With a repeated refrain of “forty-one shots,” the voices of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band transformed two words from a police report into a mantra of mourning last summer. Their reunion tour was ending in New York, the city where an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, had been gunned down by police officers the year before, and passions were high after the shooters were absolved. “American Skin,” the song Springsteen wrote in response, doesn’t try to separate villains from victims so much as bear witness to the aftershocks: the way a society’s slow-burn disbelief turns to outrage, then grief.
The inclusion of “American Skin,” one of Springsteen’s finest songs, alone justifies the release of Live in New York City, a nineteen-song double CD of the singer’s first tour with the E Streeters in more than a decade. A few concert standards merely rehash Springsteen’s glory days (“Prove It All Night,” “Jungleland”), while some of the new arrangements struggle to better the originals (the moody intro and coda that cause “The River” to meander, the lengthy band introductions that bloat “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”).
But revelations abound: Max Weinberg’s demon drumming turns “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” an early-Eighties leftover, into a rampaging opener; “Two Hearts” allows duet partners Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt to pay homage to the Marvin Gaye-Kim Weston Motown classic “It Takes Two”; Nils Lofgren’s six-string rave-up drops a bomb on the relatively sedate studio version of “Youngstown”; and the slide-guitar voicings on a stark, howling “Born in the U.S.A.” evoke both the Far East and Mississippi. These performances make Live in New York City more than just a souvenir of a nostalgia tour; it’s a document of a great combo still burning to outdo itself.