The holiday episode of Saturday Night Live is always a delight, a goofy, splendiforous explosion of seasonal joy with some surprise guests and performances so warm they’ll make the Grinch’s heart swell to the size of Ohio. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are chancellors of the highest order in the ministry of positive vibes, so they were a perfect fit for the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler-helmed festivities. Any episode that ends in a sing-along of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with a visibly elated, ugly sweater-sporting cast (shoutout especially to Vanessa Bayer who couldn’t have looked happier if she tried) is exactly the kind that should wrap up this half of the season. If Santa needs an “Eye of the Tiger,” Springsteen’s holiday hit is the closest thing he’s gonna get. Ryan Adams freaking out in the audience was an added bonus. In short, the SNL holiday special was the happiest episode the show has seen in ages.
Our Patron Saint of Asbury Park has got more to celebrate than yuletide cheer: On December 4, Springsteen announced that he’d start touring in January to support the release of his behemoth of a box set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. As such, Springsteen and the E Street Band’s SNL return — their first time playing Studio 8H since 2002 — played songs from The Ties That Bind to honor both the 35th anniversary of the record and the vibe of the upcoming tour. Along with the tour dates — which bring Springsteen and Co. to Madison Square Garden on January 24, 26 and 27, and Newark’s Prudential Center January 31 — they announced that the set list would predominantly focus on tracks off The River, in sequence, with a few favorites plucked from the Boss’s extensive catalog thrown in for good measure. It’s only fitting, then, that “Meet Me in the City” — one of the previously unreleased tracks that made it into The Ties That Bind‘s mega set — and “The Ties That Bind” served as Springsteen’s two picks for SNL before his compulsory Christmas tune soundtracked the episode’s grand finale.
Twitter’s biggest complaint — more on that in a sec — was that the E Street Band involved too many guitars. HE’S BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. LET THE DUDE AND HIS BAND BRING ALL THE DAMN GUITARS HE SEES FIT. LET HIM CALL UP THE STEEL-STRUNG FRENZY OF A THOUSAND AXES SHOULD HE SO CHOOSE. LET HIM GALLOP ONWARD TO VALHALLA BRANDISHING THE NECK OF A BATTLE-SCARRED TELECASTER. The man — arguably one of the most adored rockers in American history — has played SNL a meager three times in his storied career, and it’d be nothing short of a shortchange for him to show up without the E Street band and all of its presently enlisted members to get the job done. This involved, yes, five guitars, but whatever: those weren’t as much of an issue as Springsteen’s vocals, which were gruff to the point of indecipherable in some spots. The runaway train momentum was far more exciting than it was unwieldy, and that chorus is the definition of an earworm, as is that sax line that Jake Clemons delivered in a way that’d make the Big Man proud. Still, Springsteen grunting and snarling and popping veins above his fiendishly raised eyebrow is an enjoyable — if not particularly earth-shattering — performance to behold, and “Meet Me in the City” made for a spirited take on an underplayed track that’s finally getting its due.
“The Ties That Bind” went down smoother, save for a few dueling keys on those harmonies, but the heart-clutching chimes of the chorus more than made up for the off-notes. Springsteen wasn’t winded after “Meet Me in the City;” he apparently just needed the track for a warm-up in order to hit his vocal stride. And THEN:
Complete and total anarchy complete with a kangaroo-jumpin’ Pete Davidson and Paul McCartney, who was very, very good at shaking his sleigh bells and very, very bad at remembering the words to the song. Still: this was delightful. Even Garry Tallent’s bass was wearing a Santa hat. You have no soul if you didn’t jump up from your couch and start dancing around your living room flailing your arms like Michael Che.
The internet was more or less amused, save for a few people who didn’t get that the crowd wasn’t booing Springsteen but lowing his name. So now, BRUUUUUUUUUUCE, but via Twitter:
First things first: GUYS PAUL McCARTNEY WAS TRENDING BECAUSE HE MADE A SURPRISE CAMEO ON SNL NOT BECAUSE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED IT’S OKAY.
Sees Paul McCartney is trending. Heart drops. Checks. All is well. Sigh of relief.
— Ryan Parker (@TheRyanParker) December 20, 2015
When I saw Paul McCartney trending , I thought he died smh.. Glad that wasn't why he was tending.
— The Chosen One (@King23Lewis) December 20, 2015
I get scared whenever I see that Paul McCartney is trending
— Max Mulderrig (@maxgm19) December 20, 2015
Meanwhile, we are all Vanessa Bayer on the inside.
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) December 20, 2015
— 30 Rock (@nbc30rock) December 20, 2015
You can’t sit with us.
— Andy Kozel (@andykozel) December 20, 2015
Neither can you, you get outta here MAN.
— Mark Ryder (@66batman) December 20, 2015
Steven, you can hang.
Springsteen has more guitars on stage than have appeared on the last five VMAs.
— Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) December 20, 2015
Finally, a selfie that rivals Ellen’s:
— Bobby Moynihan (@bibbymoynihan) December 20, 2015
Ryan Adams gets it.
Holy Shit WUTTTTT pic.twitter.com/EuQDKneFbh
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) December 20, 2015
Bruce c’mahn that’s a Beatle.
Springsteen either picking Paul's nose or pulling the ol hitler mustache trick pic.twitter.com/iC6qlayVyb
— Slade Sohmer (@Slade) December 20, 2015
Strong parent game.
My dad facetimed me so I could watch Bruce Springsteen on @nbcsnl
— Hannah Kay (@hannahkayband) December 20, 2015
Lol “british guy.”
— marcc212 (@marcc212) December 20, 2015
Now Tina and Amy are with Paul McCartney playing backup for Bruce Springsteen. Definitely dead now.
— Jodi Beggs (@jodiecongirl) December 20, 2015
Feeling sexual AF things for Bruce Springsteen right now. Want him to jam out with the ME street band YA KNOW?!?!
— Taylor Flood (@floodtaylor) December 20, 2015