"Just this one time! Too long to do it again!"
And with that tongue-in-cheek introduction by the world's greatest rock frontman, the first — and probably only — full album performance of Bruce Springsteen's 1980 double-album The River began at New York City's Madison Square Garden. In an arena most often populated by athletes half his age, this minister of rock and roll — armed with a black vest and his signature yellow Fender — preached to 30,000 devoted congregants whose enthusiasm for the show was matched only by his own.
Prefaced only by the ultra-new "Wrecking Ball" at the top of the show, the Boss and his band launched into the 20 song opus of love and dreams and youth in Jersey. Although full album performances aren't new to the E Street Band, The River had never been among them. The album's odd mix of down-tempo, heartbreaking ballads like the title track and "Point Blank" stand in stark contrast to rolling, boisterous tunes like "Cadillac Ranch" and "The Ties That Bind."
The MSG crowd took the sequence in stride, standing and dancing for the big numbers and taking their seats for the quieter songs. The man himself even took a minute to slow dance with wife Patti Scialfa onstage.
The River's 83-minute running time took up the bulk of the show. Springsteen and the E Streeters stood at the front of the stage and took a collective bow when it was done. They followed with a series of crowd-pleasing favorites, including "Badlands," "Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Atlantic City." Springsteen even took a request — off a fan's handmade cardboard sign — for a cover of Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music."
"We ain't played this in a while, Steve," Springsteen prefaced while looking for the right key in which to play the song on the guitar he'd been slinging around the stage all night. After turning to his longtime band mate and nominating B-flat, he looked into the crowd and said "Well, we'll figure it out once we get going."
The set ended with more covers. The first was the somewhat surprising Elvis Presley tune "Can't Help Falling in Love," followed by a seemingly endless rendition of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" to close the night (the same tune the band used to close last week's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anniversary show in the same venue). It felt like a fitting apex to a high-energy, transcendent night of good old American rock and roll.