A couple years ago, I made a list of the top three old-school rock acts that I wanted to see while they were still around and touring – The Eagles, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. This was before the Eagles had a new album, before The Rolling Stones had A Bigger Bang, so I figured Bruce would be the easiest to cross off my list, because he was the only one actively making new music and touring. Fast forward to October 16th, 2007 and I’ve seen The Eagles twice, The Rolling Stones twice, but I’ve never seen Bruce Springsteen. This was a long time coming.

Springsteen has risen near mythic proportions in America. He’s the American success story, the working man from a working family who worked long and hard to get to where he is. It’s not uncommon to hear words like “worship” used in reference to him and his music. Accepted fan terminology includes the phrase the “Church of Springsteen.” He’s a biographer, a hero, a God. One needs only to see him live to understand just how powerful it truly is.

Though the number of years behind him might qualify him as “old,” Springsteen is anything but. If it wasn’t for an obviously changed voice and more rugged appearance, it could have easily been a Springsteen in his 20s or 30s who graced the stage of Madison Square Garden with unrelenting energy and spirit. He stopped only to spit a few words about George Bush and occasionally tell an anecdote or two about a song, but mostly it was straight through for just under three hours.

Most surprising of all was just how heavy and loud Springsteen & the E Street Band sounded. It’s easy to be mentally sidetracked by how pop friendly so many of the hits and the recent material is, but live, the beast is unleashed. This is not a group of 50-somethings who’ve grown quieter with age, nor a group of 50-somethings who overdo it in an effort to make themselves sound younger. This is a group of 50-somethings who know exactly what they’re capable of and how far they can push it – and push it they did, with expertise, talent and outstanding tenacity.

Bruce Springsteen: “Livin’ In The Future” (download)

The song selection largely focused on this, delivering song after song during which Springsteen could showcase his still present dexterity with frequent solo guitar work and the E Street Band’s full force. He covered a wide range of his catalog – clearly catering more to genuine fans than one-off Greatest Hits buyers. But the focus stayed largely on the current – and Springsteen must’ve been bursting with pride to hear the audience singing every single word to most of the songs from Magic, as it was released mere weeks ago. “Livin’ in the Future” was the clearest live standout from the new material – you can see a clip of it here on Springsteen’s site.

Bruce Springsteen: “Backstreets” (download)
Bruce Springsteen: “Backstreets (Live at the Agora Club, 09.08.78)” (download)

Still, as impressive as the latest album is – and it is – the classics still blossom live the most. “Backstreets” evolves into an epic in its live form. Recorded it’s good, but live it’s tear-inducing brilliant. And stark Nebraska closer “Reason To Believe” turns into a warm, hopeful anthem in its performed state.

Bruce Springsteen: “Reason To Believe” (download)

After nearly three hours of the gospel according to Bruce, Madison Square Garden filed out into a shockingly warm October night. Everyone seemed just a little more happy, a little more hopeful. It was the high of satisfaction, the high of promise – a blessing that only Reverend Springsteen can deliver quite so effectively as to make us truly believe it, to make it last long after the music stops.

Image courtesy flickr user TomVu