By Mike Mehalick, Staff Columnist
Normally one would begin a retrospective listing of anything having to do with New Jersey’s most beloved son, Bruce Springsteen, with all the necessary superlative adjectives that come with the respective territory. In saving you the time it would have taken to read all those fancy words we hope that you give The Boss’ 17th studio album Wrecking Ball, out today, a spin or two. The album is already being cited as Springsteen’s “angriest” effort to date and is significant as it features what is presumably late E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons’ last recorded material. The spirit of collaboration permeates through Wrecking Ball with guest appearances by legendary session man Matt Chamberlain and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Throughout Springsteen’s illustrious career he has called up others and has been called upon in live settings arena big or basement small alongside a veritable rouge’s gallery of musical legends. In celebration of the man who put Asbury Park, and back pocket bandanas, on the map we look back at ten of the best live collaborations Bruce Springsteen has ever had a hand in. Because what’s a party without a few, multi-platinum selling, friends?
Arcade Fire – “State Trooper”
You know when things make too much sense? Like having Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne come out for two songs during a Springsteen tour stop on their native Canadian soil. You’d be hard pressed to discuss such an event without using the phrase “passing of the torch” to help describe it, and you’d have an even harder time finding anyone to argue with. Right after cementing their status as rock’s heir-apparent’s with their 2nd LP, 2007’s Neon Bible, the two foremost members of the Springsteen inspired group sat in on Nebraska highlight “State Trooper” and their own “Keep the Car Running”. Butler looks to be having as much fun as you could imagine having while The Boss is all business with his trademark intensity.
Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, & Steve Van Zandt – “London Calling”
In 2003 the Grammy’s looked to pay proper tribute to The Clash co-founder Joe Strummer after his untimely passing a few weeks earlier. Naturally Springsteen was enlisted to anchor the four guitar strong homage with perhaps Strummer’s most enduring work “London Calling”. Alongside Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and E Streeter Lil’ Steven; Bruce culled up a fiery performance that inspired him to add the legendary track to his ever expanding set list repertoire. NOTE: We recognize in advance that this will not be the last mention of either the Grammy Awards or Dave Grohl on this list.
Jackson Browne – “Promised Land”
Running concurrent in the occasional grandiose musical and political sensibilities Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen have many of years of friendship to look back on. Hell, Bruce even inducted Jackson into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. So naturally, as friends as talented as these two are wont to do, the occasional guest spot is in order whether it be for a good cause or to just have a little fun and give the audience something to tell all their less famous friends about. Hopping in a time machine to 1982 we observe two of the world’s greatest living singer-songwriters in their natural habitat. That would be supporting a rally for disarmament in Central Park.
Continue reading for great collabs with Eddie Vedder, Phish, and more…
Sting – “The River”
In an eventual ironic twist of fate former The Police bandleader and 1988 Springsteen tour-mate Sting would every so often come out for the eponymous The River cut. Most E Street purists largely bemoan this particular collaboration, as Bruce would later cite Sting’s move away from his original band as the reason why he kept away from his for roughly a decade. Well, as the story goes, Springsteen and Sting would both eventually reconvene with their original outfits, but we’re left with this sliver in time where two prolific artists came together at the same crossroads.
Eddie Vedder – “Darkness on the Edge of Town”
One of a slew of collaborations owed to the ever-continuing crusade for social activism Pearl Jam crooner Eddie Vedder complements yet another Bruce title track with his impassioned vocal. Many have tried, and failed, to match Springsteen’s signature intensity on stage and at first Vedder appears to be caught in the moment. Stepping up to lead vocals on the latter verses of the quiet-loud-quiet “Darkness on the Edge of Town” Vedder lends a discernible snarl to the travails of fading youth and desperation.
U2 & Patti Smith – “Because the Night”
The story goes that while working underneath a legal embargo that prevented him from releasing new material, Springsteen’s Darkness producer Jimmy Iovine played Patti Smith a demo of “Because the Night”. With a few re-arrangements, and Bruce’s blessing, Smith went on to release the now legendary track as one of her most successful singles. It would take until 2010 for Bruce’s original demo to surface, but given the choice we’ll always prefer to see the song played with the man who made it and the woman who made it famous. Throw in Bono and the rest of U2 for additional theatrics and you’ve got yourself a fitting rendition of one of the better songs any musician has given away.
Bon Jovi – “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”
C’mon, you really didn’t think we were going to make it through this list without an appearance from Jersey’s other golden boy did you? There’s few better moments in Bruce’s live catalogue than those horn intro moments crescendo-ing into the street-shuffling boogie of Born to Run’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”. Sadly, Clarence Clemons’ unfortunate passing certainly takes a lot of the punch out of future performances of this romping classic. Bon Jovi even paid tribute to “The Big Man” by playing “Freeze Out” during a sold out show in Denmark immediately following his death. We’d like to hearken back to happier times and in doing so we re-visit one of seemingly hundreds of local charity Bruce moments this time in Red Bank’s historical Count Basie Theater.
Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, & Joe Walsh – “Abbey Road Medley”
The first songs on this list not authored by Bruce Springsteen in any way may be the best available option away from The Boss’ illustrious discography. As recently as a few weeks ago Bruce took the stage with principal songwriters from The Beatles, The Eagles, and Foo Fighters; not too shabby for a Sunday night. Not unlike his Joe Strummer tribute, although under more discernibly ambiguous circumstances, Springsteen wails on his ol’ guit-box like it owes him a lot of funny paper cueing the strangely typical, “I didn’t know he could play like that,” admissions from couches across the country. Even Macca himself seems to draw from all of the spare energy flying around.
George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, & Bob Dylan – “I Saw Her Standing There”
Well if we were going to include one Beatles’ collaboration it’d be pretty ignorant of us to not make mention of Bruce’s work with Ringo and George as well. This all star rendition of one of The Fab Four’s earliest hits also features some scrubs by the names of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and Billy Joel (gee wonder whatever happened to them). If anything other than to send any conscious music lover into a fevered tizzy this ensemble performance showcases Bruce’s ability to make an impression, standing out in a crowd that any other normal human being would wash into the background of.
Phish – “Mustang Sally”
And the award for writer’s sentimental favorite goes to this old school throw down between Springsteen and jam kings Phish from Bonnaroo 2009. Seeing as most of the people who run this venerable web site were in close proximity to this surprise sit in during Phish’s festival closing marathon we were hard pressed to not include it here. Part of what makes Springsteen, and any great artist for that matter, relevant even long after he leaves us for that great gig in the sky is the seemingly small moments here and there that in his storied career track like small blips on a radar screen. But I, and many Phish fans, will always recall this pure moment of festival magic when telling future generations about that time Bruce Springsteen matched chops with Trey Anastasio and had us all screaming “Ride! Sally Ride!” as loud as we could. The Boss, unlike any other, always delivers in the live setting, even if it isn’t his gig.