Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live In New York City

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live In New York City

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Album: Live In New York City
Label: Columbia

Despite his deserved reputation as one of the greatest live draws of all time, Bruce Springsteen's concerts have defied documentation. Well, legitimately, at least: Hundreds of bootlegs exist, their distribution made easier with the advent of CD-Rs and Napster. They range from Springsteen's formative pre-fame material (he just won another lawsuit prohibiting the sale of some of his earliest recordings) through every one of his recent sold-out reunion shows with the E Street Band. But officially, Springsteen has only sanctioned two live collections, the mostly career-spanning three-disc mishmash Live 1975-85 and the forgettable MTV Unplugged installation, featuring his post-E Street band. Neither collection offers the easiest solution to the Springsteen live-album conundrum: namely, an entire concert, start to finish, that once and for all reveals Springsteen as a rock 'n' roll warhorse, the stuff of legend. Live In New York City, recorded on the final two nights of Springsteen's record-setting 10-night stand at Madison Square Garden and billed as the soundtrack to a recent HBO special, comes closer than either of its predecessors, though a few major flaws again keep the disc from achieving "definitive" status. By and large representative of the sets Springsteen performed with Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Garry W. Tallent, Roy Bittan, Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, and Clarence Clemons, the two-disc set includes such live standards as "Prove It All Night," "Two Hearts," "Out In The Street," "Badlands," and a soggy 16-minute "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," featuring a big hunk of shtick that only concert-goers are likely to appreciate. More interesting are the songs Springsteen either premiered on the tour or played infrequently, like the electrified but ever-dramatic "Atlantic City," the newly bluesy "Born In the U.S.A." and "The River," the old "Lost In The Flood," "Don't Look Back," a gorgeous "If I Should Fall Behind," the fan-favorite "Jungleland," or the one-two punch of "Youngstown" and "Murder Incorporated." Best is the new material, including "Land Of Hopes And Dreams" and "American Skin (41 Shots)," the latter of which ranks among the best songs Springsteen has written, boding well for future releases. Yet the disc, as good as it sounds, also feels like something of a rush job. The set is presented out of order, with six "bonus" tracks apparently tacked on at the last minute to differentiate the album from the HBO special. Additionally, "Born To Run" isn't listed, indicating last-minute song selections. By trying to placate old fans, new fans, and the simply fanatical, Springsteen once again offers an "almost" set, a nice souvenir that finds him and the band in fine form, even if it's a poor substitute for the unfiltered experience. Like a lot of live albums, great or not, you just had to be there.

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