Bruce Springsteen is a cowboy now. Please, nobody tell him any different. He seems happy. In the clips cut into Western Stars’ concert footage, the Boss tramps through the American desert in his dustiest boots and most battered Stetson, musing on life and love. The concert itself was held in Springsteen’s barn. Even as the world’s foremost Jersey kid, the aesthetic suits him in his gravel-voiced old age.
The film itself isn’t much: Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, and an orchestra perform songs from his new album; between songs, Springsteen cracks out choice anecdotes and pearls of wisdom. The overall effect is soothing, like unwinding in a saloon where Sam Elliott is dispensing sage advice. For the most part, Springsteen’s asides are corny, “now son, marriage is a lot like a car…” dad-isms. They lack the specificity or pathos of his best-known monologues (e.g. “The River” from Live 1975-85), and the choice to play them over generic Western imagery denies us the intimacy of last year’s Springsteen on Broadway (also directed by Thom Zimny).
However, Western Stars really excels during one of these asides. As the show is winding down we cut from the concert, not to drone footage of horses and highways, but to an old home movie of Springsteen and Scialfa. The pair are just goofing around, and it lends a sweetness to Springsteen’s overlaid story about how they first got together. Springsteen is an unfashionably earnest guy, and these few minutes of grainy footage bring you briefly into his unerringly sincere worldview.
Western Stars won’t win over anyone who didn’t care for the album of the same name, but it’s always a pleasure to spend time in Springsteen’s presence. The live recording sounds fantastic, and those little flashes of sentimentality give the whole piece an endearingly human touch.
CAST: Bruce Springsteen
DIRECTORS: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimny
SYNOPSIS: Concert film of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, interspersed with the musician’s legendary storytelling.