With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Bruce Springsteen has long been a part of the fabric of American music. And his live performances? They’re nothing short of legendary. So it was a bit out of the ordinary when one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest names in touring announced that he wouldn’t be touring behind his new album, Western Stars. (This is the first time Springsteen hasn’t toured behind a record since his 1982 release, Nebraska.) But fans weren’t kept wondering for long; the Boss always has a plan.
Springsteen performed all 13 songs from Western Stars in a centuries-old barn on his property in Colts Neck, New Jersey, for a concert film by the same name. Joined on stage by his longtime bandmates, including his wife, Patti Scialfa, and a 30-piece orchestra, Springsteen brings the characters on his new album to life beneath a canopy of twinkling lights.
While his songs’ protagonists chase dreams and lost love across the frontier, Springsteen echoes similar sentiments in confessional-style interviews. He describes Western Stars as a “meditation on the struggle between individual freedom and communal life,” drawing on his quest for self-improvement. The film further pivots to a stylized documentary with the incorporation of archival home movie footage, interspersed by montages of a present-day Springsteen in the desert—embodying the role of a Western star—surrounded by tokens of Americana: wild horses, pickups, and turquoise jewelry.
Western Stars is the Boss’ 19th studio album—his first in five years. But that’s not to say he hasn’t been busy. He’s done Springsteen on Broadway, the residency-turned-Netflix special, with longstanding film collaborator Thom Zimny. Zimny stuck with Springsteen for the Western Stars documentary, and the two share a director credit. Part performance, part behind-the-scenes special, the film is an intimate look at a rock ‘n’ roll icon who, after decades of making art, still has a lot to say.
Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars will be shown on Thursday, October 24, at The Paramount Theater. Co-director Thom Zimny will be on hand for a post-screening conversation.