Saint Patrick’s Day is quite the holiday in Philadelphia. While I typically enjoy participating in the traditional festivities, this year was a bit different. This year, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to New York to attend a performance of Springsteen on Broadway.
This of course is the name of the Broadway Residency held by Bruce Springsteen, at the Walter Kerr Theater.
Every performance is currently sold out, and more rounds of dates keep getting added….only to sell out immediately.
If you have been lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, you are used to loud enthusiastic audiences, signs featuring song requests, tens of thousands of people, sets of music lasting well over three hours, and a ring in your ears that would last at least a week. Springsteen on Broadway is something completely different. Each performance in the beautiful, less than one thousand-seat venue , features two hours of Bruce’s words and songs, his acoustic guitar, a piano, and a guest appearance for a couple of songs by his wife Patti. That is it.
While that stripped down form may seem a bit unorthodox and minimalistic, the performance still takes on the larger than life presence that an E Street performance would take, but in a different way, and maybe even a little larger. As I took my seat, I looked around and took a moment to appreciate just how small the Walter Kerr Theater is. Last time that Bruce played Philadelphia, the show took place at Citizens Bank Park, which holds over 43,000 people. The Walter Kerr Theater holds 975 people. The show was billed to begin promptly at 8pm, and at 8:02 the lights went out. Instead of the massive E Street Band taking the stage, Bruce walked out by himself, waving to the audience, who were happy to provide a warm welcome in return.
Bruce stood with his guitar in front of the mic-stand and began to speak about his upbringing. From the moment he uttered his first word, everyone was quiet and hanging onto each word that Bruce had to say. After a bit of storytelling, which some may recognize from his book, Born To Run, he launched into his first song of the night “Growin Up.” This would be the format for the rest of the show, though sometimes, he would play piano. One of the greatest moments of the show was Bruce sitting at the piano as he discussed how important his friendship with the “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons was. This of course led to Bruce playing “10th Avenue Freeze-Out”.
Looking around the room, I could tell that all of us in the audience were experiencing the same phenomenon. With the $75 – $850 price tag attached to each ticket (some tickets going for over $1,000 on other ticket sites), it would be safe to say that each person in attendance was more than a casual fan. As fans, we knew a lot of the events and outcomes of his stories from both following his career, and reading his book. Even knowing the end of the story didn’t detract from the emotional impact, as some stories like that of Clarence, his upbringing, his parents, and other stories that only Bruce could tell didn’t leave a dry eye in the house. On the other side of the coin, Bruce’s sense of humor hit the mark, and lightened things up at just the right times, as a lot of the subject matter of his stories was very personal and heavy.
In an age where every rocker is writing their memoir and “letting you in”, most books still read like a Wikipedia chronicling of events. You may get a story or two that you have never heard before, but otherwise you don’t know the author any better than you did before. Springsteen clearly took his autobiography seriously, and gave you a glimpse inside of his head, with details about his motivations in the times referenced, and his feelings on those events now. Springsteen on Broadway went as far as the book did, and then some. Whether you like Bruce or not, one must at least agree that most people wouldn’t have the courage to leave themselves as vulnerable as Bruce is at these performances.
When one considers the “Broadway Production,” there are two components; storytelling and music. Bruce nailed both of these elements, and may have built onto what a Broadway Production could be in the process. I laughed, I cried, I rocked (very quietly from my seat of course).
Setlist (Every night is the same setlist):
My Father’s House
The Promised Land
Born in the U.S.A.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa)
Brilliant Disguise (with Patti Scialfa)
Long Walk Home
Dancing in the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Born to Run
This piece was written by Sean Burke who is a member of WMGK’s Weeekend/Part-Time airstaff and who also serves as WMGK’s Assistant Promotion Director. Sean has been going to live concerts since he was 10 years old and has seen nearly every single band on WMGK’s playlist live in concert.