Bruce Springsteen’s Best Live Performances: Top 6 Unforgettable Concert Moments

Bruce Springsteen recently postponed a series of shows due to health problems. (We all wish you the best, Boss!) This news shocked fans because of how tireless he’s always been as a live performer, often performing concerts that are twice as long as those of some of his contemporaries. Those shows have also been marked by Springsteen’s ability to connect with his audience, both through his music and his engaging stage presence. Springsteen lovers speak in hushed tones of their favorite live performances. We’re here to give our take on six occasions where Bruce had us standing in the aisles, even when we were watching at home.

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1. Hammersmith Odeon Show, London, England, 1975

When the Boss prepared to play this hallowed venue towards the end of 1975, his third album, Born to Run, had already been released and was fast making him a superstar in the US. The idea at Columbia Records was to push him down the throats of the British audiences, hyping up the appearance in a somewhat obnoxious fashion. On top of that, the fans in London were used to rock stars who tended to lend their songs a heaping helping of irony, while Springsteen was an earnest believer in the power of the music he was playing. It could have been a disaster, but the Boss, and the E Street Band in its classic Born to Run lineup, worked overtime to get the Brits on their side. 

2. No Nukes Concerts, Madison Square Garden, New York (1979)

The Musicians for Safe Energy used their star power to bring attention to a pressing issue, staging the No Nukes concerts in September 1979. They brought some serious star power to the table, with huge names like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Carly Simon, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, and Tom Petty on hand. But many of those artists were West Coasters, whereas Springsteen was playing with a bit of a home-field advantage. And he took advantage of it, by all accounts stealing the show from his impressive contemporaries. Still fresh off the big success of The River album in 1978, he and the E Street Band brought a party-like atmosphere, somewhat in contrast to the staid stage presences of the veterans who also played those shows. It was one of the first times that Springsteen brought his star power to bear for an important cause.

3. Born in the U.S.A tour (1984-85)

On June 29, 1984, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band began a new tour in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was in support of Born in the U.S.A., an album that had come out at the start of that month. “Dancing in the Dark,” the first single from the album, was just about to hit its peak position of No.2 on the pop charts, by far Springsteen’s biggest-ever success with an individual song. (The video for that song would be filmed that night at the show with Courtney Cox.) Over the next 15 months or so, The Boss and company would play 157 shows over four continents, all as single after single from the album shot up the charts. Perhaps never before in music history has there been such synchronicity between an album and the tour supporting it, one feeding off the other. When it was all over, Springsteen sat atop the rock and roll world, the commercial success finally having caught up with critical respect.

4. MTV Plugged (1992)

When you’re Bruce Springsteen, you get to change the rules a little bit. When it was announced that The Boss was scheduled to perform on MTV’s Unplugged series, fans wondered what songs he would include and how he would scale them down for the acoustic format. But Springsteen allegedly didn’t like how the acoustic arrangements sounded in rehearsal, which is why he played just one song unplugged and then let his whole band plug in for the rest of the show. Speaking of that band, it was not the E Street Band of old, but rather the so-called “Other” band that he used for his 1992 album, Human Touch. Although longtime fans might have scoffed, the show delivered by Bruce and his new buddies was undeniably powerful, highlighted by an elongated and thrilling take on “Light of Day,” a song he had previously handed to Joan Jett.

5. Live in New York City, Madison Square Garden, New York (2000)

The “Other” band didn’t last too long, and the rumblings that Bruce would be reuniting the E Street band reverberated all through the ‘90s. Springsteen made it official with the “Reunion” tour beginning in 1999, one which didn’t have an album preceding it but was instead a victory lap of sorts for him and his longtime band. The shows were rapturously received, and Springsteen made the decision to put together a concert film and album, which were taken from a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 2000. While Live 1975-85 might have the quantity in its advantage, Live in New York City is pound-for-pound the finest live album Springsteen has ever released. He hits on every period of his career and gives his band their props in a rafter-raising version of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

6. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (2009)

When it was time for the venerable concert/sports venue Giants Stadium to be demolished, there was nobody else other than Springsteen who could have been a better choice to shut out the lights. He even debuted a song just for those performances titled “Wrecking Ball,” which drew parallels between the aging stadium and the way that time brings a reckoning on us all. The first time he played Giants Stadium was on the Born in the U.S.A. Tour, it made sense that The Boss would play that album in its entirety. There was also a memorable moment where he made the risky decision to crowd-surf during “Hungry Heart,” singing all the while as he was passed from body to body. “Jersey Girl,” fittingly, was the closer of this legendary show.

Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images

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