Bruce Springsteen’s 20-song opus The River means many things to people, but The Boss himself gave two explanations for the meaning of his fifth album — originally released in 1980 and revisited in-full on his current trek — during a stop at the sold-out Oracle Arena Sunday night.
The first explanation, which he talked about prior to tearing into opening track “The Ties That Bind,” came from the perspective of a young Springsteen. He talked about how he wanted the record to be big, like his band’s live shows, and to be about many things: dancing, faith, love, sex, and so much more. “The River was my coming of age record,” The Boss said. “I was trying to find my way inside.” The second viewpoint came from an older, wiser songwriter as the final notes sounded on album closer “Wreck on the Highway.”
“The River was about time…slipping away,” he said. “You choose your partner and your own worth….You have limited time to raise your family and do something good.” Both explanations true, all that was left was to play the songs, which Springsteen and his famed E Street Band did to perfection.
Walking out to fully on house lights and a steady chorus of “Bruuuuuuuuuuce” chants, Springsteen and his eight-member band jumped straight into “Meet Me In The City Tonight,” an unreleased track originally written between 1979 and 1980, and unsurprisingly, just as good as classic Springsteen of that era.
The River followed, in order. From “Sherry Darling,” the second album track, Springsteen worked the crowd from the front of the stage (there was no barricade, allowing him to be right on top of fans), as well as a walkway toward the middle of the floor. Whenever he needed to get from the stage to the walkway, he would climb down onto the floor, alongside the thousand-plus there. The stage itself was three-tiered, allowing fans in the wings of the arena, as well as the back, to get closer to The Boss.
Even at 66, Springsteen was willing to crowdsurf over hundreds of heads during “Hungry Heart,” proving the trust in his fans in ways other artists, especially those closer to his age, don’t anymore. Not to be outdone, The E Street Band was everything they should have been, shining in every opportunity.
During the River tracks, the band mostly worked from one song to the next without much dialogue. Hearing the inspirations for some of the songs would have been nice, and would have broken up a bit of monotony of the last five songs of the main set, which dragged a little. The slight lag made sense because the second half of the album consists mostly of ballads. But the intensity with which Springsteen approached each song, like a young artist with something to prove, more than made up for it.
The one song that got an aside was “I Want To Marry You,” which Springsteen described as “more of a daydream of love…the kind that doesn’t exist (but) you gotta start someplace.”
Because this was a Springsteen show, the length of the encore alone was longer than many bands’ entire performances. Without even heading backstage for the customary break, the E Street Band tore into 14 more songs: hits like “Born To Run,” “Badlands,” and “Dancing in the Dark”; lesser-known gems like “Lonesome Day”; and a fan request, 1973’s “Growing Up.” The Boss invited two young fans onto the stage during this time, one to conduct the crowd and the other to dance. With a show topper, a 10-minute rendition of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” — during which Springsteen demonstrated dancing chops of his own — the concert clocked in at just under 3.5 hours.