Or, Part II of the E Street Band’s Magic Tour, featuring the sign-collection set, full-album performances, multiple festival dates, and the scorching debut of Jay Weinberg.
Nearly 40 years before, manager Mike Appel pushed for Bruce Springsteen to play the Super Bowl. At the time, the idea was laughable; soon enough, however, the NFL comes courting Bruce. After Bruce performs at Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration, Appel’s dream becomes a reality, as Springsteen brings his E Street Band to the Super Bowl half-time show. Compressing the excitement of a three-hour E Street Band show into 12 minutes is the challenge, and with a non-stop house party that includes “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run,” the new “Working on a Dream,” and “Glory Days” (as well as an infamous knee-slide), they pull it off.
Springsteen and his new Sessions Band hit the road to support We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, beginning in the birthplace of their sonic gumbo, New Orleans. This post-Hurricane Katrina Jazz Fest performance is an important night for Springsteen: aside from breaking in a new 20-piece band, it has been years since he has really had to prove himself to an audience.
He isn’t preaching to the choir for the first time in a long time; following Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, it is a decidedly non-partisan crowd. But Bruce and the Sessions players more than meet the challenge, laying the sun into the ground for a two-hour set that has the crowd eventually eating out of their hands, many with tears streaming down their faces. Springsteen talks about getting to town the previous day and heading down to the Lower Ninth: “I saw some things I never thought I’d see in an American city.” The emotional “My City of Ruins,” which begins the encore, might as well have been written on that visit; during the song, the whole packed fairgrounds field has hands in the air.
Three years after the band’s rededication, Springsteen’s twelfth studio album is the first E Street album in 18 years, since 1984′s Born the U.S.A. The Rising is also an achievement of another kind: a moving artistic response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 that connects with a mass audience and critics alike. Kurt Loder writes in Rolling Stone, “The heart sags at the prospect of pop stars weighing in on the subject of September 11th. Which of them could possibly transmute the fiery horror of that day with the force of their art, or offer up anything beyond a dismal trivialization? The answer, it turns out, is Bruce Springsteen. With his new album, The Rising, Springsteen wades into the wreckage and pain of that horrendous event and emerges bearing fifteen songs that genuflect with enormous grace before the sorrows that drift in its wake.” Debuting at #1 on the Billboard chart, The Rising goes gold in its first week, led by its powerful title track, which presents both the real-world terror confronted by first responders and a spiritually transcendent “dream of life.”
After years of inducting others and jamming with rock legends at the annual ceremony, Bruce Springsteen is officially welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bono gives the induction speech: “We call him ‘The Boss.’ Well, that’s a bunch of crap. He’s not the Boss. He works for us. More than a boss, he’s the owner. Because more than anyone else, Bruce Springsteen owns America’s heart.” “I stood on this stage,” Bruce says in his speech, “and I inducted Roy Orbison and Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan, an artist whose music was a critical part of my own life.
And tonight I hope that my music served my audience half as well. If I succeeded in doing that, it’s been with the help of many, many kindred spirits along the way.” Though the E Street Band is not inducted with him, a controversial subject to the present day, Springsteen spends much of his own speech singing their praises: “Everybody wants to know how I feel about the band. Hell, I married one of ’em.” Finally, Springsteen brings the E Streeters onto the stage: “My wife, my great friends, my great collaborators, my great band: your presence tonight honors me, and I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight without you, and I can’t stand up here now without you. Please join me.” Though they reunited on a few occasions in 1995, their performance together on this night is the first of a new era: Springsteen will continue to take detours from time to time, but the E Street Band has been a going concern ever since.