Springsteen on Broadway will stand out as one of the greatest concert films of all time
Spoiler alert… I am a massive Springsteen fan, and also a Netfilx subscriber. So like a wonderful holiday gift to a loyal supporter of both comes the movie release of Springsteen on Broadway and this review, which by now you know which way it is going to lean!
Nothing can ever match the thrill, the energy, the buzz of being part of the audience at a concert by an artist you love. This is especially the case with Bruce Springsteen. If you’ve ever seen Springsteen and The E Street Band play live, you’ll know it’s much more than the rock ’n’ roll show par excellence. It’s also immersive, transformative, joyously transporting – the nearest thing you’ll get to a religious experience without actual religion rearing its divisive head and spoiling the party.
The challenge facing Springsteen On Broadway, which is now available on Netflix, was to close the distance between performer and audience.
How do you capture the intimacy of Springsteen, armed with only a piano, a harmonica and a selection of guitars (and, on two numbers, the assistance of his wife Patti Scialfa), performing a song and spoken word show in a small theatre in front of an audience of 975?
Director Thom Zimny’s solution is to avoid distracting cuts to the audience, instead the camera stays locked on close-ups and medium shots of Bruce until later in the set. It’s only during Dancing In The Dark, that the camera pulls back to reveal just a little of the audience, it really captures the intimacy of these shows.
The set list consists of 15 songs, about half of what you can expect to get in a regular Springsteen show, but every one of them is perfectly chosen.
Stripping the songs back to their basics – just a voice and an instrument – lets the lyrics breathe, exposing his songwriting for the pure genius it is.
It’s difficult to pick out highlights, because they’re all highlights – there is a gorgeous piano rendition of My Hometown, a powerful reading of The Ghost Of Tom Joad (Springsteen to lament about Trump without spoiling anything here) and a reimagining of Born In The USA, mostly acapella bar a spine-tingling slide guitar intro.
The highlight for me personally had to be his intro story to Long Time Coming. A story about his Dad driving 500 miles to have a Beer with Bruce, and give him advice before he was to become a father himself. As someone who has recently hit that Milestone of surpassing my own Dad in age it got me right in the feels as well.
This seems to be a perfect time for me to reflect on one of my own stories I thought about while watching the documentary. How I got here, on Dean’s blog. It started back during Dean’s last radio gig when they did a Remembrance Day tribute to show to all those fallen heroes we remember. I lost my dad about 24 years ago, not to any War or what would be a pointless empty and lonely death. No my Dad was a Toronto Fire Fighter. He died protecting the public, saving lives. I love talking about my Dad. At this stage, 24 years on it’s how I remember and reflect on his life. I sent a Tweet and a pic of Dad to the show and low and behold Dean mentioned him on air. A quick shot but it was enough for a few tweets and texts from a few friends listening. I thanked Dean with a DM. Flash forward a couple weeks later and I get a DM back from Dean asking about getting involved with this new venture… amazing how small this world is and how it can connect us all.
— David Randell (@davidrandell) November 11, 2016
The purpose of my digression… like Bruce does throughout this wonderful bit of cinema, tell your stories. They mean so much to you, but you may be surprised how much they mean to others and how they help lead to reflection themselves. Thanks Bruce for welcoming us into your life and stories, and reminding us how precious our own stories should be.
Back to the show…
The acoustic format also showcases Springsteen as a superb musician, a fact that often gets lost during the scale and grandeur of his stadium shows with The E Street Band.
Also of note, Bruce is a very funny dude. He reveals that “Mr Born to Run” still lives only 10 miles from his New Jersey hometown, that he couldn’t even drive when he wrote Racing In The Street, and that he’s never worked in a factory or even done an honest, nine-to-five day’s work in his life.
“I made it all up – that’s how good I am!”
Not just good, Bruce – the best.