Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band appear on the season finale of Saturday Night Live this week, to promote the release of the 35th anniversary box set of The River, and Springsteen will also be joining Jimmy Fallon on the couch later this evening on The Tonight Show, Mainstream network television appearances were not something Bruce pursued or participated in for a very long time, even at the very height of his career, but starting with the 90’s, he definitely became more open to the idea, to the point that he now participates in comedy sketches. Here’s a look back at Bruce’s most notable appearances on–as he used to say when introducing drummer Max Weinberg–”late night telly-vision!”
MAY 9, 1992 – SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: Bruce’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live wouldn’t be until 1992, which meant that it was with the post-E Street Band, featuring guitarist Shane Fontayne, bassist Tommy Sims, drummer Zach Alford, Crystal Talifero on percussion and backing vocals, along with four additional female backing singers. Roy Bittan on keyboards would be the only member carried over from the E Street Band. The band ably performed three songs from the Lucky Town/Human Touch records (“Lucky Town,” “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” and “Living Proof”), but the appearance is better known for the two promos Bruce appeared in: one with Tom Hanks, and another with Wayne and Garth in full “We’re not worthy” mode, and a deadpan Bruce playing his role perfectly in both.
JUNE 25, 1993 – LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: This was the last episode of Letterman before he moved over to CBS. Springsteen was a completely unannounced surprise to the audience, who erupted in excited applause when Dave said, “Are there guests that you wish you could have had on? In eleven and a half years there is, I think, only been one person that has not been on this show that I really, really, really wanted as a guest. All of this changes tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Please welcome Bruce Springsteen.” Bruce performs “Glory Days” with Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band, and you have never seen professional musicians act so genuinely happy and excited.
APRIL 5, 1995 – THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: Springsteen reunited the E Street Band briefly in 1995 (as captured in the Blood Brothers DVD) to promote his first Greatest Hits album. Off-camera, the band would perform parts of “Money” by the Isley Bros. and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and the broadcast numbers were “Murder Incorporated” and the live premiere of “Secret Garden.” Dave notes that Conan O’Brien had to change their show’s taping so that drummer Max Weinberg, who was the bandleader for Conan, could perform on the Letterman broadcast. It’s a tight, compact performance and it just feels like the band would love nothing more than to break out into a full show.
DECEMBER 14, 1995 – THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: Springsteen returns to the show a few months later while out on the road promoting his solo acoustic album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. He performs “Youngstown” from that record, which would later translate into an incendiary live track with the full E Street Band when they reunite in 1999. It’s a very solid performance of the song, rich and warm, the likely result of having been on the road playing the material for the past month and a half.
NOVEMBER 20, 1998 – CHARLIE ROSE: To promote the release of the Tracks box set of previously unreleased material, Bruce sits down at the table for a lengthy and thoughtful discussion. Rose doesn’t let him off lightly, even asking him how he could leave “The Promise” off the box set. Springsteen performs a rearranged solo acoustic version of “Born In The USA” similar to those he played on the Ghost of Tom Joad tour.
FEBRUARY 26, 1999 – LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN: There was always a rumor that when Max Weinberg went to work as the band leader for Conan O’Brien, he had negotiated a clause that would allow him to take a leave of absence in the event the E Street Band ever got back together. Whether or not that is actually true, Bruce got the band back together in early 1999, taking them out on a world tour beginning in April. This would be Max’s last show before heading into rehearsals. “Max, I’m kind of worried about you tonight,” Conan says. “Do you have a ride back to Jersey?” With that, Bruce walked out to play “Working On The Highway” from Born In The USA along with the rest of the Max Weinberg 7.
AUGUST 1, 2002 – THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: As part of the massive promotional cycle around The Rising, Springsteen’s first new record with the reunited E Street Band, the entire band makes an appearance on Late Night. The band tapes “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” (which are broadcast on consecutive days) and Bruce reluctantly sits down in the chair with Dave for a brief interview, which is unintentionally hilarious in several spots.
OCTOBER 5, 2002 – SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: More promotion around The Rising. The E Street Band perform “Lonesome Day,” and Bruce sits down at the piano for a solo version of “You’re Missing.” There is hilarious rehearsal footage making the rounds that is far more interesting than the broadcast. The band begins playing “Lonesome Day,” a standard run through–except that Patti Scialfa is missing. Bruce and Steve Van Zandt visibly notice that she’s gone about ⅔ of the way through the song, holding back laughter (along with the rest of the band). Patti arrives and picks up her guitar towards the end of the song, and once she’s plugged in, Bruce laughingly interjects “Pittsburgh!” into the mic. This is undoubtedly a reference to a 1985 Born In The USA show at Three Rivers Stadium where the band had walked onstage and began playing the opening number before noticing that Roy Bittan and Nils Lofgren were still playing ping pong backstage. (They count the band members going onstage now, as a result.) There is much hilarity for the rest of the clip. Bruce insists, “There are too many members in the E Street Band now!”
DECEMBER 11, 2002 – LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN: Towards the end of the 2002 leg of the Rising tour, the E Street Band stopped in for a holiday appearance on the Conan O’Brien show. Along with the horn section from the Max Weinberg 7 (who have their own long-standing connections to Bruce), the band perform a fantastic version of “Kitty’s Back” as well as an outstanding performance of the seasonal favorite “Merry Christmas Baby,” joined by Conan himself on acoustic guitar. Clarence Clemons ably mans the jingle bells. One of Bruce’s best television performances.
NOVEMBER 16, 2010 – LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON: To promote the box set for Darkness On The Edge of Town (The Promise), Bruce comes on the show by himself. He performs a questionable comedic bit with Jimmy (where they perform “Whip My Hair,” Jimmy dressed as Neil Young, Bruce dressed as 1975 Bruce), sits on the couch for a lengthy interview segment (where he’s later joined by Steve Van Zandt), and finally, performs with the Roots (along with Van Zandt and Roy Bittan) as his backing band. They perform “Because The Night” and “Save My Love,” both outtakes from Darkness. Unsurprisingly, a Roots/Springsteen combination is absolutely awesome.
FEBRUARY 27, 2012 – LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON: The first of two guest appearances behind the new Wrecking Ball release, this time the E Street Band comes along. They perform “We Take Care of Our Own” and the title track, cramming the entirety of the 2012 E Street Band into the tiny stage.
MARCH 2, 2012 – LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON: The second appearance for Wrecking Ball, tonight the only guest is Bruce and E Street. The comedy bit is a version of “I’m Sexy And I Know It,” which is actually amusing and not too painful. The band also perform “Death To My Hometown” and “Jack of All Trades” from the new record, before bringing out auxiliary guitarist Tom Morello (temporarily replacing Steve Van Zandt, who had other commitments) for an anarchic “E Street Shuffle” along with the Roots.
JANUARY 14, 2014 – LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON: In what now seems like a regular gig, Springsteen shows up to plug the High Hopes album along with the extended E Street Band, including Tom Morello, but without Steve Van Zandt. There is the usual comedy bit, turning “Born To Run” into a joke about Chris Christie and the traffic problems in Fort Lee. “High Hopes” and “Heaven’s Wall” are performed for broadcast; Bruce sits on the couch and takes questions submitted via Twitter, including one about whether he would rather fight one duck-size horse or 100 horse-sized ducks.
AUGUST 6, 2015 – THE DAILY SHOW: At Jon Stewart’s specific request, Bruce and E Street perform as the final guests on the last episode of The Daily Show under Stewart’s purview. They perform a shortened version of “Land of Hope and Dreams” before segueing into a coda of “Born To Run” where the cast and crew of the show join the band onstage.