Springsteen had ended his residency in December 2018 after 236 performances but was persuaded to return for a summer’s encore ahead of most Broadway shows coming back in September.
Thrilled to be back, fully vaccinated fans cheered Springsteen’s words so often he had to profanely tell them to settle down, lest the show take all night. His longtime guitarist, Steven Van Zandt, received a standing ovation when he took a seat in the audience. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were also there Saturday night.
“It’s good to see everyone here tonight unmasked, sitting next to each other,” Springsteen said. “What a year. I’m 71 years on this planet and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Audience members had to show proof of vaccination to enter the St. James Theatre. That attracted a boisterous handful of anti-vaccination demonstrators to gather at the entrance and complain Springsteen was promoting segregation.
“No masks, sitting next to each other in one room,” Springsteen told the crowd.
Springsteen said he and his family were lucky during the pandemic, able to stay healthy and keep busy.
The Boss also recalled some of his experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic including releasing a new album, making a podcast with Barack Obama and his DWI arrest in New Jersey.
“I was handcuffed and thrown in jail,” he said. “That took some doin’ … I didn’t wake up one morning, get on my motorcycle and say, ‘I’ll go to jail!”
Springsteen was arrested for drunken driving and reckless driving in New Jersey Nov. 14, 2020. Those charges were later dismissed since he had a blood alcohol level below the state’s legal limit and he paid a fine for downing two tequila shots in an area where alcohol wasn’t allowed.
“New Jersey,” he said. “They love me there.”
While the case provided him with fresh fodder for jokes, the structure and stories of Springsteen’s show was similar, if a little streamlined, to the way it was the first time he was on Broadway.
He eliminated the iconic closer, “Born to Run,” replacing it with the thematically sharper “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” off his 2020 album. The two-song duet with his wife, Patti Scialfa, featured a smoldering version of “Fire,” his song that became a 1978 hit for the Pointer Sisters.
In a clear reference to the George Floyd killing, Springsteen performed his own song about a police shooting, “American Skin (41 Shots),” standing onstage in a blood red spotlight.
Springsteen said he’s never seen American democracy as threatened as it is today, and that it frightened him.
“I’m still stubborn,” he said. “I believe we’re going to make it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.