Springsteen on Broadway, August 18, 2021

Chuck Earling (the author of this blog) at Springsteen on Broadway, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Kathy Wilson)

I finally made it to Broadway to catch the 2021 version of Springsteen on Broadway. I normally hate to see the summer fly by, but this year I couldn’t wait for the calendar to hit August 18. The last time I saw Bruce live was August 7, 2019 when he played a brief set with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the premiere party for the film Blinded By The Light which took place in Asbury Park, NJ. Two years between Bruce shows, as any Bruce fan will tell you, is way too long a time to wait to see Bruce live again. We always need more live Bruce, and we need it now!

I’ve seen some discussion online among fans over the last few months asking whether or not they need to see Springsteen on Broadway again if they already saw the show during its 2017-2018 run. I’m pleased to tell you that after seeing the August 18, 2021 show, I can emphatically and enthusiastically tell you that yes indeed my friends, if you have the opportunity to see the current run, you have to go!

I was lucky enough to attend three previous Springsteen on Broadway performances (October 2017, May 2018, and October 2018). While the August 18, 2021 show retained most of the core elements from the previous Broadway runs, a lot has changed in the world since the previous performances. I won’t get into specifics because I don’t want to spoil anything for you in case you attend, but I can at least tell you that the changes that the world has gone through in the last few years have definitely affected Springsteen on Broadway’s structure, but not in a way that feels out of place with the core narrative of the show. In fact quite to the contrary, Bruce’s adjustments to the show fit right into the narrative in a way that feels like updates to that core story, Bruce’s own story, and our story. The changes to the show reflect the journey that we have been on together all these years, and throughout that journey, Bruce didn’t just take us along for the ride; he often asked us really tough questions along the way, and dared us to search our souls to make the world a better place, and that is the case here with the adjustments to the show.

Bruce changes some of the musical nuance this time around here and there, and in some cases he even dropped a few songs from the 2017-18 run and replaced them with songs that (in my opinion) fit into the narrative better given what the world has gone through recently. His delivery of many of the stories, while mostly the same as in the previous run, are often delivered with new embellishments, or just a different feel or tone, while remaining true to the story that he wanted to tell the first time around.

Words can’t fully capture the exhilaration that I felt when Bruce walked onto the stage, but I’ll make a modest attempt. Due to the pandemic, I had not been to a live concert since August 2019 when I saw my last pre-pandemic concert, Hall & Oates. The two-year stretch of August 2019 through August 2021 is the longest I have ever gone without seeing a live show since I first began attending concerts (my first being Prince & The Revolution on the Purple Rain tour November 24, 1984 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia). I had a tremendous feeling of longing in my heart because of the absence of live music in my life. When Bruce walked back onto the stage the other night, it felt like seeing a lifelong friend after a two-year absence. My “great song traveler” musical hero (as another of my musical heroes Jackson Browne might put it) was back to share his songs of joy, sorrow, introspection, reflection, inspiration, and hope. To me, Bruce stepping out onto that stage gave me the same high that is typically only felt during a wedding, a birth of a child, or some other life-affirming event. It was a sign that life will go on, that there is hope for the future, and that our journey together over all of these years has meant something, and that the journey is not over.

And speaking of signs of hope, Bruce walked onto the stage wearing a mask, and later in the show thanked everyone in the building for doing the same and for protecting themselves and their neighbors at the show. Masks are now required for all audience members due to the Delta variant’s rapid spread. I didn’t see a single person without a mask in the audience. It almost felt like a different world. A world in which wearing a mask to protect each other was not a political idea, but a common decency and an act of love towards our fellow citizens. I felt hope and sadness at the same time. I felt hope because if this entire building of people could wear a mask to just to see Bruce, maybe the whole country can find it in their hearts to wear masks to protect their fellow citizens until this pandemic is truly over. I felt sadness because if everyone in the country had been wearing masks all along, the pandemic might already be over. But the feeling of hope outweighed the sadness because for just one night, everyone in attendance had come together, all masked up, with a common goal: To see Bruce Springsteen perform what he calls his “magic trick”. If Bruce is indeed a magician, there will never be one greater. This show is living proof. I hope that you get to experience it. I will never forget it.

Bruce Springsteen at the St. James Theatre, NYC, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Chuck Earling)
Bruce Springsteen at the St. James Theatre, NYC, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Chuck Earling)
Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen at the St. James Theatre, NYC, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Chuck Earling)