We continue to explore the career of “The Boss”-Bruce Springsteen.
1999–2007: Return to success
The scene outside the Giants Stadium parking lot for banner-marked, record-setting, 10-night stand of The Rising Tour during July 2003.
Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 by Bono of U2, a favor he returned in 2005.
In 1999, Springsteen and the E Street Band officially came together again and went on the extensive Reunion Tour, lasting over a year. Highlights included a record sold-out, 15-show run at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey and a ten-night, sold-out engagement at New York City’s Madison Square Garden which ended the tour. The final two shows were recorded for an HBO Concert, with corresponding DVD and album releases as Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York City. A new song, “American Skin (41 Shots)”, about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo which was played at these shows proved controversial.
In November 2000, Springsteen filed legal action against Jeff Burgar which accused him of registering the domain brucespringsteen.com (along with several other celebrity domains) in bad faith to funnel web users to his Celebrity 1000 portal site. Once the legal complaint was filed, Burgar pointed the domain to a Springsteen biography and message board. In February 2001, Springsteen lost his dispute with Burgar. A WIPO panel ruled 2 to 1 in favor of Burgar.
In 2002, Springsteen released his first studio effort with the full band in 18 years, The Rising, produced by Brendan O’Brien. The album, mostly a reflection on the September 11 attacks, was a critical and popular success. (Many of the songs were influenced by phone conversations Springsteen had with family members of victims of the attacks who in their obituaries had mentioned how his music touched their lives.) The title track gained airplay in several radio formats, and the record became Springsteen’s best-selling album of new material in 15 years. Kicked off by an early-morning Asbury Park appearance on The Today Show, The Rising Tour commenced, barnstorming through a series of single-night arena stands in the U.S. and Europe to promote the album in 2002, then returning for large-scale, multiple-night stadium shows in 2003. While Springsteen had maintained a loyal hardcore fan base everywhere (and particularly in Europe), his general popularity had dipped over the years in some southern and midwestern regions of the U.S, because of his vocal endorsement of leftist, liberal politics. But it was still strong in Europe and along the U.S. coasts, and he played an unprecedented 10 nights in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, a ticket-selling feat to which no other musical act has come close. During these shows Springsteen thanked those fans who were attending multiple shows and those who were coming from long distances or another country; the advent of robust Bruce-oriented online communities had made such practices more common. The Rising Tour came to a final conclusion with three nights in Shea Stadium, highlighted by renewed controversy over “American Skin” and a guest appearance by Bob Dylan.
The Rising at the First Inauguration of Barack Obama
During the early 2000s, Springsteen became a visible advocate for the revitalization of Asbury Park, and played an annual series of winter holiday concerts there to benefit various local businesses, organizations, and causes. These shows were explicitly intended for the devoted fans, featuring numbers such as the E Street Shuffle outtake “Thundercrack”, a rollicking group-participation song that would mystify casual Springsteen fans. He also frequently rehearses for tours in Asbury Park; some of his most devoted followers even go so far as to stand outside the building to hear what fragments they can of the upcoming shows. The song “My City of Ruins” was originally written about Asbury Park, in honor of the attempts to revitalize the city. Looking for an appropriate song for The Concert for New York City, he selected “My City of Ruins”, which was immediately recognized as an emotional highlight of the concert, with its gospel themes and its heartfelt exhortations to “Rise up!” The song became associated with post-9/11 New York, and he chose it to close The Rising album and as an encore on the subsequent tour.
At the Grammy Awards of 2003, Springsteen performed The Clash’s “London Calling” along with Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt and No Doubt’s bassist, Tony Kanal, in tribute to Joe Strummer; Springsteen and the Clash had once been considered multiple-album-dueling rivals at the time of the double The River and the triple Sandinista!. In 2004, Springsteen and the E Street Band participated in the Vote for Change tour, along with John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Bright Eyes, the Dave Matthews Band, Jackson Browne, and other musicians. All concerts were to be held in swing states, to benefit the progressive political organization group America Coming Together and to encourage people to register and vote. A finale was held in Washington, D.C., bringing many of the artists together. Several days later, Springsteen held one more such concert in New Jersey, when polls showed that state surprisingly close. While in past years Springsteen had played benefits for causes in which he believed – against nuclear energy, for Vietnam veterans, Amnesty International, and the Christic Institute – he had always refrained from explicitly endorsing candidates for political office (indeed he had rejected the efforts of Walter Mondale to attract an endorsement during the 1984 Reagan “Born in the U.S.A.” flap). This new stance led to criticism and praise from the expected partisan sources. Springsteen’s “No Surrender” became the main campaign theme song for John Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential campaign; in the last days of the campaign, he performed acoustic versions of the song and some of his other old songs at Kerry rallies.
Devils & Dust was released on April 26, 2005, and was recorded without the E Street Band. It is a low-key, mostly acoustic album, in the same vein as Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad although with a little more instrumentation. Some of the material was written almost 10 years earlier during, or shortly after, the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour, a couple of them being performed then but never released. The title track concerns an ordinary soldier’s feelings and fears during the Iraq War. Starbucks rejected a co-branding deal for the album, due in part to some sexually explicit content but also because of Springsteen’s anti-corporate politics. The album entered the album charts at No. 1 in 10 countries (United States, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Ireland). Springsteen began the solo Devils & Dust Tour at the same time as the album’s release, playing both small and large venues. Attendance was disappointing in a few regions, and everywhere (other than in Europe) tickets were easier to get than in the past. Unlike his mid-1990s solo tour, he performed on piano, electric piano, pump organ, autoharp, ukulele, banjo, electric guitar, and stomping board, as well as acoustic guitar and harmonica, adding variety to the solo sound. (Offstage synthesizer, guitar, and percussion were also used for some songs.) Unearthly renditions of “Reason to Believe”, “The Promised Land”, and Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” jolted audiences to attention, while rarities, frequent set list changes, and a willingness to keep trying even through audible piano mistakes kept most of his loyal audiences happy.
In November 2005, Sirius Satellite Radio started a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week radio station on Channel 10 called E Street Radio. This channel featured commercial-free Bruce Springsteen music, including rare tracks, interviews, and daily concerts of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band recorded throughout their career.
Springsteen and The Sessions Band performing on their tour at the Fila Forum, Milan, Italy on May 12, 2006.
In April 2006, Springsteen released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, an American roots music project focused around a big folk sound treatment of 15 songs popularized by the radical musical activism of Pete Seeger. It was recorded with a large ensemble of musicians including only Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell, and The Miami Horns from past efforts. In contrast to previous albums, this was recorded in only three one-day sessions, and frequently one can hear Springsteen calling out key changes live as the band explores its way through the tracks. The Bruce Springsteen with The Seeger Sessions Band Tour began the same month, featuring the 18-strong ensemble of musicians dubbed The Seeger Sessions Band (and later shortened to The Sessions Band). Seeger Sessions material was heavily featured, as well as a handful of (usually drastically rearranged) Springsteen numbers. The tour proved very popular in Europe, selling out everywhere and receiving some excellent reviews, but newspapers reported that a number of U.S. shows suffered from sparse attendance. By the end of 2006, the Seeger Sessions tour toured Europe twice and toured America for only a short span. Bruce Springsteen with The Sessions Band: Live in Dublin, containing selections from three nights of November 2006 shows at The Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, was released the following June.
Springsteen’s next album, titled Magic, was released on October 2, 2007. Recorded with the E Street Band, it featured 10 new Springsteen songs plus “Long Walk Home”, performed once with the Sessions band, and a hidden track (the first included on a Springsteen studio release), “Terry’s Song”, a tribute to Springsteen’s long-time assistant Terry Magovern, who died on July 30, 2007. The first single, “Radio Nowhere”, was made available for a free download on August 28. On October 7, Magic debuted at No. 1 in Ireland and the UK. Greatest Hits reentered the Irish charts at No. 57, and Live in Dublin almost cracked the top 20 in Norway again. Sirius Satellite Radio also restarted E Street Radio on Channel 10 on September 27, 2007, in anticipation of Magic. Radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications was alleged to have sent an edict to its classic rock stations to not play any songs from the new album, while continuing to play older Springsteen material. However, Clear Channel Adult Alternative (or “AAA”) station KBCO did play tracks from the album, undermining the allegations of a corporate blackout.
The Springsteen and E Street Band Magic Tour began at the Hartford Civic Center with the album’s release and continued through North America and Europe. Springsteen and the band performed live on NBC’s Today Show in advance of the opener.
Longtime E Street Band organist Danny Federici left the tour in November 2007 to pursue treatment for melanoma from which he would die in 2008.
Springsteen supported Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, announcing his endorsement in April 2008 and going on to appear at several Obama rallies as well as performing several solo acoustic performances in support of Obama’s campaign throughout 2008, culminating with a November 2 rally where he debuted “Working on a Dream” in a duet with Scialfa. At an Ohio rally, Springsteen discussed the importance of “truth, transparency and integrity in government, the right of every American to have a job, a living wage, to be educated in a decent school, and a life filled with the dignity of work, the promise and the sanctity of home…But today those freedoms have been damaged and curtailed by eight years of a thoughtless, reckless and morally adrift administration.”
Following Obama’s electoral victory on November 4, Springsteen’s song “The Rising” was the first song played over the loudspeakers after Obama’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. Springsteen was the musical opener for the Obama Inaugural Celebration on January 18, 2009, which was attended by over 400,000. He performed “The Rising” with an all-female choir. Later he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Pete Seeger.