‘Springsteen on Broadway’ cuts straight to heart of musical legend

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Grade: 4.5/5

It’s a good month for rock-and-roll fans. Bruce Springsteen, dubbed “The Boss” by fans of the genre, is back and better than ever with his captivating performance in Springsteen on Broadway. The show was finally made available to the public as both a Netflix special and as a recorded album on Spotify.

The album includes 16 songs, some of which have lead-in tracks with spoken introductions,  in which Springsteen reflects on everything from love to youth to obscure laws in the town of Freehold. But to label these monologues as mere “introductions” to the actual music is an understatement; instead, Springsteen’s long-winded musings take on a life of their own, pulsing with as much vivacity and lyricism as any song that he’s ever performed.

In fact, Springsteen openly invites his audience to blur the line between music and speech throughout the set. He turns his opening song, “Growin’ Up,” into a 12-minute emotional journey by mixing the musical verses with a story of his introduction to rock music at a young age. As he tells the tale of a seven-year-old Bruce, shaking his hips in front of the other neighborhood kids and quitting guitar lessons after only two weeks, Springsteen continues to absently strum on his guitar. With this simple and repetitive melody, his spoken words become indistinguishable from musical lyrics, transforming the piece into a glorious rock and roll hymn.

This early monologue is also an open look into the New Jersey boy that would become a musical legend. The song itself, “Growin’ Up,” centers around the figure of a rebellious young man who “broke all the rules” and would stand up when told to sit down. While the young Bruce certainly seemed to have had the same spark within him, this grand image is undermined by the story of how he was forced to return his newly purchased guitar because of financial issues. Rather than weaken the song, however, this apparent paradox adds a new layer of complexity to an already complex artist.

As a renowned, successful musician who built his career off the image of a struggling, downtrodden, working-class American, Springsteen seems to revel in these types of paradoxes and complexities — and he hardly shies away from exposing himself. “Standing before you,” he announces to his Broadway audience, “is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something of which he has had” — he pauses here for some classic Springsteen theatrics — “absolutely no personal experience.”

This blunt self-reflection is emblematic of what ultimately makes Springsteen On Broadway so compelling: It is The Boss in his truest and most vulnerable form. Although the set includes several big hits from his career, such as “Born to Run”, “Born in the U.S.A” and “Thunder Road,” these songs are performed far differently than their studio versions — slower, more introspective and unapologetically sentimental. In “Thunder Road,” Springsteen strips away all the youthful excess and takes his audience straight to the heart of the song, his voice quiet and rough as he sings the last lines, “It’s a town full of losers / We’re pulling out of here to win.”

That’s not to say that Springsteen has lost his energy, of course. His performance of “Dancing In the Dark,” a song about begging for love, is as rambunctious and fiery as it was when released in 1984. He even takes a moment to throw some light, although admittedly corny, humor into the song; instead of singing the lyrics, “There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me,” Springsteen suddenly pauses the song and mutters, “There’s a joke here somewhere … when I figure it out, I’ll let you know.” It’s not the first time that the audience bursts out laughing during the set, and it’s certainly not the last.

All in all, Springsteen on Broadway is the perfect encapsulation of The Boss’s long and iconic career, and it’s an incredible viewing and listening experience for lovers of rock and roll. Springsteen wraps up his last song, “Born To Run,” without any closing commentary, and the track fades out to the sound of rapturous applause. It’s an apt choice; after the lyrical journey that he had taken his audience through, there was no need for further words. Springsteen had left everything on stage, and it seems as though his heart was laying bare for the world to see.

Contact Lauren Sheehan-Clark at [email protected].