Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas hours after announcing dates for a North American Summer stadium. The moment Springsteen broke out “If I Was the Priest” for the first time in over 50 years was captured in a stellar fan-shot video.
Springsteen recalled, “I wrote this song when I was 22. Fifty years ago. I still have no idea what the fuck it’s about.”
“If I Was The Priest” pre-dates the formation of the E Street Band. Springsteen played it in February 1972 during an audition for managers Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos and again in May 1972 when he tried out for CBS Records. The surreal song didn’t make the cut for Greetings From Asbury Park, and the last known live performance took place May 2, 1972, at New York’s Gaslight Au Go Go, a gig put together last minute to impress CBS executives. But records are spotty from this era, and it’s possible he played it a few more times that year before retiring it from his live repertoire. Either way, this early song is an excellent indicator of just how experimental Springsteen would become as a musician.
The bootleg of “If I Was the Priest” circulated for years and was recorded by Allan Clarke of the Hollies as “If I Were The Priest,” but Springsteen wouldn’t release it officially until 2020, when he re-recorded it with the E Street Band for Letter To You along with “Song For Orphans” and “Janey Needs a Shooter,” two other archival tracks.
As Springsteen told The New York Times, “It’s fun to look back and see how wild my lyric writing was, and how uninhibited it was at a certain time, and to take those lyrics and bring them into the present with the band, and sing them with my voice right now, was quite a joy to do.” Each line of those songs is insane! But somehow they come together to make sense. I don’t know how I did it then.”
Prior to breaking out “If I Was the Priest,” the Houston concert was notable for being the first show of the 2023 tour to open with a song other than “No Surrender.” They opted for the Born to Run cut “Night” instead. Steve Van Zandt returned from a brief Covid hiatus, but Nils Lofgren came down with the virus and had to miss the show. Soozie Tyrell was also back after missing the last two gigs. Violinist Soozie Tyrell had not missed a single gig since joining the group in 2002.
The tour resumes on Feb. 16 at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas. By then, I hope the full E Street Band will be able to take the stage. This leg concludes on April 14 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. It wraps on Dec. 8 at the Chase Center in San Francisco, California. After spending much of the summer in Europe, the band heads back to the United States for a stadium run in August, followed by arena dates in the fall.