Springsteen seems to have decided that this is the moment to pull
back the curtain on the show of his life and let his audience into his private living
room, with pretty much just him, his guitar, and his piano.
Mixing his stripped back songs with - sometimes long, but always entertaining or amusing - tales from his highly successful memoir Born to Run, this 150 minute album is the fruit of a long and highly praised concert residency (from October 3, 2017 to December 15, 2018) at the 960-seat Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City.
Drawing on songs he has written over his 40 year career, Springsteen loosely tells the story of his life. But he begins by exposing what he calls his “magic trick,” by calling time on the myths that have built up around him on the back of his songs. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life,” says the man ‘known’ for his insight into the lives of blue-collar American workers “… never worked nine-to-five … I’ve never seen the inside of a factory and yet it’s all I’ve ever written about.“I’m Mr Born to Run …[but] I currently live 10 minutes from my home town,” he continues. “Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something of which he had absolutely no experience. I made it all up.”
He compellingly talks about his childhood, his parents, religion, work and death. "My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible,” he says. “I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theatres which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal—to communicate something of value.”
The album appropriately starts with an introduction to, and a long version of, the song, Growing Up. Next, My Hometown, My Father's House, The Wish (about his mother) and Thunder Road all help ‘set the stage’ for what is to come. The latter song is accompanied by a story about Springsteen and his mates piling a few possessions into a vehicle and leaving New Jersey for “The ocean breezes of the shore [that] were calling to me,” perhaps symbolizing his ‘right of passage’ into adulthood and the big world that lay beyond.
At around this point Springsteen abandons chronological order and turns to themes, led by his fantastic but much-misunderstood anti-war tune, Born in the USA. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is another stand out song on the album and makes Springsteen emotional when he talks about the importance of his great friendship with the departed Clarence Clemons. “I still carry the […] the Big Man in my heart every night when I walk onstage,” he says.
Springsteen’s bandmate and wife, Patti Scialfa, joins the Boss for Tougher Than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise with some acoustic guitar and vocals, but her presence was apparently more impacting in the live show than on record.
The big hits Dancing in the Dark, Land of Hope and Dreams and Born to Run, on which Springsteen plays different Takamine acoustic models; such as the P6N, the EF341SC and 12 string EF381SC; powerfully help close the show and the album, which it is imagined must have brought him enormous satisfaction.
The Boss is now close to becoming a septuagenarian and Springsteen on Broadway is both a great tribute and wonderfully welcome addition to his work. Everything about it is impressive. The New York Times said "as portraits of artists go, there may never have been anything as real – and beautiful – on Broadway," and this album faithfully reflects that perspective.