June 29, 2000. Madison Square Garden is packed with die-hard Springsteen fans for the second-to-last show of the world tour reuniting Bruce with the legendary E Street Band for the first time in more than 13 years. The night is as exciting as it is bittersweet because no one knows if this band will ever play together again.
I'm standing at half-court, as caught up in the show as everyone else, when I notice a cameraman standing nearby. I ask him what he's filming, and he tells me some crowd shots for a video. He appears to be working from a set list, so I ask if I can take a look. I'm wondering if one of my favorite Springsteen songs, the epic ballad "Jungleland," is on there - and, yes, both it and its standard lead-in, "Meeting Across the River," are coming up soon. But when the time comes, Springsteen instead ambles over to the piano and starts playing the first few notes of "The Promise."
"Forget 'Meeting Across the River.' He's not playing it," I warn the cameraman.
"Whoa! What song is this?" he asks.
Didn't anyone tell this guy that Springsteen never sticks to a set list? Then, just as "The Promise" ends and we're all cheering loudly, keyboardist Roy Bittan plays the distinctive first notes of "Jungleland" - and all of us Jersey folks are yelling even louder, waiting for our key moment in the song, "Over the Jersey state line."
When I later describe this incident to tour director George Travis, he laughs and tells me the crew calls it "set roulette." Recording engineer Toby Scott elaborates: "The show will start with the right song, and my assistant and I will look at each other and wonder, 'Well, how long do you think it will be before Bruce changes?' - because he always does. The band is just keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn't go to a song they haven't played in 20 years."
"He really keeps you on your toes," says director Chris Hilson, admitting that even he can't predict sometimes what Springsteen will pull out of a hat. "I was sitting at my desk in the remote truck, with headset on, shouting at cameramen, maniacally punching buttons as fast as I could."
None of us in the crowd that night knew the final two concerts were being filmed for what would later become an Emmy-winning HBO special and then a double-disc DVD release. At the time, neither did Travis, who produced the disc along with Springsteen and manager Jon Landau. Travis told me they filmed the Madison Square Garden shows because Bruce had always regretted that there was no record of his earlier concert tours. It wasn't until Springsteen, Travis, and Landau had an opportunity to look over the material that they decided it was good enough to craft it into the TV special and then the DVD.
Due to be released by Columbia on November 6, the DVD of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - Live in New York City includes 25 songs. All 14 songs from the HBO special are on Disc 1, and 11 more songs have been molded into a separate concert set for Disc 2. The package - made using a high-definition video master and featuring a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack - also has a photo gallery and a 15-minute featurette, New York City Serenade.
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