It’s hard to think of “Dirty Water,” the Standells’ immortal 1965 trash-rock ode to the polluted Charles River and the morally questionable lowlifes and willing coeds that stalk its banks, as romanticizing the city of Boston, but that’s precisely what’s made it resonate across the decades. More importantly, that’s the key to its appeal outside the Hub’s borders; written and originally performed by Angelenos with lip-smacking glee, it paints the city as a grimy paradise despite — and in large part because of — its many glaring flaws. So obviously Boston reclaimed the song as an anthem of local pride.
Bruce Springsteen just broke out a cover of “Dirty Water” with the E Street Band at TD Garden.@BostonDotCom pic.twitter.com/hT0M3UKTMS— Christopher Gavin (@chris_m_gavin) March 21, 2023
It might have been inevitable that Bruce Springsteen opened his first encore with the song at TD Garden Monday night. His first few albums are basically “Dirty Water” transplanted to New Jersey and rendered in grainy widescreen, so it sits firmly in his wheelhouse. It’s not a cover he pulls out every time he hits town (according to setlist.fm, he hasn’t played it since 2012, and even before then he wasn’t playing it at every Boston area concert), but it was only fitting that it’d make an appearance at his first local concert since both 2016 and the start of the pandemic.
With that lurching guitar riff kicking in, Springsteen blowing a solo on harmonica before tossing it into the audience, and a packed Garden hollering “Boston, you’re my home!” back at him, it galvanized his return two hours into an already galvanizing performance.
With a second just-announced Gillette Stadium show added to Springsteen’s tour when it circles back to the area in August, it may not be the last time locals get the chance to hear the song the Boss reserves exclusively for us.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @spacecitymarc.