Springsteen on Broadway (live soundtrack recording)
"Take me,” says Bruce Springsteen, early in his one-man show Springsteen on Broadway. “I was born to run, not to stay. My home, New Jersey, it’s a death trap. It’s a suicide rap. Listen to the lyrics, alright?”
We did – we do – listen to the lyrics. Tramps like us.
Springsteen on Broadway is the man’s concert residency held at the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre in New York. A mix of memoir and solo-acoustic music on piano or guitar, the show which opened on Oct. 12, 2017, is due to close Dec. 15 – one day before a Netflix special begins streaming its taped performance and one day after Sony Music releases a 150-minute live soundtrack.
The latter faithfully documents the former. Sixteen songs – from Growin’ Up to The Promised Land to The Ghost of Tom Joad to Born to Run – are interspersed with spoken-word recollections. It’s a scripted sermon here and a gravel-voiced soliloquy there. Sounding like a Jersey Shore carnival barker or a rack-harmonica Will Rogers, Springsteen demystifies the working-class romanticism and iconic imagery upon which he built his career. “I made it all up,” he says at one point. “That’s how good I am.”
The soundtrack explains Springsteen’s career with a sort of yarn-spinning nostalgia, and special attention paid to family, hometown and country. It is an honest coming-to-terms with a life lived musically and with deep contemplation. “I took my fun very seriously,” says Springsteen, a rocker with an uncommon verbal facility.
In 1975, at age 25, Springsteen had one final opportunity to make it real. Or so the story goes. With the Born to Run song and album from that year, he made it hyper-real – the bliss of life lived on the verge and at the sweet edge. Fans lived vicariously through a persona that was a figment of a songwriter’s imagination. Out on the streets, that’s where they told themselves they wanted to be.
With Springsteen on Broadway, the Thunder Road troubadour at age 69 gets back to making it real. As he did with 1987’s Tunnel of Love; as he did with a 2016 memoir that begins with his admission that he was “tinged with a bit of fraud.” Much of his one-man show’s monologue is taken from the autobiography.
The show’s music is not so much stripped down as it is presented in what sounds like the songs’ infant forms, with Springsteen creating the effect of casually exploring the material for the first time. This isn’t Springsteen unplugged, and given that the spoken introductions do not necessarily explain the songs, neither is this VH1’s Behind the Music.
The preamble to Born in the USA is an exception. A story about meeting Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic (whose 1976 autobiography Born on the Fourth of July was adapted for a 1989 Tom Cruise-starring war drama) sets up Springsteen’s disaffected anthem, rendered with a primal sitar-like slide-guitar lead-in to cathartic a cappella vocals.
Wife and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa harmonizes with her husband on Tougher Than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise (both from Tunnel of Love).
The set-list throughout the show’s Broadway run has been mostly unchanged from night to night. Long Time Comin’ from 2005’s Devils & Dust, however, is on the soundtrack album but was not presented at the performance attended by The Globe and Mail.
The album ends with Born to Run, which is bizarrely preceded by a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. Our father who "sprung from cages out on highway nine,” perhaps.
The show’s key moment – Springsteen’s plainly worded raison d’être – comes before that. “I wanted to hear the whole American story,” he explains. “I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand us.
“Most of all,” he continues, “I wanted to be able to tell that story to you.”
What’s the story? That we are all lost – “dancing in the dark,” as he then sings, accompanying himself on the piano. A gun for hire, this guy – a rock ’n’ roll saviour. Take it from him.