“I’ve Got A Story To Tell You”: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary

As originally posted on brucespringsteen.net

Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Benefit
30 October, 2009
Madison Square Garden
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band featuring Sam Moore, Tom Morello, John Fogerty and Darlene Love

The last thing I expected at 12something Thursday night was for Billy Joel to walk out onstage with the E Street Band and play a couple of songs. Of course, at that point, it was already past ridiculous: a full horn section, extra backup singers, and a parade of outstanding guests: Sam Moore, Tom Morello, John Fogerty and Darlene Love had already been out there, and clearly, we weren’t finished yet.

It was only fitting that Bruce would open this show with the legend of E Street, but it was even more fitting when immediately afterwards he launched into an Apollo Theater-worthy, Star Time quality introduction: “Madison Square Garden, put your hands together for a man who, with his partner Dave, brought you such hits as: “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” “I Thank You,” “When Something is Wrong With My Baby” and “Hold On I’m Coming,” the original soul man and one of the greatest singers of all time, Mr. Sam Moore.”

Sam Moore looked outstanding (hell, he looked better than every member of CSN) and was resplendent in a sequined vest over a shirt reading SAM (is who I am) and was in absolutely fine voice. But the real treat was watching Bruce and the rest of the band in a mood that can only be described as “giddy”. It was like watching the E Street Band do the Snoopy Dance from the Charlie Brown cartoon. And their special guests were equally thrilled. Garry W. Tallent was even spotted visibly rocking out multiple times.

“If Woody were alive today, he’d have a lot to write about,” Bruce notes, before introducing Tom Morello as “one of the greatest guitar players in the world”. He walked out grinning ear to ear, his guitar emblazoned with ARM THE HOMELESS, bringing to mind of course THIS MACHINE KILLS FACSISTS (and IGNORE ALIEN ORDERS as well, but I’ll get to that in a bit). The best thing about special guests of this caliber is that Bruce is above and beyond his A game. It’s not that he doesn’t usually work hard, but he somehow finds something extra, above and beyond, and the result will send you somewhere north of Pluto. Watching the two of them duel on “Ghost of Tom Joad” was like watching two martial arts masters circling each other onstage.

Oh, yeah, and now John Fogerty’s here. While I’ve resigned myself that the closest I’ll ever come to seeing the two of them do “Green River” was through a closed gate while waiting in the GA line at Cobo Arena during the VFC tour, “Fortunate Son” was certainly apropos, and “Proud Mary”‘s not anything to hate. But out of nowhere, Bruce starts talking about Roy Orbison, and while he wouldn’t dare try it himself, the two of them were going to sing “Pretty Woman”.

You were still picking yourself up off the floor when the notes to “Jungleland” started. And you are probably thinking, “‘Jungleland’ out of context? Nooooo!'” and I will tell you that you are wrong. This is not the first time I have seen “Jungleland”. This is not the first time I have seen “Jungleland” at Madison Square Garden. I have to tell you, I got the shivers. I had goosebumps. It was genuine, as powerful as any “Jungleland” you have ever seen. Every chatty, bored concertgoer in our section had shut up and decided to pay attention by the time the sax solo had ended. As a fan, you wanted to turn around to everyone there for someone else and say, “Yeah, the Bruce Springsteen you didn’t care about seeing, did you know he could do THAT? I bet you didn’t.”

Darlene Love, looking fabulous, comes out after a blatant plug from Mr. S. for her upcoming Hall of Fame nomination, and somehow we find some more energy to dance to “A Fine Fine Boy” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” Patti and Soozie over with the backup singers for that one, clearly loving every minute. But just when you thought we might be heading for “Born To Run” and heading home, Bruce introduces a song “written by Mick Jones, and my brother-in-arms Joe Strummer, from one of the greatest rock and roll bands England has ever produced.” Tom Morello comes back out onstage as “London Calling” blasts the roof off of Madison Square Garden.

The transition into “Badlands” – and having Morello remain onstage for this song – is one of the more jaw-dropping moves Bruce has made recently (and that’s saying a lot, given what “recently” actually means). I do believe the F word made it into one of the “is anybody really alive out there” exhortations.

So when a baby grand was rolled out and Bruce went into a long rambling introduction about New Jersey and Long Island not really being that far apart and Billy Joel came out, I, frankly, was  about ready for a break. He brought his band with him, and people got super excited, but given everything that had already happened, please forgive me if I was somewhat underwhelmed. But the people who were leaving during “London Calling” came running back to their seats as soon as Billy Joel came on.

After “New York State of Mind”, just when you thought it would be time to go home – “1-2!” and houselights and “Born To Run” and people are just streaming for the exits in droves now. They would be foolish in the extreme, because Bruce had something else on his mind. Lightning does strike twice, and everyone comes back out for “Higher and Higher,” including Jackson Browne and Peter Wolf, who came out from somewhere, and almost everyone gets a verse, Sam Moore flashing a smile brighter than any spotlight.

As fans, we always like to think that Bruce & E Street blow everyone else away. Well, tonight, they actually did. It was a Hall of Fame-worthy show for a Hall of Fame performance. And after the second night, there is no doubt that out of all of the featured performers, this slot was the best executed, most well-thought out of all of them. He played his band’s defining songs; he brought out his influences; he paid tribute with others. Every phase of Bruce’s career was covered. And they played for AN HOUR AND A HALF. He transformed what could have been a rote appearance into a memorable one.