Hours after announcing dates for a North American Summer stadium, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Ten songs into the set, Springsteen broke out “If I Was the Priest” for the first time in over 50 years. Check out a stellar fan-shot video of the moment right here.
“I wrote this song,” Springsteen said. “I was 22. Fifty years ago. I still don’t have a clue 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 was the longest gap between live performances of a song in Springsteen history by a decent margin.
“If I Was the Priest” circulated as a bootleg for years and was covered by Allan Clarke of the Hollies in 1974 as “If I Were The Priest,” but wouldn’t come out officially by Springsteen until 2020 when he decided to re-record it with the E Street Band for Letter To You alongside “Song For Orphans” and “Janey Needs a Shooter,” two other archival songs.
“It’s fun to go back and see how wild my lyric writing was, and how uninhibited it was at a certain moment, and to be able to take that and bring it into the present with the band, and sing it in my voice right now, was a bit of a joy ride,” Springsteen told The New York Times. “The thing about those songs, every line is insane! And somehow they end up making sense about something. I’m not sure how I did it at the time.”
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. It’s the first time since 1981 that the E Street Band has played a formal concert without Lofgren. Violinist Soozie Tyrell was also back after missing the last two gigs. Prior to this, she hadn’t missed a single gig since joining the group in 2002.
The tour resumes on Feb. 16 at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas. Hopefully, by that point, the full E Street Band will be able to take the stage. This leg wraps up on April 14 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The band spends much of the summer in Europe before heading back stateside in August for a stadium run, followed by a string of arena dates in the fall. It wraps up on Dec. 8 at the Chase Center in San Francisco, California.