Beyond the ticket prices, the real conversation about Bruce Springsteen recently has been about the length of his shows. As you’ll read in the foldout chronology section of our new Definitive Edition of our Ultimate Music Guide, in recent years, Bruce and band have proved it all night with sets involving deep cuts, dives into entire years of work (respect due, 1973), and ultimately bringing us to a situation where his shows can bust curfews, annoy chi-chi neighbours who don’t like the noise, and top a ridiculous four hours on stage.
On occasion (say, Philadelphia 2016), there can be a sense that Bruce knows exactly what record he is trying to break. Really, though, the magic of these Springsteen performances hasn’t been so much about what’s on the clock as in their energy, and the humility of a performer that not only still has so much to say – but is also mindful of how much there is that his audience want to hear. In these pages, the singer-songwriter Steve Earle recalls meeting Bruce after a 2023 show and telling him “I don’t know what you didn’t play!”
The range and power of Springsteen’s work is what we celebrate in this 172-page edition. From the prolixity of his early work, through to the laconic poetry of his classic albums this is music with the strength of character to reach out and touch its audience. Occasionally (we’re thinking of you here, Ronald Reagan) casual listeners can misconstrue the sublety of what is being communicated. For the most part, though, Springsteen creates a unique empathy. His songs are a dramatic biography of a relatable America.
The big dreams and blood vows of high school. The unfulfilled promises, the dead-end employment and relationship breakdowns. The temptation to dwell on the good old days. The best Springsteen music acknowledges the wolves at the door – crime, mental illness, economic hardship, war – but offers some assistance in resisting them. As you read the in-depth reviews of every Springsteen album in this premium magazine, you’ll want to revisit this powerful music, and also admire the ethic of the person behind it.
It comes across almost as a sense of duty. Springsteen sees it with customary self-awareness as “playing hard and trying not to disappoint”. As Steve Earle reflected to Uncut earlier this year, Springsteen’s willingness to put in the work seems to come from not wanting to let any member of his audience down. After all, says Steve, “somebody somewhere identifies with every single fucking song he’s ever written.”
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