Before Bruce Springsteen even walked onstage for the opening show of his three-night stand at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium on August 23rd, it was clear these concerts were going to be special. Right as the lights went down, an eight-piece string section sat down behind Roy Bittan's piano. The hardcore fans that had paid attention to European set lists (or heard soundcheck) knew this meant the show was going to open with the the 1973 epic "New York City Serenade," a super rarity that had only been played three times in America in the 2000s. That was just the beginning of not only three of the most memorable Springsteen concerts in recent memory, but the three longest shows he's ever played in America. Opening night clocked in at three hours and 52 minutes and they only got longer from there, culminating with only the second four-hour show of his entire career. Here are 10 of the best moments.
The best place to watch a Springsteen show is the pit in front of the stage, but many of the fans up in the nosebleeds at the East Rutherford, New Jersey, stadium got to witness the sun set over the Manhattan skyline as Springsteen opened all three nights with "New York City Serenade." This was recorded by an earlier, jazzier incarnation of the E Street Band (only bassist Garry Tallent remains from that era), but Roy Bittan expertly recreated David Sancious' original piano intro and Bruce delivered the lyrics with incredible passion. For many Springsteen fans, this was the ultimate bucket-list moment.
After roughly 10 trillion live airings since it came out on The Rising in 2002, "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" has become a bathroom-break song for many fans. Even the routine of letting a young fan come onstage and sing the chorus has become tired, but that was before an adorable three-year old girl named Emily got the chance to give it a try. Wearing Minnie Mouse ear protectors, complete with mouse ears on top, she had the entire stadium smiling as she delivered the lines with remarkable confidence and poise. When it wrapped, Bruce hoisted her on his shoulders and she raised her arms in triumph. She's got a story to tell for the rest of her life.
"Lost in the Flood" wasn't in the original set list for the second show, but a fan in front had a sign saying he'd been to 150 shows and never heard it. "Tonight is your lucky night!" Springsteen said before kicking into a smoking rendition of the 1973 deep cut that culminated with a killer guitar solo. It's hard to match the version captured on the Live in New York City album taped at Madison Square Garden in 2000 (which marked the first time he'd done the song since 1978), but this one came very close.
Prophets of Rage had a night off near New Jersey when the second show rolled around, so guitarist Tom Morello came out for a handful of songs. He recreated his solo from the studio version of "American Skin" while saxophonist Jake Clemons raised his arms in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose of the Black Lives Matter movement. The song was written in 2000 to protest the shooting death of Amadou Diallo by the New York City police department, but sadly remains more relevant today than ever. These three shows stayed away from most political issues, but this one was very notable exception.
This Born To Run cut is hardly a rarity, but it remains one of the best live tunes in Springsteen's catalog. He milked it for all it was worth at the second show, breathlessly repeating the lines "until the end" and "we swore forever friends" over and over just like he did on the fabled 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. It's moments like this that have fans shelling out for official downloads of shows when they already own countless versions of all the songs played that night
The final night at MetLife had one of the most idiosyncratic set lists in Springsteen's entire career. After opening with "New York City Serenade" for the third consecutive night, he proceeded to play four straight songs from his debut LP, Greetings From Asbury Park, "Blinded by the Light," "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street," It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and "Spirit in the Night." It was the beginning of a roughly 90-minute set of music that pre-dated Born to Run, followed by a run of songs from Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. He's never presented his catalog in chronological order before, but it worked magnificently.
The Greetings material was followed by Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and then four songs from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" had the entire stadium singing along and "Kitty's Back" gave a spotlight to nearly every member of the band, but nothing can top "Incident on 57th Street" flowing right into "Rosalita (Come out Tonight)" just like it does on the original LP. The latter tune is an encore staple, but moving it into the main set was an inspired move. Only "The E Street Shuffle" and "Wild Billy's Circus Story" were unplayed from the album.
After eight songs from 1973, Springsteen jumped ahead nearly a decade by kicking into "Atlantic City" from Nebraska and five consecutive Born in the U.S.A. tunes. This is material designed for football stadiums. "Working on the Highway" and "Darlington County" are longtime staples, but relative rarities "Downbound Train" and "I'm Going Down" worked even better. He wrapped it all up with a hushed "I'm on Fire," a beloved tune that makes oddly few live appearances.
On the 1992-93 "Other Band" tour, fans groaned that way too much of the show was occupied with songs from Human Touch and Lucky Town. Those songs almost never surface these days. "Living Proof" from Lucky Town was played via request on the third night, with Springsteen dedicating the song to his son Evan. Many fans sat down or headed for the bathroom, but it was still nice to acknowledge that those albums are things that exist. Sadly, "Better Days," a much better Lucky Town song, was soundchecked but didn't make it into the show.
"Jersey Girl" is a Tom Waits song, but from the first time Springsteen played it in 1981, he took out the final verse and tacked on a new section that transformed the title character into an exhausted single mother. The revision completely changed the emotional core of the song, and it's become one of Springsteen's most believed Jersey tunes. All three MetLife shows concluded with "Jersey Girl" and fireworks during the "sha la la la" finale. The clock passed the four-hour mark on the last night, but it seemed like the band and the audience still had enough energy to keep going a while longer. Springsteen has played a lot of shows at the Meadowlands during the past 35 years, but these three might go down as the most memorable, and not simply because he finally crossed the mythical four-hour barrier. There wasn't a moment during all 12 hours when he wasn't completely in the zone.