Listening to the Ghost in Her Bones: Devils and Dust


Bryan: Well, we're up to 2005 already - two decades into the Springsteen story, "we" meaning myself and Bryant "taker of the wickets" Burnette, leg spin bowler for the Tuscaloosa Toros. Bryant! Welcome once more.

Bryant: Thank you. With regard to the cricket stuff, it's like... all the individual components of that sentence make sense, yet I have ZERO idea what it means in practical terms. Except a vague image of... taking Wicket? Like Ewok-Wicket? In the current climate, I fell uncomfortable developing this image any further.

Bryan: You're right. Let's just dive in.

Bryan: 4.3/5 Love this one. I only wish there was additionally a cover by Johnny Cash during his American Recordings phase. Although I guess that was more about reinterpreting things surprisingly, whereas this would seem tailor-made for Cash. Then again, it's perfect as it is.

Bryant: This is a lot better than I remembered it being. The harmonica and guitar section toward the end is fantastic. 4.25/5

"All the Way Home"

Bryan: 4/5 Written back in '91. The harmonica doesn't add much and it's too bad. But it's a mellow little tune that I have no complaints with.

Bryant: This totally sounds like it comes from the Human Touch era, so I’m glad you mentioned that. This doesn’t do much for me, but it’s okay. 2/5


Bryan: 3.75/5 It says a lot about Bruce's career that he can slip back and forth between songs like this, or "Starkweather" along another axis, and love songs, or big anthems, etc. I'm trying to think of a perspective I've ever felt uncomfortable Bruce exploring or taking me along with him. (Maybe "Secret Garden.") Bruce can sing from the POV of a prostitute and you still believe him. It's a gift. Anyway this one might be too bright for Nebraska, musically, but thematically it'd have fit well in over there.

Bryant: It’s always bothered me that he does a weird accent on this one, because it feels like it blunts the impact of the lyrics. For my money, there was a much better version of this song that never got recorded. Or, at any rate, never got released. 2/5 I would be a bit lower without the final couple of lines, which are haunting. I still think they could have been delivered more strongly, though.

Bryan: 4/5 Very Dylan-y. In fact is this a Dylan song? (pause) I had to look it up. It is not. If someone inserted this into Dylan's back catalog would anyone even notice? Besides saying hey, cool track, I mean? 

Bryant: I don’t think this had ever struck me as being Dylanesque, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can hear it. I love this one. 3.5/5 Points deducted for Bruce trying to swallow the line “ain’t gonna fuck it up this time” instead of belting it out proudly.

Bryan: You're quite right there - he definitely undersings the f-bomb. 

Bryan: 3.5/5 Just when I think this one was getting away from him the organ and piano and other instruments rise up in the mix. Cool lyrics. Can't argue with tunes like this, really.

Bryant: 2/5 Great subject for a Springsteen song, but it’s not a great song, sadly.

“Maria’s Bed”

Bryan: 2.5/5 Some interesting things but not a huge fan of whatever drawl Bruce is trying on here. 

Bryant: Bruce’s vocals on most of this album really bother me, and it’s not entirely due to the drawl. He also seems to have reverted to his Asbury Park tendency to want to not quite get close enough to the microphone. There’s a great version of this song waiting to be unleashed, but they didn’t find it during these sessions. I do like it, though; I just think it has untapped potential. 2.25/5

“Silver Palomino”

Bryan: 2/5 I mean who am I to criticize? But not for me.

Bryant: You are NOBODY to criticize. Nobody!!! Me, too, because I don’t like this song at all. The vocals here are especially annoying. 1.75/5

“Jesus Was an Only Son”

Bryan: 3/5 I kept waiting for the withering couplet to puncture or otherwise illuminate the motivation behind this straightforwardly gospel little number. But nope, seems to be exactly what it appears to be. Which is totally fine of course.

Bryant: I’d be kind of interested to hear what Springsteen would do with a gospel album. That genre is not by any means my jam, but when an artist I love – Elvis, Dylan – gets a hold of it, the results tend to be very much to my liking. I agree that this song seems to be lacking something. It’s very similar to most of the Tom Joad songs in that regard, but I like this marginally more than most of those. 2.25/5


Bryan: 4.25/5 Another one that could be slipped onto a Dylan album back there and no one would blink. And another straightforwardly sweet little number. Love this track, although a younger me might've been bored. I can't really explain why, except I've noticed that more and more lately, and especially going through this Springsteen stuff.

Bryant: This is fine, but I’m kind of meh on it. 2.25/5

“The Hitter”

Bryan: 2/5 I'm sure the story's fine but I've listened to it 3 or 4 times and still can't understand a word of it.

Bryant: He really does have mushmouth here, doesn’t he? Brendan O’Brien ought to be ashamed of himself for not producing these songs more effectively. 2/5

Bryan: I know you and I discuss the loudness wars and Brendan O'Brien in one of these write-ups. I can't recall when. Temporal vertigo is a side effect of co-blogging and behind-the-scenes prep, made all the more dizzying when it encompasses emails, blogs, and text messages. 

Bryan: 4.5/5 Awesome. Would've made a good one for early 70s McCartney. A little uneven here and there but who cares.

Bryant: I’d forgotten this song! I love it. 3.5/5 But I don’t love it as much as the high-octane version I imagine the Band playing. Is there such a thing? Might be, for all I know.

“Matamoros Banks”

Bryan: 2.25/5 Great lyrics and vibe/ idea, but not the most appealing music to me. Kind of like "Black Cowboys" in that regard. Never really goes anywhere as a song for me. I do kind of like the outro, though.

Bryant: It never goes anywhere for me, either. 2/5

Bryant: 29.75 total, 2.48 average. That’s a nut-hair ahead of The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is pretty much exactly what I’d have predicted. They both kind of blur together in my mind.  If Nebraska didn’t exist, I’d be convinced this my fault as a listener. But it does exist, so I know for a fact that it isn’t just that I want Clarence Clemons sax solos and goofy Steve Van Zandt background vocals. It’s that these are inferior songs. But not bad songs, by any means.

Bryan: I ended up with a surprising 40.35 and 3.36 average. Which seems way too high. Let's plug it into the rankings:

Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Tracks 2.83
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
Book of Dreams 3.1
The Rising 3.3
Devils and Dust 3.36
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Born to Run 4.41
Nebraska 4.5
Born in the USA 5.4

Human Touch 1.7
Lucky Town 2.15
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Devils and Dust 2.48
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Tracks 2.81
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Rising 3.1
Tunnel of Love 3.35
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Nebraska 4.63
Born in the USA 4.88

Bryan: Well, not too high after all - between The Rising and E Street Shuffle seems exactly where it should be for me.

You probably noticed the lack of screencaps above. It's because tonight we have a special treat for you, and it made sense to save them all for it. Take it away, Bryant!

Bryant: Upon its initial release, Devils and Dust was available in DualDisc format, which was a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. The DVD contains the album in 5.1 Dolby sound, plus a half-hour documentary in which Springsteen performs a few of the songs and talks a bit about some of the ideas underpinning the album.

I’ve pulled some of the interesting observations, transcribed them (with a few necessary editorial amendments for clarity’s sake), and then given you my impressions of the five performances.

Springsteen: “You have to constantly be writing from your own inner core in some fashion, I find, you know; no matter how you dress it. On my early records, [I was dressing it]; whether it was in New York City or whether it was in [the] Jersey Shore or whether it’s set in the West, you’re still writing from the essential core of who you are. That has to be a place in every song or the song dies.”

Springsteen: “[Y]our own voice is supposed to – if you’re doing it correctly, is supposed to – disappear into the voice of the person you’re singing about and who’s telling you the story, and what would they do, how would they behave in this circumstance, the rhythm of their speech … that’s sort of where the music comes in.”

(1) "Devils and Dust" – A stripped-down performance that doesn’t alter the song in any essential way, but may be preferable to the studio recording. Just Bruce, a guitar, and a harmonica inside a room in some house somewhere.  That’s really all this song needs, though.

Springsteen: “I was signed as a guy with an acoustic guitar; when I was 22. That was how I was signed to my record deal.  I always, even when I was in my late teens, had a band; and then, [when I wasn’t playing with them], I would go down to the coffee shop with my twelve-string and I would sing a whole group of songs that wouldn’t work in the bar, that needed more attention or were just … different.”

(2)  "Long Time Comin’" – Being played in this guise makes the song a bit more wistful and bittersweet, which works just fine for me. It’s a great tune no matter what guise Bruce gives it.

Love this shot.

Springsteen:  “I’m talking about stories, alright? Because what I did on this record I’ve done on a few other records: [tell] very specific, narrative stories. These are all songs about people whose souls are in danger or at risk, through where they are in the world or what the world is bringing to them. That’s a human constant, and whether people are religious or spiritual or not, that risk is something people instinctively feel on a daily basis.”

(3)  "Reno" – Not a favorite of mine, but this version is probably better than the one on the album. It’s more intimate, which obviously helps it. It sounds like a very light piano track (and/or an almost-subconscious synth line) has been added, which is odd. It works for the song, it’s just an odd decision to take away from Bruce’s solo playing by adding to it.

Springsteen:  “The artist is always creating a box. You’re always building this world that [you] sort of get caught inside of yourself, so you’re always looking for the trap door. And you’re always trying to come up with different stylistic ideas to help you just subtly kind of … transition out of that box. Besides lyrically, I also try to [find] small shifts in tone that sounded like the characters that I was singing about. Some of it is very light, you know, so the slightly-different vocal tonalities help me approach songs with a [fresh] point of view.”

(4)  "All I’m Thinkin’ About Is You" – Here’s one I don’t like anywhere near as much as the album version. Bruce’s falsetto here is iffy at times, and that’s being polite. But it’s a great song, and even a mildly compromised performance of it doesn’t change that. There are background vocals; sounds almost like a kid singing along from another room, which, if so, is pretty great. 

Springsteen: “The people that are interesting are the people that have something eating at them…

…and they’re not exactly sure what that thing is. The characters on this record are all trying to find their way through that; through those questions. And some do somewhat successfully; and some, you know, come to tragic ends.”

(5)  "Matamoros Banks" – The lyrics here seem stronger to me than in the studio version, which probably just means I was paying closer attention. Maybe that’s due to having the visuals of Bruce sitting there with a guitar, delivering a performance that, for all I know, is intended just for me. Or maybe the intimacy of the performance itself is more suitable. I don’t know. Still not a favorite song, but within the context of this documentary, I think it’s gained in stature for me. It probably helps the entire album for me a bit. 

The performance culminates in a rather lovely stretch of falsetto crooning from Springsteen who, when the song ends, leans back in his chair, looks at somebody off camera, nods, and says, both to them and to himself, “Yeah…!” It’s less an exclamation, though, than a response; almost as if the entire performance has been a response of some sort that Bruce had to find via the song. He’s almost surprised by it, as if he’d not entirely expected to find the answer he set out seeking. On the face of it, it seems like a very simple moment; but something about it suggests anything but simplicity. Very cool.

Springsteen: “The idea of ‘devils AND dust’ [is] fighting with that thing that is eating away at you, and it’s often this very amorphous, confusing battle. This dusty, hard-to-see, hard-to-find-your-way-through battle. And I think that that has a lot to do with a lot of the characters on it on a lot of my records, and this one particularly.”

All in all, this is a solid little documentary that helps me understand more of where Springsteen was coming from in the making of Devils and Dust. Context means a lot with music; or, at least, it can mean a lot. So it stands to reason that by adding context, one’s appreciation of songs like these increases.
Still, this is no Nebraska. An unfair comparison, but one I can’t help making.


An Ice Cream Truck on a Deserted Street: The Rising (2002)

Bryan: Bruce and the gang followed up their reunion tour and Live in the New York City with The Rising in 2002. The record is cited as one of the first and foremost responses to the events of September 11th from the previous year, as well as the band's first collaboration with Brendan O'Brien

With me as always is Bryant, a man Kahliss Himself described as "a warrior scribe chronicling a narrow isthmus of ephemera in fiery yet laconic manner." Bryant! What say you on this Rising business?

Bryant: This is an album I've had a hard time embracing over the years, although I like a few of the songs - "My City of Ruins" and "The Rising" - more than you do. There are others that I like even less, though. And the lack of Clarence is befuddling, or at least that's how I remember it.

BryanLet's pit your memory against your 2017 ears! 


"Lonesome Day"

Bryant: Right off the bat, I’ll say that what this album reminds me of more than anything else is U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. They don’t share much musically, but in terms of what they mean to me personally, they seem to occupy very similar places. Both are full of songs that I can’t honestly say are bad. They’re catchy, good songs … that mostly do nothing whatsoever for me emotionally. There are some exceptions on both albums, though.  “Lonesome Day” – 2/5 – is not one of them.  “It’s alright, it’s alright,” indeed, and that’s the best I can say for it. But at the same time, if some other major Springsteen fan told me it was more like a 4/5 for them, I’d have no real argument.

Bryan: 2.25/5 It's fine and all, just kinda meh to me, too. All That You Can't Leave Behind is the perfect analogy for this. 

"Into the Fire"

Bryan: 2.75/5 This one's a bit more interesting, especially when everyone kicks in. Not a fave, though.

Bryant: I want this song to be raw and shattering, and it never gets there. It’s at least got some emotion that it’s able to impart to me, though. 2.25/5 I’d have gone a quarter-point higher if not for that opening section, which sounds like country music, and not good country.

"Waitin' on a Sunny Day"

Bryan: 4.25/5 Nice and simple. I'm surprised this wasn't the lead-off single/ one of Bruce's better-known hits. Though, perhaps it is/ was, I don't know. It's tough to read that stuff. I certainly never heard it or hear it on the radio, but that's true for a lot of big songs, and big Bruce songs at that. 

Bryant: I like this song – 3.5/5 – but I’ve got some major complaints about the arrangement. Why so much violin when you’ve got Clarence fucking Clemmons at your disposal?!? If I remember correctly, he’d had hip-replacement surgery or something, so his involvement was necessarily limited. Okay, fine, so that explains why he doesn’t rescue some of these songs; but he comes in at the end of this one, so why isn’t he in there in the place of Soozie Tyrell earlier? Or if not him, give those parts to Steve.  I don’t know. Great song; but it needed a better production.

Bryan: Fun version here - you ever hear this? Little Steven's time to shine!

Bryant: Nope, I'd never seen that. Awesome! That's what it looks like when you really, really love your job, I think.

And, for the record, I'd say that's better than the studio version. That's less challenging with most of the modern stuff than with the classics.

Bryan: This is one of those tunes, too, where the musical mood and lyrics clash - or are supposed to. In reality, the melody of the lyrics is so happy and everything's major-key and uncomplicated, just hits the ears like a happy love song or something. And when you see how happy everyone is performing this one, it also paves over some of the sadness I hear in the lyrics. I know there are some songs where we disagree on the efficacy of Bruce's efforts in this regard ("Magic" comes to mind) but when he's on, he's on. And few get it this right. 

"Nothing Man"

Bryant: This is fine, but, again, doesn’t move me. I wish it did. 2.25/5 I think it wanted to be an angry rocker, and Bruce wouldn’t let it.

Bryan: 4.3/5 I kinda love this one, me! Really sweet, simple little tune. I'm glad he resurrected it from his back pages. (All the way back to 1994!)

"Countin' on a Miracle"

Bryan: How many "praying/ counting/ waiting on a miracle" songs are out there? Do people really think, oh okay, THIS time the sentiment will be expressed the way it should be? I don't know why I get stuck on things like this. At no point do I ever say "oh, great, another "I Love You" song, or "Break-Up" song, like those emotional states are inexhaustible. I guess hope/ waiting-on-a-mircle, same thing. But so soon after waitin' on a sunny day, album-order-wise? Isn't Bruce meticulous about this stuff? I wonder what 5 star song he left off so he could have, for reasons only known to Bruce, 2 songs in 3 about the same sort of vibe. If indeed they are; they actually aren't, I guess, lyricswise. (Give an example). Anyway 2/5 from me.

Bryant: This one works a lot better for me than it does for you. Except for the strings section, which is one of those weird things no rock band needs to do unless that’s what the entirety of the song is going to be. But that’s made up for by the presence of Clarence, coming in for a few seconds and blowing everyone’s hair back. 2.75/5 Not a classic, but very good.

Bryan: 4/5 Kinda surprised this wasn't a single, or the album's signature track. Although, again, maybe it is/ was. I haven't delved into all the reviews of this when it came out. Maybe (typing this on Wednesday morning) by Saturday or Sunday night I will. (Narrator voice: He did not.) 

Bryant: Great lyrics, great tune. I’m still not sure the performance got all out of it that was possible, though. 3/5 from me.

Bryan: 3.9/4 So far these scores are fitting for the E-Street's-Back-Baby! occasion. Maybe this one is a little overlong, I don't know - though it's the guitar outro that kinda makes it for me, so maybe not.

Bryant: I like this one a lot. It’s one of the few songs on the album I like unreservedly.  3.75/5

"Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)"

Bryan: 4.25/5 Another high-scorer for me. This is a surprising one - almost sounds like a song written for Smokey Robinson or something.

Bryant: This really does have an old Motown feel, doesn’t it? I’m not sure I ever consciously noticed that. It’s a great song that, for me, is kind of ruined by the drums and background vocals. Not even Clarence does much to help. You took a terrific song and made it mediocre, Bruce! Your producer was asleep, I guess. 2.5/5

BryanWell dang! 4.5/5 Probably my favorite of the whole album. Bruce's simple brand of country-rock as refined over the years into this tune. I can hear Dylan, the Georgia Satellites, not in a derivative way, just kinfolk. I could probably even go for 5. I hope this plays over The Dark Tower end credits.

BryantThere is not a single idea in the Dark Tower movie as good as the idea of ending it with this song. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it’s definitely one of the ones I like most. 3.5/5

"The Fuse"

Bryan: 3.5/5 I'm not really into the "tires on the highway" section, musically, but otherwise this one's pretty good.  Maybe a little overlong. I keep bouncing my score for this one between 3 and 4 so it depends on the time of day I guess. Good track no doubt.

Bryant: I hate the production on this one. HATE. There’s a good song buried in there somewhere.  They didn’t find it. Not for my tastes, at least. Interestingly, the section you dislike is the only part of the song that I do like! 1.5/5

"Mary's Place"

Bryant: I don’t like this quite as much as I think Bruce and company want me to, but I do like it quite a bit. 3.75/5 There are superior live versions, which is true of most of the songs on this album.

Bryan: 2.75/5 Definitely overlong, but not a bad track or anything. An old-school E Street number - Bruce's restrained older-guys vocals make it sound more Lite Rock than old School E Street, though. 

Bryan: 4.25/5 Great tune.

BryantOne of the few on the album that connects with me emotionally. 3.25/5 Good guitar on this one. Not sure why, but I hear it as a sequel to “I’m on Fire.”

"The Rising"

BryantThis would have been my album-opener. I like it quite a bit more than you do. 4/5  I’m glad Max gets to do what he’s best at on this one. The backing vocals are good, too, which has not been the case on the entire album. Clarence is just kind of buried in the mix, but that’s my only complaint.

Bryan: 2/5 Another fine-but-meh for me. A little too nowadays-country sounding to me, which is one step away from American Idol or The Voice or something, i.e. music for the mentally challenged. (Sorry/not-sorry) 


Bryan: 2.75/5 I like the ghostly sound of the production and the lyrics/ idea and all, got nothing critical to say, just not a particular fave. I think this might have been a good one to give to someone else (David Gilmour, for one direction, or Natalie Merchant, for another. That's another vote for Bruce writing songs for Natalie Merchant. I hadn't expected there to be any, much less 4 or 5 or however many I've mentioned her for so far.)

Bryant: You know who I’d have given this one to?  Patti Scialfa and Nils Lofgren, to do as a duo. They’d have killed it. I’d happily hear Natalie Merchant sing it, too.  I like it probably a bit more than you do, but this is kind of similar to some of the Tom Joad songs. I agree that the production here is strong, and I think if Tom Joad had been a bit more adventurous in that regard, it might have helped. 3/5 from me. These days, do you think Bruce would get crucified for doing a song from the bad guys’ perspective (as it would get labeled)? If anything, it was even riskier in 2002.

Bryan: 2/5 It's fine but the mood/lyrics don't match to me. Am I judging it by what it could be and not by what it is? Maybe. As a 9/11 response it resonates with me only as much as McCartney's "Freedom," which is to say not much. Great title, though.

Bryant: You may give up on me after this. 5.5/5 This is one of my absolute favorite Springsteen songs. Among other things, I love how they get close to sneaking a bit of “People Get Ready” into the mix. But I pretty much love everything about this. Bruce’s vocals, the gospel-esque background vocals, the fact that the song was actually written prior to 9/11 (a fact I’d not have remembered if Wikipedia hadn’t reminded me), Max, etc. It’s glorious. I might actually prefer the live version from the Tribute to Heroes show. That was where I heard the song first, and I thought it was going to wreck me. It still almost does. Every time.

Bryan: 49.7 Total, 3.3 Average. Got that drum sound that kind of bothers me throughout, but I can't single The Rising out for that; it's an across the board production choice hardly unique to it. (I think we discuss this a little further next time or the time after that - I've got temporal-vertigo from our timeline of writing these vs. when they're being published.) I think some of the numbers that should sound bigger and more personalized to me like the title track and closing/opening tracks weigh against it more heavily in my estimation. Like, the album isn’t bad but the failure to achieve the stellar orbit they should get to makes me downgrade it ever so slightly. 

Bryant: 46.5 total, 3.1 average. So that puts this behind a lot of stuff for me. Ahead of Asbury Park, though; which feels wrong to me. I actually like that first album a lot, a few tracks excepted. Those few tracks weigh it down, though. Here, there’s a few tracks keeping it aloft. I guess it’s a six-versus-half-a-dozen situation.


Human Touch 1.7
Lucky Town 2.15
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Tracks 2.81
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Rising 3.1
Tunnel of Love 3.35
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Nebraska 4.63
Born in the USA 4.88

Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Tracks 2.83
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
Book of Dreams 3.1
The Rising 3.3
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Born to Run 4.41
Nebraska 4.5
Born in the USA 5.4


You Get Killed for Living in Your American Skin: Live in New York City (2001)

"I was having a hard time locating my rock voice. I'd made some records over the past years, I made one in '94 that I didn't release. Then I made a series of demos, kind of in search of that voice. And I was having a hard time finding it. And there was a point I said: 'Well, gee, maybe I just don't do that now. Maybe that's something that I did.' But after writing "Land of Hope and Dreams", I felt it was as good as any songs (like that) that I've ever written. It was like, there's that voice I was looking for." (interview, NYT 2002)

Bryan: To obliterate the threat of Y2K with the power of rock and roll, Bruce got the band back together at the tail end of the 20th century. The tour culminated in a series of shows at Madison Square Garden, and the 2-disc set Live in New York City appeared in 2001. I skipped it at the time, though that wasn't the case for my co-captain in this voyage of Bruce, Mr. Bryant Burnette. Bryant! Was this the album that put you over the top as a Springsteen fan?

Bryant: I've been trying to remember how I became a Springsteen fan, and I think it was "Streets of Philadelphia" that did it. I was familiar with most of his hits, but they'd never really meant all that much to me personally. ("I'm On Fire" and "Dancing in the Dark" were exceptions to that.) That song really landed with me, though, so I started accumulating all of his albums and became hooked.

But - Greatest Hits notwithstanding - yeah, that reunion and HBO special really were the first major moments in his career that I was there for that involved the entire band. It was a reunion, but it was also, for me, a sort of baptism. Prior to that, I was a fan mostly of a thing that was over and done with; but with that, it was like the train I had hopped on had started to actually go someplace again.

Bryan: "This train... yeeeaaaahrrr-unnnga... this train..." And with that:


“My Love Will Not Let You Down”

Bryant: 3.5/5 Kickass. A little ragged, but it’s such an intense song that I don’t know you’d ever get through a performance without kind of vibrating yourself into hyperspace or something.

Bryan: 3/5 I like it fine, but not sure I agree with leading off the album with it. (Interesting to see it as a thematic book-end to the last song on Disc 2, though – like Bruce is renewing his covenant with the faithful.)

Bryan: 4/5 Awesome solo. I'm going to have to check the DVD to see if it's Bruce - usually when it's a squawk of feedback and discord, it's Bruce. But sometimes Nils surprises me. Stevie's co-vocals always crack me up. Spirited performance and I definitely love that solo, but the vocals are a little hit or miss. 

 Bryant4.5/5 I love that cheer that goes up the moment it’s clear what song they’re paying. It’s almost like the whole crowd has, up to that point, been secretly feeling that they’re not really hearing and seeing what they think they’re hearing and seeing. Like there’s a really great cover band up on the stage, giving them all a placebo. But then, when this song starts, they somehow all realize that no, it’s NOT a holodeck fantasy, it’s the real motherfucking E Street Band up there, busting it loose for ‘em. This must have been especially wonderful for the people in the audience who’d never seen the band live and figured they probably never would. The guitar solos toward the end are fantastic. I like this damn near as much as the studio version, which, for me, is saying something.

"Two Hearts"

Bryan: 3.25/5 I wonder if this will be the version that you end up loving! Man they must like this song - I feel like this is the 3rd or 4th time I'll be reviewing it. Again with the funny SVZ co-vocal cater-noodling at the end. I've got to fix that score for the studio version. No way this is a 3.8

Bryant: 2.25/5 Still not an especial favorite, but I prefer this to the studio version. Bruce and Steve sound so happy to be playing together again that it chokes me up a little. Okay, fine; it chokes me up a lot.

Bryant4.5/5 I really dig that version on In Concert, and this is that arrangement perfected.

Bryan: 2.75/5 Not a particular fan of this version, me. I had to look up what I gave the In Concert version. 2.5, so I guess I like this one a tad more.

"Mansion on the Hill"

Bryan: 4/5 I like the pedal steel guitar sound / soloing very much. Good version of a song I seem to like more than most, even if it makes it sound almost sweet compared to the haunting-ness of the studio version.

Bryant: He and Patti do a great job turning this into a Tex-Mex country ballad. I like that his approach to doing songs from Nebraska live has often been to effectively turn them into different songs. It’s almost like he’s saying, yep, that album was more or less perfect, don’t even want to fool with that. 3.5/5

Bryan: 4/5 Interesting version - I admire their ability to make the song new and retain the same sort of atmosphere to the previous performances, despite the different arrangement. The accordion works - the sax, the harmonica, all nice.

Bryant: Some of this is flat-out haunting; every second Clarence has, for example. Fuck, man, is he really dead?!? That just doesn’t seem fair. 5/5 You might be sensing by now that I like this album. Yes indeed. I think its impact on me was something equivalent to what the live box set had on you.

Bryant: 3.75/5 To the surprise of nobody, I prefer the studio version. But this arrangement works just fine for me.

Bryan: 4/5 Great soloing at the end of this one. My "4" is kind of low - anyone walking into a room would hear this and assume it was one of his biggest tunes. This is a fantastic version of it, whatever the case.

"Murder Incorporated"

Bryan: 3.75/5 I think the only thing that bothers me about this song is that long flat backing vocal note. It'd be different if it was Patti and/or some other ladies doing it, but a male vocal for that part doesn't work for me. A perfectly fine version of this tune, though. The live versions tend to be better than the studio one. (Same question re: the guitar - who strangles that solo? In a good way.)

Bryant2/5 They didn’t quite get all of this one. But it’s alright. Speaking of Murder, Inc., I wonder how many people tuned into this because they liked Van Zandt on The Sopranos. Probably a few thousand, at minimum.

Bryan: I'd love to get these people in a screening room with the people who only knew Max from Late Night with Conan O'Brien and see what everyone had to say.


Bryan: 4/5 Like Born to Run - classic tune, not my favorite performance.

Bryant: 3/5 I’ve heard better live versions of this, but a mediocre version of “Badlands” is still awfully good.

"Out in the Street" 

Bryan: 3/5 I do like it better than the studio version.

Bryant: 3/5 I like the band passing lines around toward the end. I’ll take this one over the studio version any day of the week.

"Born to Run"

Bryan: 4/5 Was this a bonus track or something? Why does it fade out of the previous and then this? Not bad - I mean it's a classic tune, hard to screw up, but not the definitive version for me.

Bryant: Yep, it was a bonus track. Wasn’t even listed on the back cover. Not sure why that necessitated a fade-out, though. I’ve never understood that. 3/5 I agree with you, this is similar to “Badlands” in impact. In other words: it’s okay.


“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”

Bryan: 4/5 What the hell is Bruce doing in the middle of this one! Sexual healing and revival tent accents and the whole spiel. (While we're here I crack up at the "and companionship!" he adds after "river of sexual healing.") I like the band intros as always even if Bruce (and whomever's singing - I assume it's Patti - around the 11 min. mark) gets a little carried away.

Bryant: Do I really need a sixteen-minute version of this song?  Damn right I do!  That is indeed a big smack of weirdness in the middle – and I could live without Patti’s singing (it’s her song “Rumble Doll”) – but the cumulative effect is pretty strong.  4/5

Bryan: 3.5/5 Haven't got to the studio version yet, but this one's decent. If overlong. That's a big problem on Disc 2. But it's a good track and a spirited performance, just good lord, these endings go on and on and on.

Bryant: 5/5 I can vividly recall watching the HBO special and it ending with a double-shot of new material. I felt like time was standing still. In the good way, in my case! It felt to me like the culmination of a show that was intended to remind everyone how much fun it could be to be alive.

"American Skin (41 Shots)"

Bryan: 2/5 The first time I heard this disc was when Dawn and I were getting food at this one place that had it playing over the stereo. I don't recall when we realized it was Springsteen, but it wasn't until well into the disc. Before that, though, we both commented endless everything sounded, particularly the endings. We were groaning particularly throughout "American Skin," which given its subject matter seemed even longer. This is not a comment on the subject matter, just the context of when we heard it. Although - for me personally - the song/ message/ moment is undermined a bit by just the overwhelming amount of gravity.

BryantHmm. Well, we’ve diverged significantly here. This is a 5/5 for me. I see your point of view, but I don’t share it. For me, this is masterful stuff. I wonder if maybe I only feel that way about it because I felt that way about it in the spring of 2001. Maybe, but whatever the case, that’s how it still hits me. Especially coming immediately after the one-two good-times punch of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Land of Hope and Dreams,” it feels like Bruce involving the audience in a moment for them to realize that while it certainly can be fun to be alive, there’s also a flip side where there’s always the threat of that being stripped away from you on a moment’s notice. That’s what gives the good times such urgency; you never know when they might be gone. This is made even worse if you consider that for some people, maybe it’s less easy to ever find the good times in the first place. To me, it sounds like everyone in the band is playing this song like their life depends on it; they’re trying to bring that poor young man back to life, if only for a few minutes. Does it go on too long? Not for me. It does fade out too fast, though.

Bryan: The fade-out takes two minutes! But I hear you, time is relative. The line I chose as our subject-line-lyric tonight resonates all too unfortunately in 2017.

“Lost in the Flood”

Bryan: 4.3/5 My favorite Asbury Track track, and I much prefer this mature take on the song, which emphasizes its epic qualities in just the right proportions. Bruce's vocal delivery of these lines vs. the studio version is instructive. I still think these lyrics / story would make a cool film, or something. A graphic novel maybe. Hell they made one for Outlaw Pete, why not Jimmy the Saint and the boys? Good guitar here.

Bryant: 4/5 I wish Bruce nailed some of the lyrics a bit more cleanly, but otherwise, this is the definitive version of this song. Also, wait … there’s actually an Outlaw Pete comic?!?  How did I not know that?

"Born in the USA"

Bryan: 3.4/5 I really like that sort of Celtic/Middle Eastern sort of beginning, which I imagine was probably supposed to sound more Asian than anything. And I guess it does. (The musical overlap of cultures worldwide is a topic for another day!) But I'm less into the rest of this reinterpretation. I like that Bruce does this sort of thing, though. I respect the "well there are already 50 versions of us doing this the traditional way, so why not" argument. But: not a fave.

Bryant: I’m not a fan of this. 2/5 I don’t hate it, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I’m with you in spirit, though, in the sense of appreciating the effort. Bruce’s singing is strong, if nothing else.

"Don't Look Back"

Bryan: 4/5 I see you like this one, too, from a quick peek at your Tracks remarks. I agree - great stuff, could have been a big hit for him/ someone. Ah well - while I quibble, I guess he figured it was always going to come out/ around anyway. Still! Great track.

Bryant: Bruce sounds worn-out here, and this song demands peak energy. 1.75/5 I’m pleased for this song to get a bit of attention, but this performance does it no favors.


Bryan: 4.5/5 Another that would make a fine comic book/ movie! Although maybe that's what Streets of Fire was. (I've never actually seen it. I kind of imagine it like this song, though, and don't want reality to intrude on this impression.) A classic and a performance worthy of it, although the ending in context of the general overbearingness of disc two is kind of funny. Even the supposed-to-be-epic one is too epic! End the goddamn song already you maniac! Otherwise I'd have scored it a 5 or even higher. Interestingly - in the Carlin book and elsewhere - Bruce discusses how his reticence to end songs and shows was part of an overall working out of issues related to growing up the son of a manic-depressive Dad. While we're here.

BryantBruce still sounds worn-out here, but the band makes up for it. Not an essential performance of this song, for my money; but, still, pretty good. 3/5

Bryan: 3.25/5 I really dig the studio version as you know, but this one - while I appreciate it breaking up the somber festivities somewhat - goes on too long. Come on now. Could have achieved the same mood-switching /rock and roll effect by doing "Candy's Room" and at half the time. But oh well. Reminds me of Oasis on "Be Here Now" where you just want to be like dude! That riff is not as hypnotic as you think/ this ending has been going on for 20 minutes. (I keep hitting that point, I know! But man.)

Bryant: I can remember when I first saw the tracklist for this, I thought “‘Ramrod’?!?  Really?!?” The song just doesn’t do anything for me, and this live version – while very capable – doesn’t change that. For me, “American Skin” feels like it’s about three minutes long, and “Ramrod” feels like a half hour. Is Roy Bittan sneaking a little bit of “Cadillac Ranch” into the end? 1.75/5

Bryan: It's tough to tell - the piano riffs are similar enough where it keeps tricking my ear. The ending goes on long enough, though, where theoretically just about the entire E Street catalog can be snuck in there with room to spare.

Bryan: 2.5/5 In a reversal of my general ideas for this set, I kind of like dragging this one out like this. Deepens the mood. That said I might adjust my score of the studio version because it seems too high. Interesting ending for this set - would not be my first choice but I see why he chose it.

Bryant: Here’s another 5/5er for me. I love everybody’s section. Steve and Clarence can’t really sing, and I’m not sure Patti can, either. But they do great jobs with their sections here.  (That little hitch Patti puts in her voice at one point knocks me out.) Nils is pretty great, though.  Oh, yeah, and Bruce, too.

Bryant: 69.5 total, 3.48 average.
Bryan: 70.4 total, 3.6 avg


I decided to just leave Bryant's two proposed mash-ups Book of Dreams and Loose Ends in with the rankings. I apologize for any confusion, but I like seeing them in there so hey, there it is.


Human Touch 1.7
Lucky Town 2.15
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Tracks 2.81
Blood Brothers 2.9
Tunnel of Love 3.35
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48 
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Nebraska 4.63
Born in the USA 4.88


Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Tracks 2.83
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
Book of Dreams 3.1
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.6
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Born to Run 4.41
Nebraska 4.5
Born in the USA 5.4