The Six-Year Wait for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band Reunion
It’s hardly surprising that Bruce Springsteen didn’t intend to endure such a long break from the E Street Band. If he had his way, they’d have returned to the road two years ago, but because of the pandemic, it’s taken until 2023 for the way to be cleared.
”I’m going to consider myself lucky if I lose just a year of touring life,” Springsteen lamented to Rolling Stone in 2020. “Once you hit 70, there’s a finite amount of tours and a finite amount of years that you have. And so you lose one or two, that’s not so great. Particularly because I feel the band is capable of playing at the very, very, very top, or better than, of its game right now. And I feel as vital as I’ve ever felt in my life. … It’s not being able to do something that is a fundamental life force, something I’ve lived for since I was 16 years old.”
On Wednesday night, Springsteen and the E Street Band will deliver a full-length show for the first time in nearly six years. As they resume touring duties, they’ll want to quickly recapture the power and energy they last manifested on Feb. 25, 2017, in Auckland, New Zealand. That night they hammered home a 26-song set, closing a tour that had, on occasion, seen them delivering performances of up to four hours.
Below is a recap of how Springsteen dealt with his downtime - in a characteristically prolific manner - after he and the band closed their The River world tour on its 89th stop, after grossing $306.5 million over 13 months.
Watch Clips of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Aukland, 2017
'Springsteen on Broadway' (2017)
Following the success of his 2016 memoir Born to Run, Springsteen adapted elements to create a biographical show featuring songs, anecdotes and reflections from his life. With assistance from his wife, Patti Scialfa, he sculpted a full performance based on an intimate show he had staged at the White House during the last month of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2016.
“I wanted to do some shows that were as personal and as intimate as possible,” he explained in a statement. “I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind. My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung. It loosely follows the arc of my life and my work. All of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal to provide an entertaining evening and to communicate something of value.”
Springsteen on Broadway opened for previews at the 960-capacity Walter Kerr Theatre (the smallest venue he’d publicly played in 40 years, he estimated) on Oct. 3, 2017, with its official opening on Oct. 12. Originally set to close on Nov. 26, it was extended several times as a result of its success, eventually ending on Dec. 15, 2018. By that time he had grossed over $113 million from 236 performances and won a Special Tony Award for the show. The day before the last show, he released the Springsteen on Broadway live album, which reached No. 11 in the U.S. and enjoyed Top 10 success in many other countries. Netflix also broadcast a TV version of the show.
Listen to 'Land of Hope and Dreams' From 'Springsteen on Broadway'
Watch Netflix’s 'Springsteen on Broadway' Trailer
'Western Stars' (2019)
Springsteen’s 19th album, Western Stars, arrived on June 14, 2019. He said he discovered a desire to “return to my solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping cinematic orchestral arrangements,” and did so on 13 tracks in which he tried to evoke a “range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.”
He later confirmed rumors that the songs were started several years earlier, telling Classic Rock, “I started it in 2012. You know, I'd put it away for a couple of years and go back to it. And then I had like 40 songs and I edited them all down and I had to find a record that I’d been making.” ... I was working on a meditation about men and women and love and the difficulty of love, and how do you move from being an individual actor into a life that's filled with people and family and friends and some communal experience? Everybody has to walk that journey.”
In September he followed the LP with a feature-length documentary movie, including live performances of all the album’s tracks from a barn he owned. He said of his directorial debut, “I knew I wasn’t going to tour on it and bring an orchestra. So I said, ‘Well, if I’m not going to perform it, maybe we could perform it once and film it – that way people get a chance to see what it's like to play it.’”
At first, he explained, the movie was going to be a simple live concert recording: “And one night in front of the television I was sitting there and I just kind of started to scribble my thoughts down for each song. And it was all right there. So I ended up with the script that is the voiceover. And then once we sort of had the voiceover, we needed something for it to voiceover … [so] we shot a little film during the photo session for the record and we just started to play with that, and it started to feel good over the voiceover. And then I started to score the voiceover, and that got us into this whole other section of the film. Which is really what turned it into a movie, you know, rather than just a concert film.”
Western Stars reached No. 2 on the chart and spawned the singles “Hello Sunshine,” “There Goes My Miracle,” “Tucson Train” and “Western Stars.”
Watch Bruce Springsteen's 'Western Stars' Video
'Letter to You' (2020)
Springsteen finally reunited with the E Street Band for Letter to You, their first collaboration since 2014’s High Hopes. It arrived on Oct. 23, 2020, amid pandemic restrictions that made touring impossible.
He discussed his plans the previous year, saying an album’s worth of E Street Band material was ready to go. “It’s like I’ve spent about seven years without writing anything for the band ... couldn’t write anything for the band,” he admitted. “And I said, ‘Well, of course … you’ll never be able to do that again!’ And it’s a trick every time you do it, you know? But it’s a trick that, because of that fact that you can’t explain, cannot be self-consciously duplicated. It has to come to you in inspiration.”
He later added, “I love the emotional nature of Letter to You. And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”
Like Western Stars, Letter to You was accompanied by a concert movie – released the same day – which recounted the creation of the record. “All the songs from the album came out … in perhaps less than 10 days," Springsteen said. “I just wandered around the house in different rooms, and I wrote a song each day. I wrote a song in the bedroom. I wrote a song in our bar. I wrote a song in the living room.”
On Dec. 12 that year, Springsteen and the E Street Band performed “Ghosts” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” on Saturday Night Live, marking the first time they’d performed together since closing the River Tour in 2017. They performed without bassist Garry Tallent and guitarist and violinist Soozie Tyrell, who didn't take part because of COVID concerns. It was the first time co-founder Tallent had ever missed a show.
Watch Bruce Springsteen’s 'Letter to You' Video
Watch Bruce Springsteen’s 'Letter to You' Movie Trailer
Presidential Podcast (2021)
On Feb. 22, 2021, the first in a podcast series hosted by Springsteen and President Obama arrived under the title Renegades: Born in the USA. Inspired by the friendship they fostered during Obama’s administration, and encouraged by the success of his wife Michelle’s podcast, the pair explored their attitudes to politics, family, the nature of masculinity and more over eight episodes, which ranged in length from 38 to 53 minutes.
Obama - who’d given Springsteen the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 - said of the project (which also spawned a book), “Over the years, what we’ve found is that we’ve got a shared sensibility. About work, about family and about America. In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys trying to understand this country that’s given us both so much. Trying to chronicle the stories of its people. Looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning and truth and community with the larger story of America.”
The same year, Springsteen returned to Broadway for another run of his biographical shows. Once again, the level of interest meant he delivered more performances than the 31 originally announced; the show ran from June 7 and Sept. 4. He also appeared on John Mellencamp’s album Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, on the single “Wasted Days,” which was released on Sept. 29.
Watch the Trailer for Springsteen and Barack Obama's 'Renegades' Book
Watch Bruce Springsteen Guest With John Mellencamp on 'Wasted Days'
'Only the Strong Survive' (2022)
Springsteen’s 21st album, Only the Strong Survive, was announced on Sept. 29, 2022, and released on Nov. 11. It included 15 cover versions of soul and R&B classics, such as the singles “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do),” “Nightshift,” “Don’t Play That Song” and “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” with guest appearances by the E Street Band horn section.
He said he intended to make a different project when work started in his studio before he decided to pursue another path. “I spent my working life with my voice at the service of my songs – confined by my arrangements, by my melodies, by my compositions, by my constructions,” Springsteen said. “My voice always came second, third or fourth to the expression of those elements. But this time, I decided to do something I had never done before: make some music that is centered around singing, around challenging my voice.”
He added, “Now, in my own memoir, I give my voice a little short shrift by saying I didn't think I had much of one. But once I started on this project, after listening to some of the things we cut, I thought, 'My voice is badass! I'm 73 years old, I'm kicking ass. I'm a good old man!'" The 15-track LP reached No. 15 in the U.S. and fared even better in many other countries. He appeared three nights in a row on The Tonight Show to promote the release and returned for a Thanksgiving special a week later.
Watch Springsteen's 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)' Video