By Erik Flannigan
Given the hundreds of shows performed since 2000, today one can overlook how momentous the Reunion tour was for fans who had been hoping, waiting and questioning for more than decade if Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would ever hit the road again.
Eleven years had passed since the last full tour supporting Tunnel of Love and then Amnesty International in 1988. There was a smattering band activity around the release of Greatest Hits in 1995 (for which they recorded a few new songs), but it would take four more years for Bruce to officially summon the E Streeters back (including, for the first time since 1981, Steve Van Zandt) following the release of Tracks.
Even those directly involved would likely concede a tentativeness at the start of the tour in April 1999 and fans felt it, too. Was the Reunion tour a one-off or was the E Street Band back for good? Was it a nostalgic celebration of the past or the beginning of a new chapter?
By the start of the unforgettable ten-night, tour-closing stand at Madison Square Garden in June and July 2000, those questions had been answered. The bond between Bruce and the E Street Band was not only restored, but their status as an on-going concern now felt undeniable. On top of that, over the course of the MSG run, Springsteen performed several brand-new songs that pointed the way forward while changing up setlists to include welcome rarities from the past, playing with a supreme confidence earned through over a year of touring.
All of which raised the stakes for the tour’s final performance on July 1. The show wasn’t merely the culmination of the MSG run or the Reunion tour, but of the spiritual rebirth of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band itself. As such, expectations for the night were sky high, boosted even higher by the outstanding sets at MSG which led up to it. What would Springsteen do for such a special night? Could he top the brilliance of shows 8 and 9 just days before? In the end, he didn’t have to.
The July 1 show stands as a powerful, majestic performance sprinkled with moments of transcendence. Rather than deviate far from script on the last night, Springsteen stuck to the core songs that formed the spine of Reunion tour set: “My Love Won’t Let You Down” and “Murder Incorporated,” the superb Born in the U.S.A. outtakes mercifully liberated on Tracks; “Two Hearts,” Steve Van Zandt’s spotlight number, to which Bruce appropriately adds a few bars of Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two”; “Youngtown,” recast from its acoustic roots into an electrified, Nils Lofgren-powered furnace blast; “Born In the U.S.A.,” which went the other direction, from electric to acoustic, while still packing a wallop; “The River,” more pensive and lonesome than ever; and supercharged crowd-pleasers “Badlands,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Light of Day.” This is the material upon which the Reunion tour was built.
To these Springsteen added new songs, opening the show with the urgent rocker “Code of Silence” and bringing “Further On Up The Road” to the encore, where it joined “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” the Reunion tour theme song, which debuted all the way back at the tour rehearsals and was played at every show. But the new song generating the most heat was “American Skin (41 Shots),” written about the shooting of Amadou Diallo the year prior. You can read about the controversy it stoked during the MSG run elsewhere, but suffice it to say that this beautifully arranged and lyrically poetic song is as relevant today as it was at the time of this moving performance.
Of course, there were songs for the occasion, too. In celebration of the band, “E Street Shuffle” is perfectly appropriate, as is Bruce’s solo piano performance of “The Promise” to start the encore, another one of the great, lost songs restored to performance on the Reunion tour. And one can only stand in awe at the ballsy inclusion of “Lost In the Flood,” the musically complex epic not played since the Darkness tour until this night and absolutely nailed by the band, especially pianist Roy Bittan.
The peak of the aforementioned transcendence came at the end of the night, when, for the first time on the tour, Springsteen performed “Blood Brothers,” one of the new songs he recorded for Greatest Hits and something fans thought might be played every show before the tour had started. The sentiment of “Blood Brothers” reflects that spirit of rebirth between Bruce and the band, and on this night, he added a newly penned final verse that appended a touching coda to the entire performance. It was a sublime musical moment and a real-time catharsis for Bruce, the band and the fans, signaling that those lyrics, this night and the entire tour had reformed the bonds between them all.
“I was hoping that our tour would be the rebirth and the renewal of our band and of our commitment to serve you,” Springsteen said, introducing “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “I hope we’ve done that well this year and we´ll continue to try and do so….”
While parts of this show, along with some songs from June 29, were culled for the two-CD set Live In New York City released in March 2001, hearing the July 1 show from beginning to end, as it happened, with all key songs restored is a new and wholly rewarding experience.