Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live in New York City

Directed by Chris Hilson. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, PCM 16-bit/48kHz. Two DVDs. 180 minutes. 2001. Columbia Music Video C2D 54071. NR. $29.98.

One needn't be a Springsteen fan to thoroughly enjoy this exuberant tour- and career-capping performance before an adoring Madison Square Garden (near) hometown crowd, shot in high-definition (1080i) and broadcast in part on HBO last year. The Boss and the E Street Band are having such a good time doing what they do, and the vibe is so contagious, that you'll have a great time even if you don't like your rock stars happy and grinning. Springsteen sells his spare but dramatic anthems with intense energy, puppyish sincerity, and commitment from the heart.

The opener, "My Love Will Not Let You Down," defines and reaffirms Springsteen's relationship with his audience and delivers a smattering of everything the crowd was there to see: Springsteen strutting the stage while pleasuring himself with stinging guitar solos; the impish, bandana'd "Little Steven" Van Zandt sidling up to the Boss to trade a few licks; the alter kocker-ish Roy Bittan laying down ornate, Liberace-like chordings; the stiff but proud Max Weinberg sitting high atop his drum riser, looking more as if he's playing at a Bar Mitzvah than behind a rock superstar; and, of course, Clarence "The Big Man" Clemmons' obligatory sax-strangling solo, accompanied by a huge, overcompensatory ovation from the crowd that gives his turn the patina of a novelty act.

Disc 1 includes the original HBO production, which climaxes with the monumental "Born to Run," Springsteen's most complex and dramatic creation. The song encapsulates most of Springsteen's major themes: faithfulness, the road, entrapment, escape, freedom, deliverance. A highlight for the home viewer occurs at the beginning of "Badlands," when the house lights are turned on for the first time and the crowd's vast expanse is dramatically revealed in all its widescreen glory.

The original program draws to a close with the Curtis Mayfield–influenced "Land of Hope and Dreams" and, as a curtain call, the chilling "American Skin (41 Shots)," about the accidental shooting of an unarmed Nigerian immigrant in the Bronx by New York City police. The song earned Springsteen boos from some police officers last fall during one of the tribute concerts.

There's a superfluous interview with Bruce and the band by Bob Costas, intercut with concert highlights. Springsteen says his concerts are about "fun" and are "part revival meeting, part circus." Watching the concert makes that description obvious.

Only true believers will want to watch disc 2 immediately after disc 1. It contains another 80 minutes of concert footage, during which the Springsteen formula begins to wear a bit thin: Cynics will hear "Eve of Destruction" behind every musical chorus, and the three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust song structure will start to sound uncomfortably familiar. Better to take a break and watch disc 2 another day.

Technically, the picture pales compared with HBO's 1080i broadcast, but so do DVD movies compared to 1080i on HBO. The conversion from 1080i to 480p exhibits many annoying artifacts, such as venetian-blind effect on diagonal lines, which break up into parallel segments. These glitches are more problematic the larger the screen, but here they're easily overlooked, even on a 6-footer. The big picture is compelling, and the camerawork and editing are among the best I've seen for a live concert. Despite the many camera angles and close-ups, here, unlike in other such productions, you never see a camera lurking at the opposite side of the stage, so carefully planned was the technical choreography.

The sound recording by Toby Scott, mix by Bob Clearmountain, and mastering by Bob Ludwig are what you'd expect from such an experienced group: first-rate and "in the house." While the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital mix is enveloping, don't neglect to use the analog outputs of your DVD player and run it in "direct" mode through your receiver or processor. You'll be treated to far better sound and, ironically, greater depth, stage height, and ambience—though all of that will seem to be behind the performers.

I watched Live in New York City using the SharpVision DLP projector and a 6-foot screen, and fed the analog output of the Ayre D-1 DVD player into my vacuum-tube two-channel audio system. The next morning I awoke feeling as I did a few weeks later, after seeing U2 live at the Garden: I felt as if I'd seen Springsteen live. For his fans, this is a "must have" set. For everyone else, it's highly recommended.