The near-capacity crowd was enthusiastic, attentive, respectful. Given that the night began with an introduction to the Bob Woodruff Foundation and short interviews with some of the veterans who they have been able to assist, it would require either a whole lot of alcohol or a total lack of conscience to behave in any other fashion.
Given that the event is, technically, part of the New York Comedy Festival, the entertainment portion of the evening opened with a roster of comedy greats: Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby, Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld. Roger Waters led the MusicCorps Wounded Warrior Band, and if you thought you had a bad day, the veteran playing drums with one arm, one prosthetic arm, and no legs quickly provided a huge dose of perspective.
The stage was cleared during a fund-raising interlude and then prepared with a small pump organ and a single mic stand. A rousing introduction came from favorite fanboy Jon Stewart: "I believe you are familiar with this next performer," he began, as the crowd responded with the obligatory Bruuuce-ing. Stewart reminded us, "I am from a humble state," and that while New Jersey had been through some hard times recently, it was coming back. "Here's how much we love this next performer: he has written a song about the state of New Jersey, and the lyrics go something like, 'It is a death trap, it is a suicide rap, you gotta get out while we're young,' and New Jerseyans heard that and said, 'We should make that our state song.' Ladies and gentlemen, the great Bruce Springsteen!"
Walking onstage wearing navy blue and carrying an acoustic guitar, a healthy and rested-looking Bruce acknowledged the Wounded Warrior Band — "they can play, man! Gonna put me out of business!" — before moving on to what has become a now-traditional part of his appearances at the event.
After a joke that referenced a magical countdown and the Washington Monument, Bruuce moving quickly into "Dancing in the Dark." Rather than a straight-ahead rendition, this acoustic version was surprisingly tinged with a '50s crooner-meets-soul singer feel.
Joke number two, referencing a Nevada brothel and "Hurricane Tessy," was completed before Bruce beckoned into the wings and Patti Scialfa emerged to great applause. The two then dueted on "If I Should Fall Behind," which was lovely if slightly tentative in spots — understandable given that this was her first appearance onstage in 14 months — but the performance had the same affection and warmth that it always does. In the last refrain, Bruce murmured at her to take one of the lines solo, smiling to encourage her. The two embraced before Patti headed off stage, and Bruce headed for the harmonium and his last dirty joke.
This time, it was a fairly funny story about a piano player with some ribald song titles before Bruce engaged with the organ bellows and hit the opening chords of "Dream Baby Dream." Given the appearance of the instrument onstage and the song's recent prominence in the end-of-tour-thank you video, the choice was not all that surprising, but along with the studio track's appearance on Spotify, it's another sign that as Bruce revisits the song we're getting a glimpse of the future, not the past. This was his first live performance of the Suicide song since the 2005 tour-closer in Trenton. The rendition tonight felt more open and less intense than the Devils & Dust performances, but that could have been simply due to the context of the audience.
The house lights came up just as Bruce reached for the telecaster, and Brian Williams and another gentleman came onstage to run the now-traditional guitar auction. Bruce strummed a rockabilly riff in the background as the bidding began at $10,000 and quickly escalated. Potential bidders shouted out requests: will he sign the guitar? Yes. How about a lasagna? No. Brian Williams threw in his necktie. Around $140k, the bidding stalled out, and Bruce upped the ante by coming to the microphone and announcing, "Comes with a free one-hour guitar lesson from me." The lasagna from Adele got added around $180k, with the ultimate enticement — "You can attend a recording session at my home studio" — reinvigorating the bidding (and garnering an approving murmur from the crowd) to end at a final $250,000. Bruce then played and sang the first two lines of "Mystery Train" before ending the auction and bringing the seventh year of Stand Up For Heroes to another successful close.
Watch Springsteen's set on YouTube.
Donate to support the cause: http://bobwoodrufffoundation.org/donate/
Coming after two gratefully received shows in Chile and Argentina, the train rolled into São Paulo for the first of two Brazilian shows that officially end the Wrecking Ball tour. As hot as Paris in 2012, with a healthy waft of marijuana, the venue had to be the smallest of the tour, the Espaço das Américas comprising just a single floor space, no stands, and about 8,000 fans.
Bruce and the E Street Band opened with a soundchecked "Sociedade Alternativa," by the "Father of Brazilian Rock," the late Raul Seixas [see official pro-shot video]. It was a powerful statement and continued the theme of playing important local songs by influential artists in the region, even if it threw the opening sequence a little off-kilter; "We Take Care Of Own," "Badlands," and "Death to My Hometown" seemed to lose the audience until a crazy "Spirit in the Night" and a 50-meter crowd surf bought it all back together.
From there on in it was a request show, as the best bar band in the world ran through its staples, including a blistering '78 "Prove It," a powerful "American Skin," and a good dose of Born in the U.S.A. classics, all delivered with no effects of the heaviness that Bruce referenced in Kilkenny. This was a party atmosphere, for certain. Indeed, it was almost the alternative Wembley show, where Bruce asked whether we wanted requests all night or the Darkness on the Edge Town album.
In true bar band style, they stopped the show during "She's the One" to allow a guy to propose to his gorgeous girlfriend onstage (she said yes), and Bruce spent significant amount of time in the crowd: kissing elderly women, chugging beers, seemingly without a care in the world.
And yes, we had the "Sunny Day" kid, and no there were no rarities, but frankly, who cares? Certainty not the Paulistanos, who sang every word from start and finish, to a point that Bruce himself was visibly taken aback. And when the crowd brings it, Bruce does too. Olé Olé Olé Olé Bruce-y Bruce-y!
On to Rio de Janeiro, our last stop until Australia — we think, as Bruce did promise that he'd be back in South America "very very soon."
"Last time we came here I was 38. Argentina was struggling with its political future," Springsteen told the crowd. He went on to pledge a return visit: "This is the closing and, I hope, the opening of a cirlce... We will be back. I promise."
Many thanks to Salvdor Trepat at Point Blank for the translation, and for these lyrics:
Tiene corazón de tierra
Aquí se encajó mi canto
Que no es guitarra de ricos
Ahí donde llega todo
I don't sing for love of singing,
My guitar is not for the rich no,
My song is not for fleeting praise
There, where everything comes to rest
From the outset, it was clear that Bruce viewed this as the last show of the tour. Direct references were made to "the last dance," "one last time," etc. But we were reminded of something tonight — Bruce doesn't look to history to decide what to do in a show, first or last of the tour. He does what he damn well pleases, and as usual, the result may be different than what we expected but still so memorable for so many reasons.
Tonight's show didn't have the heaviness of MSG 10 and Shea 3, the obscurities and band member indulgences of Kansas City '08 (Max on vocals, anyone?), or the "go back to the beginning to mark the end" feeling of the Greetings performance of Buffalo '09. Not that there's anything wrong with those... but instead this one was a celebration of a successful tour, an airing of the best album he's ever written (debatable, but not dismissible), and several tributes to the fans that went above expectations.
The show started with a nice recap of the tour — many of the warhorses (albeit in a different order) were there. "Spirit in the Night" had a particularly long intro vamp that discussed the length of the tour, and the hibernation of the band for "a very, very little while." Just as the worry was setting in that it would be another standard setlist, Bruce told us we would hear a set of songs to cover "some debts I have to pay." That comment evoked both hope (does he frequently use a song-for-song recreation of Winterland '78 as a bargaining chip?) and concern (does he conduct business deals with Working on a Dream album enthusiasts?). This was coming from a guy who has written a lot of songs about unsavory debts, so he had our attention.
The actual payment was four songs he promised to fans one way or another, including three straight tour premieres. First, another boisterous airing of "The River" for one fan's brother. Then, "Wild Billy's Circus Story" for the pit resident who is the biggest fan of that song ever (though the broader crowd reaction jammed bathrooms and beer lines). The jewel of the set was a gently instrumented, vocal-heavy, and fantastic "Man at the Top," played for another sign-wielding fan. Finally, the magnificent "When You Walk Into the Room" was covered for a group of ladies in the pit. Bottom line: the "debt" was to the persistent and loyal fans that he doesn't ignore; the payment is what they most longed to hear.
An "extra" debt repayment came in the form of the Born to Run album, played for Jimmy Iovine who was not named but shown lurking off stage. We'll ignore Bruce's loose accounting that Born to Run was recorded "25 or 35 years ago" and that Iovine was "14 years old" as an engineer. The performance was top notch, the fans loved it, and it's hard to complain about hearing "Jungleland" and "Backstreets" in the same show (the latter including some "Sad Eyes" verbiage for some 1978 throwback).
The closing bars of "Jungleland" conjured the rain, plus it was that time in the show, so surely we knew the next song would be one articulating patience for a clearing of inclement weather, the one that had been played every night in hundreds of shows over the last five years. But instead, Bruce had another gift for the fans and went straight to "The Rising." Only Bruce could stun the hardcores by not playing a song — for the first and only time on the entire tour. Well-played.
The winner of the encores was the kid with a dead serious, professional-level guitar face who strummed with Bruce during "Dancing in the Dark," then got to keep the guitar. The stunned "are you serious?" look from the kid was priceless. (That look could also have been: "Wait, does he really mean this or did I awkwardly steal a guitar from Bruce Springsteen?"). The coolest part of the encores — and one of the coolest things I've seen in a while at a show — was the salute to the fans, on the heels of the description of the history-makin', legendary E Street Band:
After "This Little Light of Mine," Bruce came back with his acoustic guitar and a few more words to say:
All that was left was the final goodbye in the form of "This Hard Land," a moving acoustic rendition; it seemed a direct tribute to the traveling fans and the bond made fan-to-artist, artist-to-fan, and fan-to-fan. We'll miss following the tour online and in person, we'll miss our friends we meet along the way, we'll miss the music and the good times. Once again, we were left with hope for more shows in the near future. But 'til then...
For many people who read this site regularly, this show will be remembered as the one that clanked when Bruce played Born in the U.S.A. top to bottom when the expectations of the show were extremely high (set somewhere above a special extended guest spot by Terence Trent D'arby and below Tracks Disc 3 played top to bottom). But really, if hearing a classic album played in its entirety by our favorite artist is that much of a downer, then our lives must be pretty good. And of course, there's more nuance to it when you're there in person vs. reading a setlist. Some of it's good, some of it's ugly, so let's review the tape.
First and foremost, the "good." You couldn't design a better pre-show party scene than what awaited the train in Kilkenny. Bars appeared to outnumber all other businesses (and seemingly permanent residents) by a significant margin, and all of them had their own identity and character (but apparently shared one Bruce greatest hits playlist). People were friendly, the beer flowed, overserved youths jumped into the river in front of an audience. The town and the show were basically one entity for the day, and it was awesome.
The enthusiasm carried over into the show, with great setups by the opening acts (particularly Glen Hansard) and a majorly fired-up pit section. They greeted Bruce with a coordinated display of "THANK YOU" signs that seemed to genuinely surprise him. One dude was dressed as a red headed woman. A sign for "I'm Goin' Down" would require blurring on basic cable. Kilkenny leads the league in people sitting on shoulders. Basically, this was a Saturday night crowd geared toward the fun end of the spectrum, and that's where Born in the U.S.A. worked if a full album was going to be played.
The pre-Born in the U.S.A. 12-pack was a decent sampler, light on Wrecking Ball material and heavy on shtick, but with this crowd it seemed in-place. It still feels odd to have the same song open and close, but "This Little Light of Mine" apparently worked as it was the most frequent of many spontaneous post-show crowd sing-alongs at the train station. Sign requests led to a pair of performances that were truly impromptu — "Shake" and "Sweet Soul Music." The latter had been a regular in the set... 25 years ago. But try as they may, the crowd just can't stump the band. In fact, the only person who may have been stumped was the kid who provided the sign for "Shake," who clearly had no idea what song it was. The "bad economy" combo of "Jack of all Trades" and "The River" were very much appreciated and understood by the Irish crowd. It was unique how exuberant and sing-alongy "The River" was tonight; I suppose it was cathartic and a song that the casual fans recognized, but it still is kind of strange to hear a huge crowd jubilantly and loudly sing "A UNION CARD AND A WEDDING COAT!" in unison.
Now, the alleged "thud" moment. As soon as Bruce mentioned Slane Castle in 1985, it was clear what was going to happen, and it was easy to feel disappointed as a hardcore. But I'm here to tell you that there was no collective sigh or grumble from the crowd — the vast majority of the crowd was pumped to get this gift and ate it up. It was served with an extra helping of ham, particularly during "Glory Days," which drew a few cringes after some bad dance moves. One very cool highlight was "I'm on Fire," during which the whole band except for Nils, Max, Garry, and Roy left the stage, leaving Bruce with a version of the "stripped down" band that many die-hards have wanted to see. And it was great. Throughout the Born in the U.S.A. playlist the crowd aggressively danced and loudly sang, and most people didn't actually know which song was next, so it felt much fresher in person being surrounded by the more casual fans.
There were also no collective sighs or grumbles when "Shackled and Drawn" was skipped, but it was an indication of how hurriedly the show would end after the album performance. There was still time for a stirring "Drive All Night" with Glen Hansard, which elevated the show considerably and provided a hopeful preview of the twists we'll get in part two of the Weekender. ("Twist" may be a stretch — Hansard is known to cover of that song and many expected it, but nevertheless it's a deep track from The River featuring a brilliant guest artist.)
After a lot more dancing and general looseness during the encores (three cheers for the lack of stadium lights that kept things pretty dark during the encores for a change), the pin-drop silent "Thunder Road" remains a wonderful conclusion to any show, even one that didn't go the way you expected. And the best news going into halftime of the Kilkenny weekend was Bruce's declaration that "we'll be back tomorrow night for one last spectacular." Bring on the competition: Shea 3, MSG 10, St Louis/Kansas City, Buffalo... let us see what you got.
Opening with a fervently energetic "Roulette," the E Street Band were on fire, pointing to the powerful night to come. They continued a particularly intense set of opening songs as the house-rocking "No Surrender" became Darkness deep cut "Something in the Night." With Bruce already dripping with sweat, he stood alone at center stage enshrouded by a cloak of darkness, before being illuminated by a ray of light. Wailing with the voice of a broken-hearted man, Bruce truly tore "into the guts of something in the night." Immediately following was a rarity making its second appearance of 2013: "American Skin (41 Shots)" was met by ardent screams, the audience captivated as Bruce sang about getting killed "just for living in your American Skin." Bruce didn't reference Trayvon Martin directly; he didn't need to. Concluding with Jake Clemons' saxophone, it was a very poignant performance.
After a fun and energetic "Hungry Heart," complete with crowd surfing, we got three consecutive tour debuts. "Local Hero" made its first appearance in nearly a decade, after a fan "dared" Bruce to attempt it (via sign). With a reworked dynamic, marked by the incorporation of the E Street Horns, "Local Hero" was a very welcome surprise. Even greater, though, was what followed. Smiling after the success of the first premiere, Bruce told the crowd that Stevie had personally requested a song from The Promise. As a sign revealed what was to come, the 13,000-strong crowd started to chant "Stevie, Stevie, Stevie!” much to his amusement. With that, the First Direct Arena was transported back in time, as Bruce sang "Gotta Get That Feeling" with a youthful voice and an optimistic tone, and an E Street Band sounding as fresh as if the Darkness-era song had been penned 15 minutes before. Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" followed, after Bruce collected a request sign from a Spanish fan.
Introducing an electrifying "Thundercrack," Bruce told the Arena about the bygone years of the early '70s, when the E Street Band would open for other acts, with this song as their showstopper. A guitar-shredding duo followed, with Bruce and Nils coming together for the complex guitar work of "This Depression" (its first performance of 2013) and "Because the Night." It was, quite literally, blisteringly good.
The encores began with an unequivocal tour highlight. For the first time in 13 years, and for the fans who Bruce acknowledged had followed him across Europe since the beginning of the tour all those months ago, came the return of one of the E Street Band's most unified performances. "Secret Garden" was as surreal as it was ethereal. With the Arena in pitch darkness, the only source of light was the purple illumination of the stage. While the performance of the song as a whole was goosebump-inducing, the climax came when Jake Clemons, playing the saxophone, emerged from the shadows.
The appearance of "Badlands" midway through the encores was both a great surprise and a welcome revamp. With the house lights on, melancholy beauty was replaced by a hard-rocking, "earth-shaking" vibe, the brand new arena having its limits tested by 13,000 dancing and chanting fans. After the E Street Band left the stage to enormous applause, it was time again for Bruce alone on stage, with just his acoustic guitar. As in Cardiff, we got an extra treat before the show-closing staple "Thunder Road" — not "Janey," but "If I Should Fall Behind," with Bruce almost crooning, a stunning vocal performance.
For the first time in months, the band came out to a dark stage. The roof of the stadium was closed and parts curtained off, creating an atmosphere of an arena.
The encores started with a beutiful versoin of "Tougher than the Rest", dedicated to Emily. On "Born to Run," Bruce ran across the front of the crowd, allowing even more fans to have a chance of getting their hands on the guitar than usual. "Ramrod" kept the energy going, followed by "I'm a Rocker," which even had Steve looking surprised. "Dancing in the Dark" featured some new dance moves by Bruce, and he made some fortune telling come true when he tapped a fan whose sign said "Madam Marie predicted I would dance with you." An exurberant fan was given a chance to dance with Steve, and a couple was brought up to dance with Garry, too.
"Shout" gets more fun at every show — this time, Bruce ended the song by crawling down from the main stage to the center platform on his belly. He started the last reprise on his knees. "This Litle Light of Mine" joyously closed the show as the last band song, and Kevin brought Bruce an acoustic guitar. But the surprises weren't behind us just yet: instead of what most were expecting, Bruce went into a poignant solo version of "Janey Dont Lose Heart" before his sublime rendition of "Thunder Road." A perfect ending to a magical night in Wales.
Solo acoustic pre-show:
All European audiences are great, but the Irish fans seem to have a special bond with Bruce. Maybe he knew how much this show meant to the town, because he pulled out all the stops, coming on strong again with "This Little Light of Mine" followed by "My Love Will Not Let You Down" with a line-up of E Street guitar gods across the front of the stage that got the show spun up fast. "Sherry Darling" was played by song request, with Stevie and Bruce sharing banter throughout.
The carnival — heck, the greatest show on earth — continued when Bruce held the next small sign request close to his chest, not letting the camera see; he teased the audience by saying that when he first heard this song, he thought it was the best song he'd ever heard, and he still thinks that. Then he turned the sign to reveal "Wild Thing." Girls were swooning in the audience, it was that good.
With our hearts still in our throats, Bruce sent the next request out to a friend, the rarity from Tracks, "Frankie." It might not have been a familiar hit, but it won over the audience with the words in the song "I don't know what I'm going to find, maybe nothing at all, maybe a world I can call mine" that seemed to describe the night, the show, the hopes and dreams pinned on this event, and it struck a chord with the audience who were enthusiastically participating.
The Wrecking Ball songs were well known and wildly applauded. "Jack of All Trades" was especially well received in this town that has, as Bruce mentioned, seen more than its share of hard times. With their fiddle, banjo, drums and accordion, the E Street Band would be equally at home playing in an Irish bar, but they were more than just a pack of minstrels parading through town leading the crowd to the circus tent, they seemed more like a conquering army or the cavalry arriving just in time to save the day with their drums and guitars. With the economic boom they brought to this city, maybe they were.
The entire audience at this point owes a big debt of gratitude to Derek, who as Bruce said, "has been carrying that sign around for a long time." That sign was for "The Price You Pay." The River rarity — this was its first performance in Europe since 1981 — was stunning, gorgeous, so good it brought tears to the eyes. The peak of that roller coaster was so high and the show moving so fast that we had zoomed right into "Prove it all Night" with the '78 intro practically before we knew it. While the mind was still trying to wrap around having just heard "The Price You Pay," with horns no less, it was already being stunned by that long guitar lead-in to "Prove It." It was at this moment, realizing that we had just zoomed to another peak, that we reached Springsteen concert Nirvana.
You would think that the show would end on that high note, but there were more thrills, action, and surprises to come, particularly a solo piano version of "Real World." A moving fan favorite, "Real World" actually got two airings in Cork, for those who were there in time for the three-song solo pre-show [above]. Then back-to-back "Born" songs, first "Born in the U.S.A." and then "Born to Run." They work so well like this, fever pitch excitement building on more fever pitch excitement, with Bruce showing us no mercy but diving right into "Seven Nights to Rock." Professor Roy Bittan got some schooling on how to play piano with body parts other than his fingers on this one, as Bruce jumped in to play the keys with his nose! The show ended with Bruce saying, "I want to thank you for celebrating with us the everlasting power of rock 'n' roll!" and then to the sheer delight of the crowd, he played one last song. Bruce stood alone on stage with guitar and harmonica and played the song that invited us to come along on this wild ride with him, the song that was brilliant, the song that was the best song ever heard, the song that made one cab driver in this city very happy, "Thunder Road."
Solo acoustic pre-show:
The opening brought a fine group of Irish anthems, "American Land," "Badlands," and "Death to My Hometown," during which Bruce made a lot of his Irish heritage, drinking a nice cold Irish beer and proclaiming he earned his Irish "passport." Then he retrieved from the audience a huge sign made to look like an official passport, and another that referenced his O'Hagan family roots. The song request was another "never before played, but you can't stump the E Street Band"' rarity — after a brief discussion to work out the key, they nailed The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
At ten til ten, the stage lights are up and the E Street Band takes the stage. But where is Bruce? As in Rome, we hear his voice first, asking if we feel the spirit. The crowd roars in answer, Bruce emerges, and here we see a man on a mission. Almost immediately he make sit clear that this is his crowd, and the audience again answers back by almost absorbing him into the pit as their collective rock 'n' roll saviour. "Spirit in the Night" is followed by "Badlands" and "Death to My Hometown," both energetic and intense — the audience is taken captive by the energy, pace, charisma, and indeed, the spirit.
Collecting requests, Bruce selects a stuffed teddy bear with "Jailhouse Rock" on it. You won’t stump Bruce and the E Street Band with that! The performance really confirms the "this could be one of those nights" feeling that is slowly emerging inside of me: the amazing horns get the spotlight and are allowed to show their excellence, Bruce is sounding raw and ready for a fight, and it just sounds perfect. Next request, another stuffed toy asking for "Man's Job." After checking for any other stuffed animals of any kind, Bruce chuckles, the band sets in, and Curtis King does his thing. The progress compared to the previous rendition in Mönchengladbach is remarkable; moreover, you can see and feel the sheer fun on stage.
Ben Harper joins Bruce, and together they offer us "Atlantic City." You know those shows where a special guest introduced but nothing special is added? Well, this wasn't one of those. This one, they really nailed it from the start. And although the styles and voices might differ, and their timing is not perfect timing, this Bruce/Ben team-up is impressive, sending some shivers down my spine. A real treat and a highlight.
"Wrecking Ball," "Hungry Heart," "The River"… the feeling I had earlier is slowly slipping away a bit. But during "The River" I remember a comment made by a friend of mine, referring to Emmylou Harris. He described her voice as one that on some songs can show you heaven, but on other songs can describe hell as if you were in the midst of it. On this night, all 60,000 were on their feet and jumping during "Hungry Heart," while during this "River," with this voice, all are frozen and all are thinking of what is left of their plans, ambitions, and dreams... It is remarkable that within minutes — seconds, even — some guy with a guitar can accomplish this.
"Youngstown," yes! "Murder Incorporated," yes! Especially on "Murder Inc.," Nils, Bruce and Stevie take turns on the solos, and believe me, they do it well. Did I mention already I like this horn section? Here they here again, delivering the goods. This guitar-filled two-pack is followed by Bruce asking for "more cowbell": "Darlington County" kicks in, and again Bruce is in contact with his audience.
Crowd-pleasers fill things out from there, with "Shackled and Drawn" a real stand-out for Cindy's extraordinary performance. Her vocals, her preaching... just out of this world, fantastic. "Land of Hope and Dreams" closes the regular set: again those amazing horns; again that raw, impassioned vocal; and again, shivers during the "People Get Ready" part. Up to now, it's been an energetic and tempo show. But we all know that it ain't over until it’s over. The encores can sometimes make or break a show.
And at this one, the encores do it for me.
Inspired by a letter from a woman who told him she became fan back in 1988, Bruce starts to play "Follow That Dream." And — this is breathtaking — the field is in the palm of his hand, listening intently, being convinced of the fact that if we want to find the love and peace of mind that we need, we have to follow our dreams no matter what the cost might be. Not a lot of performers have the credibility to air such a message; this man simply has.
A complete change of moods and emotions as "Born in the U.S.A." is played, into "Born to Run." On "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," Bruce drenches himself, hits Max with his sponge, delivers the song in a powerful way and lifts the spirit even higher. That prepares the crowd for the final songs, "Twist and Shout" and "Shout." Even in the back people dance and jump; this, again, is his his crowd and it looks like we can only leave when he allows us to.
Then the band says goodbye and leave the stage. Bruce is handed an acoustic guitar, and after five strong, powerful songs, the encores will end as they began, with a fragile, stunning prayer. Every note of "Thunder Road" is clear, every word sounds sincere and pure; the acoustic version is simply far more powerful, compared to the full band version. After the song ends, Bruce thanks the crowd, waves goodbye and disappears.
For me, it was a powerful show. Energetic, with strong rock songs, power and spirit. It wasn't an epic night in the end — not a continuation of the Monchengladbach/Leipzig/Rome run — but nevertheless a fantastic performance with personal highlights including "Jailhouse Rock," "Atlantic City," "Follow That Dream," and "Thunder Road."
After three full days off in Roma, the two fabulous sets delivered in Germany still echoing, the E Street Band took the stage at 8:50 pm, and it was instantly clear that the gentleman from New Jersey had something up his sleeve. His buddy Nils Lofgren had already promised through his Facebook status that they were "working on Rome surprises," advising of an "epic night ahead." (Nils, incidentally, is the only one who had played this venue before — Le Capannelle, a hippodrome located in the northeast of the city — 31 years ago with Neil Young during his Trans tour. Young will perform here with Crazy Horse in less than two weeks.) It's not that "Spirit in the Night" is at all a rarity — during this 2012/2013 tour it has been frequently played — but as an opener, it immediately establishes a level of intimacy and soul power at the same that it makes you expect the unpredictable.
As strong as the pair "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and "Badlands" might be, it's songs four and five that throw sparks and give you shivers, because of the connection between "Death to My Hometown" and "Roulette." Almost 35 years separate the writing of the two songs, but both lyrics talk about destruction, fear, crimes, homes unguarded, spiritual and physical robbery. No matter where you place it, the character is in danger, he has "a song to sing" and has to sing it "hard" and "well." Even in nights when the Wrecking Ball album seems to evaporate a bit, "Death to My Hometown" stays strongly and beautifully in the sets, evoking the sound of the bagpipes and delivering, intact, the anger that pervades that stunning collection of songs released a year ago. Ireland really seems around the corner (and many of us are ready to go to that beautiful country for another handful of shows before the Legendary E Street Band returns home). Then, so soon after Leipzig, the hard-edged, astonishing "Roulette" makes the set again and brings back some of that Tunnel of Love Tour flavor that some of us missed so far. Springsteen sang it hard and sang it well, meaning every single word as if it were his first delivery of this song about the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Along with "Lucky Town," which follows — and reaffirms that its author has suddenly opened up the box containing memories of 1992 — "Roulette" provides a powerful, guitar-driven segment that precedes an incredible request-fest.
When Bruce starts staring at the many signs held forth among thousands of arms, the first titles that he reaches for are "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," "Summertime Blues," and "Stand on It." While the first one doesn't make the show, the other two work very well together. The rockabilly flavor of the Eddie Cochran classic is perfect as a bridge to "Stand on It," which in 1985 backed the "Glory Days" single and was an evident tribute from Bruce to that rock 'n' roll era — especially to Jerry Lee Lewi's "killer" piano style. A request from "Gaia and Andrea" to celebrate their wedding anniversary, "Stand on It" is delivered with a sonorous horn section: first Jake Clemons, then Curt Ramm and Clark Gayton take solos before the rest of the quintet explode like we're in a crowded 1940s ballroom.
"Brilliant Disguise" is another very welcome request; among the many veterans, you can spot in the crowd generations of new fans, from Tunnel, from the early '90s albums to the hits from the Y2K and so on). After that, we all jump into a rocket ship that flies us to another planet and comes back 45 minutes later.
In days of "full album" shows, Bruce picks the four longest songs from his second record — more than a "half album" — and makes our day. No one from this planet could have predicted a sequence of "Kitty's Back" immediately followed by the complete side two of The Wild the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Since Bruce never announced it, each song as it comes is more astounding than the one before: "Incident on 57th Street," into "Rosalita," into — yes, finally! — "New York City Serenade." The Wild & Innocent closing track was, before tonight, surely among the wildest dreams of every soul attending the show. After being put to rest by Springsteen in 1978, it was only played ten times since 1999, and only in the U.S. This stunning, long-awaited European debut is enriched by the Roma Sinfonietta, a string section directed by Leandro Piccioni, a group of musicians whose collaborations rank from Michael Nyman to Quincy Jones, and from Roger Waters to, last but not least, Ennio Morricone, whose C'era una volta il west (Once Upon a Time in the West) serves as the walk-in and walk-out music for this incredible night at Le Capannelle.
We could have gone home at this point, right after we heard, live, side two of one of the most beautiful and most underrated pop albums of all time, and our hearts would've exploded anyway. But Bruce Springsteen is special, we all know, even if we are always ready to complain about track lists and career moves (I do, all the times, as do many of my buddies); his blend of passion, sincerity, energy, fun makes him, at 63, the best performer in the world and his show the place to be, every night, and the next one.
From "Shackled and Drawn" (Cindy Mizelle's contribution and her interplay a là Merry Clayton makes me think of this as the "Gimme Shelter" of our times) to the very last note of the acoustic, intense "Thunder Road," Bruce manages to turn what may look like a regular show ending into a triumph. He completes his half-Born to Run (can we say that two "half-albums" in this case are better than one?) and giving us the best long coda possible to "Twist and Shout": a full rendition of "Shout" that literally puts everybody in the house on his or her knees.
When at the end of the back-to-back Isley Brothers songs an exausted Bruce Springsteen shouts into the microphone, "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll," I see a small group of 14-15 year old girls smiling at each other while somebody takes a picture of them. They want that guy in the picture with them, they make sure he is on the big screen behind them. They might not know what rock 'n' roll really means and where it came from, but they trust him.
Max started with the drumbeat, and the band ripped through a powerful version of the soundchecked "Roulette." Another song from the soundcheck followed, "Lucky Town," and what a great version it was of yet another lost track from '92. Bruce's guitar solo was simply awesome, and the confidence the band showed here was just amazing for such a rarely played song. "Badlands" and "Death to My Hometown" followed before Bruce went for the request signs. He collected much more than he played (one for "Mountain of Love" remained on the stage floor). First was a summer song, "Sherry Darling," an obvious choice considering the beautiful weather conditions of the day. Jake took the first sax solo and Eddie the second one, while Bruce and Steve were having fun on the auxiliary stage in the pit.
The next request granted was a third tour debut, "You Never Can Tell." Bruce mentioned that they hadn't played it since the early days (probably forgetting the two versions in 2009). He and Steve discussed the right key, and Kevin brought a different guitar with a capo for Bruce, who was humming to teach the horns their part. The audience joined in, which led to an unusual and funny introduction for the old Chuck Berry tune. All the horn players got their chance to shine with solos in a long version with a reprise.
Next was a fantastic version of "Back in Your Arms," overflowing with emotion. Bruce started with his sermon about the need to beg and plead for a second chance once you fucked it up, getting down on his knees himself. His soulful singing on this prized rarity was one of the highlights of the concert. For "Hungry Heart" (anyone ever thought that both songs could be about the same person?) he downed another German beer (which makes me think he has to play that both nights in Kilkenny). Introducing "Spirit," Bruce noted that the band has been on tour for two years and that they don't know anything else to do with their lives.
"Wrecking Ball" was followed by "We Take Care of Our Own," which made for an interesting reversal of order of the three main tracks from Wrecking Ball. Steve shone with his guitar solo in a hard-hitting version of "Murder incorporated." Bruce did the same at the end of "Human Touch," another track from '92 (with the again-soundchecked "Local Hero" still waiting for its debut) with Soozie Tyrell stepping right up. "Open All Night" made a very welcome return, with the "30 seconds from now the asses of all Leipzigians [sic!] will tell their minds that they need to be shaken" routine. And shake they did: the video screen behind the stage soon showed an enthusiastic woman in an orange shirt doing especially good dance moves. Due to her angle, she couldn't see her close-up on the big screen, but Bruce kept pointing to her image, clearly getting a huge kick, and she just kept going. It was a great moment of indirect crowd interaction. Another car song followed, the boogieing turning into jumping while Bruce enjoyed another visit to the little pit stage for "Cadillac Ranch."
The main set closed with a strong "Land of Hope and Dreams" and a hard rocking "Light of Day," which included an extra-long guitar solo by Steve and some "Land of 1,000 Dances" sing-along. After the band stood in line to receive their well deserved applause, Bruce gave a short speech remembering their appearance in East Berlin in 1988 (which, due to a new book about the effect this concert might have had on the coming down of the Berlin Wall along with a German TV special about that concert and a partial rebroadcast of it, seems to be on a lot of people's minds more than ever). Springsteen also mentioned that that concert remains their biggest crowd ever on one day; although the actual number is lost to history, speculations mention figures between 100,000 and 300,000. "Born in the U.S.A.," although a regular in the encore, was a special one for this occasion as a song that meant a great deal to the East Berlin crowd 25 years ago.
After Tenth Avenue," the John Fogerty classic "Rockin' All Over the World" made its third appearance on this year's tour, all at German shows. Bruce's fans in Germany were treated to four exceptional shows in 2013 (although one might mostly be remembered for its horrible weather conditions), an unbelievable variety of songs from all periods of his career, combined with strong and playful performances, featuring all ranges of emotions. As a farewell, the mighty E Street Band took their bows, and Bruce ended the three-hour show with a beautiful acoustic version of "Thunder Road."
July 5 / Borussia Park / Mönchengladbach, GERMANY
For the old rock 'n' roll classic there was some discussion with Stevie about the correct key: "G flat?! We never play in fucking G flat! Oh hell, let's go to G." But the horns slipped in like they'd been playing it forever, and the performance was a very strong one — one of the best "stump the E Street Band" moments there's been. A magnificent noise with plenty of horn solos: first trumpet by Curt Ramm, then trombone by Clark Gayton, then both saxes together, and then everybody.
Bruce still wanted more requests and said he'd seen one for "One Way Street," a song that has only been performed a couple times, and never at a regular E Street Band concert. Mentioning that the The Promise is one of Stevie's favorite albums, Bruce dedicated the surprisingly confident and strong performance: "One Way Street for Steve van Zandt." Eddie took the first solo, rich and mellifluous. And Roy played gloriously. Why is this song played so rarely? What a great opening to a show.
But the surprises kept coming. "We're going to play it loose tonight," said Bruce. "I don't know what we'll play. Here [pointing to a sign], we'll play that! Get the fiddle... this is how we should do it in the nightclubs... I got ten euro on the E Street band [to get it right]." And with that we got a rare and fun airing of "Mary's Place," which sounded fresh and vital with "real" horns. "Good, good, good... I wasn't sure we'd get through that!"
After "Death to My Hometown," Bruce pointed to a sign and conferred with Steve, having the band start with "Point Blank" while he went down to the audience to collect it. Garry and Roy began playing "Point Blank," with Steve playing beautiful guitar (the intro went around a second time as Bruce was watering himself). The "one false move" refrain was repeated several times in a wonderful version of the song, with a truly passionate and committed vocal from Bruce. "Trapped," up next, was highly appreciated, too — there were at least three signs for that one. (The prize for the funniest sign of the day goes to the guy who promised to have a great erection if the band would play "Protection.")
After what has recently become a bit of a rarity, "The Promised Land," a lengthy "Hungry Heart" got everyone in the stadium out of their seats. Bruce called for some of "that German beer," dutifully delivered to him by a fan in the front, which he chugged and emptied completely as he did in Hannover. "Feeling good," he said, "I'm high as a kite!"
One of the biggest surprises on a night with lots of rare songs was "Man's Job," which had soundchecked in the afternoon along withwith "Local Hero." Springsteen bought "Curtis 'Bootyman' King!" to the front to take the Sam Moore/Bobby King role in the song. Bruce mentioned that some girls asked him to do this underrated Human Touch cut; the version was great and got an extra reprise. Cindy and Michelle came downstage to join Curtis on the closing vocal rounds, too, and it was great to see this get the full E Street treatment.
By now this had become an utterly compelling show, with excitement all the time as there was no way of anticipating what would happen next. Roy played an absolutely beautiful intro to "Because the Night," "Candy's Room" further stoked memories of the '78 radio broadcasts, and then, bang, they go straight into "She's the One." Just awesome. Bruce is standing on the piano, singing to the vocalists... so loose and in wonderful form, caught without his harmonica and taking the solo on guitar instead.
"Leap of Faith" had no request sign but seemed to be an audible as well: "Follow me!" he hollered to the band. This version worked better than the ones in Scandinavia at the beginning of the leg. Can you imagine a set where "Rosalita" follows "Leap of Faith"? Well, we got that in Mönchengladbach. "Rosie" was very loose — that really is the watchword for this night — with Bruce playing out of his skin, pulling three female Little Steven-lookalikes up on to the stage at the end. "Work it girls, work it! The Little Stevens, ladies and gentlemen, Germany's own Little Stevens!" After "Shackled and Drawn" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" grounded things a bit, Jay Weinberg replaced his father for one song on the drum stool, "Radio Nowhere." Max was back for the main-set-closing "Thunder Road," ending with the horns spread out across the front of the stage.
Michelle Moore was back at the front for a welcome return of "Rocky Ground" — sadly long neglected, the track got its first performance of 2013. Long may it remain in the encores. For "Dancing in the Dark" there were three girls on stage, one in a rabbit costume! Kevin Buell had to hand all of the them a guitar so that they could join Bruce. Before that Bruce had pulled a sign from a self-proclaimed "chubby" girl who wanted to dance with Bruce. Wish granted!
By "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," Springsteen had pulled off his vest and shirt to do the rest of the show in a white T-shirt, soaked from the sponge. To finish off this remarkable show he did neither "Twist and Shout" nor "American Land" but "Rockin' All Over the World" (no sign request seen for this one) with a complete band introduction. So: nine requests, three tour debuts, three songs from '92, 16 different songs from the show before... those are the bare statistics. Add to that Bruce's loose and playful mood, and it is hard not to describe this show as a very speical one.
Geneva was Bruce and the band's first trip to "La Suisse Romande," the part of Switzerland that is predominantly French speaking, and culturally quite different to the German speaking part of the country. The morning's weather had been horrible, with thick cloud and heavy rain across most of Switzerland, but as the afternoon progressed the threatening clouds began to part, and by doors at 4pm it was getting bright. At 7:40, with the sun still not set, Steven led the band onstage, with Bruce appearing last, carrying an acoustic. "Bonsoir mes amis - Ca va!" And with that we got the "yeah, yeah" intro to "Shackled and Drawn," getting the crowd into voice immediately, Cindy intoning the poeple to stand up and be counted. "Bonsoir, bonsoir," Bruce repeated and went straight into "Badlands." Steven's singing was way up front on this and beautiful to hear.
Unusually, song three was "Death to My Hometown," and it was quite refreshed being heard slightly out of order, as we are so used to hearing it after "Wrecking Ball." This latter not being played at all was a further surprise, and Bruce went straight into the sign collection, swimming through a veritable sea of requests for songs from every conceivable part of his career. He grabbed quite a few signs for favorites and rarities; in place of the setlisted "Seeds," he chose to begin this section of the show with Out in the Street," leaping into the front row, running down the gangways, shaking hands and giving his plectrum to an absolutely ecstatic young girl. Next song up, Bruce showed a small white T-shirt emblazoned with "Hungry Heart."
As the requests continued, Bruce picked up a sign with "TV Movie" on one side and "Savin' Up" on the other. He seemed to consider it, then, giving Kevin a look and gesture of ambivalence, he dropped it and picked up a sign for "Candy's Room." Bruce's guitar work was glorious and the song most definitely the right choice at this point. The band segued seamlessly into "She's the One," Bruce guiding Jake through a terrific solo. With Roy playing beautifully this song became a real tour de force. "I'm a gunslinger!" cried Bruce.
Then he pointed to Roy, who began an exquisite intro to "Because the Night." Bruce sang with deep passion, and Nils was simply majestic, whirling and playing extraordinary guitar, squealing out notes that reach down and make your back tingle. Max was totally focused on Nils, smiling, joyful, banging his drums like it was the first time he'd played this song — a real highlight. Nils also had the marking "AZ19" in large writing on the back of his right hand.
Then there was a short pause as they began the rather overlong "Spirit in the Night." Bruce did find time to make another child deleriously happy by digging out another plectrum for her. And then the rain started softly to fall, as Bruce sat on the pit barrier, leaning back into the crowd, singing "Goodbye."
Acknowledging his dedicated fans — more like "stalkers" — Bruce held up a sign for "Frankie." "A very obscure song," he said, "we'll try it." His guitar work was haunting and delicate. By now it had become clear that tonight was not an album show but rather a "regular" concert, if a Springsteen show can ever be described as "regular." And it is becuse of moments like this that I prefer the regular shows to album shows, as they hold so much more space for possibility and creativity. "Frankie" was quite simply beautiful, a joy.
"The River" was perfect, seeping out through the gently falling rain. The pairing of "Youngstown" and "Murder Incorporated" was riveting in its intensity. There was fantastic, frenetic fretwork by Nils on "Youngstown," and then Bruce and Steve played sensationally off each other on "Murder Inc.," playing powerful, angry, incendiary rock 'n' roll. "Darlington County" led into a fun trio of tracks from Born in the U.S.A., Bruce hamming it up to the cameras as the heavier rain cascaded down his face and kissing Nils on the cheek as he tried to sing. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" was played at just the right time, as the rain eased off and the clouds began to part again. The main set closed with a passionate "Land of Hope and Dreams," dedicated to Nelson Mandela. It was a powerful performance.
The first encore had Bruce seek out a sign, which he read: "Give Max's arms a rest, play 'The Promise' for my 100th show." "That demands some respect," said Bruce, who sat down at Roy's piano to go it alone. Although he played some bum notes, he seemed to compensate for the errors with a deeply committed vocal. It was a thing of mighty beauty.
The encores continued with "Born in the U.S.A." and "Born to Run," lifting even the most recalcitrant Swiss-ass off its seat. Wrapping up with a return of the solo acoustic "Thunder Road," this was a rich and fun and utterly enjoyable concert for all fans, from those who see just the one show to the those of us who have been happily on this train for more than 30 years.
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" made the setlist, with Zac Brown joining in on guitar and backing vocals, and the video tribute played as expected. Surprisingly, the concert ended without any reference to last year's debacle — including the surprising absence of the seemingly obvious "Twist and Shout," Bruce opting for a much different set for his 2013 show, beginning with the opening "Shackled and Drawn."
Although the album portion was a repeat from the prior night's show in Paris, it was Bruce's prior English performances on his mind: he spoke of the band's appearances at London’s Wembley Stadium two weeks ago ("it was really sweet") and in Coventry, where the Darkness and Born to Run albums came out, and "so, tonight, for you, Born in the U.S.A.!”
While the choice of album was tailor-made for the festival crowd, performing at the festival itself presented a bit of a challenge to Bruce, who did not have his usual mass of stage ramps available to reach the crowd. A platform did extend out from center stage, but it was unusually small, leading to some humorous concern when Stevie was joining Bruce at the microphone for "Glory Days." Bruce told Steve, "Whatever you do, don’t move!" and the usual "Oh yeah" response to "Alright!" changed to "Oh shit!” Instead of pulling fans from the crowd for "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce brought his mother on from the side of the stage for a dance, and he had his sister play guitar and join him for the "hey baby!" portion of the song at the microphone.
Unique to tonight’s show was a three-song run of material from the Nebraska album early in the set, including sign requests for "Johnny 99" and the rare "Reason to Believe," in its full-band, blues-boogie arrangement. Alas, the band was out of sync for most of the latter and seemed to have difficulty following Bruce as he sang the verses and blasted out his harmonica parts. Playing a show consecutive nights in different cities seemed to wear on Bruce and the band. Tellingly, mistakes were made on the most familiar and basic of material including "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and "Born to Run," and Bruce's voice seemed grew hoarse in spots as the night went on.
Even on a night when Bruce and the band's delivery was not quite up to their typical high standards, they remain capable of magic, was evidenced in by Bruce's audible choice to start the encore: "Jungleland." In a rare spoken introduction to the song, Bruce noted: "This is a song we do once in a while. I guess, when I wrote this, it contained everything I knew about life up until then, and I still find things in it, way this far down the road. I guess, this was my great story about rock 'n' roll and the hand life deals to us in general." Despite being performed to a festival crowd standing in the middle of a large field, who were hot and sunburnt and possibly thinking about beating the traffic, the audience regained its focus almost immediately as the band executed an emotional performance of the track, providing the fans with a powerful memory to take back home with them.
Around 6pm, some acoustic guitar strumming came from the speakers, and Bruce walked out onto the stage, sunglasses on and acoustic guitar in hand. The stands were completely empty and the floor about half full. With a "Bon soir, Paris!" he launched into a hearty version of "This Hard Land," visibly enjoying the fans in the pit singing the song back to him, stepping back from the microphone just a bit for the final, "Stay hard! Stay hungry! Stay alive!" to let the audience's very loud voice take precedence.
Saying, "Let's see what we got out there," Bruce strode down from the microphone and onto the center platform, as what seemed like hundreds of signs magically popped up from the audience. Grabbing one from the center, he strode back to the mic and turned it to face the crowd: "Burning Love," complete with magic marker flames adorning the letters. Continuing on acoustic, Bruce vamped his way through the song, complete with Elvis intonation, leg-shake and shoulder shrug, grinning from ear to ear the entire time. And then, finally, with a "Let me play something I know," an exuberant "Growin' Up" finished the preset.
The main set began in strong form with "Badlands" and "Out in the Street." At the end of the latter number, Bruce returned from stage right carrying a small cardboard sign: "I think someone's trying to stump the band," he noted, holding up the request for "Lucille" by Little Richard. There was some quick consultation around the stage as Steve and Garry conferred on chords, and in the end this was a perfect vehicle for the E Street Horns, who turned in a perfect rendition of the legendary riff that powers the song.
"Wrecking Ball" went into "Death to My Hometown," followed by another sign grab from center stage for "Cadillac Ranch." Bruce threw the solo over to Stevie and was so pleased by the results that he spurred him on to four different attacks on the guitar. The veteran members of the band were all beaming by the end.
"Spirit in the Night" began with a short story: "There I was, at night in Paris... at the Eiffel Tower... with my mother..." Bruce fell to his knees and sang the first couple of lines in falsetto before returning to full voice for the rest of the song. After a lengthy journey back and forth to all ends of the stage, he returned to the center mic and, in French, announced that tonight they would be playing something special for the people of Paris — the Born in the U.S.A. album in its entirety.
It was an above-average performance of the album: Max turning in a fantastic, expressive solo at the end of the title track; a "Cover Me" solo from Nils that was only missing a trampoline somersault; a picture-perfect rendition of "Downbound Train"; Steve trying to get the crowd to clap along at the start of "No Surrender" only to give up when they ignored him in favor of the jumping up and down they were already doing; and the best, Bruce bringing Nils down to a side platform for the now-traditional "Darlington County" duet. Bruce seemed to physically drag Nils into the crowd with him, causing Nils to return to center stage doing the "koo-koo" sign with his finger alongside his head in the direction of Steve and Garry.
After the usual bows from the band members who played on the album, it was time to get down to business. Removing many of the usual encore or main set staples from the set can present an opportunity for creativity, or, instead, lead to a safe and already-traveled route. Tonight in Paris was the latter. The now epic-length "Pay Me My Money Down" had the E Street Horns once again as the center of attention, only to be upstaged by a washboard-and-spoon solo from Everett Bradley on the center platform. A shortened "Shackled and Drawn" lacked oomph, even with the various dance routines performed by the company at the end. And the final trio of "Sunny Day," "The Rising," and "Land of Hope and Dreams" were performed competently and energetically enough, but without the crisp sparkle that would take them to the next level, and just made the set seem lacking.
For the encore, Bruce returned with an acoustic guitar and noted that there are "thousands of musicians who we studied and were inspired by, who we can never repay except by playing our best for you. The voices of the dead always inform the lives of the living..." and with that dedication, began "We Are Alive."
Houselights up, and if this is Paris, that second mic must be for Elliot Murphy, which it certainly was, along with his son Gaspard, joining the band for "Born to Run." "What time is it, Stevie?" kicked off a delightful and most welcome "Ramrod," complete with Bruce doing the swim in between lines, before Boss Time arrived with a crunchy, textured solo. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and then "American Land" would close the show out, the band bowing at the front of the stage, only for Bruce to return with acoustic guitar and harmonica for the beautiful version of "Thunder Road" he has taken to closing many of the recent European shows with.
Request signs were more than plentiful, and Bruce selected several early in the show, including another outing for the underrated "Better Days," making full use of the singers and horns on one of the best songs from his 1992 albums. It was immediately followed by "Ain't Good Enough For You," from the extremely underplayed The Promise album. Bruce held the sign up to the band, asking the crowd, "Do they know it?" To his surprise and delight, not only did the band know it, but the crowd's participation was immediate and enthusiastic, prompting Bruce to do a double-take at Steve and Garry as the song started.
A third sign was retrieved from the pile at the foot of Bruce's microphone stand and resulted in the tour premiere of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band." The band's performance was, as expected, quite good, but putting the song at this point in the show was perhaps one of Bruce's few missteps this night; he would have been better suited saving this request for the encore.
"Jack of All Trades" had a welcome return in Spain, a country challenged by high unemployment and an economic crisis. Bruce introduced the song in Spanish, referencing the hard times in America as well as the hard times in Spain and Gijon, particularly. "The River" followed, a masterful thematic pairing of a new song with a beloved classic. The crowd again shone when Bruce held out his mic during the first verse, and Bruce's falsetto was strong on the ending. He followed with a powerful "Atlantic City" — an excellent performance. Bruce silenced the crowd and delivered the final verse, about doing a little favor, in a whisper.
"Drive All Night" had its first airing of 2013 and was the unquestioned emotional peak of the show, with a passionate vocal delivery from Bruce, aided by Steve Van Zandt's trademark harmony vocals. Jake Clemons delivered one of his finest performances of the entire tour, with two hair-raising solos.
Steve was particularly animated in this show in Gijon, showing off not only his voice on "Drive All Night" but also his guitar skills on the audible (at his request) "Light of Day," and his role as Bruce's comic foil during a mid-set "Rosalita" and a rare "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)." And lest he be forgotten, Nils Lofgren not only delivered his crowd-pleasing solo at the end of "Because the Night," but he also featured during the song's extended introduction. In a rare instance of true improvisation on the E Street stage, Bruce and Nils faced each other at center stage, exchanging atmospheric guitar lines as Roy vamped beneath them, building anticipation for the first verse in a manner not dissimilar to what the "'78 intro" of "Prove It All Night" brings to the show.
In the encore, the crowd naturally went wild for "Seven Nights to Rock," and Bruce had great fun with the crowd, feigning fatigue, saying "no mas, no mas," and then "uno mas!" as he led the band into yet another chorus of “Twist and Shout." Things seemed significantly fresher when Bruce also treated the crowd to his newest cover, a horn-highlighted version of the Isley Brothers' "Shout."
Bruce seemed ready to follow the band off the stage but instead came back with his acoustic guitar for one last song. He spoke to the crowd, recalling a prior visit to Gijon with his wife and daughter; he talked of receiving a letter from the city's mayor encouraging him to return and play a show there.
Although Bruce had skipped logical choice "Rocky Ground," which was on his planned setlist, he still clearly wanted to finish his thoughts regarding the economic crisis affecting Spain before leaving. He told the crowd, "I know times have been very hard in Spain, and I appreciate you coming out and seeing us tonight, it means a great deal." Bruce continued, "We'll do this for you wishing you better times," as he started the audience sing-along that was "Thunder Road."
Opening with a haunting rendition of "The Ghost of Tom Joad," re-worked and masterfully crafted, Bruce sang a song of anger with an air of reflection. Keeping the theme of Wrecking Ball alive, as Bruce sang about the "shelter line stretchin' round the corner" in a world crippled by financial despair, the song resonated deeply with the crowd and fitted perfectly amongst the Dutch wind and rain. Once the band joined Bruce onstage, "Land of Hope and Dreams" injected hope into the performance and provided a perfect contrast with the song before it.
"Sherry Darling," one of Bruce's favorite summer songs, was a request for this first concert of the official season. With the night progressing amidst frenzied dancing, hard rocking, and earth shaking E Street prowess, a real surprise came with another sign request, for Tracks' "So Young and in Love." Bruce reminded the band of the "hard" bridge before promptly jumping into a performance which brought out the best of the E Street Choir's vocal abilities.
"The River" was especially poignant, with Bruce delivering a falsetto so beautiful that the 60,000-strong crowd stood in silence, completely rapt. Springsteen clearly relished the opportunity to perform to such a responsive crowd, as closing the song he did so with a radiant smile.
A full performance of Darkness on the Edge of Town followed, creating a beautiful moment when, during Roy Bittan's distinguished piano solo (one of the greatest feats of the E Street Band), the sun broke through the clouds for the first and only time of the evening. It was a perfect metaphor for the 1978 classic, with sunlight streaming through the grey skies. The great Nils Lofgren provided a blistering solo during "Prove It All Night," spinning and dancing with his guitar in a way no one else can, before Darkness ended.
"Pay Me My Money Down" then established the theme for the rest of the night, which became, in Bruce's words, "a dance party!" A Rising double feature preceded the close of the main set, with "Lonesome Day" into "The Rising" feeling surprisingly fresh and matching the hard-rocking tone of the crowd. The encores maintained that energy, opening with "Born in the U.S.A." before the rain returned... setting Bruce alight with even more energy.
"It's not raining hard enough! It’s not raining hard enough!" Bruce shouted to the crowd, as "Tenth-Avenue Freeze-out" ended amidst the beginnings of a true storm. The concert began to reach its climax as heavy rain drenched the crowd, making us almost indistinguishable from sweat-soaked Springsteen. "Twist and Shout," combined with heavy rain and a giddy E Street Band, invoked dancing from the first row to the last, and just like in Glasgow, that merged into the the Isley Brothers' 1959 hit, "Shout." Bruce and the E Street Band delivered the 54-year-old song with such energy and enthusiasm that the 34-song concert ended with a crowd chanting "One more song! One more song!"... which a cheerful Bruce laughed at before promptly and finally escaping the rain.
It's actors like Gandolfini that give New Jersey its global identity, and through those cinematic strains of "Backstreets," "Meeting Across the River," and "Jungleland," the sort of characters he created will always live on. Needless to say, the performance of the album was out-of-this-world spectacular: intense, massive, note-perfect and a totally immersive experience. I can't pick a highlight.
Either side of Born to Run, there was a strong Seeger Sessions current running through the Coventry show, from the reworked, beat-poet take on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," via "Pay Me My Money Down" to the "American Land" closer. Perhaps it was this that made the four songs from Wrecking Ball sound even more drenched in this folksy, country stomp than usual? And the influence of the Sessions band was felt in other less-obvious places, too — Soozie's fiddle on "Long Time Comin'," and the backing harmonies that bolstered "Long Walk Home" (not forgetting this song was premiered on the Sessions Tour long before it turned up on Magic).
It was a show with a big heart. Bruce and Stevie were inseparable for most of the first third — collecting a sign that read "PLAY ANYTHING," they ripped into "Two Hearts," sharing the mic like 15-year old brothers in a garage band who could only afford one between the two of them. "Trapped" was another request, with Jake truly conveying the depth and soul that Clarence could with that wide-open solo. It was a good warm-up for the Big Solo later that night.
There were so many heartfelt moments with the crowd, too: "Long Time Comin'" was played for the parents of a newborn baby, and Bruce brought a young boy up on stage to request "The River," giving him the harmonica at the end. It wasn't all so earnest, though. A sign asking Bruce for a "man hug" was granted during "Hungry Heart," as was one reading "I'd look good playing your guitar" (she did look good, but not as good as Bruce, obviously). Of all the requests, "Long Time Comin'" was perhaps the most special — it sounded glorious given the full E Street treatment for the first time.
Bruce sang with such refreshing strength, almost as though Glasgow was the first show of tour. By the third song he had already thrown away the setlist for sign requests, and with the band rocking "Jole Blon" and the crowd swaying, Clarence’s fun-loving spirit was very much alive.
The show progressed through more requests, a blistering guitar duel between Stevie and Bruce during "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and more hard rocking staples, before a surprise awaited the captivated audience (and, it seemed, the E Street Band, too). With his back to the crowd, Bruce shouted to the band, and with that, "My City of Ruins" made its return.
The song had been out of the set since Australia. Now, Bruce stood alone again in the deserted area of the stage where once Clarence and Danny played, speaking about the transformation of "My City of Ruins" from the soundtrack of his "adopted hometown" of Asbury Park, to a song which epitomizes what it means to have lost someone ("a brother, a sister, a father, a mother, a friend...") but to have them walk alongside you. Chanting "when the change was made uptown," on stage was a man who missed his best friend dearly, but who could allow that emotion to manifest itself into musical energy. Bruce then asked the question "Are we missing anybody?" again, and again, while the audience worked up their response to deafening proportions.
With the concert powering into the warm summer’s night, Curtis King put the "booty-shaking" into E Street by playing percussion through the bouncing of his "booty" up and down, which Bruce found as entertaining as the audience, shouting, "They always love to surprise me!" As more E Street promises were fulfilled, "sexual organs" were "stimulated" by "I'm on Fire," which had the crowd chanting and women panting. "Tougher Than the Rest," another request, kept the slow-burn going before they busted things wide open.
With people still seated in the stands after "Murder Incorporated" and "Johnny 99," Bruce shouted that he "hadnt done his job" yet; he declared that "within 30 seconds" people’s asses would "send a message to their brain" to get up and dancing. The riff of "Open All Night" transformed the concert into a party, something which the "man with a PhD in saxual healing" would have loved.
The main set closed with "Land of Hope and Dreams," the ultimate song about the journey from this life into the next. Jake came down to the front of the stage and played Clarence’s solo; with tears in many of our eyes we looked on, as something greater than life unfolded on stage before us. When Jake returned to the horn section he raised his sax to the sky, pounded his chest and looked upwards...the Big Man was there.
The encores began with a bang with “Born to Run" and kept the energy up with "Rosalita." "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," a must on this night if any, was only the mid-point. After that story of the band, "Twist and Shout” had everyone from the stage, to the pit, to the stands way up high dancing and singing. As the song grew ever more climactically towards its conclusion, Bruce looked at Stevie and shouted "Steve! Steve! This crowd... this crowd... this crowd... they make me wanna... SHOUT!" The Isley Brothers' classic followed, Bruce joking that he’s "sixty-fucking-three years old" and on the way to "having a heart attack" as the concert ended amid a dancing frenzy.
That was, until Bruce took an acoustic guitar and harmonica, returned to the empty stage and, dripping with sweat and water, played “Thunder Road” to end a near three-hour-and-thirty-minute marathon.
Of course Saturday's concert was highly anticipated as would be any big European show, but the consensus among fans was that this would be a "Night 1" show with Born in the U.S.A. played start to finish. Instead we got a Night 1.5 show with Darkness. Not a setlist that jumps off the page, but one that was executed spectacularly and once again proves that the quality of a concert cannot be measured by setlist alone. And this one was all Bruce and E Street — no guests, no covers ("Twist and Shout" and "Pay Me My Money Down" notwithstanding, but those have become part of the family), just 31 songs and three-plus hours of rocking.
The show was hot out of the gates — a pack including "Jackson Cage," "This Hard Land," and "Lost in the Flood" makes for a pretty strong start, and we even got "Save My Love" from The Promise, giving Stevie some satisfaction. But the British crowd was, as the saying goes, keeping calm. I have to say that "Land of Hope and Dreams" is challenging as a show opener, given that ten-minute mid-tempo songs don't typically get a crowd fired up. The even-stranger-in-the-opening-run "Rosalita" brought more of the crowd to life, but it really wasn't until "Wrecking Ball" that people really got moving and singing, and from then on it felt more like a proper Saturday night. Either it's a testament to Bruce's longevity and relevance that a song from the last few years was received better than the older songs, or that it takes exactly eight songs for the Carlsbergs to kick in. We'll go with the first one.
About an hour into the show came the aforementioned "choose your own adventure" moment of Darkness vs. requests. Clearly Darkness won out, but I still can't help but wonder what would have happened in the other option. The album was played masterfully as expected, with particular props to Roy on "Racing in the Street," who one-upped himself yet again on the killer piano work. The vocals were very strong tonight — especially on "Something in the Night" and "Streets of Fire." Unfortunately, the sound at Wembley was pretty weak, and Nils' dental masterwork on "Prove It All Night" got lost in the mix... but at least it looked cool.
After a well-deserved ovation, the much-maligned-by-the-hardcores "rest of the show" kicked in, running through the hits, the fan favorites, and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." But no matter how many times they're played, it's always joyous to hear a stadium full of fans singing along to songs that have defined parts of our lives — and even better being around the first-timers who have been dying to hear "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" in concert for years. And really, it never gets old to watch Bruce get forced into doing the ridiculous boogaloo by a frenzied woman from the crowd.
The last three songs were particularly meaningful, all for different reasons. The new treatment of the "Tenth Avenue" video (no more pause — it plays during the last verse) rightfully connects the imagery of Danny and Clarence with the ongoing spirit of the band. "Twist and Shout" recalled fond and crazy memories of the Hyde Park fiasco of 2012. And then there was "Thunder Road." The band leaves the stage, Bruce comes back, says a few words, then leads a stadium-sized crowd in a bar room-style sing-along. We can speculate all day long what it means or doesn't mean about the future of the band or the tour, but none of that matters in the moment. And it was a heck of a moment; I speak for myself in saying it's a top five experience in all of the shows I've seen.
With Wembley done, the fortunate Londoners get another show in a few weeks. It'll be tough to top this one, but we've said that a few times before and seen what happened.
Beginning as these shows often have with the strains of Ennio Morricone over the PA, the first emotional highlight appeared before the band played a single note: a wonderful display of the Italian colors in the pit and on the big stand opposite the stage formed the words "Our Love Is Real" and "NYCS." After that, the first two songs — "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "My Love Will Not Let You Down" — took on even deeper meaning for the occasion.
So after such a powerful start, how do you build it from there? First a crowd-pleaser to engage the notoriously vocal audience in more singing: "Out in the Street." Then some sign collection, with two songs that made it feel like the encores already: "American Land" and the E Street Band premiere of
After two Wrecking Ball songs came "Atlantic Ciy" and a beautiful version of "The River" on which Bruce let the audience sing along after the song's initial ending, picking up the harmonica again and letting the band build it back up to finish. After that Bruce gave a short but heartfelt and poignant speech in Italian about their five appearances at this famous stadium, particularly remembering their first performance here in 1985. To honor that occasion he announced that they would play the entire Born in the U.S.A. album in sequence, which was greeted by rapturous applause from the audience.
The album performance was highlighted by some extended intros (particularly notable on "I'm Goin' Down") and codas, a great solo by Nils on "Cover Me" (spinning and playing with his teeth), full stadium lights up for "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing in the Dark." Quite a few dancers joined in on stage: a woman who wanted to dance with Roy, a man with Cindy, and a partner for Garry, too. The woman who won the lottery and was the first allowed in the pit shortly after midday got to play guitar. Bruce himself danced with a grandmother and her granddaughter. A slight gash drawing blood from Bruce's right forearm during "Darlington County" didn't slow him down at all.
As usual, the Milan audience was extremely vocal and passionate; whether because of the complete album performance or the way Bruce structured the whole show, the intensity and passion was even greater than at recent San Siro concerts. They fed each up to a point where it was impossible to imagine a stronger bond between artist and audience.
The main set ended with very strong versions of "Badlands" and "Hungry Heart." A very welcome return of "We Are Alive" was preceded by a short solo version of "This Land is Your Land" which seemed a bit tenative but was a nice touch.
Typically, things might stop there. Of course, San Siro isn't typical. The band went into "Shout," with amazing participation from the crowd — as Bruce sang "a little bit softer now," people in the pit actually actually went down on their knees.
Bruce left the stage after 34 songs and almost 210 minutes, and on a big screen under the main stand appeared a short video with memories of all five appearences at this stadium, a poignant end to a concert experience filled with all the joys of playing for such a engaged and vocal audience. It was such an incredibly intense show, it's hard for mere words to do it any justice. Perhaps these are best: Italia! Milano! San Siro! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!
Once again, when Springsteen returned to the stage he was alone with an acoustic guitar, now opening the set with "The Ghost of Tom Joad." The sold-out crowd of 40,000 was silent, one man on stage commanding the attention of so many thousands of eyes and ears — it was a great rendition of a song that we all would like more often. Then the band came on, and the whole thing was electric. Excellent guitar work featured in "My Love Will Not Let You Down," and the vocals of Bruce and Little Steven on "Two Hearts" could only come from their hearts.
Sign collecting always comes with much anticipation, and tonight's paid off with an incredible string of requests. Bruce first brought us back to 1988's Tunnel Of Love Express Tour with John Lee Hooker’s "Boom Boom," memories of that horn section overlaying this one. Ed Manion, of course, was in both. It was spectacular, a wall of sound with this horn section in perfect shape. Then"Something in the Night" and "The Ties That Bind" were gifts for all of those who grew up with Darkness and The River in their ears.
Little Steven was in great shape, sharing vocals, taking solos, and always up there to call out to the crowd. The band sounded perfect throughout the night no matter what was called for, spanning from classic rock to some soul-oriented sounds to the roots music of the underappreciated Seeger Sessions. "Spirit in the Night” had Bruce's great entertainment talent on full display as he joked with the crowd, moving from drama to hilarity, going up and down the stage.
Then came a moment that so many of us hoped and dreamed about witnessing but had no way to expect: the complete Born to Run. Bruce held up a sign that read, "Born to Run changed my life" — he added, "My life, too!" As he made the introduction, the stadium walls tore down in an ecstatic explosion of joy.
Silence welcomed the harmonica notes of "Thunder Road" before everyone sang along. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" was the moment of memories, and "Backstreets" seemed to never end — the inclusion of the "Sad Eyes" portion was one of the deepest moments of the concert. Lights on for "Born to Run" — seeing eight-year-old-children and 70-year-old grandparents, we all had the feeling that Springsteen's art, his music and his words, have crossed borders, times, and generations. "Meeting Across the River" was probably the best performance of the night, Curt Ramm's gorgeous trumpet leading the way for Bruce and the Professor. Fiddle and piano introduced the incredible story of "Jungleland," featuring one of the best vocals performance that I ever heard form Bruce. The sound exploded then went almost silent, as Jake reminded us of the best days of Clarence.
After the masterpiece, the party. "Shackled and Drawn" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" brought Bruce and the band down among the crowd — they obviously enjoyed being so close to the people who all endured a bit of rain. "Pay Me My Money Down" brought a lucky fan to the stage, a percussion player from a local band who got to join in for a more fiesta-like rendition of the song. The band went up and down the stage, fire coming from the the horns, colored umbrellas carried by the singers. Bruce called a girl up for "Dancing in the Dark," gave her a guitar and let her take the chords. And the night had the perfect coda in "Twist and Shout," with all the stadium singing, house lights blazing bright, and the feeling, once again, that we were part of the best live act there is.
After playing only two songs from Wrecking Ball the other night in Munich, "Land of Hope and Dreams" was a rare and welcome opener, followed by a strong "No Surrender" and the three regular Wrecking Ball songs. In between, Bruce acknowledged the first request sign for "My Love Will Not Let You Down." During "Hungry Heart" he was offered a cup of German beer, which he drank in one gulp — and perhaps there is something in German beer that affects him, because from that moment on he got pretty loose.
The version of "Spirit in the Night" was one of the loosest and wildest I've seen. After sitting down on stage for a rest after the beer, he offered a new introduction comparing the dreadful weather in Munich two days before (windy, rainy, and extremely cold) to a certain day in Asbury Park a long time ago. Then to get the song going he needed another cup of beer! At the end of "Spirit," lying on one of the extra podiums, he noted that he was feeling those two beers.
Along the way Bruce also collected a couple more signs. On one of them, an obviously male member of the audience offered one of his testicles to hear "Drift Away." Bruce mentioned that he wants him to keep both of them but will try it anyway. He started it by himself on an acoustic guitar, with the singers joining him for the chorus and the band joining in only at the end. A great version — one of the many highlights on a dry but overcast evening in an almost sold-out stadium.
After a joyful "E Street Shuffle," a beautiful version of "The River" was highlighted by exceptionally good falsetto singing. "Atlantic City" was the first of three Nebraska songs, followed by the next request sign: it is rare that songs from the new album are requested, but Bruce granted one for "Jack of All Trades."
"Because the Night" was simply amazing and pushed the energy level very high. Nils had already done a great solo, with his trademark spins, when Bruce offered him another one after the final chorus so that he could also play with his teeth. From here on, the E Street Band was firing on all cylinders, and they found some extra turbo-charged power. "Murder Incorporated" rocked hard and finished with the guitar duel between Bruce and Steve; "Johnny 99" kept things rocking until "Open All Night" would have blown the roof of the building, had there been one. Using his "90 seconds from now" shtick, Bruce told the audience that their asses will tell their minds that they want to be shaken. There were a few other new twists in what was another of many highlights, with a "gooba gooba gooba" sing-along part and an extra coda. The remainder of the main set included an audibled "Radio Nowhere" and a surprise "Light of Day" to close, with a bit of that "Land of 1,000 Dances" sing-along worked in.
For the encore, Bruce got himself an acoustic guitar again and showed two sign requests for "Roll of the Dice." A beautiful solo version of the Human Touch track followed, which meant that we got 30 songs from 11 different studio albums (or 16, counting live albums and compilations as well).
"Born in the U.S.A." started the non-stop homerun finale, which included a very intense "Seven Nights to Rock" with
a trumpet solo by Barry Danielian as well as Bruce playing piano with his nose, via light slaps from Roy on the back of Bruce's head. For "Dancing in the Dark," there was one audience member to dance with with Bruce on stage, and another to play acoustic guitar. "American Land" finished this amazing show after 200 minutes with the complete band introductions, as in 2008/2009. For a short moment it looked like he wanted to continue with one more song; he thanked the 50,000 people for being a great audience (they were, although he needed to work on them) and was gone.
Bruce started promptly with a solo acoustic "Who'll Stop the Rain," and after the E Street Band took the stage for "Long Walk Home," a high-energy setlist helped keep everyone moving and fight off the chill. In the request section, very early in the set, Bruce spotted a small boy on his daddy's shoulders, holding a beautifully designed request sign with a hole in the middle through which the boy could watch the show. It was a cool eye-catcher that obviously did its job, since Bruce played both the request on the front ("Seaside Bar Song") as well as the flip-side ("Rosalita"). Thus the boy was invited to the stage twice to present his request sign.
Then it was Born in the U.S.A. time, the album played from beginning to end, "to say thank you for supporting us by coming out in the rain!" Throughout the evening the hard rain was addressed — more than just in "Downbound Train" — and Bruce and the band obviously had to struggle with the weather conditions. But it didn't keep them from having a ball playing a "dance party," keeping their audience warm and involved. Songs like "Cover Me" and "Darlington County" did the trick.
Anyone who was a fan of the E Street Band back when they wore hats got a special treat tonight, as classic head gear was back in full force to fight off the elements. Bruce rubbed his hands several times to be able to play his guitar, especially as he often left the stage and ventured out to be in the rain with his fans. During "My Hometown" Bruce had to grab a cup of coffee to revive his freezing fingers. The end of the song offered a very special magic moment with the audience joining in on the final chorus, singing along and raising their lit mobiles into the dark Munich sky like thousands of fireflies dancing through the rain.
"Pay Me My Money Down" kept the crowd moving as the encore began, and with "My City of Ruins" no longer in the set, the band was introduced during the intro of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" instead. After "Tenth," some final surprises as Bruce broke out John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over the World" before a show-closing Twist and Shout."
A guitar solo or two may have been a bit simplified to cope with the cold and to relieve numb fingers, but in the end it was a full-energy, three hour show that even could be called historic — I, at least, have never witnessed or read about any outdoor show where the band and audience had to cope with such extreme weather conditions. Let's hope that the weather soon improves — and that no one caught a cold.
May 23 / Piazza del Plebiscito / Naples, ITALY
It was a memorable place, that's for sure: Piazza Plebiscito in Naples is a wonderful public square, the first open-air date of the European leg of 2013. Moreover, it was a homecoming: the Zerillis, the family of Bruce's mother, came from Vico Equense, a few kilometers from here.
You had all the right ingredients for an epic night. Yet the concert was far from sold out (fewer than than 20,000 in a place that could hold well over 30,000), and the show struggled to take off. Bruce came out earlier in the afternoon, two hours before the regular stage time, for a short acoustic set "per la mia gente" ("for my people"): "This Hard Land" and "Growin' Up."
The real show began with a special intro: "O Sole Mio" played by Nils, Charlie and Roy on accordions while the rest of the band took its place and as Bruce pulled up a sun-shaped sign from the audience. He launched the band into an unusual opener, perfectly chosen for the occasion: "Long Walk Home," followed by "My Love Will Not Let You Down," "Out in the Street," and "Hungry Heart." Bruce's voice sounded a little bit rusty when the show went into the standard sequence from "We Take Care of Our Own" to "Spirit in the Night."
Then it was time for the first real surprise of the show, though not the best. Bruce spent a good deal of time collecting signs from the first row, including the Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling” ("Steve would like that!"—and we would have too, but unfortunately that didn't happen) and a photo of the old Zerilli Restaurant ("I could have ended up there serving pasta!"). The chosen request was for a girl named Rosy. "We've never, ever, ever played this in the middle of a show," Bruce said; not an unusual song, if seldom played these days, but definitely in unsual spot. "Rosalita" was followed by a nice "The River," with a wonderful reprise prompted by audience chanting, and "Prove It All Night" with the '78 intro.
Then it began to rain. Many Italian concerts have been wet ones: Milano 2003 and Florence 2012 were memorable for the rain as well. This time, as at those others, Bruce played "Who'll Stop the Rain." But this time it worked — it stopped raining at the end of the song. Yet the wet part of the show was probably the most fun, with a raucous "Pay Me My Money Down" seeing all the band following Bruce under the rain.
The last part of the show was "usual" Bruce — better than 99% of live music, of course, but no real standouts, except for "My Hometown" as a first encore, dedicated to Vico Equense.
And then the magic happened.
After a fun, long "Twist and Shout," Bruce ushered each member of the band off the stage, one by one. Then he remained by himself on stage, with just an acoustic guitar. He told the audience that many years ago he played in town in a theater — refering to the Ghost of Tom Joad tour — and that he wanted to close this show with the same song that ended that night back in 1997.
He played "Thunder Road" acoustic to an almost muted audience, with his voice echoing off the buildings around the square. Pure magic in a magical place. It was only for one song, when you expected the whole concert to be like that... still, that ending made this concert unforgettable.
After the "Long Walk Home" opener, "My Love Will Not Let You Down" had the pit going nuts. Bruce really seemed to be wanting to make that connection tonight, playing both "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart" and doing the crowd surf during the latter. Soon he was picking up a lot of signs... and there was one sign he could not pick up, "Tougher Than the Rest," written all over a pregnant belly! But Bruce did grant the request, telling us he'd never seen anything like that in 40 years.
More requests brought full-band versions of two songs from Greetings, "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?" and "For You," before an extremely rare solo acoustic version of"I Wish I Were Blind." When picking the sign he said it was a tough one to play while laughing, "Hope I can remember!" It was a beautiful performance.
Another real highlight was the live '78 version of "Prove It All Night," Bruce very strong on the guitar intro, and later in the song Nils had his spotlight and delivered a not-of-this-earth solo himself — playing with his teeth! The guitar assault continued from Bruce, Nils, and Steven too, as "Murder Incorporated" followed.
"I'm sweating like a dog here," Bruce said after "Johnny 99," "and you're still sitting on your asses!" People got up for "Open All Night," and they stayed up for the rest of the show as Bruce just kept the energy flowing. One girl got her wish fulfilled during "Dancing in the Dark" — she asked for a dance with Jake — and another got onstage and was handed a guitar to play along. Bruce and the band took the party to an even higher level with a wild "Ramrod" before closing the show, and an incredible Scandinavian run, with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out."
When Bruce walked out on stage, the tone was set for a hard-rocking evening with "We Take Care of Our Own." While some have criticized Bruce's arguable retreat from his newest material, the Wrecking Ball single's return as the opener reminded the 40,000-strong Danish crowd that the message of his 2012 album remains relevant. As Nils Lofgren tore into his guitar and Bruce sang that anger-fueled anthem with conviction, the crowd was energized and in motion from the beginning.
A reminder of their happy reunion, "Two Hearts" had Bruce and Steve Van Zandt sharing a mic on the second song, with especially strong vocals from Steve, who seems particularly recommitted. The Copenhagen audience sang the lyrics right back to them, and before the crowd even had time to stop jumping to the beat of "Two Hearts" Bruce lunged forward to collect request signs, to the joy of everyone. With determination in his eyes and already noticeable energy, Springsteen grabbed "Loose Ends" without any hesitation. As the horn section scrambled, Max provided the tempo and within seconds Bruce was singing with all his might. While some E Street shows take a more somber tone, this performance was, from the outset, a stadium rocker.
"Cadillac Ranch" was the second of four requests, a fun song the band seems to enjoy playing as much as the crowd enjoys hearing. "Radio Nowhere" was followed by "Trapped" as Bruce's voice moved from hushed quiet to blazing intensity, the house lights gorgeously coordinated with E Street's famous Jimmy Cliff cover.
The customary Wrecking Ball tracks were followed by "Spirit in the Night," with "My City of Ruins" still M.I.A. after it being dropped from sets during the Australian tour. "Spirit" is perhaps becoming a little too familiar, at least to fans who are seeing multiple Wrecking Ball shows. A far cry from the days when fans begged Bruce to return "Spirit" to setlists, as the 41-year-old song began, I couldn't help but think of all the other material which Bruce could have picked from. That said, the performance does provide a great opportunity for Bruce and Jake Clemons to get close to the crowd, something which everyone enjoys.
A pause in the music allowed Bruce to thank Copenhagen for its continued support and dedicated fans. As he did in Sweden, Bruce talked of offering thanks with a performance of Born to Run from start to finish. With a smile on his face, Bruce pulled out his harmonica and gently played the signature intro to what many would call his greatest song, and album. The tenth of what would be 30 songs, and the greatest crowd response of the night so far. Fans screamed and cheered with excitement, many overcome with emotion. "The screen door slams...” and Bruce’s voice led the crowd as thousands of voices echoed upwards. While played many times over the years, with the knowledge that Bruce would play the whole album, "Thunder Road" felt as fresh as it must have back in 1975, a clear highlight of the night.
Later came an astonishing "Backstreets," with Bruce even working in a portion of the famous "Sad Eyes" interlude. Up on the stage before us, Bruce was enshrouded by light. The stage behind him was dark, as the now-63-year-old retreated back into his 29-year-old-self. We may have been standing in 2013, but for those few moments it felt as though we had been transported back to the 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour.
"Born to Run" was especially energetic and had even the most reserved Danes up in the stands on their feet, dancing. Bruce leaned into the crowd as fans had a chance to strum his guitar and get ahold of the man himself. The only song which failed to keep up the high standard of the eight-song Born to Run set was, sadly, "Meeting Across the River." While in Sweden Curt Ramm's trumpeting was a highlight of the show, due to what I can only assume was a technical problem (evidenced by Curt's apparent struggle to try and fix the issue) Copenhagen's rendition was a little under par. While the beauty was still there, occasional struggles to hit the right notes resigned "Meeting Across the River" to the only weak moment of an otherwise stellar rendition of Born to Run. This, however, was all forgotten when the E Street Band played "Jungleland."
With thousands of hands stretched high in the air following Steve Van Zandt's strong and inspiring guitar solo, Jake played his late uncle's most famous sax solo to the tear-filled eyes of 40,000 concert-goers (and I dare say Bruce, too). Sharing a special moment at the end of the song, Bruce and Jake's on-stage connection felt remarkably similar to the one which Springsteen and Clarence shared. The album closed with the original E Street Band coming forwards, including Nils Lofgren, as he, Max, Bruce, Stevie, Garry, and Roy stood together at the front of the stage in an image strongly reminiscent of decades past.
Offering a stark contrast to the song before it, Bruce announced that it was time to get "on with the show" before jumping into the Seeger Sessions classic "Pay Me My Money Down." With the inclusion of two lucky fans, Bruce led a conga-style dance around the front of the pit, with the E Street Choir adorned with carnival style decorations. The main set closed with "Badlands," the guitars strong, Bruce deeply involved with the chanting crowd.
Opening the encore, "Brilliant Disguise" was sung with absolute conviction, with lovely harmonies from Soozie Tyrell. This often-overlooked Top Ten hit is one to behold live, a welcome airing from an album neglected all too much since the Tunnel of Love Express Tour and a restrained groove demonstrating some of the best elements of the band. Bruce's vocal struck all the right chords with the audience before him. Having been soundchecked earlier in the day, "Light of Day" evoked a massive crowd response. Born in the U.S.A. dominated the next four songs, as Mighty Max Weinberg struck down on the drums with the defining intensity that gave him his nickname.
With the concert near its end, Bruce brought out birthday boy Jon Landau to rapturous applause. A guitar in his hands and a smile on his face, Landau was introduced to Parken Stadium by a besotted Bruce before joining Stevie at his microphone and for vocals on "Twist and Shout." One classic cover wasn't enough on this night; Bruce stretched the encore to eight songs as he called for "One more for Copenhagen!" He led the band and the now-exhausted but jubilant crowd into "Raise Your Hand." With everyone doing just that, Bruce soaked himself in water, crawled up onto Roy Bittan's piano, took in the energy of a crowd and a sight that must never get boring, and proceeded to end the show well after the three-hour mark.
Having heard Born to Run and Darkness last weekend, it was a safe bet that the crowd for the final show would hear Bruce's 1984 album, but they hardly minded the lack of surprise, given their reaction. From the cheers as Roy's synthesizer riff started "Born in the U.S.A." through to the crowd's singing "this is your hometown" back to Bruce at the end of "My Hometown," the album performance was truly a treat for the fans in Stockholm. "I'm Goin' Down" and "Downbound Train" got rare airings, and the combinations of "Darlington County" and "Working on the Highway" as well as "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark" engaged the fans from the pit through to the upper reaches of Friends Arena.
In a similar fashion as the first two Stockholm shows, Bruce and the band were fully invested in the performance of the album, delivering on their intent to say "thank you" to the Swedish audience by putting everything they had into Born in the U.S.A. Nils took the "Cover Me" guitar solo to roaring applause, and Max provided a new definition of his "Mighty" moniker during the "Born in the U.S.A." drum break. Steven, clearly glad to be back on stage with the band after missing the Australian tour, was clowning around with Bruce during "Glory Days" but was also locked in on guitar and harmony vocals for "No Surrender."
Unfortunately, the balance of Saturday's show showed little signs of the thoughtful setlist arc or willingness to try different things that were present in the two arena shows in Turku earlier in the week. If there were ever a show in which one could challenge the audience, it would be the one where a parade of hits and crowd-pleasers will be played in the middle of the set. Bruce's multi-night stands are legendary for their changing setlists, which made it that much more puzzling that during the final show of the stand so many songs repeated from the first two nights.
The changes that were made to the set went over quite well with the crowd, including an audible "Cadillac Ranch" that kept everyone’s energy up after finishing the Born in the U.S.A. sequence. With many of Bruce's usual encore songs moved to the main set as part of the album performance, he brought out "Raise Your Hand" to start things, and then after "Born to Run," he led the band into an excellent "Rosalita." Spotting a sign in the crowd imploring him to "Test this arena — let’s Twist!," the now-standard-for-Sweden "Twist and Shout"” sent everyone home dancing from Bruce's Saturday night party in Stockholm.
May 8 / HK Areena / Turku, FINLAND
After the lights went down and "Big Boss Man" played, Bruce came out by himself, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica to start the show with "I'll Work For Your Love." On this tour, the song had previously only been played in the bonus pre-set last year in Helsinki; the appearance of this rarity at the top of tonight's show appeared to be Bruce's statement of purpose for the evening. It was immediately followed by another Magic track, "Long Walk Home," which included strong performances from Soozie Tyrell and Jake Clemons.
With "The Ties That Bind" and a by-request "Atlantic City" also in the opening run, the show was off to a great start, but things would only get more interesting when Bruce began collecting signs from the audience. He first granted a request for "Blinded by the Light," and following a loose but spirited rendition, an audibled "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" made it a pair from his first album.
Then, acknowledging that he had received multiple requests for the song, Bruce finally brought "Ain't Good Enough For You" out for another airing after last year's lone try in Oslo. The performance was handled by the band with aplomb after rehearsing it at the afternoon soundcheck, and it offered Bruce the opportunity to show off his skills as a frontman, engaging the audience with his delivery of the humorous lyrics. Stevie Van Zandt and Garry Tallent shared a microphone for the backing vocals as the horn section and piano provided the song's main riff. Watching Bruce prowling the front of the stage, with the crowd clapping and singing along, one could only hope that this song would be used as an effective alternative to "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" from time to time.
Having a rarity from The Promise turn up is ordinarily surprise enough, but the night's biggest highlight would come next: "Wages of Sin." This Born in the U.S.A. outtake was on the handwritten setlist and clearly had been rehearsed, but Bruce retrieved a sign and acknowledged the fan who had been carrying it to "500 shows." Having never before performed the song live, Bruce and the E Street Band's delivery was phenomenal. The arrangement was mostly the same as the version on disc two of Tracks, with the addition of a gorgeous, understated trumpet part. The song was driven by Max’s steady beat, played with drum mallets on the toms and cymbals; Bruce's singing was clear and deliberate, and with Roy's piano just underneath. The appearance alone of "Wages of Sin" would easily make any list of biggest and most welcome surprises of the entire tour; that it was also performed so well was simply amazing.
"Wages" was no stand-alone performance, either: Bruce chose to use it as the start of a well thought-out and intense run of songs, with "The River," "Youngstown," "Murder Incorporated," and "Johnny 99" immediately following. Not to be outdone after Nils Lofgren's signature solo on "Youngstown," Steve shone on "Murder Incorporated" as he locked into a fierce guitar battle with Bruce at the song's end.
The mood of the show shifted as the E Street Horns took over on "Open All Night," and during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," a hilarious moment occurred when the child Bruce brought on stage started rapping. Yes, rapping, with original lyrics that were apparently about the E Street Band itself. After the band dropped out, the young man who had been brought on stage gestured for Max to start a beat, pulled out his lyrics, handed them to Bruce to hold, and delivered his rap — to the great amusement of the crowd as well as the band, particulary Jake and Steve.
In the encore, Bruce brought the crowd to their feet with a booming "Born in the U.S.A." and the party that is "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" with the houselights up — but not before adding in one final epic performance, a surprise "Racing in the Street" to start the encore. On many a night, "Racing in the Street" is the emotional high point of the show; on a night like this, it was but one of many.
Tonight's concert was an outstanding example of how Bruce can make masterful use of his current album and back catalog to craft a setlist with a strong thematic arc, songs that challenge and reward the audience, while also showcasing the talent and power of his legendary band. This was a show designed to enthrall someone seeing Springsteen for the first or one hundredth time, and Bruce unquestionably succeeded.
Starting shortly after 7:00pm, "We Take Care of Our Own" was back in the opening slot of the show, but Bruce quickly mixed things up with "Two Hearts," "No Surrender," and the return of the underappreciated "My Lucky Day," for an opening run of songs with lots of mic-sharing with Steve Van Zandt.
Word of the full-album performances this past weekend in Stockholm had reached the crowd in Turku, and many were anxiously awaiting an answer as to whether they would continue. The anticipation was palpable as Bruce walked to the microphone to address the crowd after "Spirit in the Night," but as he spoke, it became clear that he wasn't going to repeat the final leg of the Working on a Dream tour, with every show becoming an "album show."
Instead, Bruce made a special dedication of "This Hard Land" to the Finnish fan community of the same name. He specifically referenced a book that the group had prepared of pictures, stories, and reflections on his music as a part of their lives; he was obviously touched by the outpouring of love the country has for him, particularly given that his first Finnish concert was only ten years ago. Asking the crowd who was part of the group, and receiving a loud cheer in response, he remarked, "I guess we'll never go hungry in Turku!"
Up through a strong rendition of "The River," Bruce seemed to have a well-crafted and paced setlist plan that he was following, but then he took everyone by surprise by walking down to the front of the stage and remarking, "Well, let's see what you've got out there tonight." So began the wild-card portion of the set, with multiple signs retrieved from the crowd and requests granted for rarities "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" and "Pink Cadillac." Bruce was bemused by a "Queen of the Supermarket" sign, recalling its performance in Ottawa last fall by noting that "the only people who request this song work in supermarkets!" The request would be deferred to the beginning of the encore, when it was played solo acoustic, with Bruce in strong voice.
The big highlight via the signs was the return of "Brilliant Disguise," for the first time since late in the Magic tour. Material from Tunnel of Love tends to get overlooked when Patti Scialfa is not on stage, but fortunately, her absence did not stop Bruce from selecting the sign for his 1987 hit. The E Street Band (including the horn section) was up to the task of performing it with no rehearsal, and Bruce's singing was both confident and passionate. Here's hoping material from the Tunnel album makes appearances in the set again soon.
Performing in an arena setting — one of only a few on this leg — provided Bruce the chance to get up-close and personal with the fans on the floor, and he made four separate forays out into the audience tonight. Early in the show, Bruce made his way through the crowd during "Hungry Heart," and after asking for reassurances from the fans below, fell into their arms and took a ride back to the stage (this hasn't happened often in Europe). The crowning moment came during "Pay Me My Money Down" when, during Charlie Giordano's accordion solo, Bruce started personally and individually directing every member of the band (save Roy and Max) to the front lip of the stage in one big line. Seemingly unsatisfied with the sheer number of people, he went to the side of the stage to retrieve a half-dozen fans. Once everybody was in place, Bruce took his position at the front and led everyone in a dance line, making an entire lap of the pit, to the great amusement of the crowd.
While Night 1 had kicked off with a rather standard run of Wrecking Ball songs, tonight "My Love Will Not Let You Down" got the Swedes on their feet right away. With the horns joining in on the main riff, the performance was fresh and tight, with Mighty Max and the triple guitar assault from Bruce, Steve, and Nils firing on all cylinders. As a welcome repeat from Oslo Night 2, "Leap of Faith" found Bruce delivering the latter part of the song from the lower stage platform, unusual this early in the show. The first (and only) sign request of the evening followed with "I'm a Rocker," which lived up to its name and was a total blast (and okay, no The River in sequence tonight!). While this song might be seen as just a throw-away cut from the 1980 double LP, it got some of the loudest responses of the night and worked really well in this setting.
"Better Days," with the E Street Choir delivering great harmonies, made for two Lucky Town tracks in the first four songs, quite an uncommon treat these days, from one of the most underrated albums in Bruce's career. The Wrecking Ball three-pack followed, and while "Death to My Hometown" has sounded quite stiff during recent performances, tonight Bruce delivered a more inspired version of this song that still seems to be a favorite among the band members. "Hungry Heart" had Bruce downing half a liter of Swedish beer from an audience member in the stands, promising "I owe you one!" at the end.
Just like last night, Bruce took a moment to show his appreciation, thanking Sweden for "making us a part of your culture" before announcing that they would play Darkness on the Edge of Town from start to finish. Surely, hearing that album in that sequence is exciting, yet also a strange thing, as a Bruce concert has always been very much about not knowing what comes next. The connection between this full album performance and Sweden also seemed less clear than yesterday, as the Darkness tour never reached the shores outside the U.S. In any case, "Badlands" delivered the goods as usual, although the extended coda seemed to make less sense in a full album setting. During "Adam Raised the Cain," Bruce's guitar solo really went into overdrive, even drowning out most of the other instruments. During the last verse, he forgot or omitted the repeat "lost but not forgotten" part, and the performance suffered as a result. Things improved radically, however, with "Something in the Night," with the sold-out crowd of 55,000 turning on their smart-phone flashes. A beautiful sight during a beautiful performance, much like the "fireflies" moment last summer during "Frankie."
A rocking "Candy's Room" was followed by "Racing in the Street," giving the Professor a chance to really stretch out during the song's beautiful coda. The highlight of Side 2 songs was clearly " Prove It All Night." While fans might be tempted to say that nothing beats the "'78 intro" version, Nils Lofgren's acrobatic solo received the biggest ovation of the night and nearly lifted the retractable roof off the stadium. After the title track closed the full album performance, Bruce simply said, "On with the show!" We got the "your ass will talk to your brain" segment via a crowd-pleasing "Open All Night." From there on, the last part of the main set was pretty standard, although "Radio Nowhere" was thrown in to shake things up a bit.
As always, the encores tonight got us all dancing and rocking... but when you see sign requests for "Higher and Higher," "Talk to Me," and "I Don't Wanna Go Home," another "American Land" feels like there's something missing. With the current tour being 14 months down the road, one might expect Springsteen to have more tricks up his sleeve for a return to Europe. One of the nicest moments tonight, though, was when he picked the Norwegian 11-year old to play guitar during "Dancing in the Dark" (no Courteney Coxes on the stage tonight). This young fellow has been present at all Scandinavian shows thus far (as far as I can tell), and having already collected a "Promised Land" harmonica in Oslo, playing with Bruce tonight must have made him a fan for life.
Finland is next for two shows before we get back for more here in Stockholm next Saturday. How about a complete Tunnel of Love album performance, Bruce? It's never done before, and it could even top your July 3, 1988 broadcast. In the meantime, One Direction will keep the venue warm in Sweden... so, on to Finland!
While American audiences are familiar with the full-album shows from their appearance on the final leg of the 2009 tour, Friday's show was the first one done on European soil, and also the first one done anywhere as a total surprise. Even those who heard "Meeting Across the River" at soundcheck could only have reasonably expected that and "Jungleland" to appear in sequence, and not all eight tracks from the Born to Run album.
The performance of the album comprised the bulk of the high points from the show, in particular a powerful "Backstreets," featuring with a small portion of the fan-favorite "Sad Eyes" interlude. Trumpeter Curt Ramm was note-perfect on "Meeting Across the River," as was Jake Clemons on "She's the One." The legendary Swedish Springsteen audience lived up to their legend most notably on "Jungleland," with 50,000-plus both singing along as loud as can be imagined, and being pin-drop silent for the final verse.
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" appeared in the main set for first time this tour, with a shortened introduction and only a brief pause after the "change was made uptown" lyric. Instead of stopping the show for the "moment of noise," the video of Clarence and Danny was shown on the screens as the band played the final verse of the song, remaining an effective and meaningful tribute.
Signs were plentiful throughout the evening, but only one request was granted: Harold Dorman's "Mountain of Love," to open the encore. The band technicians had set up a microphone and lyric sheets on the piano, but Bruce chose instead to perform this cover that "the band used to play, going back to the early '70s — Michelle Moore was not even born yet!" After a brief consultation with Garry, Bruce played it in a solo-acoustic arrangement for the first time, including an admirable try at whistling what ordinarily would be a piano solo.
Also turning up in the encore was "Glory Days," featuring special guest appearance from Bruce's old friend Elliot Murphy. Murphy joined in on guitar, vocals and — after some coaxing from Bruce — the goofy antics with Steve that typically accompany the song.
The one disappointment from tonight's show was the basic, standard set that surrounded the album performance, one that was surprisingly incongruous with how the tour has evolved since it was last in Europe. There was no surprise opening song before "We Take Care of Our Own," and the rarities from 1992 and 2007 that appeared in Australia and in Oslo were nowhere to be found. With two encore staples ("Born to Run" and "Tenth Avenue") moved into the main set, Bruce had the opportunity to shake things up at the end, but surprisingly, no new ground was broken there either, instead electing to run through his Born in the U.S.A. hits yet again.
With the set stretched to 27 songs and just passing the three-hour mark, it's clear that Bruce is just getting warmed up for this leg of the tour, and Stockholm is a rare three-night stop for the band, with plenty of opportunity for Bruce to make some well-needed changes to the set. Finishing an exuberant "Twist and Shout" on the front platform, joined by nearly every member of the band, Bruce finished this show not with "we’ll be seeing you" or just "thank you," but rather the reminder that "we’ll be back tomorrow night!"
A strong "The Promised Land" followed in the second spot before Bruce and the band simply nailed "Downbound Train," complete with an extended coda. "Cover Me" — with the mighty E Street Horns taking over the muscular riff, and a brilliant solo from Nils, as always — completed the Born in the U.S.A. double-header before "Out in the Street" got the Norwegians singing louder than they ever had on the previous night. During the "raise your glasses" line in "Wrecking Ball," Bruce extended the pause even longer than usual in order to get the audience to cheer loud and long; already at this stage, it was clear that the audience was more into the show — and a lot louder — than on opening night.
"Savin' Up" by request had to be restarted as Bruce shouted "Steve! Key of E!" and blamed it on his lack of practice, having just one E Street Band show under his belt during the last five months. Clearly one of the highlights of the show, "Savin' Up" featured Bruce as tonight's "financial advisor," asking the audience how much they had saved in their "love account" lately. A great sounding version of a song which hopefully will get more frequent airings during shows to come. "Atlantic City" followed, then a thunderous "Murder Incorporated" with a triple guitar assault from Bruce, Nils and Steve. "Johnny 99" gave the horns another chance to shine before "Open All Night" replaced "Pay Me My Money Down" from the night before as the Seeger Sessions number, again getting a strong response from an audience which has a strong connection to and a great love for that record and tour.
With "Badlands" moving from early in the show to the main set's penultimate slot, the energy remained high leading into an inspired "Land of Hope and Dreams." After stating on Night 1 that he was playing "For You" instead of "The Promise," Bruce switched them up and gave us a strong solo piano version of the Darkness outtake (and 2010 title track) as the first encore. Following solid versions of "Born in the U.S.A." and "Born to Run," Bruce added "Ramrod," much to the delight of several band members — Max in particular — who always seem to have a blast with this one. Clearly pleased with tonight's show, Bruce said he wanted to do "one more for Oslo" after "Tenth Avenue," and out of the blue came a great-sounding version of the Isley Brothers' "Shout." Well rehearsed and with the E Street Horns taking the spotlight, this ended the show on a really high note, providing a fresh ending to the show much like "Higher and Higher" did when it returned as a regular set-closer during the latter part of the Working on a Dream Tour. Let's hope this one stays when we move on to Stockholm on Friday.
Bruce strapped on an acoustic guitar and we got a bright and clear "This Hard Land" as more people entered the arena. Next up was "All That Heaven Will Allow," not played since the Devils & Dust Tour (then on electric piano). It was a really sweet version, with Bruce in fine voice. Spotting a sign reading "The Fever," Bruce laughed and said, "I used to play that one on the piano." After thinking it through, he went up to the piano and said, "Yeah, I think I got it." Too bad the piano wasn't ready yet, so Bruce ended doing it on guitar after all. He delivered a tight, soulful version of this Bruce-penned Southside Johnny staple, which almost seemed rehearsed as all the song's twists and turns were played note-perfect. The pre-concert acoustic set ended with "Growin' Up," complete with a whistling solo (in the usual sax spot) before Bruce said, "See you all later!" Even though a surprise pre-concert set has happened previously (see Helsinki 2012), we all felt that this was one for the history books.
One hour later, the proper show began — but again Bruce caught us by surprise. With all band members having entered the stage, Bruce asked, "Where's Steve?” Anticipation had been high to see Little Steven's return to the stage (having been absent in Australia), and with his star turn in the Norwegian TV series Lilyhammer, he is a hot celebrity in Norway. Noting that the E Street Band had come all the way to Norway, the country which had "kidnapped Steve," the show kicked off with Little Steven taking the mic at center stage. Drink in hand, wearing a black jacket and a black hat, he resembled his gangster role in Lilyhammer; indeed, Bruce introduced "Little Steven, and the song stylings of Frankie 'The Fixer' Tagliano!" Steve crooned a jazzy, horn-led "My Kind of Town," made famous by Frank Sinatra as a tribute to Chicago but now sung as a tribute to Norway and the town Lillehammer in particular. [See the full performance at top, followed by several more pro-shot clips from the night.] Clearly, this was something that never had happened before on the E Street stage and probably never will happen again (unless there's a reprise tomorrow night).
Steve's welcome back continued with "Two Hearts," complete with the two old friends' "It Takes Two" coda. "No Surrender" and "Badlands" followed quickly, making this a particularly strong, high-energy opening run. Up next was a very welcome "Better Days" among the few Human Touch/Lucky Town-era songs to be revisited by the E Street Band. With Roy adding some nice piano textures (replacing the synth layers from the '92 version), iit sounded much like a song that always has belonged in the E Street stratosphere. The E Street Choir contributed shimmering backing vocals, too. Following the usual three Wrecking Ball songs, we got "Hungry Heart" and "Spirit In the Night," the latter seeing Bruce taking a beer break, downing some good Norwegian beer donated from an audience member. With "The E Street Shuffle" we got one more from the early '70s, with the horns getting the main spotlight.
Up next was the tour premiere of "Follow That Dream": a masterful performance, and for my money the highlight of the night, featuring Soozie's fiddle, Charlie's accordion, and a moving trumpet solo by Curt Ramm. Let's hope this stays in the set during the nights to come. With lights up in the arena following a thunderous "She's the One," Bruce seemed surprised that most people were still in their seats. He seemed a bit disappointed by this fact, but knowing that the Seeger Sessions album was a bigger hit in Norway than anywhere else, he said, "In 96 seconds you’ll be up on your ass"; he added that people could tell their friends the next day that "my ass talked to my brain during the Bruce Springsteen concert." No doubt he was right, as "Pay Me My Money Down" got probably the loudest response of the night, and after this the somewhat sedate Norwegian audience seemed to loosen up a bit. The girl who was picked to sing on "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" had trouble singing at all, as the amusement of hearing her own voice from the arena PA got her giggling through most of the chorus. The last part of the main set followed quite familiar territory, with both "The Rising" and "Lonesome Day" not quite creating the energy level needed to bring the show to a higher level.
The encores kicked off with a solo piano "For You" dedicated to the hardcore fans, noting that since he played "The Promise" last time in Oslo, he had to do something different now. After the usual blasts of "Born in the U.S.A.," "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" (with no less than three dancing girls on stage), the show ended with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," now with a slightly altered video tribute, adding — and rightfully so — an extended portion of footage of Danny Federici. Clocking in at 2:53, this show was about one hour shorter than the Oslo show last summer. While this show was not about length or deep catalog tracks, it clearly had some unforgettable, sweet, and funny moments that made it special. As an opening concert for the European leg, it was a strong run-through, but I'm sure we will see a quite different show tomorrow, and hopefully with an audience with the same energy level as the main man on stage.
The initiation of young Aboriginal males was one of the most important ceremonies to take place at Hanging Rock, and during this last show, it didn'’t matter if it was your first or 100th Brucification — coming up for the rising rarely felt so revitalizing, resuscitating, and renewing with the set's seismic verve that eclipsed the entire week's run in "the great state of Victoria." This soulful awakening was also conspicuously gender-unspecific: a black bra slunk onstage during "Spirit in the Night," a woman shackled herself to Bruce's right leg later on in the song, and an inordinate number of feminine screams erupted during the "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" back bend.
Although dedications were sent out ("She's the One" for Lisa, "Jackson Cage" because "this guy’s been following us for weeks waiting to hear this song — we gotta play it") and armfuls of signs collected a la the Working On A Dream tour, Bruce wasn't doing much walking nor talking. Instead of the "Hungry Heart" crowd surf, he channeled a never-ending rampage of emotional howls and anguished growls that threatened to tear the barks off surrounding eucalypts (we've gone from dogs on Main Street to dingoes in the Macedon mountains). Also left unspoken was the "across the continents, great plains and island archipelagos" distance rap, but Bruce took the wheel and steered us up and over every tectonic and crest between the wild and the innocent, with an electric “E Street Shuffle” jam into a signed "Incident on 57th Street." The sweet Spanish Johnny strains of Bruce's guitar meeting the pensive Puerto Rico Jane of Roy's tinkling in a beautiful full-band rendition might have moved constellations in the clear sky above; if you found it hard to see for the next few minutes, just say you were blinded by the moonlight and had stardust in your eyes. Because the night.
Against a backdrop of sustained "Badlands" woah-oh-oh-ohs from the crowd, Bruce declared he has "been blessed to stand between two of the greatest guitar players in the world" in Oz, then shifted gears from something in the night to a hopping house party encore. A blast of "Born in the U.S.A." instigated a rousing frenzy from those born in the AUS, "Born to Run" had a woman on crutches doing things she wouldn't want her doctor to know, "Dancing in the Dark" inspired the transformation of beer coolers into boogie platforms, and a little café down San Diego way felt right at home amid volcanic pinnacles for one of the prettiest "Rosie" signs ever presented. Bruce closed the Down Under edition of this E Street summit with a bang of "Twist and Shout" as tidal waves of jubilance flooded a nature reserve that was no longer holding back. Before the final curtain call, Bruce brandished a mea culpa, waving an "Australia says thank you and get your arse back soon" sign.
Good night, it's all right.
Night 1 was a standard issue set list, only straying off the beaten path with the sign-requested "Atlantic City," a gruff and grizzly "Tougher Than the Rest" with opener Jimmy Barnes, and solo-electric encore starter "If I Should Fall Behind" for a marriage proposal and wedding anniversary. But the driving themes of promised lands, disaffected judges, and "debts no honest man can pay" shook, rattled and rolled the expansive natural amphitheater, rumbling in rhythm with the largest collection of mineral springs in the southern hemisphere under our feet. Galloping warhorses both new and old (Darkness stalwarts "Prove It All Night," "The Promised Land"; Wrecking Ball's title track, "We Take Care of Our Own," "Death to My Hometown") hung themselves on the majestic Macedon ranges' craggy nooks and hooks — Earth's very own surround sound — but it was "The River" that gave life. For this "somebody asked me to play this the other night" request, people climbed onto their friends' shoulders, cell phones dialed friends in, and iPhones filmed for a virtual dive down to the reservoir. Bruce's own dip into the pit for "Hungry Heart" took longer than usual, across a bigger G.A., which might have felt like the equivalent of traversing the Outback relative to the other crowd surfs, resulting in the dubious reward of a white bra during the ensuing "Spirit in the Night": "Somebody's feeling the spirit!"
Whether written in the salty shacks of 1970s Asbury Park or during the recent second coming of the Depression, almost every song seemed like it had roots in this hallowed land — a testament to where they came from, their evergreen relevance, and ongoing inspiration. "Tom Joad" in particular was eerily poignant as the string of naked light bulbs circling the arena provided a "campfire light," and no prizes for what symbolized the "pillow of solid rock." If port-a-potty lines are an accurate measure of what enthralls an audience, the lines were barely existent during this song (as opposed to them doubling throughout the course of "Sunny Day"), confirming the smart choice of bringing Tom Morello Down Under. Australia can’t get enough of the axe-grinder, who churned out hot licks on a cold night. And for his part, Nils played guitar with his face.
Although there was no extended "My City of Ruins" and more slow numbers than any show in the last week, Bruce was ostensibly winded by the end of the finale, needing several moments to catch his breath halfway through screaming out the roll call. By the time "Tenth Avenue" was called, Bruce had broken the rote run of formulaic Melbourne encores with that touching, rare "Fall Behind," the heat of "Because the Night," and a rowdy "Glory Days" before "Born to Run" fist pumps and "Dancing in the Dark" pogo jumps — what everyone needed to face the freeze-out. Call any show by the E Street Band a global warming — for Bruce, it was nothing less than "What a beautiful night!"
If Sunday was about showing off the current E Street line-up and Tuesday a remembrance of our ghosts, then Wednesday joyously celebrated life and all its possibilities. A one-two knockout punch of "Long Walk Home" and "Radio Nowhere" kicked off this final night, promising that "everybody has a reason to begin again." The resounding roar from the crowd was all the affirmation Bruce needed to "Is there anybody alive out there?" "You like that," he beamed, after a victorious flourish of a finish.
Melbourne had learned well from three-minute records and three-hour shows. By this third date, women in matching outfits lined the pit front, hoping for a reprise of the "Pay Me My Money Down" line dance, and the crowd was primed with conspicuously many more (obscure) signs: "Pony Boy," anyone? With 17 out of 28 songs different from the previous night's set list, Bruce was clearly ready to pick one right after the Magic-al start, with requests "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and "Better Days" preceding the warhorse triumvirate of "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," and "Death to My Hometown." "Better Days" was not only a tour premiere, but the first E Street performance of the song in ten years.
"Candy's Room" rounded off the audience selections, but Bruce had three more dedications up his sleeves: a bittersweet "Factory' for "a fella outside" (bitter, as Victoria state trudges through hard times; sweet, poignant melodizing between Bruce's humming and the Professor's tinkling), "I'm Goin' Down" for twin sisters who had been at every Melbourne show and followed the tour in the U.S. (the "official stalkers" received choice hip thrusts for their efforts), and "Jungleland" for an Ian Allen (with a nod to a "Jungleland Jake" sign).
The set list shake-up meant many more moments for E Streeters to strut their stuff. Tom Morello, who has stepped into Stevie's doo-rag silhouette in his trademark baseball cap with so much humility and grace, got the call to front the mic with Bruce and Nils on "My Love" and to shine his axe on not just "Tom Joad" but "Youngstown" and "Murder Incorporated" as well. The last earned Tommy a grateful hug from his temporary boss, who himself silenced Melbourne with a climatic "Lost in the Flood" solo of delirious distortion and ferocious feedback, which nothing but Roy's calming piano could smooth back into rest.
But it was Max who got the most intense workout of the night, including not only his thunderous pounding on "My Love" but also a percussion-off with Everett on "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" Sneaking fingers away to scratch an itch as his other hand keeps the beat during uncommon lulls, always fidgeting during rare breaks as if afraid the band's tempo would subside, biting onto a drumstick as he adjusts his glasses with a free hand, the Mighty One is the clash of the titans on his perch. "My City of Ruins" might not have made it to two-thirds of the Melbourne stand, but with these showcases and the E Street horns and choir called upon often, band intros were delivered with a different brand of aplomb.
Apart from "Jungleland" igniting the encore, Bruce stayed with the tried and proven formula of the first two nights. His behind-the-shoulder hook shot at the onset of "Tenth Avenue" that sank the sponge back into its bucket emphatically underscored the tour's Down Under leg: slam dunk. This three-night barnstorm will reverberate through Rod Laver Arena for a long time after, even when champions rise and fall during its signature Australian Open, until the next time the Wizard of Oz touches down, which "I promise it won’t be so long next time. My kids are all grown up and out of the house."
For now, the end of the 2:58 long walk was "American Land" after the crowd convinced Bruce they were not "done." A vibrant jig about one former British colony played for another, from one second-generation immigrant to a city founded on migrants, there was not a stoic arse nor bum by the time the band took its bows.
After a day off, an obviously well-rested Bruce and E Street Band unleashed a shivoo that woke up the dead. Picking up around where they had left off on Sunday night, "Badlands" blasted the show wide open, with the audience refusing to let the guitar get Buell'd without an extended "oh-oh-oh." A pleasantly surprised Bruce returned the favor by ramrodding into "We Take Care of Our Own, debuting in Melbourne for only its third appearance Down Under.
Then, as unpredictable as the Melbourne weather, Max held on to an extended drumroll as the pit was scanned for a sign, the band anticipating what the Boss would call for as much as the crowd, and... "Cadillac Ranch" was wheeled in, the usual late-set rebel rouser landing in the three-hole. Amused by everyone's surprise, Bruce feigned a questioning "Really?" before transforming Rod Laver Arena into a barn, bringing Soozie, Jake and Tom off their perches for hootenanny solos "through the Melbourne night."
After a "Please Please" "Downbound Train," the request triumvirate was completed with "Red Headed Woman" — chosen over "Sherry," because "every night here, someone has held up this sign," and this time there were two. Apart from the encore closers, this one drew the biggest cheers from the arena. Sending it out to his own ginger muse, Bruce took several moments to figure out how the night’s rendition would roll before booking it: "The red-headed gene is vanishing from society — it's true! It's a scientific fact. I gotta sing this song fast!"
The surprising omission of "My City of Ruins" on Night One was more than made up for as the song returned tonight with an extended meditation on how "life is a long word; a long, long word." As a stark spotlight illuminated the big space Clarence left on stage right, Springsteen sang a poignant "made that change uptown" in a lingering coda to the band intros, beseeching everyone to "just let it sit right there." When he finally allowed the crowd to roar back to triumphant life, the souls of the departed revived in the night's gospel, the band jubilantly took us into "The E Street Shuffle" with a warped solo by Tom, fuel-injected by feedback and a double-shot of Max and Everett trading off bombastic beats.
Literally one for the ages, a headbanded kid in a white T-shirt and baseball hat in the back pocket of his jeans nailed the "Sunny Day" chorus. For the very few still in their chairs that didn't already realize Night Two was about exorcising hard times, but not forgetting "all the voices that have passed on to understand the sacrifices they have made, the stories they can tell and the stories that will carry on," the return of "We Are Alive" to kick off the encore got the rest of the arses and bums to rise up for the rest of the 3:06 show. Bruce granted a Cubs fan’s request to dance with Tom in the dark, and before everyone could stop pogo-ing, "Rosie" came out "one time for Melbourne!"
We slipped into a balmy fall evening, disappearing into the scattered directions of wherever we have come from to be renewed, resuscitated, and rejuvenated, and perhaps reunited with our ghosts. Mine was during "She's the One" because for me, "...back when her love could save you from the bitterness" is about my grandmother. It might be the unseasonal heat wave in the city this week that’s causing sparks to fly on E Street, so the only thing we can count on for Night Three as we left the show is that tomorrow never knows.
Priming Rod Laver Arena on the first of three nights to rock, the 24-song, 2:53 set gave Melburnians everything they had come out to celebrate for the first time in a decade. Ten years is an eternity ("I appreciate you guys keeping the faith in our music all these years"), so Bruce wasted no time in getting to the point, starting the show in mid-set form with a double shot of "Out in the Street" and "The Promised Land." It was a bit of a surprise that "Something in the Night" slowed down the tempo right after, but who's complaining with the Mighty One maxing out Bruce's soulful mourn pound for pound? In fact, there would only be one other slow song the entire evening — "The River," granting the request from a battery-powered sign (which, inadvisedly double-sided, was actually asking for another song altogether: "Meeting Across" was printed on the reverse).
Speaking of creative cardboards, a large red heart with a wide set of teeth set in the middle led to "Hungry Heart." Obviously, Bruce had gotten some practice in at Sydney's Bondi Beach, slickly maneuvering during the crowd surf even when a dip nearly led to a wipe-out halfway. That brought everyone on their feet for the first time, but it wasn't until seven songs later that he got them to stay up for good. Bruce admitted that it was his fault for not knowing Aussies "don't have a fucking clue" when he tells them to get off their asses. "It’s arses here! And in 90 seconds, your arse is going to send a message to your brain, your arse is going to speak to you... Who's got a watch?" Helped by the E Street Horns, Bruce launched into "Pay Me My Money Down" with spot-on timing and even more precise relevance here between the Old Melbourne Gaol and the Docklands. "Bring all the kids up!" he said, yanking seven girls onstage for an ad hoc step-up revolution that turned the party up to Treme-esque levels.
As expected, Stevie's presence was greatly missed on it-takes-two standards like the opener, "Prove It All Night" (with the long intro), and "The Rising." But if Bruce served ace after ace with Roger Federer finesse, Tom Morello returned every riff with flashing force a la Rafael Nadal, shredding with his teeth on his "High Hopes" solo and bringing on the chords of wrath during "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Lillehammer Steve was not forgotten, but he's graced with a more-than-worthy stand-in.
When "Born To Run" screamed down Batman Avenue, arms went around partners and friends, fists pumped in unison, eyes got as wet as the Yarra River next door, and for that moment, it didn't matter if your runaway dreams were American, Australian or global. That the Wrecking Ball has circumnavigated the world — demolishing dark times, destructing desolation and bringing down the house in its wake — meant that walking out into the fresh Melbourne air after the "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" closer was the promise that the night is dark, but the sidewalk’s bright and lined with the light of the living.
The first surprise of the evening is the first performance of "Night" on this leg. Tom Morello is on fire once again as he takes full ownership of the guitar break in "Death to My Hometown." It is "Hungry Heart"'s turn for the crowd surf, and Bruce skulls his first beer of the Down Under tour (handed to him by a young man in the back of the pit) before launching himself into the audience for a steady return aloft to the stage.
An emotional version of "My City of Ruins" has Bruce telling the audience he's "in a sad mood tonight." He dedicates the song from "my ghosts to your ghosts," repeating the single word time to the beat of Max's stick on the side of the snare, ticking like a clock, before singing to the audience softly, over and over, "They made that change uptown...."
Collecting signs, Bruce pauses to autograph the arm of a heavily tattoed man before heading back to center stage with a swag of placards. After "Growin' Up" (its first performance on this leg) and a loose "E Street Shuffle," we get into sign-influenced territory. Bruce holds up a sign for "'Prove It' '78 Intro"; Roy's beautiful piano figure begins, and Bruce launches into that soaring guitar solo for the first time in Australian history. As the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, this version is perfect. Nils comes in at the end to complete the song — nearly 11 minutes of classic retro E Street unleashed on a very appreciative Australian audience. The timing into "Trapped" is slightly misfired, but they recover well for another Aussie tour debut. "The River" is sublime.
Expanding on his previous admonishments to the crowd to get out of their seats, the introduction to "Pay Me My Money Down" has Bruce using local phrasing so that the crowd can understand him. An Australian friend told him, "When you say the word asses, no one knows what you're saying. You gotta say arses." He goes on to riff on "all the words for asses in America. There's bum... butt... fanny... don't say that one!"
"Working on the Highway" and "Darlington County" are fun, with Nils joining Bruce on the B Stage during the latter. Far beyond fun is a practically perfect version of "Backstreets," one of the high points of this final Sydney show. Anyone would swear by now that Tom Morello wrote "The Ghost of Tom Joad"; Bruce and Tom trade verses and guitar parts unto Morello brings it thundering home with his inspired solo.
Opening the encores, Bruce addresses the crowd, saying, "Thank you for three spectacular nights in Sydney. We've had a great time, and we promise we won't stay away so long next time. We can't tell you how much we appreciate coming back and all you folks showing up for us. We appreciate your support for our music all these years." The infrequently played "Born in The U.S.A." kicks off the encores from there — "Be sure Roy is loud," Bruce tells the sound guys, before commencing this rousing version.
Finally, as a farewell after three great nights, and prompted by a number of signs, the Sydney audience is treated to a post-"Tenth Avenue" rendition of "Rosalita." A fitting way to end the Sydney run and the first half of this Australian leg. Bring on Melbourne, another rare three-night stand.
The opening was a solo Bruce doing "Devils and Dust," marking the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq; the E Street Band came out to reinforce the theme with the tour premiere of Magic's "Last to Die." "The Ties That Bind" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" were straight down the line but powerful, and both new to the Australian leg, before leading into the one-two of "Wrecking Ball" and "Death to My Hometown." "We Take Care of Our Own" was AWOL once again, making it a rarity Down Under at least.
"Out in the Street" was the basis of this show's crowd-surfing moment for Bruce, with a nice segue to "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" Bruce was obviously in the mood for more audience suggestions tonight, with a bunch of requests plucked from the audience, including "The Promised Land" and a Born in the U.S.A. triple-shot of "Cover Me," "No Surrender," and "I'm on Fire." An impressive scrapbook was one of the "signs," Bruce marvelling, "You can't make this shit up!" as he paged through. "I was telling a friend last night that Australia, wow, it's a long way to go... when you get here, it's a long long way away but it's wonderful!"
Twelve songs into Night 2, and only two were repeats from Night 1, so it wasn't surprising to have things veer a little more toward the expected with "My City Of Ruins" (still, later than its ever been in the set) and then "High Hopes," which is becoming a staple on this leg. "Because the Night" had an outing, as did a raucous "Open All Night" before a return to "Shackled and Drawn.
The Morello/Springsteen brilliance on "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" continued, with "Badlands" finishing off the main set. The encore led with "Jungleland," always a stunner, with Jake Clemons' efforts well and truly appreciated. Another two Born in the U.S.A. songs, "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing in the Dark," headed the night towards its climax. What appeared to be a spontaneous decision by Bruce led to the "Detroit Medley" before "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" playing its usual closing role.
That makes 16 different songs for Sydney, and there's a palpable feeling that this is a band having an absolute ball, hungry to test the boundaries. A rare third night in the same city on the Wrecking Ball tour is Friday.
Wrecking Ball bonus track "American Land" was the opener, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Hat-tip to tradition taken care of, it was straight into "Prove It All Night", with Nils enjoying his role as Bruce's new microphone buddy, and some wry Steve mimicking going on.
With "Prove It" wrapping up, Bruce's only choice of audience poster for the night was one asking for "Adam Raised a Cain," and that's what was delivered, in fine form — really high energy, Springsteen and Morello just killing it on guitar [video]. After the twosome of "Wrecking Ball" and "Death to My Hometown," with barely a pause, it was time for some crowd-surfing while singing "Hungry Heart." The Sydney audience provided the first verse, with Bruce covering off the rest while on his back for the majority of the song.
Introducing the band during "My City of Ruins," Bruce acknowledged the fun they'd had in Sydney their last time here: "We're happy to be back in Sydney, scene of the Great Power Failure!" The March 22, 2003 Sydney show in question had a total power failure occur not once but three times, in the middle of numbers. He said ten years ago that it was a show he wouldn't forget, and he made that amusingly clear tonight.
"Spirit in the Night" had another outing, with a very evangelistic monologue to kick it off. "High Hopes" then made its second appearance for the Australian leg, with more great energy and guitar work from Tom Morello, followed by a quick-fire trio of "Youngstown," "Candy’s Room" and "She's the One." Bruce next made a prediction that all those seated in the audience were about to have their asses speak directly to their brain, in order that said asses would rise off the seat. He claimed that he had nothing to do with it, of course. This led to an extended romp through the Seeger Sessions' "Pay Me My Money Down," which went down as a treat throughout the stadium (and made good on Bruce's prediction).
A sudden but pleasant U-turn took us back to "Shackled and Drawn," "Waitin' on A Sunny Day" (with a cute little girl helping Bruce on vocals), and "The Rising," and it felt like momentum was still continuing to build. It certainly did with another Morello/Springsteen onslaught for "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Morello has had plenty of praise for his playing on the tour so far, and it's obvious why when he lets rip on this song.
The last three songs of the main set ensured the whole crowd were on their feet for the remainder of the show, with a monster trio of "Badlands," "Thunder Road," and "Born to Run." After some compulsory bows from the band, they didn’t even leave the stage, so the "encore" kicked off straight away with "Seven Nights to Rock." "Dancing in the Dark followed," where one person waved a placard begging Bruce to dance with a Dad for a change... he rightly chose a teenage girl. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" finished out the night with its moving tribute to Danny and Clarence, and in the end you had one happy audience and a seemingly very satisfied Bruce.
A standout for me as an observer of the band is the obvious ongoing bonds within the band, both old members and new. From Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley keeping each other amused with percussion hijinks, through to Jake Clemons and Charlie Giordano sharing some words and a back pat at the end of the night. There's always showmanship, but this current tour and band appears to be a lot more than that, and it's looking like the Hanging Rock show, which is rumoured to be filmed, could be one of the landmark live experiences for Bruce and the band. But first, it's night two in Sydney in 48 hours.
Bruce worked hard in engaging the second Brisbane audience, offering the crowd a sing-along and a crowd surf through a very large pit during "Out in the Street." "Spirit in the Night" had a new introduction, Bruce recounting a story in which he was told that once he found the answer to the question, "Can you feel the spirit?" he would become rich and famous. "Spirit" led to a fabulous "Incident on 57th Street" with extensive guitar playing from Bruce, Nils and Tom Morello, with Bruce's outro guitar solo elevating the song to new heights. Next came "The River," offering a contrast to the romantic visions of "Incident" with the harsh truth of reality. The audience sang much of the first verse before Bruce took over.
Bruce then challenged the audience, predicting that in 90 seconds they would get their asses raised from their seats. After a misstep, he adjusted that timing to 120 seconds... but he delivered on his promise, with the 14,000 person crowd indeed elevating once the band kicked into a very loose and fun "Open All Night". "Darlington County" found Bruce exploring different sections of the arena, confounding Nils' attempts to find him to sing his part in the song.
A dramatic "Racing in the Street" offered another epic song to the set, with Max and Roy driving the band to the crescendo ending of this Darkness classic. Tonight's show was the first time that "Incident," "The River," and "Racing in the Street" were performed by the band in the same set.
"Badlands" appeared much later in the night, the Brisbane crowd continuing to sing at the end of the song, forcing Bruce to shrug and say, "Okay" and continue with another ending rather than transitioning directly into "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Morello traded vocals with Bruce on "Joad," of course, offering a shredding guitar solo which brought the Brisbane audience again to their feet. "Land of Hope and Dreams" closed the main set in place of Night 1's "Thunder Road."
For the encore, Bruce responded to a sign held by a 21-year-old woman to play her favorite song, "Blinded by the Light." When Bruce asked why it was her favorite song, she said she liked to dance to it. Bruce chuckled and said, "It is a good dance song. And I'm about to play it acoustic and fuck it all up! I'll still make it a dance song for you.... I think I know it — it has been 40 years!" Bruce sat at the front of stage serenading her with a great acoustic reading of the first song from his first album.
An outstanding showing from Tom Morello, filling in for Steve Van Zandt for the first time. Morello added an extra dimension, only ever witnessed in short spurts scattered throughout the tour to date. The subtle but noticeable touches Morello injected into the set lifted the energy of the band without taking anything away from an outstanding performance after a three-month tour hiatus.
The Wrecking Ball songs were well-received by the Brisbane audience, but deeper cuts such as "Murder Incorporated" and the reworked "Johnny 99" seemed to have them guessing. During the "Murder Inc." solo, Morello unplugged his lead from his guitar, creating an in-tune feedback effect similar to the end of "Ghost of Tom Joad," by making intermittent contact with his hand — it was mesmerizing to watch. More than holding his own on the other side of the stage, fellow guitar hero Nils Lofgren shone during "Because the Night," dancing his way around the stage during the guitar solo.
Bruce took no sign requests this evening, but he made a couple of trips into the crowd during "Spirit" and the "Apollo Medley," dancing with audience members in the back of the pit during the latter. The back-to-back pairing of "Spirit" and "The E Street Shuffle" was well-received by the older, hardcore members of the audience, as was "She's the One" a little later, but it wasn't until the lights went up during "Born to Run" that the rest of Brisbane audience sitting in the stands got off their butts and onto their feet. The atmosphere and energy within the BEC lifted from there on in.
"We Are Alive" was a welcome re-addition to the setlist, with Bruce and the band nailing this first Australian performance. This is the first of ten Australian shows this month; we're back in Brisbane on Saturday night.
February 8 / Los Angeles Convention Center / Los Angeles, CA
During his acceptance speech, Springsteen said he was up on stage under "false pretenses"; he went on to tell a funny story that took place in late 2011-early 2012, when Jon Landau approached Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich and asked if Springsteen could open last year's show with his new single, "We Take Care of Our Own." Ehrlich agreed, but when Landau relayed the good news, he said the Grammys wanted Bruce to open, and he would be next year's Person of the Year honoree.
"Now, I'm pretty sure he said 'and,'" Springsteen told the crowd, "though he might have said 'if.' He might have said 'if you will be MusiCares Person of the Year.' Or he might have said 'and... and then he left a really long pause so that the 'and' became 'if' while it was hanging out there. And [Jon] said, 'We're gonna be out there anyway for you to pick up your Best Album award' — because we are optimists. So even though I have gathered all of these people, some of my great heroes, all these new youngsters, here tonight as fabulous musicians, the evening actually had its origins in a mercenary promotional opportunity!"
While the anecdote suggests Springsteen may have been a slightly reluctant get, later in the speech he also called the evening "one of the loveliest nights of my life.... I'll never forget it." Surrounded by Patti Scialfa, his mother Adele, his daughter Jessica (accompanied by her boyfriend), most of the core members of the E Street Band (save for Steve), plus a Who's Who of music luminaries, past winners and other musicians, Bruce watched 16 of his songs performed by a collection of superstar artists.
Bruce's involvement in the night actually started before the proper show even began, taking over an embarrassingly amateurish auction of a guitar he autographed by grabbing the microphone and imploring the crowd to step up. "Come on, you one-percenters!" With the bidding stuck around $50,000, Bruce started sweetening the pot, first adding in eight tickets, backstage passes, and a tour of the backstage area he would conduct himself. Then came a one-hour guitar lesson, a ride in the sidecar of Bruce's Harley, and finally, a pan of lasagna made by his mother.
Needless to say, bidding took off. When it was all said and done, the package went for $250,000 to a New Jersey woman who took advantage of the moment to kiss Bruce on the lips in thanks.
Host Jon Stewart took to the stage a bit late, but as he did at the Kennedy Center honors in 2009, he delivered a passionate and often hilarious speech about Springsteen's influence on him and others, perhaps best summed up by the line that when listening to Springsteen's music, he "realized I wasn't a loser. I am a character in an epic poem about losers."
Springsteen gave another poignant, highly amusing and very personal speech as he did recently at SXSW, talking about everything from his family to the unreliability of musicians in general to the Taliban. To hear it is the only way to do it justice.
As for the performances themselves, where one might have expected a real mixed bag, for the most part everyone rose to the occasion nicely.
In the Quite Good bucket:
Alabama Shakes opened the set with a deep, hard-rocking, true-to-the-original "Adam Raised a Cain" that served as a showcase for what most have fallen in love with about the band, lead singer Brittany Howard's mighty and soulful vocals.
Patti Smith spoke adoringly about Bruce and the gift he gave her in the form of "Because the Night," telling the audience that every night she performs it, she thinks not only of her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, but the composer, too. Patti's vocals have stood up very well over the years, and she delivered a fine performance on which the house band (which featured 1992-93-era guitarist Shane Fontayne as well as Curtis King and Cindy Mizelle) acquitted itself nicely.
The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines, Ben Harper and harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite (who Bruce mentioned as an example of the circle of life in his speech, noting he had opened for Musselwhite in San Francisco in the early '70s) tackled "Atlantic City" from the rotating center stage. The acoustic arrangement was fitting and well received.
"American Land" was a surprise inclusion of sorts, but not given who was singing it, as Ken Casey from the Dropkick Murphys showed that his band has had a big influence on Springsteen of late. He sang the song like it was his, and again the house band was spot on.
They loaded in a gospel choir (natch) for Zac Brown's and Mavis Staples' version of "My City of Ruins." Both singers were more than capable of making the song soar when it should.
Tom Morello made two appearances on the night, first joining Jackson Browne on "American Skin (41 Shots)." Here was a case where the song perfectly suited the singer, and when Jackson's voice rose slightly on the second line, "Across this bloody river, to the other side," you realized the song could just as easily be his as Bruce's. A great fit, with a passionate and controlled solo at the end from Morello.
Telling the audience, "I love this song," Emmylou Harris gave "My Hometown" its due, strumming it out on acoustic to start and settling into it like it was her own. The song was a fine fit for her voice.
The Not-So-Good Bucket:
It's a bit unfair to throw Juanes in here, as he gamely attempted "Hungry Heart." He deserves points for starting the song in Spanish on his own before the band kicked in and they took the first verse from the top. But if there was a karaoke moment in the night, this was it. If English isn't your first language, having to sing a colloquial line like "I gotta wife and kids in Baltimore Jack" just isn't fair.
All the performers deserve credit for choosing so many relatively recent tunes from the Bruce canon, but Sting's unwieldy "Lonesome Day" was a poor choice. The house band was attempting the full E Street Band arrangement, and Sting's performance suggested he was too unfamiliar with the song to sing it effectively. His vocals never got in sync with the music and the whole thing just felt forced.
But the night's worst performance came from the person one might have expected would deliver the best. Neil Young and Crazy Horse (joined by Nils Lofgren on synthesizer) absolutely butchered "Born in the U.S.A." Instead of "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World"-izing it, the arrangement seemed to be a kind of misguided attempt to turn it into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," right down to the addition of two cheerleaders who were "cheering along" on stage in matching uniforms. That terrible creative choice (the poor women didn't know what to do with themselves 30 seconds into the song) coupled with Young's unfamiliarity with the lyrics (all performers save for Kenny Chesney used prompters) created a shambolic mess, with Neil shouting lines with apparent passion but missing the plot both literally and figuratively. That signature Crazy Horse fuzz guitar always appeals, but not this time. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise (Bruce included, who later said Neil had made him sound "like the Sex Pistols"), it was awful.
The Pretty Great Bucket:
While the shtick may be wearing thin for some, there was no getting around the beauty of the hushed acoustic performance of "I'm on Fire" that Mumford & Sons performed around a single microphone. The harmonies were gorgeous, and they understood, as Bruce's original version does, that pulling back is what makes the song so passionate and unsettling.
Elton John nailed "Streets of Philadelphia," sticking close to the original arrangement and singing every line with a knowing that suggested this song had hit him hard. He also ended it with a lovely piano solo.
Tom Morello drafted My Morning Jacket's Jim James to play the Springsteen role in the now-familiar electric arrangement the duo perform of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." James handled both his vocal and guitar parts admirably, and Morello did what Morello does. If you closed your eyes, you might have thought you were seeing the recent shows at the Honda Center or Sports Arena, the versions were that close and powerful.
The layup of the night and the one performance we knew was coming from press reports didn't disappoint: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill singing "Tougher Than the Rest." The song lends itself perfectly to a couple and to a gentle Nashville lilt, which Tim and Faith supplied.
The night's most radical rearrangement belonged to John Legend, who reprised his Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Springsteen Week performance of "Dancing in the Dark." Legend is probably the only artist on the night that had been performing his cover song regularly (since Fallon, "Dancing" often pops up in Legend sets), and it showed. Springsteen himself later said of Legend, "he made me sound Gershwin," and it was an inventive and compelling arrangement that played with and stretched the familiar melody, wringing new passion out of Springsteen's lyrics when played at a much slower tempo, solo piano.
But the performance of the night belonged to Kenny Chesney. As they say on American Idol, it was the perfect song choice for him. Playing acoustic guitar at center stage, joined by a keyboard player, Chesney sang "One Step Up" from the heart, revealing not only a deep familiarity with material but the sentiment of the song itself. The goregous performance was also arguably the only one of the night to perhaps reveal to some in the audience the greatness of a song they might not have recognized before. A stunner.
After imploring, "now give me that damn guitar" and inviting the audience to come up front, Bruce Springsteen led the house band (joined by Jake Clemons, Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa) through very credible versions of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Death To My Hometown" (with Morello). Why the rest of the E Streeters didn't join at that moment too is anybody's guess (though one might think it was a sort of gracious thank you to the house band that they, too, got to play with Bruce), but Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan did leave their seats for the night's last three songs, "Thunder Road," "Born to Run" and "Glory Days," played just like you might expect on a non-show-but-still-a-show kind of night.
"Glory Days" became the requisite all-star jam moment, with many of the night's performers rejoining the stage. Poor Tim McGraw was the only one who came out scathed, as he volunteered to take the second verse, only to wilt at the microphone even with the prompter feeding him the words. Bruce laughed it off and covered for him. In fairness, McGraw had already made his contribution, and who among us would not tremble at the knees when we are actually standing next to Springsteen singing one of his songs? We can all blame the AWOL Eddie Vedder, who was supposed to perform and surely would have handled what McGraw couldn't.
For previous setlists,
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