Bruce Springsteen has played Madison Square Garden nearly thirty times, but he says the two nights he played there with the E Street Band in mid-October rank among his greatest shows ever. “I don’t know if it’s the myth of the Garden, the heavyweight fight,” Springsteen says, “But there was definitely something going on in that audience. It was really alive – you could feel it onstage. Those shows were as good as any New York shows we’ve ever done.”
The heart of Springsteen’s current tour, which kicked off on October 2nd in Hartford, Connecticut, has been the politically charged songs from his new Magic, including killer versions of “Gypsy Biker” and the set-opening “Radio Nowhere.” “I don’t know any other group that goes out and does three-quarters of a new album during the first shows,” says guitarist Steve Van Zandt. “We’re the only ones, and we do it because the audience not only encourages it, they demand it.” The shows also feature classic tunes – “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Badlands” – and gems from the catalog, including 1982’s “Reason to Believe” (reimagined as a ZZ Top-style blues number) and “Thudercrack,” a “Rosalita”-esque party track that the full band hadn’t performed since 1973.
The emotional high point of the second night at the Garden was a rare back-to-back performance of the final two cuts on Born to Run, “Meeting Across the River” and “Jungleland” – which Springsteen dedicated to the late actor Peter Boyle, after deciding to perform the combo on the fly midway through the set. “That was one of those things that happened almost by accident,” Springsteen says. “I spoke to Peter’s wife before the show. It would have been his birthday, and she told me how much he loved ‘Jungleland.’ And then Ed Norton was talking about ‘Meeting Across the River,’ how it’s like a little movie.” Saxophone player Clarence Clemons nailed his epic solo at the end, earning the loudest cheers of a very loud night. “I’ve written a lot of songs over the years,” Springsteen says. “But that last forty seconds of ‘Jungleland,’ that whole ‘poets down here’ verse – it blew up in a way that none of us expected.”
After wrapping up the American leg in Boston on November 19th, the band heads to Europe until the end of the year. No further U.S. dates have been announced, but Van Zandt says the tour is just getting started. “This first ten weeks is really ‘Hello, we have a new record out,’ ” he says. “Then we’ll be hitting everywhere starting in the spring for real.” An extended New York run of shows is all but guaranteed next year, but Springsteen will have a hard time topping the Garden shows. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he says. “But you can still wake up stunned the next morning and think, ‘Did someone hit me over the head with a baseball bat around midnight last night?’ ”
This story is from the November 15, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.