There's nothing like seeing Bruce Springsteen perform in his home state

Springsteen at MetLife Stadium is as perfect of a match as Levi's and a red bandana

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published September 2, 2023 12:49PM (EDT)

Bruce Springsteen performs at MetLife Stadium on August 30, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Manny Carabel/Getty Images)
Bruce Springsteen performs at MetLife Stadium on August 30, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Manny Carabel/Getty Images)

There's something special about seeing Bruce Springsteen perform in his home state. If you ride New Jersey Transit, the excitement begins long before you arrive at MetLife Stadium. Transit staffers carry placards reading "Bruce!" and "This Way to the Boss!" as you make your way to the Meadowlands. In the Garden State, fans don't merely tailgate in the vast MetLife parking lot; they're lugging 12-packs as they board the train, pregaming all the way to the show, Jersey-style. As the anticipation builds, veteran concertgoers swap stories about their favorite shows, engaging in good-natured, beer-fueled one-upmanship about how many Springsteen concerts they've attended over the years. Wearing a faded concert tee from The River tour, one rider proudly boasted about seeing Bruce more than 200 times.

At the stadium, visitors were treated to a moveable feast of characters. The "Spring Nuts" were out in force. I caught up with Asbury Park journalist and Jersey Shore tour guide Stan Goldstein, who was holding court near "The Pit," the raucous, standing-room only section in front of the stage. Springsteen and the 17-member strong E Street Band are more than halfway through a 90-show tour and as Goldstein pointed out, it's been difficult, at times, for the musicians to mount the post-pandemic tour. Early on, there were the well-reported frustrations about ticket pricing and several shows had to be cancelled because of Covid-related illness.

Goldstein made particular mention of the tour's fairly static setlist in lieu of the sense of spontaneity associated with previous tours. Like many, he was concerned that the tour's carefully curated set might sacrifice some of the show's magic. "Many long-time fans who traveled to multiple shows in different countries realized they didn't need to see as many shows anymore," Goldstein lamented. Even still, he seemed optimistic after taking in the soundcheck, in which Springsteen and the band warmed up with "Spirit in the Night," "The Ties that Bind" and "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." Any of those songs would be a welcome addition to the standard setlist.

Moments later, the stadium went dark, and 55,000 fans began chanting "Bruce!" as the E Street Band launched into The Rising's "Lonesome Day," with one of the world's biggest rock stars taking the stage. A few years back, guitarist Steve Van Zandt reminded me that it's the sense of "energy" that separates the wheat from the chaff among rock 'n' roll bands. When it comes to energy, Springsteen and the E Street Band have very few rivals. As the show unfolded, the musicians blazed through a career-spanning set that featured Born to Run's "Night," Born in the USA's "No Surrender," and Darkness on the Edge of Town's "Prove It All Night" and "The Promised Land."

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And that's when Springsteen deviated from his regular setlist and broke into a showstopping version of "Spirit in the Night," the standout cut from his debut LP. Goldstein's prediction paid off handsomely as Springsteen swaggered across the stage, sharing his song-stories about Crazy Janey and Killer Joe as Jake Clemons played a wailing sax into the late-summer night. At this juncture, the stage show had truly opened up. As my Monmouth University colleague Eileen Chapman, Director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music, remarked, all of the ingredients were suddenly on full display: "Add the onstage banter, laughs, hand slaps, booty-shaking dance steps and audience interaction, and you have one memorable show."

The three-hour set found the musicians performing a blistering, time-eclipsing show, scarcely pausing to catch a breath in the process. The concert concluded with an embarrassment of riches in "Born to Run," "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)," "Glory Days," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." Springsteen even threw in a cover version of the rockabilly classic "Seven Nights to Rock," thwarting our expectations yet again.

"There is nothing like seeing Bruce and the E Street Band on their home turf," said Chapman. And judging by the unvarnished enthusiasm of the fans making their way home that night on New Jersey Transit, the concert was an unqualified success. Springsteen's energy and ebullience had been on full, unfettered display from beginning to end. In a post-concert message, Goldstein said it best, pointing out that seeing Springsteen and the E Street Band live is still nothing short of "the greatest show on earth."

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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Bruce Springsteen Metlife Stadium Music New Jersey Review