NEW YORK In the final show of their reunion tour, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band looked back Saturday to obscure corners of their past with such rarities as "Lost in the Flood" and "The E Street Shuffle," even as the rock icon took pains to reassure the crowd that he and his once-estranged band have a future together.
"The first night we played ... I said that I was hoping this tour would be a rededication of our band and our commitment to serve you," he said toward the end of the show, the last of 10 dates at Madison Square Garden. "I hope we've done it, and we'll continue to try to do so."
In what may have been an equally telling gesture, the evening's final song was a retooled version of the rarely played "Blood Brothers," which addresses Springsteen's relationship with the band and his 1989 split from them.
Springsteen dropped the song's original third verse, with its hints of ambivalence: "Now I don't know how I feel/ I don't know how I feel tonight ... I don't even know why, I don't know why I made this call/ Or if any of this matters anymore after all."
Instead, he had most of the band join him at the front of the stage, where they clasped hands as he sang optimistic new lyrics, ending with: "It's a good night for a ride/ To cross the river to the other side/ With my blood brothers."
Thicker Than Water
"We'll be seeing you," Springsteen told the crowd after the song, before disappearing into the shadows with saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who had wrapped a burly arm around Springsteen's shoulders.
"I don't think it's the end. I think they're going to do a studio record," said Peter Hanjian, a 34-year-old concertgoer from Roosevelt Park, N.J. "The way they're interacting, it's definitely not over."
The signs of the renewed bond between Springsteen and the band were evident throughout the night, as they have been throughout the tour, which kicked off in Spain in April 1999.
During the band introductions in the middle of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" another song about the band Springsteen was even more effusive than usual.
He introduced keyboardist Roy Bittan as "the bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Liberace." Guitarist Steve Van Zandt was "the minister of faith and friendship, keeper of all that is righteous on E Street," and the band's drummer was "mighty, mighty, mighty Max Weinberg."
Springsteen followed "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" in which he also asked his wife, E Street guitarist and back-up singer Patti Scialfa, to "hit me baby, one more time" with a more unexpected tribute to the band.
Dance To The Music
Launching into a funky Stax/Volt rhythm-guitar part, Springsteen led the band into 1973's "The E Street Shuffle," which they hadn't played in years until they revived it earlier in their Madison Square Garden stand.
And in the evening's biggest surprise, they played a hard-rocking version of the 27-year-old epic "Lost in the Flood," from Springsteen's first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. After a delicate piano introduction from Bittan, the band's four guitarists slammed into resonating power chords, rendering the song unrecognizable until Springsteen began singing.
Springsteen later sat at Bittan's piano for a version of "The Promise" (RealAudio excerpt), a fan favorite that went unreleased for years until it was included on last year's 18 Tracks.
The show, which Springsteen told the crowd was being filmed, also included energetic performances of such favorites as "Two Hearts," "Badlands," "Prove It All Night" and "Murder Incorporated" (RealAudio excerpt).
The band also played the new song "American Skin," which last month led police leaders to condemn Springsteen. As on previous nights, the song, which includes the refrain "41 shots" a reference to the death last year of Guinea native Amadou Diallo, who was shot at 41 times by New York police officers as he stood unarmed in the doorway of his Bronx, N.Y., apartment building was greeted with cheers and scattered boos.