly power trio. That song felt especially dark, then went dark, then went red as Steve Van Zandt provided a backdrop for Springsteen's vocal.

"Stolen Car" featured no introduction, and while one could hear Charles Giordano's part just fine, Roy Bittan's piano could have used a boost. It was an odd thing on E Street: the Professor sounds high in the mix on "Ramrod," for example, but not on "Stolen Car." The part everyone did hear loud and clear: toward the end of "Drive All Night," Springsteen delivered one line ("dry your eyes, pretty baby!") with an intensity that shot through the arena. That moment moved the number up a level and will make for an interesting listen on playback. More purple light shrouded "Wreck on the Highway," the one time the music felt rushed. As a finished track, it closes the album gracefully. But in concert, it has an unenviable task, having to close the 20-song cycle. Nonetheless, as Springsteen talked about time, doing good work, and walking alongside mortality, it conveyed more meaning than anyone thought likely, and showed its durability.

From there, the music was simply a blast. On this tour, Springsteen isn't keen on paging through the catalog, but he and the E Street Band have been bounding through what they play (and added "No Surrender" on the fly). Thirteen songs appeared after The River on Saturday, all played well and taken up by the Brooklyn audience (which included his mother, Adele, herself a Brooklyn native, Springsteen said). "Backstreets" became another tribute to Prince, as Bruce held his hands up and repeated "until the end" several times. By "Lonesome Day" the music came like water from a faucet: was the band playing the songs or was it the other way around? It didn't matter: Brooklyn was trying to shake the blues on the Saturday night after a bad week (Did everyone get to vote? Will the Mayor be indicted? Those were two questions New Yorkers asked before Thursday). For more than three-and-a-half hours, we got to turn those blues purple.

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 24, 2016 - Jonathan Pont reporting - photographs by A.M. Saddler

- April 24, 2016


Tonight in Brooklyn, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage bathed in purple light to start the show with "Purple Rain" — a beautiful tribute, with Nils Lofgren making his guitar gently weep on lead. "Whenever I saw Prince," Springsteen told the Barclays Center crowd, "I left the show humbled."

Below: Steven Van Zandt backstage before the show, "going to videotape" to get "Purple Rain" just right.

At this first of two Brooklyn concerts, the final stop of the River Tour's spring U.S. leg, Springsteen also said that these would be the last two shows to feature The River played from start to finish. More tomorrow.
- April 23, 2016

Prince and Bruce Springsteen and the spirit of '84
I was 13 in the summer of 1984, when the twin juggernauts Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain were released. Prince's previous album, 1999, had been insescapable where I grew up, not only on the radio but at birthday parties and church dances — the title track, "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," "D.M.S.R" (this was, of course, pre-PMRC). Everybody liked Prince.

But suddenly it was Prince vs. Springsteen. In 1984, in junior high, it honestly felt like you had to pick a side. As a freshly converted Springsteen fan, the idea of buying Purple Rain honestly felt disloyal. So even though I spent every penny I had at the time on records and tapes, and "When Doves Cry" was a mindblower of a first single, and we all quickly learned and recited the "Dearly Beloved" monologue that kicked off single #2... I still steered clear of the album on principle. For a little while. I finally asked my best friend to borrow his cassette, and I vividly remember walking around the neighborhood by myself, 45 minutes with my Walkman, first trying to keep an open mind then being unable to resist. And it was liberating. Can you like the Sharks and the Jets? The Yankees and the Red Sox? Punk and disco? (And as we all wondered about Prince, girls and boys?) Yes, yes you can. And you could love both "Backstreets" and —"it's such a shame our friendship had to end" — "Purple Rain."

Even for my Springsteen-obsessed 13-year-old brain, Purple Rain had it all, an undeniable, showstopping powerhouse of rock, soul, alien funk, passion, beauty, erotic bathtime, purple bananas.… Kids (well, The Kid) flashed guitars like switchblades, and he clearly had a freight train of his own running through the middle of his head. Just try and cool his desire, I dare you. I remember Tipper Gore's outrage over the lyrics to "Darling Nikki," and thinking, "If 'masturbating with a magazine' is shocking to you, what about the music?" After Prince sees little Nikki grind, that's when he and the Revolution get really nasty. But maybe that part scared Tipper, too.

Since then I've bought Purple Rain on cassette, CD, and vinyl. And I'm sure in the wake of Prince's sudden and shocking death yesterday, some new configuration will have me buying it again ("Double-pack with a photograph / Extra track and a tacky badge," anyone?). As '84 became '85, while I was wearing out Bruce's seven singles from Born in the U.S.A., and soon enough anxious for the Live/1975-'85 box set for Christmas '86, my Prince fandom was on a parallel track: on to Around the World in a Day, Parade, and Sign o' the Times, with mixed returns until the last of these, which was a masterpiece of a clincher. It's certainly company for The River in the category of Best Double Albums of All Time.

As for parallel tracks, there were so many similar joys in being a new fan of Springsteen and of Prince at that time. Discovering what came before — digging up Dirty Mind was almost as revelatory as finding Darkness on the Edge of Town — and also digging deep, beyond the albums. No one has a richer catalog of B-sides than these two. And for every hidden gem of Springsteen's, like "Be True" or "Shut Out the Light," there'd be a masterpiece Prince had also relegated to a flipside, like "Erotic City," "She's Always in My Hair," or "Another Lonely Christmas." Outtakes, lost albums (The Ties That Bind, meet The Black Album)... there was always so much to discover and explore, a similar and rarified level of prolific, hungry talent that Prince and Springsteen shared. And that's even before we get into the legendary live shows, and the bootleg recordings I coveted. In the late '80s and early '90s, the only way to get my hands on those live recordings was to go to a semi-annual Record Show, where vendors had such contraband; traveling from table to table, I'd pore through the P section right after the S section, trying to figure out how to ration out that $25 per disc.

At one point in the late '90s, having edited Backstreets for a few years, I was connected with the editor of the Swedish Prince fanzine Uptown; we were surprised to discover that we were huge fans of each others' subject. Though not really surprised, after all — this is one big itch we're all scratching. We exchanged stacks of back issues.

There are so many similarities between Prince and Springsteen, it seems strange that they didn't cross paths more. I was going to say "musical milieus aside," though even there, they share roots in James Brown and R&B. It could be the ten years that separated them; Springsteen's girl groups were Prince's Joni Mitchell. As Caryn Rose pointed out for us yesterday, the only time we know of them sharing the stage was once, for one song, in L.A. in 1985. But if they were ships in the night, they were sailing in the same direction.

Sure, Springsteen's feet took root in the earth, while Prince could seem like he was from another planet. But the affinities: wickedly talented, determined, young guitar-slinging hotshots with a vision, breaking out from a small local scene but bringing a spotlight to it, and to their friends. Prince enjoyed a gang mentality, too, and his rising tide in Minneapolis had a similar effect on its boats as Bruce's on the Jersey Shore. For better, sometimes for worse. Their shadows could be hard to escape. They've both had pointedly integrated bands, where race mattered and didn't matter at all. Lifelong music obsessives, they've mixed genres; confounded expectations; wrote huge hits for other people; wrestled with isolation; run tight ships; disbanded crack bands; embraced and made famous collaborators, sidemen and onstage foils; gone their own way; turned us on; made us cry; made us dance. They've both inspired larger-than-life legends, enough to be the subject of sketch comedy (Ben Stiller, meet Dave Chapelle). They both wrestled with what to do with all this creative output, making what plenty of us have seen as "mistakes" along the way, but also giving us some of the greatest, most cohesive album statements of the last half-century.

And heck, they've even got biblical references in common!

In the beginning God made the sea
But on the seventh day he made me
He was tryin' to rest, y'all, when He heard this sound
Sound like a guitar, cold gettin' down…

And yet, and yet: no jams to witness? No covers to post? You can watch one of them give one of the greatest Superbowl halftime performances of all time, and then you can watch the other do the same. But you won't find them jamming together for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or singing alongside each other at the USA For Africa session (which Prince famously did not attend). Maybe it was a few decades of bad timing; or in the end, maybe they were "just too much of the same kind."

Competition is probably what defined any kind of relationship they had — maybe my initial "Prince vs. Springsteen" feeling wasn't so wrong after all. Springsteen's most famous quote regarding the Purple One was in his liner notes to 1995's Greatest Hits, where he wrote "Damn the Artist Formerly Known as Prince!" for keeping his record out of the number-one slot. He was probably at least half-kidding. But it always felt like a respectful competition, two masters of the game. Prince stated over and over his respect for, even his awe of, Bruce Springsteen as a bandleader. Springsteen, too, was knocked out by Prince on stage, as he told Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder in 1984:

What about Prince? Have you ever seen him live?
Yeah. He is incredible live. He is one of the best live performers I've ever seen in my whole life. His show was funny; it had a lot of humor in it. He had the bed that came up out of the stage — it was great, you know? I think him and Steve, right now, are my favorite performers.

Have you seen 'Purple Rain'?
Yeah, it was great. It was like an Elvis movie — a real good early Elvis movie.

So if Springsteen had taken the title role in Eddie and the Cruisers after all, we might have one more parallel. But where both of their talents truly coalesce is on the concert stage, and after Springsteen, the greatest shows I've ever seen have been Prince, hands down. After witnessing a Prince concert in the early 2000s in Washington DC, my wife Laura and I were trying to put our finger on what made Prince and Springsteen such amazing, yet such different, live performers. I think Laura got it exactly right. Bruce, she said, works his ass off for you — you can see him giving it everything he's got, right down to the James Brown "I can't go on" shtick. He drips sweat, shouts himself hoarse, exhausts himself — and us — by the end of the night. Prince makes it look like breathing. He's performing miracles on stage, and it's effortless.

I was devastated yesterday by the news. Stunned, and without words. I needed to do something to mark the moment, and I dug up a magazine cover, one of the few places they ever appeared together, even if just in an illustration. It was the cover of a 1985 TV Guide, with a montage of Prince and Bruce's faces together, along with Michael Jackson. The illustration's a little garish, but it captures a moment in time, very much the Spirit of '84. I posted it to Facebook without a caption, just to say… I don't know, just to say "I miss you, baby." And here you are with my guy.

I checked back a couple hours later, shocked to find negative comments — "Not cool!" "How terrible, on this day!" "Show some respect, Backstreets," and more like that. Panicked, I looked at the image again, still a little confused, but realized that the headline — "Why Prince and Bruce Springsteen May Beat Michael Jackson," a reference to the 1985 Grammys — could be taken different ways, not all of them so cool. I took it right down. It wasn't meant as any kind of morbid snark, and after the year we've all had so far, I'm as terrified and saddened by all these greats dying off as anyone. Show some respect? I'm bleeding purple over here! It made me sadder. I could only blame myself — it's a hazard of social media, and I gave it zero context. But y'know, as the man said, "If the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy — punch a higher floor."

So this one's for the brilliant Prince Rogers Nelson, the Minneapolis Genius, The Artist, The Kid, Joey Coco, TAFKAP, Alexander Nevermind, the Purple One, The Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

I came home after work yesterday to find Laura dancing in the living room to "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man." I joined her, and I forgot all about the TV Guide cover. The beautiful ones always smash the picture. Always, every time.
- April 22, 2016 - Christopher Phillips

This Sunday afternoon, between the E Street Band's two Brooklyn performances, Garry Tallent will be making a stop at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ. His instore appearance, a signing and Q&A, begins at 2pm on Sunday, April 24; you can pre-order the Break Time LP from them for a wristband that'll get you in. Vintage Vinyl tells us they've still got stock, and room for Garry's event — click here to visit their website and place your order.

If you're not in the area, the Break Time LP is also still available from Backstreet Records, where we recently scored an additional supply of the limited vinyl. A CD edition is also coming later this spring, by popular demand; more info on that once we have details.
- Updated April 22, 2016


In 1984, the three biggest stars in the world were Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and Prince. We lost the last of these today, Prince Rogers Nelson, at the age of 57 in Minneapolis. Prince and Bruce Springsteen have more in common that it might seem at first glance: they’re both guitar virtuosos, they both were unabashed about their R&B roots, and most markedly, they were both phenomenal band leaders, a dying art that extends back at least as far as James Brown.

Prince definitely knew what was up with Bruce, and he kept a close eye on his competition. In a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone, Prince said, "I'm not real into Bruce Springsteen's music," he says, "but I have a lot of respect for his talent."

The article went on to share:

Prince and Springsteen occasionally exchange notes; in recalling a Springsteen concert he saw from backstage a few years back, Prince displays the respect of a general reviewing another man's army. "I admire the way he holds his audience — there's one man whose fans I could never take away," he says with a laugh. And how does he compare their stage tactics? "I'm not sure," says Prince. "But at one point, his band started going off somewhere. Springsteen turned around and shot the band one terrifying look. You know they got right back on it!"

Late last year, Prince gave an interview with EBONY (later retracted due to Prince's insistence that the conversation wasn’t on the record) in which Bruce came up again. Asked about a rumor that he incorporated horns on the Purple Rain tour after seeing Clarence Clemons on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, Prince replied:

How do you get "Hot Thing" from "Born in the U.S.A."? 'Cause that’s where Eric [Leeds] shines, on "Hot Thing." But how do you get Madhouse from "Dancing in the Dark"? I have a lot of respect for Bruce and everything he's done. He's one of my favorite bandleaders of all time. But he wouldn’t even say that.

Mr. Nelson riffed for a few more paragraphs before ending the topic thusly:

Clarence Clemons... one of the greatest sidemen in history, and he's a star in his own right. Them two was nothing like that. C’mon, man. That's a whole different thing. Clarence'll smile and you'll forget every solo Eric ever did. Like Louis Armstrong. Beautiful dude. Aura was huge.

And you can't copy Bruce. I would never mess with somebody whom I respect and who was actually gigging at the same time.

Bruce appeared onstage once with Prince, at the Purple One's 2/23/85 show at the Forum in Los Angeles, for the perfectly fitting "Baby I'm a Star." There’s a glorious photograph of the two together, Bruce beaming from ear to ear. (Believe it or not, Madonna showed up that night too!)

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
- April 21, 2016 - Caryn Rose


"Stand With Bruce" fundraiser for HRC offers flight, hotel, and VIP tickets for winner and a friend, as guests of actor Edward Norton — and a chance to meet Bruce Springsteen backstage
Today, with one day left in the Human Rights Campaign's CrowdRise fundraiser to give Springsteen fans a chance to see The River Tour live in Brooklyn, CrowdRise co-founder Edward Norton announced an update to this "Stand With Bruce" contest: in addition to being flown to NYC for the April 25th show, the winner and a friend will be able to meet Springsteen at the show, where they will join Norton and his friends in prime seats and hang out backstage in the VIP Lounge.

"I've been inspired by Bruce's music and storytelling literally since I was a kid," Norton tells Backstreets, "and I've been inspired by his defense of progressive, humanist principles all of my adult life. His statement about the reasons for canceling the NC show was, as always, eloquent and incisive, so I'm happy to find my own small way to combine the fun of his shows with support for one of the organizations doing great work to advance the cause he stood up for.”

The fundraiser was launched last week in response to Springsteen's headline-making decision to cancel his Greensboro show in protest of North Carolina's House Bill 2. Springsteen's show cancellation generated substantial praise from HRC and other human rights organizations; the second Brooklyn show takes place on the same day that North Carolina legislature will be back in session, the first opportunity for the bill to be repealed.

Every $10 donation gives donors one entry to win two flights to NYC, two nights accommodations, and VIP seats with backstage passes. Contest ends Friday, April 22, at noon ET. For full rules and to enter to win, visit
- April 21, 2016


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band delivered a monster show the last time they were in Baltimore, back at the end of the Working on a Dream Tour, and it seemed that Bruce was very happy to be back at the same (since renamed) arena. Built in 1961, with a capacity of only 14,000, and without any pesky skyboxes, the Royal Farms Arena is the kind of venue that seems close to Bruce's heart, and he made a point to compliment the building. The smaller size was probably a factor in the overall strong crowd, and it is surprising that Bruce didn't perform in this city at all between 1977 and 2009. That this show did not quite, in my opinion, match the last time the band played here is less about specifics of this performance in particular, and more due to the limiting nature of the current tour.

Let's start with the good news. The band was playing quite strongly the last time I saw them just down I-95 in DC in January, but as I had hoped, they've picked up speed and momentum since then. Max is always a machine, but I don't remember ever seeing him so intense. Steve, as many have noted, is having a lot of fun stepping up on this tour. And Jake, having earned his spurs in 2012-2014, was full of confidence. Bruce himself is also more mobile than he was in DC, even on some of the slower numbers.

The rockers that seemed to be a little lagging at the beginning of the tour are now being delivered with the kind of adrenaline and energy we've come to expect. Two of my favorites tonight, "Crush on You" and "Cadillac Ranch," have a little extra grungy muscle and encore-levels of energy — I daresay these songs have never sounded better. “Independence Day” sounds smoother than it did a few months ago — I think Charlie has really gotten the hang of this one. The most emotional moment of the evening came right before "I Wanna Marry You," when Bruce brought an ecstatic couple onstage for a wedding proposal. "You got your courage up!" Bruce observed to the hopeful man, who went down on one knee and was rewarded with a tearful but clear Yes. Not the first time this has happened at a concert, but a very special moment.

The last third of The River is challenging for the crowd, due to the higher number of slow songs. Bruce counteracts this, in part, by cranking up the tempo on a more anthemic "The Price You Pay," but there is no way to rush through "Fade Away," "Stolen Car," or "Drive All Night." With multiple obscure ballads so close together, inevitably the attention spans of crowd members varies. Whether Bruce will continue to play the full album live, once he heads overseas and to larger venues, remains to be seen.

Clearly this is not a tour that rewards multiple show attendance in the same way many of us are used to— we've been spoiled over the years — and while in good spirits, Bruce was in no mood to encourage request signs tonight. Indeed, at this point in the tour it would be naïve for any fan to get their hopes up for a rarity-studded setlist. But as the band surged through another strong but predictable post-River set, what struck me most was just how incredibly similar all these E Street Band live warhorses are: serious, earnest, heavy, dense rock, with precious little roll. In any other setlist, these thunderous classics would be interspersed with lighter, more lively numbers, but so many of these had already been performed as part of The River. So in its own strange way, the awkwardly paced show reminded me of one of the great things about the album being celebrated, The River's fun rock 'n' roll songs counteracting the ballast of its more serious side.

After a slew of "important" rock songs, the high-energy encore with all the house lights on felt like a huge cathartic release. "Dancing in the Dark" saw Bruce bring up first one dancing partner and then, right afterwards, a group of eight enthusiastic young dancers, some of whom were surely up past their bedtime. And I connected more with "Shout" this time than I have ever before – perhaps being closer to the stage helped with that, although it seemed like the whole arena was up and rocking.

I left the show with the usual physical exhaustion, but without my usual yearning for more shows. In trying to recapture the glory days for himself and for us, Springsteen is certainly delivering far, far more than "boring stories" from the stage. But this time, he may be taking us on one nostalgia trip too far. Your mileage may vary, and as we're only approaching the end of the first leg, there is still time for the tour to go in new directions.

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 21, 2016 - Magnus Lauglo reporting - photographs by Guy Aceto


This weekend will mark what would have been the late, great Roy Orbison's 80th birthday, with the big day itself falling on Saturday. And as the U.S. arena leg of The River Tour 2016 (with Bruce namechecking The Big O every single night in "Thunder Road") opens its final stand on the same day, here's a perfect Throwback Thursday item: a River-era 1981 television appearance by Springsteen discussing Orbison's importance and impact. It's a very interesting historical snippet, most likely Bruce's first televised appearance elaborating on the significance of one of his major musical influences. Much of what he touched upon in this '81 clip would be included and expanded in Springsteen's 1987 speech inducting Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Shortly before Orbison's death in 1988, Steve Pond interviewed him for Rolling Stone and referenced Springsteen's memorable quote:

Guys like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis seemed like threats to the public decency, but you weren't quite so dangerous.
Yeah, I was milder. And the Everly Brothers, you know, they were milder too. But I'm sure that if I'd have had "Pretty Woman" as my first record, I would have been thought of in a different light.

Your image was more of somebody who was mysterious, and maybe a little weird. Bruce Springsteen once said that the first time he saw you, he got the impression that if he reached out to touch you, his hand would go right through you.
That's probably closer to the truth. I wasn't trying to be weird, you know? I didn't have a manager who told me how to dress or how to present myself or anything. But the image developed of a man of mystery and a quiet man in black and somewhat of a recluse, although I never was, really.

As befitting the man of mystery, there's also a bit of mystery around this clip — we've yet to determine its exact origin. Was this part of an awards show tribute? A television special on early rock 'n' rollers or on Orbison himself? So far our research hasn't uncovered any record of a 1981 Springsteen television appearance of this type anywhere. If anyone out there can help solve the mystery, drop us a line.*

In the meantime, to celebrate Orbison's 80th in high style, blogger Ryan Hilligoss and's own Shawn Poole have teamed up with E Street Radio to present a special edition of the guest-DJ show Be the Boss. Hilligoss and Poole will take control of the channel for over an hour, offering an extensive discussion and playlist that explores the strong connections between Orbison and Springsteen. The show will debut on Sirius/XM channel 20 today at 5pm ET, followed by repeat plays over the Orbison birthday weekend on Friday at 9am, Saturday at 6pm and Sunday at 11pm. Hilligoss' blog will also provide an online supplement/expansion for the E Street Radio show.

*Update: Robert Bader writes in: "I can solve the mystery of the clip you have up today. Bruce shot this for a Roy Orbison pay-per-view concert broadcast. I think it was after the Rolling Stones' December 1981 Hampton, Virginia pay-per-view, which was one of the first live concert PPV events, so my guess (without digging through the boxes of VHS tapes in my garage) would be that it was shot in 1981 and broadcast in early 1982. These PPV concerts were regular monthly things in those days. I recall watching the Stones event, and later the Who doing Tommy from Atlantic City, and lots of others. In between the mega-acts like the Who and the Stones they would have stuff like Teddy Pendergrass and Roy Orbison."
- April 21, 2016


Uncovering the beautiful mystery of "Here She Comes Walkin'"
During each nightly performance of The River on the current tour, the audience has been treated to one additional song during the album set that wasn't actually part of the original album. In fact, it wasn't even released officially until late last year, when it was included in Thom Zimny's Tempe, 1980 film for The Ties That Bind box set.

"Here She Comes Walkin'," also known as "Here She Comes," first served as an introduction to live performances of "I Wanna Marry You" during the 1980-81 River Tour. Springsteen has revived this tradition for the 2016 River Tour, featuring some beautiful vocal interplay between himself and Steve Van Zandt. More than a few fans unfamiliar with the history of the song, however, have wondered whether "Here She Comes Walkin'" is an original or an interpolation/cover of someone else's song.

The song is a Springsteen original, with a history that goes further back than The River era. As Backstreets founder Charles R. Cross first reported in our 1989 book Backstreets: Springsteen, The Man and His Music, in the mid-'70s a Springsteen song entitled "Here She Comes Walkin'" was written and considered for inclusion on Born to Run. This was later confirmed by a preliminary Born to Run track listing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's From Asbury Park to the Promised Land exhibit.

As displayed at the Rock Hall, this early, handwritten lineup for the third album (one of many that Springsteen played around with in his notebooks) listed "Here She Comes Walkin'" and other unreleased titles such as "A Song for Orphans," "Lonely Night in the Park," "and "New Delinquent Lovers" along with "Born to Run," "Jungleland," and "She's the One." Another notebook worksheet from the era also lists the track.

Interestingly, whenever a version of the "Here She Comes Walkin'" onstage intro has been used, it's been accompanied by a girl-watching story similar to what was first told onstage during "Pretty Flamingo" at the 9/13/1975 Houston show on the Born to Run Tour. No studio recording of "Here She Comes Walkin'" has circulated, so it remains unclear how closely the River Tour (1980-81 and 2016) performances resemble the BTR-era composition. But the title — and the idea in general — is one that Springsteen has never quite let go. In the late '80s, Springsteen revisited the concept for the "here she comes walkin'" intro to "All That Heaven Will Allow" (also presaging 2007's "Girls in Their Summer Clothes") on the Tunnel of Love Express Tour:

While Bruce doesn't appear to be covering or interpolating someone else's song with "Here She Comes Walkin'," he does seem to be invoking what Frank Zappa labeled "Archetypal American Musical Icons," which probably has much to do with some fans wondering if the song is a cover. In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa wrote, "The audience doesn't have to know, for example, who Jan Garber or Lester Lanin is to appreciate those textures — the average guy… he knows what that style means."

"Here She Comes Walkin'" evokes the doo-wop and vocal-group roots of "I Wanna Marry You," even for fans who might not be familiar with classics like Don & Juan's "What's Your Name?" or even The Temptations' "Just My Imagination." At the same time, the live performance of "Here She Comes Walkin'" provides a smoother transition from the high-energy antics of "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" into "I Wanna Marry You."

For your listening pleasure, here are two archival fan-based recordings of "Here She Comes Walkin'" from the first month of The River Tour in October 1980: its onstage debut from the October 11 show at Chicago's Uptown Theatre and, with much better sound, the October 24 performance at the Seattle Center on the night that Backstreets was born.

- April 20, 2016 - Shawn Poole reporting - Springsteen photograph by David Bernstein [Dallas, 4/5/16] - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame photograph by Christopher Phillips - worksheet courtesy of Brucebase - special thanks to Charles R. Cross, Dave Marsh and Flynn McLean


Though this tour has previously ventured to a few college campuses — St. Louis University's Chaifetz Arena and USC's L.A. Memorial Sports Arena, to name just two — none can lay as much claim to being a true college show as University Park. The arena is in the heart of Penn State's campus, which created a novel preshow sight of backpack-toting college students walking past your typical middle-aged E Street Nation lifers lining up for the lottery. Yet a plethora of Lions also lined up (sans backpacks), and they sure made their energetic presence was felt throughout the show, beginning right away with an elongated ovation after "Meet Me in the City" that forced Bruce to take a few extra beats before introducing The River. His response: "That's my kind of crowd."

And thus started the love affair between Bruce and the young-skewing audience that lasted the duration of the nearly three-hour and thirty-minute concert, during which time a shocking lack of asses were planted in seats in favor of properly rocking. Bruce had a blast with the kids all night long, from pointing out a group of bros wearing American flag bandanas and losing their minds in the back of the pit, to a group of shirtless bros similarly losing their minds way up behind the stage. Lest you think he ignored the young female members of the crowd, Springsteen granted a "Dancing in the Dark" sign request that read, "20 years old. 20 E Street shows. Dance with me?" Though she was in hostile territory given her Indiana University hat, no one could be too upset with her — she was also the one who brought the "I Wanna Be With You" sign to Columbus. Not a bad week for the Hoosier.

Above all, it was a vocal audience, resulting in perhaps the loudest and most in-unison sing-along on "Hungry Heart" yet on this tour. Bruce changed up his usual introduction to the song, replacing "Here's another song about leaving home" with more of a call-to-arms-to-party: "State College, are you hungryyyyyyy?!" This seemingly innocuous switcheroo foreshadowed the type of concert we were about to witness. Instead of giving the type of soulful, introspective performance where revealing a thematic connection between "Independence Day" and "Hungry Heart" would feel natural, Bruce — perhaps with an eye on the unique collegiate makeup of his audience — opted for a rock 'n' roll house party vibe. Instead of asking, "Any lovers out there?" before "I Wanna Marry You," he changed it to, "Is there any love out there? Let me feel the love… feels good!"

The crowd's raucous response to such E Street staples as "Out in the Street" only reaffirmed Bruce's more mainstream approach to the concert; he took a noticeable moment before "Crush On You" to look around the arena and appreciate the vocal participation that had just showered down upon the Band. Even though it's been a nightly highlight on this tour, the fact that "Crush On You" was greeted with a relatively tepid reaction from the crowd was the first indicator that this wouldn't be a night for deep cuts (an apropos "Lion's Den" did not rear its regal head). The audience was sufficiently respectful during the side three and four ballads, but it definitely sounded like a majority were waiting to revel in Bruce's "greatest hits."

And once The River came to its hauntingly beautiful conclusion, he gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: his greatest hits, with 10 of the 12 songs in the B-set having appeared on his more comprehensive hits album The Essential Bruce Springsteen. After some of the more obscure tunes on The River, the crowd threw themselves into "Badlands," chanting non-stop, and seemed to love finally recognizing every song. For the first time on the tour, "The Rising," perhaps Bruce's greatest modern hit, was not followed by one of the greatest hits of them all, "Thunder Road." Instead, Bruce referred to "the biggest sign of the tour," which was a collection of 10 individual, neon green, human-sized letters spelling out J-U-N-G-L-E-L-A-N-D held by 10 different people in the pit. Amusingly, being respectful members of the crowd, they had put away the letters by this point in the show. Bruce gave them a few seconds to scramble the sign back in order, but spared little time in launching into a soaring performance of this masterpiece. A deafeningly loud, "down in Junglelaaaand!" rivaled the decibel levels that greeted the song's tour premiere back in Philadelphia (the overwhelming ovations from the crowd throughout the night were probably due to a combination of both the Lions and the Brotherly Love travelers in attendance).

"Born in the U.S.A." is still a rarity on this tour, even though it's now opened the encores at three consecutive shows (perhaps warming it up for Europe, where it seems to be played a heck of a lot more). Even so, it felt like an audible tonight, with "Born to Run" teed up before Bruce called out the change in honor of the bandana-clad bros in the pit. It's undeniably a fiery way to light the initial encores fuse. From the opening synth chords to Max's ferocious final drum solo that captures the intensity of the song's righteous fury, "Born in the U.S.A." basically blows the roof off the place throughout. Combined with "Born to Run," it's an explosive one-two punch that clearly communicates we've hit the homestretch.

After Bruce dedicated the final go-'round of "Shout" to the rafters — "One more time for these guys with their shirts off back here!" — he busted out a nightly dance that he does, raising his guitar and doing a little walk-in-place shuffle while constantly rotating to face the four corners of the arena. Jake Clemons, who the crowd absolutely adored all night (especially during "Jungleland"), decided to switch things up and join in. When the Boss realized he had a new partner in crime, he cracked up and beamed the biggest smile. This increasing reciprocity of energy between Bruce and Jake perfectly encapsulated the relationship between the performers and the youthful Penn State crowd all night long. Though it may have appeared like it was the same old show on paper (true story: there hasn't been a tour premiere since MSG's rescheduled concert back in March), the inexhaustible energy overflowing out of the Bryce Jordan Center really made it a special evening. As Bruce exclaimed at the end of the show, "Wow — what a great audience. We loved every minute of it."

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 19, 2016 - Steven Strauss reporting - photographs by Guy Aceto

As the official downloads from The River Tour continue — now up to the March 22 Portland show — series facilitator is continuing to work on archival releases for Springsteen as well. As an example of what his company does, Nugs founder and CEO Brad Serling dropped this tantalizing nugget in a recent interview with Pollstar: "We've gone into this treasure trove of the Bruce Springsteen archives, stuff that had never been released before, had never seen the light of day. We're pulling out 18 reels of half-inch tape of a run of shows from '78. Those tapes, literally, have to be baked in order to get the musical information off of them."

As we all ponder whether said '78 run might be Berkeley... or Passaic... or Madison Square Garden... the full interview ("Concerts Galore From") is worth reading, as Serling discusses the history of, their work with Bruce and other artists, and more.
- April 18, 2016

On this week's episode of The A.V. Club's 'Talent Show': Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus are vocal about their love of Bruce Springsteen. It’s why, when the pair recently went on tour together, it only made sense to try to declare one the king of all things Bruce. In this best-of-three challenge, Finn and Stickles clap out a rhythm and try to name as many Springsteen songs as they can without blanking. Anyone with the River tracklist now etched permanently in their brain could probably steal the crown... but can you clap at the same time?
- April 18, 2016

Tom Cunningham talks Songs of Springsteen

Today, Record Store Day 2016, marks the official release of
Songs of Springsteen: A Covers Collection From 105.7 The Hawk’s Bruce Brunch, a six-track, 10-inch EP masterminded by Brunch host Tom Cunningham. As if putting the whole thing together himself wasn't a big enough task, he even wrote some liner notes just for us. Congrats, Mister DJ — we turn it over to you.

I began plotting what ended up being Songs of Springsteen: A Covers Collection From 105.7 The Hawk’s Bruce Brunch two-and-a-half years ago. Yup, extended labor to be sure. Asking musicians to perform live on the radio at 10:30 on a Sunday morning is tough enough… but transforming some of those magic moments to a vinyl release was years in the making.

The front cover is a story in and of itself. In 2003, a gentleman named Andre Sabori was contracted by the city of Asbury Park to paint a mural on an old building along the waterfront. Turns out the mural would only be up for about three weeks. However, in that time, the legendary Frank Stefanko happened upon the mural and shot some pictures. The recursive satisfaction of Frank’s image of Bruce from the Darkness on the Edge of Town cover being included in the mural has not been lost on anyone who has seen the picture. Toss in a pink Cadillac and a Cadillac Ranch, and you’ve got plenty of horsepower and magic. Frank graciously donated his image to be used for the cover, but then if I could only track down the guy who painted the mural and get his approval.… For multiple reasons, Eileen Chapman is a treasure and legend at the Jersey Shore. Of course she knew who the painter was and directed me to his website, and that was that.

August 26, 2012, was a textbook summer Sunday at the Jersey Shore. The Bruce Brunch was broadcasting that morning from Martell’s in Point Pleasant Beach. James Maddock was to perform live, and Frank Stefanko (there he is again) and Danny Clinch (he’ll be back too) were also coming on to talk about an exhibit that they were doing together. When I told James that they would be in the house as well, he sent me a note wondering if Danny would like to accompany him on harmonica. The two had never met, but after some emails, that morning they huddled on the boardwalk for all of about 30 seconds and made their plan. On the air I asked Maddock why he chose of “Hearts of Stone,” and he talked about playing in a Southside Johnny cover band (!!) as a kid growing up in Leicester. When I pointed out that Mr. Stefanko, who was seated close by, had also shot the cover of the Hearts of Stone album, the circle got even tighter. James sang his wonderful song “Beautiful Now” and brought Danny up for their duet. And off they went, unrehearsed and undaunted, and flat-out nailed it. James was at the Stone Pony a couple of weeks ago, and talking to him that night he mentioned how Danny’s bluesy style fit the mood of the song and the perfect summer morning so well. I couldn’t agree more.

Passenger? Mike Rosenberg? Two Brits back-to-back on a record celebrating the Jersey Shore? You bet. I’d met Mike in the summer of 2013. Mike’s label, Nettwerk Records, was trying to break through in the U.S. with his song “Let Her Go,” which at that point was an international smash but one with no traction whatsoever here in the states. I spent a big chunk of that summer driving him all across the country, visiting radio stations, with him playing shows in small clubs at night and also doing what is (to this day) near and dear to his heart — busking. Naturally, the conversation turned to music more often than not, and Bruce Springsteen’s songs became a big part of those discussions. He’d been performing a devastating version of “Dancing in the Dark” that brought the song down to its very core. Somewhere along the way I asked if we could record an interview for the show along with his version of “Dancing in the Dark.” Dear friends in Cincinnati at Hubbard Broadcasting let us “borrow” one of their studios for a bit, and we came away with both a great interview and performance. During the course of the interview, Passenger spilled the beans that his father was actually from Vineland, and they spent most every summer in Avalon! Stuff you couldn’t dream up or make up. Oh, and “Let Her Go” ended up doing pretty well in the U.S. — to date selling more than 4 million singles!

I first met Emily Grove (a quintessential Jersey Girl from Wall) when she performed on the Stone Pony's side stage at Light of Day 13 in January 2013. She was terrific that night, and there was no doubt that at some point down the line I would ask her to come on the show. She’s got this big voice and is fearless as a performer. She’s also got excellent social media skills, often posting her songs as well as some cool covers on her various platforms. The more of her work that I saw and heard, the more I looked forward to having her on. It’s presumptuous to think that every Jersey Shore musician is in some fashion a Springsteen fan, but most usually are, and happily, such was the case with Ms. Grove. I only suggest songs for artists when asked and very rarely will make a specific request. But I very much had a song in mind that I hoped she’d sing — and to my ever-loving surprise, when she came back with the idea to perform “Tougher Than the Rest” I was thrilled, because that’s the one I would have asked for. Pure karma. Her interpretation of the song is exquisite. Hearing the song sung from a woman’s point of view was also something I found really telling as well. That morning it was just the two of us in the studio. I "produced" while she sang and played guitar; I was praying that there were no technical screw-ups or anything, because she was killing it from the first note. I pretty much held my breath until she was finished and am pleased that she is a part of this project.

Joe Grushecky has been on the show a bunch of times at this point. He’s great and is an easy interview — and more importantly, a good interview. When Joe was on the show on Sunday, 8/11/13, I already had this project in my head. Not only did I want to make sure that Joe was a part of whatever I thought I was doing, this was a rare instance that I requested a specific song. There are only a handful of people who have co-writing credits with Bruce Springsteen, and since there’s no one with more of those than Joe Grushecky, I was really interested in one of those Springsteen/Grushecky compositions. Or is it Grushecky/Springsteen? Who knows. Anyway, Joe was in great spirits that day, as I recall (and I also recall that Tony Pallagrosi was in the house as well), and he granted my request with "I'm Not Sleeping" (along with one that Joe wrote specifically wrote for Bruce on the occasion of a special birthday, called “Still Look Good For 60”). The 105.7 The Hawk air studio is pretty much acoustically perfect, and that morning it lived up to its billing. Along with his great spirits, Joe was in great voice as well, and as he was doing his thing, I knew we had a winner. I love that Joe is on the album and especially love that it’s one of those very cool co-writes.

Is there anyone at the Jersey Shore who Bobby Bandiera hasn’t played with? And played well with? For me, Bobby is in his own class when it comes to artistry and versatility. The man can, and has, played anything and everything. I’d long wanted to have him on the show, and on 12/9/12 he joined us for the Bruce Brunch’s ninth anniversary at a place that was then called the RiverWatch in Brick. Bobby told great stories that morning, and I was especially pleased to have him talk on the record about that magical year of 1982, when Bruce spent many a Sunday night playing with Cats on a Smooth Surface at the Stone Pony. To this day, those remain some of the greatest nights of music that I have ever witnessed. “If I Should Fall Behind” had been part of Bobby’s repertoire for a while, so that was an easy call, and because of the anniversary implications and a certain degree of nostalgia that came along with it, I also asked him to sing “Young at Heart.” He’d (naturally) had a gig the night before, but we were in a wonderful room of people, and he quickly warmed up to the task at hand. What I love about this version of the song is that you can hear Bobby’s worldliness, mixed in with just enough weariness that it becomes instantly authentic. Our awesome engineer Tom Trembly was on hand and got a great mix, and it was remarkable how quiet this room full of shiny happy people got while Bobby was doing his thing. I consider Bobby Bandiera to be a Shore treasure.

When Willie Nile released American Ride in June 2013, he and Johnny Pisano came on the show on a perfect summer morning as I was broadcasting live from FirstEnergy Park, the home of the Lakewood BlueClaws. Former Philadelphia Phillies great Mickey Mornadini was managing the team that year and came on with me (and was amazing), and Willie and Johnny were set to perform two songs live for our assembled guests and on the radio. Did I mention perfect summer morning? Turns out not to have been all that perfect, as both “American Ride” and a slinky version of “I’m on Fire” were not recorded properly, lost in the ether of radio nowhere. By the time Willie came back on the show two years later, this project had basically taken shape, and I really wanted them to be a part of it. They came to the studio last May 31, along with Matt Hogan, and ripped through a spirited version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” All things considered, I especially like The River implications. Turned out to be the perfect song to wrap things up with. When I saw Willie at the first ever Light Of Day show in Philadelphia in January, he told me that he’d sent the version to Bruce and that Bruce really dug it. That was icing on the cake.

The image on the back cover is a gift from Danny Clinch. As you may know, should know, Mantoloking was one of the hardest hit places at the Jersey Shore by Hurricane Sandy. Danny went there the day after the storm, and his picture is a microcosm of many things. While the ocean is tranquil and serene, it’s framed by devastation. If every picture tells a story, this one speaks volumes. And speaking of volumes, here’s hoping that this is only number one....

* * *

Songs of Springsteen: A Covers Collection From 105.7 The Hawk’s Bruce Brunch sees the light of day today in a limited edition of 500 copies. We're sold out here at Backstreet Records, but Cunningham is also distributing the release through Jack's Music Shoppe, Red Bank; Hold Fast, Asbury Park; Vintage Vinyl, Fords; The Record Store, Howell; the Stone Pony Store, Asbury Park; Princeton Record Exchange, Princeton;  Randy Now's Man Cave, Bordentown; and overseas at Badlands UK. Proceeds benefit Ocean of Love.
- April 16, 2016


When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band hit the stage at The Palace in Auburn Hills last night, a question hung in the air among the hardcores. After the loose, barnburner of a show in Columbus two nights earlier, would Bruce continue down that road? Or was Columbus more of a one-off and we'd get a more formal, structured show? It was certainly the latter, but that didn't matter a lick to the 20,000 Detroit-area faithful, and a guest spot from Bob Seger brought the 2016 River Tour full circle from 1980's opening night right here in Michigan.

Springsteen really is in fine voice on this stretch of the tour. Whatever issues there were might have been with winter colds earlier in the tour were not in evidence the last two nights. And while it now seems to be taken for granted, the overall sound for this tour is some of the best Thrill Hill Inc. has had to offer in a long while. Such things are always subjective, but roaming the venue and finding a number of vantage points throughout the night, I was struck by the clarity and mix, which was superb. Sonically, it also hit me that, while this show is less of the E Street Orchestra of recent tours and more E Street Band, the sheer wall of sound is more impressive with seven or eight fewer singers/musicians on stage.

Things seemed pretty scary for a short while when Bruce was crowd surfing during "Hungry Heart." At one point it sounded like Bruce was saying "Shiiiiiit!" as the surf got rough in the middle of the pit. When Jake pulled him onto the stage, Bruce leaned in his ear for a bit, telling him about whatever happened, with Jake laughing along. What else caught my ear and eye during the River presentation: The moment in "I Wanna Marry You" when there's that half-second pause before Bruce's achingly beautiful  "Oh Darling!" and the band crashes in behind him to bring the song to its finale? Wonderful. And the "don't cry now" backing vocals by the E Street Band and Jake's sweet saxophone solo during "Drive All Night" are simply gorgeous.

Following "Wreck on the Highway," Bruce announced, "Let's kick it a little bit now." And kick it they did, launching into "Badlands" and lighting up The Palace crowd. From there it was one classic after another, with the emotional highlight being "Backstreets." Charlie's organ part and Bruce's lead guitar drove the song; there was a moment during Bruce's solo near the end when the stage was bathed in a green light, and for 15 seconds it felt like 1978 again.

Bruce tipped his hat to the volunteers from Gleaners Community Food Bank, out on the front lines and accepting donations at the show. And then he touched on possible legislation before the Michigan state government:

"Also just wanted to give you a heads up: Michigan is considering bills similar to the ones that forced us to cancel our show in North Carolina. So just on behalf of the LGBT community and many caring people of this state, we hope the bill doesn't pass, because we love playing in Michigan! So keep your heads up."

A ferocious "Born in the U.S.A." followed, in the set since Bruce's North Carolina announcement.

Throughout the show, no one was singing and jumping, and pumping their fist as much as Bob Seger, located stage left. In 1980, when The River tour opened in Ann Arbor, Seger was there, too — at the Crisler Arena on 10/3/80 Bruce said he'd "admired [Seger's] music for a long time" and called it a "thrill" to bring him up for "Thunder Road." Some 36 years later it didn't appear that history would repeat, but during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," while everyone was focused on Bruce on the back catwalk, Steven and Garry called the Michigan native up. Seger stayed on stage playing tambourine and singing with Steven for the "Shout" finale, when Bruce included him in the intros and called him "one of my musical heroes."

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 15, 2016 - Bob Zimmerman reporting - photographs by Matt Orel


Last night in Auburn Hills, MI, Bob Seger on stage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

- April 15, 2016 - photographs by Bob Zimmerman

Gearing up for tonights show in Auburn Hills, MI, Gary Graff spoke with not one but two E Street Band members for the Oakland Press. With the Detroit-born Garry Tallent, he talked about the new Break Time album, the bass player's Motor City roots, and the River Tour's going "completely against the grain" of the typical E Street Band show. And more tour talk with Nils Lofgren: "I'm used to watching Bruce and never knowing what's next... I still have to remind myself to stop being suspicious and to know what I'll be playing next for 20 songs. I've never done that, so it’s kind of an interesting thing."
- April 14, 2016

Project Green Leaf, based at UNC-Greensboro and supporting a local agro-food system since 2001, had been tapped as a benefitting charity for the cancelled April 10 show. While our understanding is that Springsteen will still be making his own private donation, as he does for the local charities his tours support in each city, Project Green Leaf missed out on literal bucketloads of fan support.

Backstreets spoke with Project director Susan Andreatta, who told us, "I was selected by Bruce Springsteen's people this time and in the past (2008) because we teach how to grow as well make connections with the public and food providers — farmers and fishermen. Our mission is to provide support and assistance for a local food system."

Whether you were a ticketholder who would have chipped in on Sunday night or just someone who is interested in supporting the cause, we'd like to point you to, where you'll find a donation link (via the Gardens project that Andreatta also runs) they've created at our request specifically for Springsteen fans.
- April 14, 2016


In a new piece on Asbury Park, NJ, at, Mark Ellwood writes, "The seaside town's return to glamour has been predicted for a decade or more..." and we'd come down on the side of "more": the anticipated revival of Asbury Park has been a two-steps-up-and-one-step back proposition at best for multiple decades. But hope gives us hope, and the Bloomberg article provides a look at the latest beacon, a luxury hotel called The Asbury, which opens next month (and is currently hiring). Read: "Inside the Hotel Betting on a Luxury Future for Asbury Park."
- April 14, 2016 - artist's rendering of The Asbury via Facebook

Just when you thought it was safe to plan your summer vacation... the European leg of The River Tour has been extended by another week, to the very end of July. Following the previously scheduled July 23 stop in Sweden, the third of three shows in Gothenburg, Bruce and the E Street Band will return to Norway, to two venues they've never played: a ski-jump arena in Trondheim on July 26, and back to Oslo on July 28 at Frogner Park. That makes three shows in Norway this summer; as Hans R. writes us, "You know, Sweden is like our big brother and rival, so when they have already gotten three shows, this should make it all up." After that it's on to Switzerland for a July 31 concert at Zurich's Stadion Letzigrund. Tickets go on sale this Friday and Monday, see our Tour/Ticket Info page for and details and onsale links.
- April 13, 2016

And happy 65th birthday to Mighty Max Weinberg!
Prior to last night's show at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, there was a fair amount of buzz regarding what we could expect from Bruce. After cancelling Greensboro would there be a short speech from the stage? Would the song choices after The River do the talking? Would we get a Merle Haggard cover song to salute the passing of one of country music's finest? The fact is that Bruce was back to business: E Street Band business. Early in the show, stage right, there was a huge rainbow-themed sign that said "Proud to Be a Bruce Springsteen Fan" [thanks to Ellen for the photo] but other than that display of solidarity, there was nothing explicit referring to recent events during the show in Columbus. 

The River portion continues to be the jewel of the night, each band member contributing to the whole of the arrangement. What shows might have lost in spontaneity they've gained in highlighting the musicality of the E Street Band.  

Tonight my focus was squarely on the contribution of Max Weinberg, on the eve of his 65th birthday. In the mid-'80s a friend of mine remarked that Max was the "most deliberate drummer in rock 'n' roll." He seemed to insinuate that Max was more metronome than backbeat. While I didn't agree, I knew where he was coming from. And that comment also came long before his time on the Conan O'Brien show, where playing every single night and in a different style, he picked up a swing and a swagger that has served Bruce well since 1999. When the band reformed and Bruce talked about E Street playing better than before, I always thought that applied most to Mr. Weinberg. Max services the song and not his own ego. When the band members come out on stage each night, waving to the crowd, watch Max: he literally nods his head, makes a sharp right, and jumps up on that drum throne which he doesn't leave except to take a five-second stretch during Bruce's harmonica intro on "Thunder Road." And while all of the band has to take it up a notch after the River portion of the show, I don't know if anyone else is as physical as Bruce night after night like the Mighty One. Bravo Max!

Columbus was full of signs, not much different than any other city. But in most other cities, save Seattle, request signs haven’t had much of an effect. The River gets played each night, and then a pretty specific set of "hits" that have some rotation, but nothing that signs have significantly altered. Maybe Columbus is the show that will change that. Following "Wreck on the Highway" Bruce asked for requests: "Whattaya got there? Let me see your signs!" Bruce then pointed off to Little Steven's side of the stage and called two ten-year-old boys up. They forgot their signs, and he sent them back to get them. "What do these say?" remarked Bruce. "Growin' Up," replied one of the boys. "My Mom is so pissed I'm here tonight" read the other. And before you know it, a height-appropriate microphone appeared and Bruce sang "Growin' Up" with two young fans. What it lacked in pure performance was made up for with a wonderful interaction between Bruce and his younger fans. 

Almost immediately Bruce referenced another sign he saw while on the back catwalk earlier during the show. "20 Years Old, My 20th Show, I Wanna Be With You." With that the band tore into one of the finest outtakes from Bruce's canon. Previously played on this tour only once, and clearly not rehearsed, it wasn't exactly a refined performance. The band chugged along, and Jake's solo was missed well into the instrumental. Springsteen and the band were good-natured about it, and Bruce was screaming for more cowbell. Getting towards the end of the song it was fun watching Steven try to conduct Max and the rest of the E Streeters. It was ragged but right. I'd take that off-the-cuff performance of such a treasure any night. 

"That young lady right there is asking for this," Bruce said before tearing into a white-hot "Cover Me." And Bruce referenced a beautifully well-lit request sign for "Born in the U.S.A." before launching into the anthem, another song only played once prior on the River Tour. Again it came back to Max, really tearing it up during the "Born in the U.S.A." drum solo and bringing the song to its fiery conclusion. 

So is this the start of a more open dialogue regarding what gets played after The River? Let's head on up to Auburn Hills Thursday night to find out. 

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 13, 2016 - report and photographs by Bob Zimmerman

One of the unfortunate side effects of the concert cancellation in North Carolina: lost revenue for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, one of the many "on the front lines" hunger-fighting organizations Bruce Springsteen supports at his concerts, which would have been collecting donations in Greensboro. However, virtual donation buckets have replaced physical ones: proactive fans have taken it upon themselves to donate regardless. In a Facebook post, the food bank says, "Thank you to the Springsteen fans who have made contributions to Second Harvest Food Bank over the weekend, honoring his commitment to helping to reduce hunger in the Triad, where one in four children are food insecure." Hat tip to Deb Robi, who suggests using the hashtag #BruceSentUs if you'd like to join the effort by donating here.
- April 12, 2016

The view from NC on the night of the cancelled Greensboro show

At this very moment, in a parallel universe, we're just down the highway in Greensboro, NC, reveling in the power and the glory of the E Street Band in concert, with friends and family from our homestate and from much farther afield. Over there, they're at "Born to Run" right about now. Of course, that alternate timeline is one in which Bruce Springsteen doesn't hold the conviction that nobody wins unless everybody wins.

Can't say there's much pleasure in not seeing a Springsteen show tonight, but the sense that this was an important stand to take rules the day. That mix of emotions is a common feeling in our fan community regarding the boycott, from a hardcore fellow traveler like Matt Orel ("I have never been prouder to be a fan, and I have never been happier with any 'statement from Bruce Springsteen.' Which is not to say that I am happy…") to E Streeter Garry Tallent ("I know it is a drag for many, including us. We must do what is right"). Springsteen himself offered "deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro" while maintaining that — and this is no small allowance from such a rock 'n' roll believer — "some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry.... is one of them." Surely there's a German word for something that is both the right thing to do and a terrible disappointment.

Consigliere Stevie Van Zandt, who's well-versed in the ins and outs of the boycott since his effective Sun City effort in the 1980s, spoke with the Associated Press on Friday night while in New York for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Steve grants that a cancellation wasn't their only option: "We always try to find middle ground, and we considered it. Should we go there and make a statement from the stage? You consider those things, and then you realize that's just playing into their hands. That's not going to hurt enough… You have to hurt people economically to have them do the right thing morally — that's the essence of a boycott."

Speaking about the kind of discrimination in North Carolina's House Bill 2, (which, as Bruce points out in his statement, goes beyond the much-publicized bathroom provisions, also stymieing lawsuits against workplace discrimination) Steve says, "This sort of thing is spreading like an evil virus around the country, and we felt we'd better try and stop this right now.… [the boycott is] the power of the people, to do the right thing."

Backstreets is based in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, where HB2 has overridden local non-discrimination ordinances. (Greensboro, too, had such ordinances that were eliminated by the bill.) We've heard from a number of North Carolina fans over the past couple of days. Some, like Caroline, are primarily feeling the sting of a lost opportunity:

I am 18 years old, finishing up my freshman year of college. I have been a huge fan of yours since the first time I heard "Badlands" and "Spirit in the Night." I was extremely excited about seeing you for the first time at the Greensboro, NC show.

I can understand your position and respect your convictions, but I have to admit to being very disappointed as soon as I heard the show was cancelled. Although there may be other concert dates near me, it's not easy to get tickets! Plus, the date may not work due to my class and work schedule. I always hear people talk about how incredible your concerts are and I hope I'll be lucky enough to see you live before you decide to retire!

Others, like Sal from Mooresville, NC, aren't so forgiving:

Are you kidding me? I've been waiting to see this show for two months and he walks out on 20,000 of his core fans at the 11th hour? What about us working stiffs who travel, and pay hundreds to see the band? Nothing comes between me and my rock and roll, not even the Boss. Now he is just like the man himself, sticking it to the little guy to further his own personal agenda. I hope he never says "Tramps like us" on stage again, because he is not one of us anymore… he is the establishment now. I know if I tried this at work I’d be fired, so you know what…. I'm firing Bruce as my go-to rock solace. That's the last dime I ever spend on a ticket, a song or anything else from the Band. Thanks for 35 years of great memories; be well.

But most of the voices we hear — at least, after we stopped reading the tens of thousands of Facebook comments — are expressing feelings like whatever that German word might happen to be: disappointment in losing a show, but understanding — even happiness, pride, elation — that Springsteen and the band felt compelled to draw a line in the sand in this case, for the sake of civil liberties and equality. As Nils Lofgren tweeted, "It's about human rights."

Longtime fan Barry wrote in to us: "What Bruce did by cancelling his show says as much about who he is as his music does. When someone of that power, stature and popularity is willing to put it all in the line, knowing it will be unpopular with many, there will be risk. There will be fallout. But most importantly, it will be noticed. And that's why he did it. People will take notice."

There's certainly been plenty of local attention, with news traveling fast to fans and non-fans alike in the area. Reporting in Raleigh's News & Observer, David Menconi quoted our pal Steve Eisenstadt: "As disappointed as I am, this is why we love Bruce Springsteen. Not just his music, but his incredible political awareness and common sense. It's hard to accept that I won’t get to see my favorite artist. But it's Bruce being Bruce." (And then there's our friend Brandon, not a Springsteen fan, whose immediate repsonse was, "There goes our Pearl Jam show." Remains to be seen, buddy.) But the boycott has also drawn a great deal of national and international attention to the issue, arguably far more than would a statement from the stage, with articles in the press from the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, Time and Newsweek, of course, and on and on. Seriously, "Springsteens toilet-boykot bliver hyldet."

But it's also prompted action. While some have posited that the only effect of the boycott would be to punish ticketholders, we've heard from numerous fans who were moved to add their voices to the protest. Like Gary from our Chapel Hill hometown:

[Springsteen's] decision made me do something that I had thought about for a while, which was to leave a long message with the governor's office about how I felt about the bill. No need to call my Orange County representatives, because they feel as I do. The bill goes a lot farther than just bathrooms, and my concerns have always been where does the legislature stop? Bruce's decision got me to voice my opinion to the governor, so good for him to spur someone on to a little action.

I’m not countin' on a miracle here, but maybe the legislature will reverse course, and Bruce will come to NC and play the most appropriate song for all of what is going on: "Land of Hope and Dreams."

Andrew from Carrboro (a friend and former Backstreets employee) penned a letter to Governor McCrory. "I'd been thinking I ought to, for weeks," he said today, "but this is what finally got me to do it." It reads in part:

I'm pissed. I was very much looking forward to seeing my all-time favorite performer, Bruce Springsteen, and his legendary E Street Band in Greensboro tonight. As I'm sure you've heard that show has been cancelled by Springsteen in response to HB2, the legislation you called for and signed into law without debate late last month. What you and so many insist on calling the Bathroom Bill has far reaching implications to all NC citizens, and yet you seem to be oblivious or unconcerned about this fact. You paint a picture of sinister bathroom behavior where there is none and ignore the blatant elimination of civil rights to the people of North Carolina. The shame you have brought to this beautiful state is immense, and the impact your decision has had and will continue to have will be measured in loss of revenue, jobs, opportunity, and identity.

But if you think I’m mad about Bruce Springsteen canceling his show — about not joining 23,000 fellow fans in Greensboro a few hours ahead of time to eat and drink and have a good time, watching the show as a communal force, inspired by the music and the words; about the lost revenue for the city, the coliseum workers, the downtown businesses, etc. etc. etc. — if you think that's what is in my craw, then you have once again mistaken the issues at hand. I'm mad at you, Governor, for removing rights from the people of your state, for disrespecting and disparaging our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, and for caving to the worst impulses of your political party. Shame on you. I am proud to call myself a fan of Bruce Springsteen, more so today than yesterday, if that is even possible.

Tonight I'll be at home not spending my money in the marketplace. Hopefully, I’ll find some time to listen to The River, and then at some point I will try to explain to my son why my plans were cancelled. I’ll tell him that some men live in fear, spending their nights trying to hold others back, while others shine a light on those dark deeds. I'll tell him that we stand with the light; I'll tell him that nobody wins unless everybody wins."

Billy Glidden writes us: "Just a few years back, after the release of his recession-inspired Wrecking Ball, Bruce described the 'angry patriotism' underneath much of his best work. 'I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream,' he said. With Friday's announcement, Bruce has once again judged that distance, and deemed it intolerable. And he's doing something about it.'"

And anyone can. As Springsteen later posted, "Voice your opposition of discriminatory legislation like North Carolina's HB2 by contacting your elected officials. Find them here."
- April 10, 2016

E Street Radio invites fans to discuss the NC boycott
By Friday afternoon, as usual, E Street Radio's Jim Rotolo was pretty much prepared for his regular Friday-night live all-request call-in show The Wild & The Innocent with Jim Rotolo. He already had chosen an interesting little topic— "What's your favorite post-Tunnel of Love track?" — and was ready to rock. Then came the official announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s cancellation of his April 10 Greensboro, NC concert as part of ongoing anti-HB2 boycott efforts. Rotolo's show quickly morphed into something else: an engaging, respectful forum where fans across the spectrum of opinion, including more than a few from the North Carolina area, could weigh in on Bruce's decision. Quite simply, it was one of Rotolo's and E Street Radio's finest two hours, accompanied by a well-chosen-by-the-audience mix of some of Bruce's best music from 1992 onward, to boot. If you missed it, the replay airs this Sunday, April 10, at 10 am ET on Sirius/XM channel 20.

The discussion will continue, as well, on E Street Radio this Monday, April 11, beginning at 12 pm ET. Dave Marsh, Rotolo and the rest of the Live From E Street Nation gang already were planning to host a special Monday afternoon edition of their regular Wednesday morning call-in show, in order to have a post-show discussion of the Greensboro, NC concert. Now that the concert's been cancelled, Monday's show instead will offer fans another opportunity to discuss, debate and learn more about the decision to cancel Sunday's show and the reasons behind the cancellation. They'll also have a special call-in guest: veteran North Carolina-based activist Mandy Carter. Again, tune into Sirius/XM channel 20 to catch this and all of E Street Radio's other programming.
- April 9, 2016 - Shawn Poole reporting

With the last two shows struggling a bit with crowd issues (one way or another), The River Tour rolled into Kansas City, MO, on Thursday night looking to find its sea legs again and lock in with the audience. Springsteen appeared to make that connection his primary mission, greeting the crowd with an opening scream, "Kansas City, here I come!"

Bruce worked the crowd early and often during the River set, frequently playing to stage right and left during "The Ties that Bind," "Sherry Darling" and "Jackson Cage." As has been noted here however, The River is a difficult ask for the casual fan, and that left many upper-deck asses in their seats during the album performance, despite Bruce's best efforts to engage them.

Of course, Springsteen could have helped his own cause by name-checking the correct state. Twice he called out to "Kansas," perhaps not aware that the Kansas City he was performing in was on the Missouri side. But the man worked hard to bring the crowd to life during barnburners like "Out in the Street," "Cadillac Ranch," and "I'm a Rocker," reaching out to fans down front, heading to the second stage, using everything in his arsenal to reach the nosebleeds. The crowd gradually engaged with Springsteen throughout the night; it was just a slow burn.

Upper decks and wrong states notwithstanding, the band was firing on all cylinders, with Bruce in fine voice and the front of house mix sublime. Crowd response began to swell in the lower sections during "Hungry Heart," singing the first verse with great aplomb. Bruce's crowd surf was a larger concern, however, as the pit wasn't nearly filled enough along his typical pathway back to the stage. Sensing that potential danger, Bruce had to summon people from left and right sides of the pit to ensure his trip was a safe one.

There were no real surprises in The River performance beyond the return of the true "roadhouse" version of "Ramrod," which reemerged in Dallas and feels like an old friend has come home. Patti's absence also left some holes in the set's harmonies. But the real magic of the album performance is the details. Perhaps no longer shackled by the pressure of setlists made up on the spot or playing by the seat of their pants, the E Street Band can focus on subtleties and fine points that bring more power and emotional focus to the album. "Crush on You" is muscular and in-your face, "Independence Day" places you in the midst of that father/son conversation, "Drive All Night," with its powerful "don't cry now" refrain that builds to a heart-wrenching climax… these all have a power that really can't be captured in an album recording. While Bruce had intended to capture the essence of an E Street performance with The River, well… you still kind of just need to be there, because the two don't compare.

The biggest takeaway of the night is the presence and importance of Steven Van Zandt to these performances. While this is perhaps an obvious statement for obvious reasons, the Kansas City show, for me, reinforced the fact that he is the vital thread, the consigliere, even more than he has ever been. "Two Hearts" has always been a Bruce/Stevie staple, but there's a subtext that is poignant and central in the context of The River performance: "It takes two, baby… me and you."

It's Van Zandt's deft contributions that take songs to new heights and new interpretative places. His more resonant harmonies, his omnipresent interplay, his Dick Dale-esque solo on "Cadillac Ranch," his killer 12-string on "The River." Let's not forget about "Point Blank" — my god, "Point Blank" is just exquisite. A first-time observer noted that Steve's twangy Gretsch on "Point Blank" helped "give that song the darkness it deserves." So very true.

With The River, Bruce talks about the journey you take through life and the people you choose in your effort to do something good. Bruce and the E Street Band have been together more than 40 years, and Steven has been a primary catalyst and partner in that journey. It's wonderful to see their relationship celebrated within the context of this album. And for the record, this album performance is something that is not just good —it's great. KC gave it the standing ovation it deserved.

Turning the corner for the "house party" extravaganza, the first song slot in the B-set appeared to be an audible. Bruce, Steve and Nils were in heavy discussion for what ultimately turned into "Badlands." Many in attendance had hoped that a Merle Haggard tribute may have been in the plans, but alas, that was not to be. Perhaps Bruce had intended to do something different in that post-"Wreck" slot, but sensing that he was this close to putting this crowd over the top, he went for the sure thing.

From this point on, the energy level was akin to being at a completely different show. The response from the audience gave Bruce what he'd been striving for all night, so he put the pedal to the metal with "No Surrender," "Candy's Room," and "Because the Night." Nils's solo in the latter was so well received, Bruce asked him to jam out another just before the end of the song. The crowd ate it up.

Next up, a four-shot from Born to Run: "She's the One," "Backstreets," 'Thunder Road" and the title track. The sequence left some wondering if Bruce said, "Fuck it, we're doing this album, too."

"Dancing in the Dark" saw a young girl come to the stage who was celebrating a birthday. As they began to dance, the girl asked Bruce if her mother could join them onstage, and as it turned out, Mom looked an awful lot like a 1984-era Courteney Cox. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and Bruce gave them a turn with the song's chorus. With house lights up, the transformation was complete, all the tides had turned, Bruce had the entire place on its feet, and the energy continued to swell through "Rosalita," "Tenth Avenue," and "Shout." What began as a potentially low-energy show turned into a force awakened by night's end.

Springsteen wrapped the night, fittingly, with "Bobby Jean." The song, long attributed to his relationship with Van Zandt, is the perfect coda to one of Springsteen's lifelong journeys, taken with a friend, to do something good. No — to do something great.

For the full setlist and reports from this and other recent shows,
see our Setlists page

- April 9, 2016 - report and photographs by Neil van Harte

As announced today, the E Street Band's River Tour stop planned for this Sunday night in North Carolina has been canceled, "with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro." Tickets will be refunded at point of purchase. The cancellation is, as Bruce Springsteen wrote in a statement published this afternoon on, "in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards," referring to our state's discriminatory House Bill 2.

A statement from Bruce Springsteen on North Carolina
As you, my fans, know I’m scheduled to play in Greensboro, North Carolina this Sunday. As we also know, North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the “bathroom” law. HB2 — known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden. To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.

- April 8, 2016


Country legend Merle Haggard passed away yesterday of complications related to pneumonia. Haggard died on his 79th birthday, and tributes began rolling in as soon as the news got out. E Street band bassist Garry Tallent — who recently released his own rootsy solo album – was among the luminaries weighing in. Tallent tweeted, "Not a happy birthday after all. RIP Merle Haggard. One of the all time greats turned 79 today and then passes away."

Tallent's tweet is not the only connection one can find between Bruce and Merle. Bruce himself brought up the Hag in a 1997 New York Times interview. Referring to the period following Born to Run, Bruce said, "Country musicians like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard asked the hard questions I was beginning to ask myself." Springsteen also name-checked Merle in a list of "mother lovers" before debuting "The Wish" at the Christic Institute benefit in Los Angeles on November 17, 1990. Indeed, Haggard's closeness to his mother would seem to rival that of Bruce's with his own mom. One of Haggard's hits, 1969's "Mama Tried," was also mentioned by Springsteen in his 1998 interview with Charlie Rose.

Going deeper, we find that Haggard, like Springsteen, had a troubled youth in terms of his relationship with his father; Haggard's dad died when Merle was 9, sending him into an emotional tailspin that would manifest itself in Haggard being jailed, a situation from which he escaped 17 times, by his count. Both Springsteen and Haggard are recognized for consistently writing about and championing the working class. Indeed, Haggard has often claimed that one of his better known songs, "Okie From Muskogee" — a song Richard Nixon himself once asked Johnny Cash to perform — was often misunderstood and appropriated to suit the needs of political situations. Sound familiar?

One of the keys to Merle's widespread appeal may have been his stubborn insistence on not being tied down, stylistically or lyrically. For every seemingly reactionary number, like "Okie" or "The Fightin' Side of Me" ("If you don't love it, leave it," etc.), Haggard had songs like "Irma Jackson" (about an interracial love affair) and "Are the Good Times Really Over," a song whose lyrics long for a time "back before Nixon lied to us all on TV." Indeed, a song like 1981's "Rainbow Stew," with hopeful lyrics about "days when the air clears up" and a time when the "dream of peace comes true," seem about as far from the reactionary rhetoric of some of his 1970s singles as one could get.

In addition to his accomplished songwriting abilites, Merle was an inventive artist. He was no slouch as a musician either, learning to play the fiddle for his 1970 salute to Bob Wills, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, and drawing attention to the blues-loving "Father of Country Music," Jimmie Rodgers, on 1969's Same Train, A Different Time, practically inventing the country music tribute album in the process.

By the 1980s, Haggard had also become an in-demand duet partner, recording hits with the likes of Willie Nelson ("Pancho and Lefty"), George Jones (a brilliant cover of Willie's "Yesterday's Wine"), and Janie Fricke ("Natural High"), all the while releasing his own great albums like Big City, Kern River, and Back to the Barrooms. The '90s and 2000s found Haggard recording critically acclaimed albums for labels as disparate as Curb and ANTI-, a sister label to punk rock label Epitaph, at a time when country radio was given to ignoring so-called "legacy artists."

In the end, it seems clear that Merle Haggard loved America and its people, choosing to focus in particular on the myriad day-to-day struggles the lower classes endured. Songs like "A Workin' Man Can't Get Nowhere Today” and "Working Man Blues" articulated the plight of those living paycheck to paycheck in a way that few others have, and Merle even touched on the aching pain of single parenthood in "Holding Things Together." Throughout, he tempered his socially aware numbers with the finest love songs imaginable.

Merle's last studio album was 2015's Django and Jimmie, an album of duets with Willie Nelson, with whom Haggard was touring when he died. 
- April 7, 2016 - John Howie, Jr. reporting

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