Bruce Springsteen’s Houston Tour History Through the Years

By Craig Hlavaty

Special to the Chronicle

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Tuesday for the first time in the venue’s nearly 25 years of hosting concerts. Springsteen’s traveling show has always been a staple of the concert calendar at places like the Summit (and then the Compaq Center) and the Toyota Center. Expect the man and his band to turn in a nearly four-hour set, judging from recent set lists.

This will also be Springsteen’s first Houston visit since 2009′s Toyota Center date touring behind that year’s Working On A Dream. He only got as close as Austin for SXSW during the promo push for 2012′s Wrecking Ball. His newest release, High Hopes, is a grab bag of covers, re-imagined live nuggets, and songs that didn’t make it onto the last few full-length offerings. It’s not an album of misfit toys, that much is for sure.

It’s hard to believe that The Boss has been bringing his brand of wrought-iron Jersey rock to Houston for 40 years — before was even The Boss, maybe just the Assistant Manager — beginning with a four-day invasion of the Liberty Hall in March 1974. He was playing two sets a night three of those nights to accommodate the crowds, something you don’t see much of anymore on a rock tour, much less in Houston.

A Houston Chronicle review of one of the Liberty Hall shows described it as “a celebration of life so intense and vivid that only the most hardened cynic could avoid becoming involved,” which means the reviewer probably met a girl at the show. The only complaint from writer John W. Wilson seemed to be that Springsteen’s voice got lost in the musical soup of the show. There is a great, full-band bootleg floating around on YouTube of that March 9 appearance on KLOL hours before they hit the stage that night. Can you imagine getting all of those people into that tiny studio off Lovett in Montrose?

Not much time passed between the era when Springsteen and band were playing mid-size venues like Liberty Hall and the Houston Music Hall and when they became arena-sized scalper fodder, capable of selling thousands of seats within hours or days. Blockbuster albums like Born to Run and Born in The U.S.A. will have that effect on a career. Springsteen played the Summit for the first time on Dec. 8, 1978,(Darkness Tour) and again routinely every album cycle or so for a two-night stand until April 1988. He wouldn’t come to Houston again until a solo acoustic show at Jones Hall on Jan. 23, 1996 on the Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Once Bruce and the E Streeters were reunited in 1999, they returned to Houston and the Compaq Center in 2000 and 2002, the last time they would play the arena before it was turned into Lakewood Church.

In anticipation of Springsteen returning to Houston after a five-year absence, I dived into our photo archive(see Darkness photos) for some shots of him in his live element here in Houston. Also, with a little help from online a Bruce database, the aptly-named BruceBase, I was able to fill in some of the blanks on those shows you may have forgotten that you were even at.

Judging by the photos, the man has made a deal with the man upstairs to age in reverse. There are few differences between the man at 64 and at 36, give or take a few wrinkles in the face. He probably knows a few more songs now, too.

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