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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band | Live in New York City (Columbia)
This third official live album comes from last year's reunion tour which saw Bruce teaming up with the E Street Band after a 10 year hiatus that witnessed Springsteen hit an all time low with Human Touch, then come bouncing back with one of his best ever albums, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and the magnificent solo tour that followed it. What's frankly amazing is just how rejuvenated Bruce and the band sound here, I don't think they've sounded this good since '78. This is a tougher, leaner Bruce - gone are the long spoken intros, the synthesizers and rock and roll ephemera - the band sound tight as hell, the two guitarists, especially, relishing the chance to spar off each other. The first three tracks shoot by in a Blitzkrieg rush that's unlike anything apart from, perhaps, Peruvian flake. There's more passion and intensity in these three than there is on most current indie labels' whole catalogues. Even Two Hearts, a weak sister track from The River, sounds muscular and refreshed. From hereon in the set moves into the dark heart of Springsteen's work; songs dealing with the dissolution of dreams, promises broken and wrong decisions taken. From the Ellroy tableaux of Atlantic City to the paranoia rush of Murder Incorporated, this is where Springsteen's work really blazes. There's a brave and breathtaking version of The River, perfectly poised, the line "Now those memories come back to haunt me / They haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don't come true / Or is it something worse?" as resonant and heartbreaking a distillation of the American Dream as Blood Meridian or The Great Gatsby. Youngstown, the only song off his last album, is totally transformed from an acoustic ballad into a raging storm of sheer bruising rage, Bruce's vocal, a howl in the night. It's one of the best songs he's ever written, a socio-economic sequel to Born in the U.S.A. set in the Steeltowns of the Mid West, with lines of clear, blistering poetry such as "Smokestacks reaching like the arms of God into a beautiful sky of soot and clay." The second CD offers a radically stripped, brutal and abrasive deconstruction of Born in the U.S.A., reclaimed from the Nuremberg Rally spectacle of fist thumping stadium legions, leaving no doubt as to its intended meaning. Lost in the Flood is a song he hasn't played live since 1978 but I don't think he's ever sung it better. 41 Shots (American Skin) is the controversial new song detailing the police slaying of an innocent man that led to the NYPD labeling Bruce a 'dirtbag' and a 'floating fag.' They warned him not to play the song in New York but, of course, he does. Letting the facts speak for themselves, as any good writer knows, is sometimes more powerful than fiction and the repeated refrain of "41 shots...41 shots" is both ominous and pointed. It's songs like these that make this, not the Manics or anyone else, but this, the most explicitly and subversively political record since...oh, since his last one.