Ahead of our usual Weekend Stream programming on Saturday, we're taking the time to spotlight a new digital catalog release that's quite near and dear to our hearts - and locations! - at Second Disc HQ.
For a half-century, the artistry of Bruce Springsteen has galvanized millions beyond the state lines of his native New Jersey - but there's something about home that makes his work really special. Fans can and will debate which of his many, many live concerts have been the best - there's a fair argument to be made that the best took place far from the tri-state area - and since 2014, Springsteen himself has offered ways to fuel the debates, releasing decades of live releases from the Thrill Hill archive and beyond as hi-res CD and digital releases on Nugs.net.
In 2019, Legacy Recordings - minders of Springsteen's Columbia Records catalog - started bringing the work of the Nugs team to a wider audience with The Live Series, a run of streaming-only compilations highlighting Springsteen's concert presence from those available shows. Since then, a baker's dozen of digital albums have been made available, often built around different themes and motifs in Springsteen's songwriting: love, hope, introspection, the characters he wrote about, the times he played acoustic numbers, two volumes of cover songs, and even a special release earlier this year dedicated to the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in honor of the album's 45th anniversary. Their latest Live Series release - timed just right with Springsteen's 74th birthday tomorrow (Saturday, September 23) may be their most obvious yet - but thanks to a keen execution, it might also be one of their greatest.
It doesn't take a genius to guess what The Live Series: Songs of New Jersey is about. Bruce still calls the Garden State home, even after a brief relocation to the West Coast, and the ghosts and geography of his old neighborhoods weave their way through his songbook effortlessly. But this set really drives the theme home in more ways than one. While most of The Live Series is in strict chronological order and a tight 15 tracks apiece, Songs of New Jersey beefs things up to 20 tracks, and keeps the action squarely to venues in New Jersey and New York, showcasing how these songs come alive in the shadow of the places that inspired them.
This one can be taken as a history of live music in the New Jersey area. Songs of New Jersey opens with a thunderous, arena-sized rendition of "Born to Run" recorded at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford in 1981; it closes with a rendition of "Freehold," a song written during the promotion of The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) but never released on a studio album, at a show on the very same stage in 1999, when The E Street Band began a triumphant reunion. (The venue was, by then, renamed the Continental Airlines Arena; it's now used for film and TV production.) In between, there are no less than 11 more cuts from shows in the Meadowlands complex - either at Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines Arena or, just across Route 120, the former Giants Stadium, itself torn down in 2010 and replaced by MetLife Stadium. Springsteen wrote the title track to 2012's Wrecking Ball about that change, and performs it at MetLife that same year, as heard on this compilation.
More rarities abound on Songs of New Jersey, as well. You'll hear a 1978 take on Born to Run deep cut "Meeting Across the River," recorded at the now-closed Capitol Theatre in Passaic; a full-band rendition of Nebraska single "Atlantic City" from Newark's Prudential Center in 2016; a cover of bandmate Steven Van Zandt's "I Don't Want to Go Home" (made popular by fellow Jersey Shore rockers Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes) during a solo acoustic gig in 1996; and a stirring rendition of "New York City Serenade," rarely-played closer to 1973's The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, at - where else? - Madison Square Garden in 2009, featuring a full string section and part of a surprise performance of the album in full.
Another pleasant surprise is the presence of three songs from Springsteen's oft-debated 1992-1993 world tour - the one where he took his "Other Band" (featuring only keyboardist Roy Bittan retained from the E Street Band) on tour in support of 1992's Human Touch and Lucky Town releases. The latter album is represented ("Local Hero"), but so too are albums known for a proliferation of E Streeters (Born to Run's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out") or absence of anyone else ("Open All Night," from the skeletal acoustic Nebraska). These three will surely keep the debate about those years going strong.
The extra-long set reminds the listener of the ongoing vitality of The E Street Band, which has changed shape in recent years: seven tracks capture the band after the 2008 passing of keyboardist Danny Federici, while five feature Jake Clemons' unenviable task of filling in for his late uncle Clarence on saxophone. (By that point, The E Street Band - which had already welcomed Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, violinist Soozie Tyrell and Federici's replacement Charlie Giordano into the fold - had expanded into a traveling caravan featuring three additional horn players and a quartet of soulful backing vocalists.) But, to paraphrase a statement the singer was keen on making after Clemons' passing, they're here if we are. Songs of New Jersey offers The E Street Band at its best and brightest over several generations.
Debates about Springsteen's latest tour have certainly burned bright: the dynamic pricing issue caused fan site Backstreets to shutter in protest, and fans seemed particularly irked by what was seen as a relatively static setlist between shows. But those bumps in the road, past or present, can't overshadow what the music of Bruce Springsteen - with or without The E Street Band - means to so many. And The Live Series: Songs of New Jersey is a strong reminder of how heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, booty-shaking and life-changing these songs have been for so many. You can stream it at the links below.
- Born to Run (Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 7/9/1981)
- Spirit in the Night (Live at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY - 12/31/1980)
- Meeting Across the River (Live at the Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ - 9/19/1978)
- Prove It All Night (Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 8/6/1984)
- Jersey Girl (Live at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ - 8/22/1985)
- Local Hero (Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 7/25/1992)
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 6/24/1993)
- My Hometown (Live at St. Rose of Lima High School, Freehold, NJ - 11/8/1996)
- Open All Night (Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 7/25/1992)
- 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (Live at the Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ - 11/26/1996)
- New York City Serenade (Live at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY - 11/7/2009)
- Johnny 99 (Live at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY - 5/4/2009)
- I Don't Want to Go Home (Live at the Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ - 11/26/1996)
- Jungleland (Live at Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 7/18/1999)
- Wrecking Ball (Live at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ - 9/22/2012)
- My City of Ruins (Live at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ - 8/25/2016)
- Atlantic City (Live at Prudential Center, Newark, NJ - 1/31/2016)
- Seaside Bar Song (Live at Times Union Center, Albany, NY - 5/13/2014)
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Live at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ - 8/30/2016)
- Freehold (Live at Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ - 7/18/1999)