E Street Review: Springsteen plays “The River” on The Late Show – October 25th, 2021

As rumours circulate and excitement builds for an announcement of a 2022 world tour later this week, this past Monday, Bruce Springsteen appeared The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for a special episode focused entirely on him, to promote not one, but two things that we’ve known about for a while; two areas that really couldn’t be further apart either.

The first area of discussion and promotion is something that was actually released on Wednesday, “Renegades: Born in the U.S.A.”, a publication that has compiled the transcripts and everything else we need from his Spotify podcast of the same name with President Obama, and after a discussion with Colbert on how he feels about certain socio-political matters and the future of his country as a result of them, the conversation drifted into rock and roll.

“Renegades” may have been released yesterday, but we have to wait a little bit longer for The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts, which are set to be unearthed on November 19th. To hype Springsteen and the E Street Band’s upcoming golden documentation of the golden age, Bruce brought with him the Fender Esquire for a ‘show and tell’, noting that it’s been in every club, theatre, arena and stadium across the world (“I’ve been one thousand miles, two thousand miles…” indeed), and with speculation for Thursday building, I’m hopeful that guitar will go even further in 2022. In addition to this, while Bruce expressed some sadness over Professor Roy Bittan not being on the No Nukes release’s cover art – something I’ll admit I didn’t notice – he took pleasure in further stressing the significance of the shows by telling us the first night saw the first ever performance of “The River”, and that the second night saw him turn thirty. Mind you, his thirtieth birthday was of no joy to him on September 22nd, 1979, and though there’s some editing on this release in comparison to the Archive Series releases of 2018, I hope his demeanour in relation to his age will still be reflected in what we get.

So, he brought the Fender with him, but it was the acoustic he opted for as he stepped onstage to end the show with a special solo performance of “The River“. A superb effort, this one called back to his arrangements on The Ghost of Tom Joad Tour, and the November 8th, 1996 homecoming in Freehold’s St. Rose of Lima school’s gym in particular. However what was different here, and on that night, compared to maybe every other, was the absence of the harmonica. The essential instrument in Bruce’s greatest song of lost love and eternal damnation, its absence wasn’t in vain as Bruce thrived thanks to his strong vocal and solid guitar playing, utilising the latter where the second harmonica solo would often bridge us from one moment of the heartbreak to the next, albeit in shorter fashion. As for his vocal, it had a perfectly raw touch of grit in it, but for the most part he sang this with a clarity, allowing for his voice to hauntingly boom across The Late Night studio. Just listen to how he sings and stretches “we went down to the courthouse“, it’s only made better by the fact he’s able to contrast it with the tender “to rest” and “no wedding dress“. Add to that the urgency with which he sings “but I remember us riding in my brother’s car” a few moments later, the fact Bruce is in control of how he can sing, and still feels the emotion of such deeply personal songs after hundreds of performances over forty years is a great testament to the fact he hasn’t lost his passion, and perhaps even more excitingly, he’s incredibly motivated for what’s next on the horizon.

With this lovely performance of “The River”, “Renegades: Born in the U.S.A.” now available and The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts set to be released on November 19th, there’s something to keep us occupied until Thursday and its promising rumours of a 2022 tour announcement, and something to keep us gripped until whenever Bruce and the Band may roll into our towns and cities in the coming year. Just over a week ago at a TeachRock event along with Little Steven, Bruce promised that whenever they get on tour, we will see Springsteen and the E Street Band at their peak. The quality of the No Nukes 1979 performances may likely leave us questioning the possibility of that, but based on Bruce’s promise and his performance on Monday night, I’m looking forward to seeing them try!

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