NEW YORK: Bruce Springsteen’s tour showcasing his 1980 album “The River” is more than an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a telling example of how veteran artists are adjusting to the new realities of the music business by super-serving their longtime fans. The 66-year-old superstar is performing an album he made when he was 30 from start to finish, a two-hour exercise during the tour’s third stop in New York Wednesday. A musician with a long-time aversion to regularly documenting his epic concerts now makes recordings of them available to all his fans, whether they were there or not.
After opening with an outtake from “The River,” Springsteen explained to fans that he wrote the songs at a time when he was looking for more adult connections, and wanted to make an album with the grandeur of his live shows.
“I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, family, lonely nights and, of course, tears,” he said. “I wanted to imagine and write about those things, and I figured if I wrote about them, I’d get one step closer to getting it in my own life.” With that, he dropped the needle on 20 songs performed in the album’s original sequence. Springsteen then added 10 of his classics at the end before finishing with the bar band favorite, “Shout.”
Performing albums in their entirety is a trend gaining steam with artists like Steely Dan, Lucinda Williams and Van Morrison. It’s a way to give fans a fresh experience without new songs, said Chris Phillips, editor of Backstreets, a website devoted to Springsteen’s music.
As Springsteen explained in a recent interview with Phillips, he’d spend years formatting an album’s song order to tell a story, then never perform it that way. Before this tour, he’d only fully played “The River” live once before, in 2009.
“The accumulation of those 20 songs together is greater than the individual playing of each particular song on a given night,” Springsteen said. “You get a sense of time, you get a sense of where your head was, the issues you were thinking about, who you were at that moment.”
Context is important. “Born to Run” has become a ritual at Springsteen shows, but hearing it performed once a few years ago in its original album sequence gave the song new life.
Fans can also be cheered by Springsteen’s embrace of www.nugs.net, a website that lets fans buy high-quality downloads or CDs of concerts. All of his concerts from this tour will be offered there. The site provides a fresh revenue stream for artists like Springsteen, who are now out of the new music mainstream but have strong live reputations.
After snow forced postponement of his Sunday show in New York, Springsteen offered a free download of his Jan. 19 Chicago show for 48 hours – both a gift to fans and a sly introduction to the new technology. Over 100,000 copies were ordered.
The site also offers a handful of Springsteen shows from past tours. Much to his regret now, Springsteen was never big on recording all of his performances. The only quality video they could find from his original concert tour in 1980-81, for inclusion in his recently released box set, was missing several songs.
“The show was always about this moment, it’s about you, it’s about tonight,” Springsteen told Phillips. “This moment belongs to the people that are in the room, and that was my first and foremost concern. Anything that got in the way of that, I was against at the time.”