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15 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen Frustrates Fans With ‘Live in New York City’

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Bruce Springsteen closed out his 1999-2000 reunion tour with the E Street Band with 10 nights at Madison Square Garden. The last two dates — June 29 and July 1, 2000 — were recorded, with highlights released on March 27, 2001 as Live in New York City.

The two-CD set captured the celebratory mood of Springsteen’s first go-round with his band since 1988. But it also perplexed fans with its sequence. The back cover listed 13 songs, with another six as “additional performances” without regard to where they were played on the nights. In addition, some longtime live favorites that were performed both nights were omitted. As a result, it didn’t reflect Springsteen’s celebrated approach to creating a setlist, where songs are placed together with the intent of taking the audience through a variety of themes.

Even stranger was the treatment of “Born to Run.” Its placement as a hidden track, after a fade-out, on the Disc One broke up a particularly effective six-song segment from “Youngstown” through “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” that was a highlight of the tour. Even as a bonus track, it would have made more sense to tack it on to the end of Disc Two, where it could have felt closer to its traditional spot in the encores.

However, it’s hard to find fault with the quality of the music. The fraternal chemistry between Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, on his first tour with the E Street Band since 1981, is evident on “Two Hearts” and “Badlands.” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” found Springsteen in soul preacher mode as he introduced the band before the final verse, and “Mansion on the Hill” was a duet with wife Patti Scialfa.

But it was the newer songs that were most impressive. “My Love Will Not Let You Down” served as a rousing opening track. “Youngstown,” from the acoustic The Ghost of Tom Joad, is given a full-throated electric treatment. “If I Should Fall Behind” went from being a lovely wedding song on 1992’s Lucky Town to a moving statement of friendship and commitment, with all the singing members of the band taking a verse. He challenged the crowd with the controversial and powerful “American Skin (41 Shots),” which dealt with the shooting of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo by four New York City police officers. And “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the closer for most nights on the tour, summed up everything perfectly. The only misstep is a re-working of “The River” that spotlighted an electric piano and a lengthy Clarence Clemons introductory saxophone solo.

A 90-minute video of Live in New York City aired on HBO shortly thereafter, and a two-DVD set, which added several songs left off the CD, including “The Promise,” “Thunder Road,” “Backstreets,” and a roof-raising “Light of Day” — arrived in November. But even with a few extra months and a different format, the sequencing problems were not fixed.

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