Springsteen on Broadway
Bruce Springsteen’s legacy didn’t need much burnishing, but his recent Raconteur Phase—starting with his 2016 memoir, Born to Run, and capped by his one-man show on Broadway, now entering its second year—offers a self-awareness that no star of his stature has ever even attempted. This companion piece to the Netflix special documenting his extremely sold-out run isn’t merely the collection of solo acoustic versions the tracklist may indicate; the songs themselves serve largely as illustrative examples punctuating long, eloquent recollections of his life and career over two and a half hours. (Intermission is whenever you hit pause.)
Stalwarts like “The Promised Land,” “Thunder Road,” and “The Rising” are as stirring stripped down as you’d imagine, but the performances themselves often feel secondary to their narrative framing. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is an extended tribute to his friendship with late saxophonist and foil Clarence Clemons; the haunting, nearly a cappella “Born in the U.S.A.” that follows a story about meeting Born on the Fourth of July author Ron Kovic in the ’70s should end whatever remaining jingoistic misinterpretations of the song still remain. But the tracks connect beyond all belonging to one of contemporary music’s most vaunted discographies. How does a man who made his name and fortune desperately pleading to flee his death-trap/suicide-rap hometown reconcile living happily now in that same place? This poetic irony isn’t lost on him, and the journey makes for a good yarn.
That Springsteen is a masterful storyteller with superhuman command of a small theater audience isn’t a surprise. That he recalls his life so crisply and entertainingly, weaving it in and out of the context of songs well-known and a bit less well-known—and that this energy carries over so palpably to an audio recording of a film of an intimate live performance—might be. It is dramatic, it is theatrical, it earns and transcends the venue. He pokes fun at his own image and culturally ingrained iconography—at age 21, he’d never driven a car despite being on the verge of writing “Racing in the Street”—and somehow makes his tales of yearning feel universal despite being very much about his singular career and experience. But that’s the skill that got him here to begin with.