By Erik Flannigan
Any Springsteen show is special, and every Springsteen show is a candidate to be extra special when surprises enter the setlist or the performance peaks beyond expectation. For those of us who count the number of Bruce concerts we’ve attended by dozens and decades, there’s something immensely satisfying about attending a show you know will be extraordinary.
Such was the case when Springsteen announced the final stand of the Reunion tour: ten nights at Madison Square Garden. Fans across the country and around the world busted open their piggy banks to book flights for what was an E Street sure thing—inevitably special shows wrapping 14 triumphant months on the road.
The legendary final night, July 1, 2000, is already an integral installment in the Live Archive series. Now we’re treated to MSG show No. 8, June 27, 2000, which coincidentally features nine different songs than the finale set. The range of his song selections speaks to the excitement the Reunion tour spurred through deeper exploration of Springsteen’s catalog.
Night eight opens with “Code of Silence,” for my money one of the best true rock songs Bruce has delivered in the 2000s. It kicks off the show with the urgency and energy “Badlands” did so often on the Darkness tour. “The Ties That Bind” follows, the first of those nine changes from the finale, reinforcing the band-fan bond at the outset. “Adam Raised a Cain” has made it onto several Reunion tour Archive releases, and each performance is distinct. Here it starts measured and moody until the guttural guitar solo, after which Springsteen’s voice markedly shifts intensity as he carries the song to a soaring conclusion.
“Two Hearts” into “Trapped,” the dynamics of which remain stirring, especially in the lead-up to the Big Man’s liberating solo. While nowhere near as striking as its stark 1980 readings, the wistful countrified arrangement of “Factory” seems to shift the song to a distant memory with which the narrator has made his peace.
“American Skin (41 Shots)” continues to flourish in these early outings, introduced plainly as just “a new song” for which Springsteen requests quiet. He sings the lyrics vividly, and as each E Street voice breaks through the effect is haunting, as if to show how the tragedy spreads and touches bystanders — and, by proxy, all of us.
The band makes an unusual musical transition from the despair of “American Skin” to the hope of “The Promised Land,” starting angular and edged before softening abruptly for a warm, comforting version of the Darkness staple.
The Reunion tour five-pack ensues, carrying us through the center of the show from “Youngstown” (this night as much of a showcase for Roy Bittan’s piano as Nils Lofgren’s guitar) through “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.” The latter offers tasty detours into Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright,” Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” “Red Headed Woman,” and Patti Scialfa’s mini showcase of her own “Rumble Doll.”
An extraordinary trio of songs follows, cementing this show as a special night indeed. River outtake “Loose Ends” is one of the most deserving songs to be liberated by Tracks. For those of us who cherished our bootleg copies of the song all those years, it is indeed the great in-concert track we always knew it could be.
On a night of highlights, it would be difficult to deny “Back in Your Arms” is the peak. The song was recorded during the Greatest Hits sessions in early 1995 and released on Tracks three years later. Though performed only 15 times with the E Street Band to date, the song enjoys a kind of instant-classic status, so relatable in its subject matter, so appealing in its Stax/Volt arrangement and tone.
I rarely think of a Springsteen song being sung by anyone else, but “Back in Your Arms” so thoroughly invokes Otis Redding, I can imagine how he would interpret it. Beyond Springsteen’s own soulful vocals, Danny Federici’s organ solo shines, as does Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. This particular performance of “Back in Your Arms” is one I will keep coming back to.
If that rarity wasn’t enough, Springsteen fully blows minds with “Mary Queen of Arkansas.” The Greetings track had been resurrected earlier in 2000, at a stop in Little Rock, for its first live reading in 26 years. Curious that when Springsteen toured solo in 1995-97 and again in 2005, he never once performed “Mary.” This is very much a Tom Joad-style arrangement, narratively connecting with that album more than I had previously appreciated. Still a peculiar song, but a great rendition in new light.
“Backstreets” brings the band back in what is an excellent, passionately sung, contemporary version. The E Streeters continue to show their restored prowess with an extremely entertaining “Light of Day.” It starts with a guitar line for the first minute or so that feels like it is lifted from Link Wray or Dick Dale, though I can’t quite place it. (Can you?) Other references are easier to identify: a few riffs from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” slip in, while later “C.C. Rider” and “Jenny Jenny” form an embedded mini-“Detroit Medley” just before Bruce’s familiar “I’ve Been Everywhere” list of cities conquered.
A robust “Hungry Heart” starts the encore, which hits “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” “If I Should Fall Behind” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” as it should, plus one extra treat. Bruce changed his set lists frequently on the River and Born in the U.S.A. tours, and both had their share of setlist surprises. But there was a sense circa 1980-88 that some of Springsteen’s older material wasn’t under consideration. Reunion changed all that. Every song was again a possibility, and “Blinded By the Light” represents that spirit.
I was fortunate enough to attend this show, which started with a brand new song and encored with Bruce’s very first single, the recognition of which was not lost on me then or now. MSG 6/27/00 was extra special, just like we knew it would be.