Springsteen on Broadway album review: Stories of hurting and healing

Fri, Dec 14, 2018, 06:30


Springsteen on Broadway

Bruce Springsteen


Singer / Songwriter

The curtain comes down for the final time on Springsteen on Broadway on Saturday night, the one-man show that has been playing to packed houses in the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York five nights a week since October last year. For the many who did not get a chance to witness this epic performance, a film version of the show will premiere on Netflix  on Sunday coming.

For those unable to make the former and/or unwilling to subscribe to the latter, this double CD live recording allows you to close your eyes and imagine you are there.

This might be a stretch for some but the combined 150 minutes of showtime is a riveting and moving rollercoaster ride through Springsteen’s past, the ups, the downs and the hard lessons learned on his road to survival, even a contentment of sorts.

It is the story of a man who rises above his grim destiny to shape his own life.

Before agnostics and non-believers up sticks and head elsewhere, it must be said that although Springsteen embraces the talking cure beloved of psychiatrists to help him address his bouts of depression and, in particular, issues with his father, he does so with humour and panache, balancing stories of great pathos and insight with laughter and irreverence.

He equally confronts the political and social reality of the US today with reason and dignity. There are no simple catch-cries or sloganeering, just a restating of values and verities.

Bruce Springsteen: a master of stagecraft
Bruce Springsteen: a master of stagecraft

It is a night of serious entertainment and a performance of great intensity and brio. It helps that he is a master of stagecraft learned through years on the road. Here he adapts to the smaller, more intimate venue with ease. His voice rises, it falls, he whispers, he laughs, he goes off mic as if to stress the authenticity of his relationship with his adoring audience through direct contact. His timing and his rhythm are faultless, the language free-flowing and descriptive – the pure theatre of his performance undeniable.

We knew he could tell stories, but these bring it to a new level. But it is not just stories. He has 16 mostly solid classic songs that respectively follow and are informed by each colourful intro, their rock architecture stripped back to reveal a greater humanity.

He has his wife, Patti Scialfa, who joins him onstage for two songs, including their signature Tougher Than the Rest, and he has the supportive community of his audience – he is truly among his own tribe. And he knows it.

The script borrows heavily from his revealing autobiography, Born to Run. Readers will be familiar with many of these stories that are rooted in the struggles of an Irish- and Italian-American working-class family, the slow rise of the talented son and his E-Street Band friends from the boondocks of the neglected Jersey shore to the pinnacle of rock’n’roll success and the real mental-health struggles of our hero.

The narrative opens with him growing up surrounded by kith and kin and church; it closes with him back there reciting the Our Father, reinforcing the myth that once an Irish Catholic always an Irish Catholic. It is chronological and it is, of course, constructed.

There is a lot of vulnerability on display here, but equally it is a performance. His “magic trick”, as he terms it, is to make us believe it is something more, that he has bared his soul, that we are witness to a hurting and healing and that we are all the better for it. He’s probably right.