Opener "Out in the Street" perfectly introduced the evening, establishing the joyous, crowd-pleasing vibe of the night, and also an early indicator of a River-heavy set. Perhaps that was thanks to the Band's return (without Patti) to an arena setting — a good sign for the many River-deprived Europeans fans hoping to get the entirety of the record in Paris. On top of the usual suspects, a rollicking "Cadillac Ranch" made an early appearance, the haunting "Point Blank" returned, and, after being soundchecked, Darkness outtake "Rendezvous" (the best known recording of which came from the original River tour) had its tour premiere — a major highlight.
Bruce was in fast-and-loose spirits, calling upon another sign two songs later for the arguable tour premiere of "Blinded by the Light" — arguable because it was partially played in Brooklyn, with lead vocals sung by the little girl who had requested it. In Copenhagen, this Greetings gem was given the full band treatment. Despite a false start, it was a relentlessly fun performance, with Bruce repeatedly wiping rivers of heat-induced sweat out of his eyes to keep up with the flood of lyrics.
Bruce brought the crowd back to the 21st century with the tour premiere of the soundchecked Wrecking Ball track "We Take Care of Our Own" (two songs were soundchecked but not played: "Boom Boom" and "Shackled and Drawn"). It was a tight, crisp rendition, perhaps inspired by the gun control debate currently raging back in Bruce's homeland, in the news again on Wednesday thanks to a House sit-in. Later in the show, a three-pack featuring gun violence — "Point Blank," "Murder Incorporated," and "Atlantic City" — reinforced this connection.
This first half was also striking for the breadth of songs Bruce called upon from throughout his career, from an old classic off his first album to a modern classic from one of his newest records, with outtakes along the way. The man truly has a full career's worth of exceedingly quality tunes from which to choose, and he spread the wealth in Copenhagen by playing songs from 11 different albums, not to mention covers.
The final tour premiere of the night has to be one of Bruce's most popular outtakes: "Pink Cadillac" for a sign that read in pink paint: "Three generations took their pink Cadillac to go dancing in the dark." "That comes later," Bruce responded, "but 'Pink Cadillac' might come now!" The crowd roared, and after briefly talking his way through how to play the song, informing the audience the Band hadn't done so in a while, Bruce launched into a raucous version. The relatively quiet crowd quickly came to life to sing along, their voices echoing off the walls.
In addition to featuring a wonderful sax solo from Jake, the song also let the lighting team shroud the stage in pink. One of the coolest parts of the concert, in fact, was finally being able to see this team's brilliant design work due to to the arena's enhanced darkness. Also making a return: the cellphone fireflies of the crowd, during both "The River" and "I'm on Fire."
Unfortunately, the return of this arena atmosphere failed to change the latter half of the setlist, which included the same stadium crowd-pleasers that Bruce has been playing at almost every show. True statistic: 15 of the last 16 songs in both Berlin and Copenhagen were the exact same and played in the exact same order — a predictable stretch longer than any of the post-River portions of the setlist that American fans grumbled about on the U.S. leg. Though some have cited how much casual fans seem to love these songs, the range of different albums represented earlier in the show served as a reminder of the seemingly endless depth of Bruce's catalog; there's just no way that the likes of "Working on the Highway," "Darlington County," and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" are the only songs that can work up the entirety of the crowd into a familiar frenzy.
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day" did, however, feature the most surprising moment of the homestretch. Instead of choosing yet another child, Bruce gave the microphone to a passionate fan probably in her mid-20s who had lined up for days to be able to stand in the front row. She absolutely rocked the performance, reveling in her lifelong dream of sharing a stage with the E Street Band. She basically blew the roof off of Telia Parken Arena, energizing the room and bringing a gigantic smile to seemingly everyone's faces, especially Bruce's. Ultimately, her performance served as a reminder of how a small deviation from the nightly script can go such a long way.
P.S. Bruce didn't close with, "We'll be seeing you," even though we know the Band will return to Denmark later in the summer — further proof (for all those with antennas up) that he's not trying to subtly communicate his future plans at the end of each show.
With "Badlands" and "Out in the Street" following, we were back on familiar turf. It's interesting to note that after the short break in the European tour Bruce has not only reduced the number of The River songs in the setlist but also given up on the idea of playing them in sequence; the name of the tour feels more and more misleading. But "Sherry Darling" was next, and then we got another big surprise with "My Lucky Day," a tour premiere from Working on a Dream. Although we aren't aware of it being soundchecked, it sounded really good. Exactly the same arrangement as in 2009, with Steve playing the guitar solo at the end.
After a strong "Wrecking Ball" Bruce collected a few signs, and we got "Night" for a high school graduate and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" for a birthday girl. "Spirit in the Night" made a nice double-shot of songs from his debut album. Bruce then grabbed a really well-made request-sign, which was actually a cardboard replica of "Candy's Room": a bed, some other furniture, and, most importantly, pictures of her heroes on the wall: Bruce, Eddie Vedder, David Grohl, and miniature Led Zeppelin poster. A great rendition of that song was followed by an audible, "She's the One."
"Hungry Heart," with Bruce walking all around the area in front of the stage, was coupled with another uptempo River track, "You Can Look." Similar to the other German show in Munich two days ago, he again paired "Death to My Hometown" with "My Hometown" and created an interesting thematic arc by following those two with "The River" and "American Skin." The harp solo at the end of "The River" sounded a bit different than usual, something worthwhile to notice on a tour where there hasn't been much in the way of different arrangements or new ideas for the old songs.
The four-pack that followed — "The Promised Land," "Working on the Highway," "Darlington County" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" — is the part of the show were lots of fans these days wish for more diversity; it's also the part (together with the encores) that engages the remaining 95 percent of the audience the most. Bruce himself is clearly having fun, as those songs create a lot of interaction with the audience. Of course, they are seldom taking chances by playing unrehearsed songs or taking obscure requests in 2016, compared to 2013 or 2014. That may leave out lots of surprises and disappoint some longtime fans, but one can argue that in the end it will lead to a better performance on the night itself for the majority of the people in the stadium. It's worth noting that this show in Berlin was — not counting the famous East-Berlin show in 1988 — the one with the highest attendance ever by Springsteen in Germany, at 67,000.
For me the band had been running in fourth or fifth gear until after "I'm on Fire," and then with "Because the Night" turned into the "mighty" E Street Band, firing on all cylinders and running in sixth gear until the end. The main set (can you really make a distinction these days between that and the encores?) ended with a majestic "Land of Hope and Dreams." On the setlist the next song would have been "Born in the U.S.A.," but before that Bruce called an audible, holding his guitar up in the air as Roy started playing the famous piano notes to introduce "Backstreets." It was a marvelous version of that song, clearly one the highlights of this Berlin show.
For me every show on this European tour now feels a bit like one big encore. Song after song after song, with almost no talking to the audience. Tonight in Berlin he greeted us with "We missed you" and left us with "you were fantastic," both in German. While "Born to Run" was shortened with a pretty brief break (he did not leave the stage to let people touch his guitar) we got an extended "Seven Nights to Rock" with solos by Roy, Jake, Nils (playing slide), Steve and even a bit of Max. During "Shout" we got a little more detailed Band introduction, including Roy "88 keys is not enough" Bittan and a plug for Garry's solo album, Break Time. The show finished after 200 minutes with a beautiful solo rendition of "Thunder Road" while the full moon started to appear above the stadium.
Olympic Park — with construction and renovations underway — is a unique venue for a show. The stadium forms the center of large open park, with several ponds, a network of bustling bike paths, a city overlook, and a well-attended biergarten. The stadium itself lies at the top of the hill, rimmed with curved glass overhangs reminiscent of modern art sculptures, with large inclined stepped seating and a single grand entrance from above.
"Sch?n euch zu sheen," Bruce greeted the capacity crowd. "Beautiful day today," he would later say, "All I can remember is the last time. Oh my god. I froze my ass off, and the wind and the rain..." The mood was anything but dampened as Roy played Bruce into a slightly slower tempo "Prove it All Night" with the incomparable '78 intro, its first appearance this tour. Bruce's guitar work on the intro was nothing short of clean and sharp; he seemed much more comfortable than in previous attempts I'd seen on the High Hopes tour. Bruce cut it loose as the tempo and tension built with screaming bends and his agonized facial expressions. Not to be outdone, Steve Van Zandt gave an impassioned, extended solo after the body of the song.
A high-energy block continued with perennial crowd-pleaser "Badlands." An invigorated Steve snarled and goaded the floor section, fans there already bouncing and chanting. Fans swayed and waved their arms in unison while Bruce beckoned to "Meet me out in the Munich street," stopping to point out a young boy on his father's shoulders. Bruce audibled into "Sherry Darling" and met Steve at the center cut-out for the last verse; Steve held out the mic for the same boy to sing the final line.
The energy of the show led to several moments of candid silliness. Bruce and Steve broke out into spontaneous laughter during the "It Takes Two" outro for "Two Hearts." That nervous energy spilled over into "No Surrender," as the band misfired and had to begin again amidst raucous cheers from the crowd. Bruce had some fun with microphones, nearly dropping his into the crowd, and later tossing his mic over his shoulder to an awaiting stage hand, who picked it out of the air mouthing, "Oh my god."
Guitar technique was at the forefront of the show. Bruce let feedback build with plenty of wrist vibrato as an intro for "Youngstown," before Nils Lofgren alighted into his wild, spinning solo just as the sun was setting behind Olympic Stadium. Nils would eventually deliver a second extended solo for "Because the Night." Bruce led "Murder Inc." with a stripped-down intro and a growling solo full of open notes. Even the closing verse of "American Skin (41 Shots)" featured a brilliant, understated background riff from Nils, leaning heavily on deep bends and precise phrasing.
Marking the first of several striking shifts in instrumentation, Bruce was accompanied by Soozie's fiddle, Nils' banjo, Charlie's accordion, and Jake's bass drum for "Death to My Hometown." Nils picked up a slide guitar for a stylish solo during the bridge of "Johnny 99." Jake even took the spotlight with the cowbell after Bruce shouted for the band to "break it down." Steve backed Bruce's vocals on the acoustic twelve-string in a two-man arrangement of "The River" before the full band joined in the second verse.
A hush fell over the crowd as Soozie and Nils picked up acoustic guitars for an emotional "My Hometown" (paired, interestingly, with "Death to My Hometown"). The orchestration relied heavily on persistent keyboard and synth, with Garry and his fretless acoustic-electric bass melody heavily featured in the closing verse. Bruce stood with his eyes closed in soft lighting at center stage as the Band played the outro.
Bruce was impressed with a girl in a bright yellow hat with rays like the sun, pointing at her and later helping her on stage to sing a heavily accented "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." "Danke, Danke," Bruce said, "I love your hat. I love your sun." But soon enough the dusk lit up with stadium lights for the trio of "Born in the U.S.A.," "Born to Run," and a rousing "Seven Nights to Rock," complete with a walking bass line and a Steve Van Zandt guitar riff that was a throwback to the early days of rock 'n' roll.
Bruce looked at Steve and pointed to a sign saying "Let's dance Dr. Zoom" before inviting a woman on stage for "Dancing in the Dark" on her 40th wedding anniversary. The boy who received so much attention earlier in the show made his way to the stage and held up a sign revealing himself as "Little Bruce," showing off his guitar skills. Springsteen himself took a turn for the political, grabbing a "Fuck Trump, we wanna dance with the Boss!" sign, before playing typical show finishers "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and "Shout."
The crowd broke out in chant as Bruce ushered the band off stage. By the time the last E Street Band member left, the roar had become deafening. Bruce turned to oblige the masses, grabbing a harmonica and an acoustic guitar and heading back to center stage alone. He fumbled with a few chord sequences before saying, "Alright, let's see if I remember this on guitar." The crowd grew quiet and Bruce closed the show with what had been a recent opener on piano, a slow, haunting "For You." After such a hard-driving night, fans couldn't help but feel the intimacy of this final moment, closing a three-hour-and-21-minute show — it was quiet enough to hear Bruce's voice echo off of the far rim of the stadium.
This show marked the 25th anniversary of Bruce in Holland. He had performed 24 times before in our tiny country, and the last time Bruce and The E Street Band played here, in Nijmegen 2013, he had opening acts. An unusual move, since he hardly ever takes support acts, but somehow in Holland he does: this time, the Stereophonics took the stage around 6pm. The Welsh rock band played a great set, but it was hard to get the audience up on their feet. Literally. Some people decided to give their legs as much rest as possible and sat down during their show. Everybody was waiting for The Boss.
Rather than starting solo, as the past few shows had, Bruce followed the entire E Street Band on stage. With a powerful "one, two, three, four!" they dove into a full-blast "Badlands," the mark that this was going to be an energetic evening. "Nederland, hoe gaat het?" — Netherlands, how are you doing? — was greeted by a large cheer from the crowd. After "No Surrender" and "My Love Will Not Let You Down," it was time for some requests. Bruce took some signs from the audience and decided on "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)," a River-era outtake getting its River Tour premiere.
It was only during the seventh song of the evening that Bruce slowed things down a bit; up until then it was just a steam train rolling through, party song after party song, with immense energy. During "My City of Ruins" Bruce preached and held his hand above the audience. It was a religious experience outside a church. Afterward, Bruce stood in a ray of sunshine. For a moment he was quiet, overlooking the audience and clearly enjoying the weather and the moment.
An especially remarkable request was played next. Someone was holding a sign that read, "One dream left." Bruce took that sign but didn’t see the back of it right away; the crowd, though, went wild, because on the back of the sign was a request for "Jersey Girl." Bruce decided to play it. "This has never been played outside of the United States," he told the crowd. Even though that isn’t exactly true, the next few minutes were something extraordinary: "Jersey Girl" was played in The Hague, and nobody in the audience could believe that it was actually happening.
We were treated to another treasure when Bruce took an inflatable saxophone from the audience, and attached to the sax was a sign that said "Racing." What followed, another tour debut, was a long and intense version of one of the most beautiful songs in his repertoire, "Racing in the Street." The playing of Roy Bittan, in his leading role on piano, brought the audience to ecstasy. However, when the final notes faded away, the audience had hardly time to catch its breath. Bruce immediately picked up his harmonica and started "The Promised Land." Whereas Bruce is a talkative guy at many shows, in The Hague he didn’t say much. The steam train kept on rolling.
As soon as I heard the first notes of "The Rising," the Bruce Blues began to creep in; I was already anticipating the post-show emotional hangover and heartache, after looking forward this show for so many months. We were approaching the end of the set list. But I was too early — Bruce had some wonderful surprises left. The encore started with an emotional "Jungleland" for a lady with a sign that read, "This is my last concert, 'Jungleland' please." Bruce saw the sign and granted her wish.
After "Born to Run," everybody partied like crazy on "Seven Nights to Rock," an unusual enough choice, but Bruce still had something else up his sleeve. He was searching for a sign that he had seen in the audience earlier that night. The camera focused on "Atlantic City." Bruce smiled and shouted, "No!" The camera turned to "Backstreets." Bruce smiled and shouted "No!" The camera then found the sign that Bruce wanted to play: "Detroit Medley."
The energy was phenomenal. Bruce and the band clearly had their party hats on. They were dancing on stage, laughing and joking all the way. It was amazing to see that group of friends on stage. It felt as if you were in their living room, joining the party with 67,500 people. The party continued through "Shout," after which the band left the stage. The lights stayed out; Bruce came back with a guitar and harmonica to play a beautiful and quiet version of "This Hard Land."
"The E Street Band loves you!" We all clapped and held our breath, hoping for that one other sentence he often says. And when he did, you could almost hear the relief: "We'll be seeing you!" Yes!
“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” the fourth track of Springsteen’s 1973 debut, oozed from Bruce’s piano. More mature and with a slower rhythm than its original rendition, the performance preserved an enthusiasm synonymous with youthful optimism, Bruce smiling and giggling as he played. Midway through the song he paused, turning to the silent crowd. One fan cheered, which Bruce acknowledged — “at least one of you is having fun!” —before the entire crowd followed with applause. Laughing, Springsteen returned to complete the song, which set the tone of last night’s concert: beneath a baking hot sun, Wembley Stadium was set to have fun.
A dark, impassioned performance of “Seeds” followed. Bruce’s voice roared, practically spitting out the lyrics, as the E Street Band maintained a mechanical rhythm behind him before launching into the riff that defines this Born in the U.S.A. outtake. Originally known as “Gone Gone Gone,” the song allowed Bruce’s passion to manifest in a ferocious guitar solo which had Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt grooving alongside him. Springsteen’s solo was underpinned by Max Weinberg, his eyes pinned on Bruce, his mighty drums nearly shaking Wembley Stadium.
With the set progressing, Bruce took a sign request for The River outtake/B-side “Be True," only its second performance on this tour. Few songs sound as pure as “Be True,” which allowed the E Street Band to truly reassume its 1980 sound. Each member of the band was integral to the performance, with Roy Bittan’s piano and Max’s cymbals defining its opening. Stevie’s vocal accompaniment turned rhetoric into conversation, creating the sense of young men appealing to the love of a girl. Jake Clemons’s saxophone brought “Be True” to its climax, as Bruce stood alongside him with a smile on his face.
“I’ll Work For Your Love,” from 2007’s Magic, was another sign request; Bruce noted that it was a song “never requested” and was struck by another two signs for it in the audience. Taking an acoustic guitar, Bruce put himself on the spot at the center microphone, trying to recapture a song seldom performed. With the E Street Band either having left the stage or, in the case of Steve, Patti Scialfa, and Garry Tallent, sitting under Roy’s piano, Bruce strummed his guitar, working it out. With a couple of false starts, he promised, “After this, it’s going to be perfect!” Bruce’s voice delicately echoed throughout Wembley Stadium, with the E Street Band smiling as though members of the audience.
Following “American Skin (41 Shots)” — more finely tuned than in Glasgow but still lacking a strong solo — the set continued with familiar crowd favorites. “Badlands” closed the main set before “Jungleland” opened the encores. The Born to Run epic is defined in its opening by Soozie Tyrell and Roy, at opposite sides of the stage, playing violin and piano. Last night, with an explosion of blue lights from the stage, Soozie played her violin to the eruption of the audience. Roy’s piano met this energy, before Bruce’s vocals —nearly spoken, like poetry — reverberated through the stadium. Singing at Bruce’s instruction, the crowd followed the lyrics up to Steve's shredding guitar solo, which seemed to tear through the London air.
Then there was Jake's saxophone solo, the high point of the London concert. As the entire stadium fell silent, the mournful sound of his sax echoed throughout Wembley and beyond. The E Street Band pulsated with prowess and precision behind him, before Jake’s spotlight moment concluded with his saxophone held to the sky. Bruce met Jake on the stage, the two sharing a hug, before he returned to the microphone to bring the song to its close. Few songs define the power of the E Street Band as well as “Jungleland.” With the atmosphere truly electrified, beneath an ink-blue sky, Springsteen and his chorus of 80,000 sang the closing lines. Although not of The River — an album from which only six songs were played despite it being this tour's namesake —“Jungleland” stood out in a concert that (contrary to the grumbling of some setlist watchers) enjoyed moments of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their best.
As the concert passed three-and-a-half hours, “Bobby Jean” found the house lights up, emitting an intense brightness, each of the 80,000-strong audience raising their arms to the air, swaying and singing in unison. The E Street Band were truly connected with this audience, lingering on stage before their exit. Springsteen, however, remained.
A solo figure punctuating a plethora of instruments on stage, Bruce closed his performance with an acoustic “Thunder Road." In the city which marked his first performance outside of the U.S.A., in 1975, Bruce closed last night’s concert with the first song he ever played in the United Kingdom. Summoning the experience of 40 years, Bruce led his audience through the most passionate performance of “Thunder Road” this tour. Following his vocal at the end of the song, which felt like a lullaby, Bruce looked at the crowd with a glint in his eye and a smile on his face. To an endless roar, Bruce said goodnight: “The E Street Band loves you. We’ll be seein’ ya!”
The tour premieres kicked off right away with another solo performance on the piano, "For You." Springsteen walked onstage alone a little after 6:45pm (gotta love those 10:30pm English curfews), gave a quick "Good evening" at the mic, and then went straight to work on Roy's perch. Hearing the song in this context recalibrated its emotional effect, scaling back the romanticism for a sadder vibe, fitting the gloomy, overcast skies.
Bruce finished his beautiful rendition with a simple smile, and after the band (sans Patti) unceremoniously walked onstage, they built upon this introductory mood by launching into a second tour premiere that had been worked out at recent soundchecks: "Something in the Night." If a few in the crowd tried to start singing along to the final lines of "For You," this Darkness gem turned into a full-blown haunting sing-along, with Bruce wholly committing to the performance. The European premiere of another Darkness classic, "Prove It All Night," built upon the intensifying pace, and "My Love Will Not Let You Down" at last turned the stretch into the type of rock 'n' roll extravaganza typical of E Street openings, further enhanced in Coventry by how brilliantly Bruce led up to it.
After the expected River triumvirate was broken apart by a sign request for "No Surrender," another sign brought the rare Darkness outtake "Save My Love," which received almost no reaction from the crowd when Bruce flashed it to the cameras. He joked that most were probably asking themselves, "What the fuck is that?!" before explaining the song was influenced by his youthful nights staying up late to listen to the "small squawk box transistor radio underneath my pillow." The performance fit the characteristics of the songs "Save My Love" expertly channels: loose, a little sloppy, but so much fun.
With the stoic crowd receiving the actual song in much the same way they greeted its sign, Bruce made a point of bringing them back into the fold with a particularly rowdy "Hungry Heart," thereby launching into the energetic stretch of The River through "You Can Look" that was one of the nightly highlights of the American leg. Bruce appeared absolutely giddy, yet he perfectly transitioned this intense party vibe into a more serious, passionate intensity with the three-pack of "Death to My Hometown," "Youngstown" (Nils killed the solo), and "Murder Incorporated" (Bruce and Stevie killed theirs, too). By this point Bruce the band were absolutely on fire, with the show having seamlessly built to a blistering pace from the quieter beginning. "The River" and the welcome return of a gorgeous "Drive All Night" brought the show full circle back to the soulful opening. Taken all together, it was a masterclass in how to construct a fluid, fluctuating, and flat-out fantastic setlist.
And then, predictability set in. One song after another, Bruce made the same old second-half setlist choices that have frustrated many European fans (though perhaps he felt the need to stay on safer ground after the crowd's reaction to "Save My Love."). He of course has to play a lot of his crowd-pleasing "greatest hits" for these stadium crowds, but bunching them back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back only compounds the effect. More than just being a drag for the many audience members who had made the easy drives to all of the U.K. stops, such familiar stretches seem to make the band a little complacent, letting them get off their musical toes.
As such, there was almost no momentum going into the main set closing "Badlands," which may have been what inspired Bruce to spot out of nowhere a sign for Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band," only its fifth performance in the Reunion era. Simply put, the Band crushed it, scrambling to remember how to play this raucous classic. This curveball re-animated everything — Bruce, the band, the crowd, and the rest of the encores, easily the best of the tour — immediately restoring the level of energy sustained throughout the first half of the show. It clearly doesn't take much to catalyze a setlist in such a way.
And Bruce wasn't done with the surprise tour premiere covers. As "Born to Run" came to a close, he immediately went into the opening riff of "Seven Nights to Rock." The concert had once again gone off the rock 'n' roll Richter scale — Bruce literally banging his head against Roy's keys during the song, humorously almost mocking his show-opening performance — and it would only come back down for another transcendent acoustic performance of "Thunder Road," closing the show in much the same soulful way as it began: Bruce alone on stage, surrounded by 50,000 of his adoring fans, only now with everyone singing along. It was a touching and harmonious bookend. If only every book in between had been on the same level.
“Spirit in the Night” followed — which continues to allow Bruce to preach to an audience he encourages to “Testify!” — and soon “Rosalita” made an early appearance. Holding a sign request for the song to the camera, the crowd cheered as Bruce and Steve jumped back into 1973 and onto the center thrust deck to party with their audience. Seven songs in, but only slightly after 7pm (owing to a relatively early start time), the sun was unrelenting, shining on a majority of the crowd. A combination of an energetic “Rosie” coupled with the extraordinarily bright atmosphere set the scene of last night’s performance; Hampden Park assumed the feel of a summertime party in the late afternoon.
Inviting the band down to the thrust, Bruce was joined at the microphone by Steve Van Zandt and Jake Clemons, who danced and encouraged the ever-developing party atmosphere. Stevie appeared to be in his element, smiling and dancing, flirting with the audience. Jake’s saxophone poured sound into the stadium, while Bruce’s guitar wailed.
The tour debut of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” followed, creating “a Wild & Innocent double header!” as Springsteen accepted a special sign request “for the man who had it as his wedding song.” With the sun still warm, and light streaming into the stadium, the audience was naturally quieter than a crowd in darker conditions, which worked perfectly for a song that commands such attention. Roy Bittan assumed an unfamiliar position next to Bruce, accordion in hand, as the E Street Band passionately felt their way into a gorgeous rarity. Despite being 3,500 miles from Asbury Park, seeing a smiling E Street Band groove to the beat of the music, the stadium of 50,000 felt intimate and spirited. As we've seen before on The River Tour, the E Street Band assumed a youthful vitality that allowed them to channel their younger selves, with “Sandy” melting into the audience as though being performed for the first time.
“American Skin (41 Shots)” also had its tour debut, having been soundchecked earlier in the day. One of the strongest performances of the night, “American Skin” was delivered passionately, with Bruce looking furious as he blistered his way through his guitar solo. The E Street Band was tight, and Bruce’s vocals pierced the audience as he stared outwards and upwards. A camera centered on Springsteen’s face as he parted with the microphone, still shouting “41 shots” as the band prepared space for Nils Lofgren to assume a solo that never quite developed. This was the only sore spot in an otherwise electrifying performance. On the High Hopes tour, Tom Morello's free reign in that moment took this song soaring; on this night, Lofgren’s lead felt a little lost in the wider sound of the E Street Band.
“Point Blank” into “Darkness on the Edge of Town” offered a profound combination of The River and Darkness, with the River track continuing to prove a highlight of these concerts. Few sounds epitomize the E Street Band like Roy Bittan’s piano, which is prominent on both songs and carries a narrative in itself. Springsteen appeared deeply proud of the band upon completing each song, taking a moment with his back to the audience, smiling and nodding at his bandmates.
“Because the Night” finally allowed Nils Lofgren to fully unleash his guitar, which howled and echoed throughout the stadium. Spinning to the chanting of the crowd, Nils’ solo proves to be an enduring treasure of the E Street archive.
“Born in the U.S.A.” opened the encores, which found the Glaswegian audience finally digging deep to find the energy on which Springsteen thrives. Earlier, during “I’m Goin’ Down,” he shouted, “Would you help me out? Jesus!” as the crowd was unusually quiet. But with the sun finally having set behind the stadium, and a cooling breeze, Hampden Park became electric, which Bruce rewarded with a particularly high-energy “Shout." Stage lights behind the band pulsed to the rhythm of the music, as Hampden rocked beneath an ink-blue sky. After three-and-a-half hours, Bruce thanked his Northern audience for years of support — “We always love coming up here" — and, with his voice notably stronger than at the last concert in Dublin, closed on just guitar and harmonica with "This Hard Land."
The opening chords of "Incident on 57th Street" emanated from the piano as the audience fell with Bruce into the lyrics of his 1973 masterpiece. Continuing with the theme of reinventing early material, which has come to partly define The River Tour, Bruce's solo performance magnetized the audience. The atmosphere of Croke Park was transformed, becoming intimate and exposed, as the singer appeared so absorbed that he didn't once turn his head to the audience. Sitting alone at his piano, Springsteen looked either at the keys or directly ahead, like a man alone at the back of a bar with nothing left but his music.
This intimacy did not, however, translate into a somber tone. "Incident"'s progression was powerful and empowering, with Bruce's playing becoming more intense as the song quaked towards its climax. The crowd of 80,000 swayed together while the final lyrics, "Goodnight, it's all right, Jane" echoed throughout the stadium. The smiling faces and teary eyes of his audience were projected on the screen behind Bruce, which he noticed as his solo performance concluded. Walking back to the center mic, Springsteen invited the E Street Band to the stage. To a familiar roar, the E Street Band assumed their places as Bruce introduced "Spirit in the Night": "Are you ready to testify?!"
"Testify!" Bruce repeated, until the audience became suitably impassioned. Raising his arms to the air, Springsteen led the E Street Band and 80,000 others through "Spirit," which transitioned into to "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and then "Growin' Up." The E Street Band were playing to a massive audience, but also those who know and love Bruce's earliest work. Acknowledging the "triple header from Greetings," they had Croke Park travelling from 2016 to 1973, with the first four songs of the night from Springsteen's first two albums. It was an intimate, warm feel, so different from the blasts of high energy that open many E Street Band concerts.
During "Growin' Up," with the atmosphere just right, Bruce began to tell the story of his childhood and the acquiring of his first guitar. Roy's piano accompanied Bruce as he spoke, providing a rhythm which incorporated rhetoric with verse. "13 years old, I lived on this little L-shaped block, with a church in the middle, Catholic school here, the nuns' convent here, the priests' rectory here, and we had five houses filled with Irish." The crowd cheered and Bruce laughed, continuing, "Now, I come from… O'Hagans, McNicholases, Farrells… and when I was little I was brought up by the Irish side of my family. They were very, very superstitious." Bruce scratched his face, looking whimsical.
"I remember when, whenever it would thunder, my Grandmother, Nana McNicholas, would grab my hand, rush me down to my aunt, and we'd sit in the living room. They'd pull all the blinds down, and when the thunder and lightning started, my Aunt Jean had a little bottle of holy water, and she'd start spraying it all over everybody" — Bruce mimicked this movement and the crowd erupted with laughter — "while telling all these horror stories of neighbors who had been struck by lightning." This clearly resonated with the Irish audience, who indulged Bruce in his storytelling with cheers and laughter. Bruce continued at the microphone, telling the story of finding his first guitar, of muffling the sounds of being in bed with his girlfriends by throwing balls around a pool table, "so it sounded like we were playing pool," and then the moment he first wore his guitar. "And I swear, it was the big Irish voice that came from somewhere, and it said…" Here Bruce adopted an Irish accent… "Let it rock, son, let it rock!"… before returning to an enchanting "Growin' Up."
A familiar setlist followed, carried by the energy of the opening performance. "Youngstown" allowed Nils Lofgren to unleash a blistering guitar solo, nearly levitating as he spun in a circle to the chanting of the crowd. Guitar duelling between Bruce and Steve was a highlight of an intense "Murder Incorporated," which was performed beneath a deep red light.
Bono joined Bruce and the E Streeters for "Because the Night," introduced as "a local boy." The U2 frontman fell around the stage, between notes and missing the odd cue, but was clearly reveling in his chance to join the E Street Band and experience their audience. "Badlands" closed the main set, as Springsteen's voice became noticeably strained, which he acknowledged by the end of the concert. This didn't hamper the performance, however, with "Badlands" proving the appropriate way to conclude a set that had been building a crescendo since the start.
"With whatever voice I have left!" Bruce played a solo-acoustic "Thunder Road" to close the night. "I'm gonna need your help with this one!" With the crowd singing along, Bruce sang softly and, despite the sore voice, harmonized with a near-angelic quality. House light illuminated the massive stadium, with Springsteen looking deeply appreciative of the moment. A smile appeared on Bruce's face as he held his guitar to the sky. "The E Street Band loves you!" and then the greatest cheer of the night, "We'll be seein' ya!"
Contrasting with the light atmosphere of Dublin on an early summer’s evening, the E Street Band opened with an impassioned “Darkness on the Edge of Town," also reflecting their return to English-speaking audiences. Whereas “Badlands” featured predominantly as an opener in Spain, “Darkness” emphasized lyrical narrative from the outset. With “Darkness,” an intensity not only of sound but also of meaning was generated, setting the scene for a performance that would transpire to be one of the tour's strongest thus far.
“Darkness” segued into “Badlands,” with Bruce seeming to scream at the crowd, teeth bared, before jumping in place. By request, River outtake “Roulette” followed “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” further emphasizing an intensity which fed both the E Street Band and their audience, with Max Weinberg’s drumming so powerful that its sound became near physical in its impact.
In a return to 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen accepted a sign request for “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.” Caressing their guitars, the E Street Band gently opened the song in a move that transformed the atmosphere of Croke Park from a stadium of 80,000 people to that of an early-'70s backstreet club, with an intimacy that bordered on sensuality. Under purple lights, Roy Bittan’s piano seamlessly seeped into the E Street rhythm, evoking a youthful vitality that defined Springsteen's first foray into music. The E Street Band were obviously in their element, as were the audience, who celebrated the song by dancing as it grooved towards its climax.
Another sign request followed, this time for a song Bruce described as “too fucking sad” to play often, “too sad for the E Street Band.” Despite being a song for the brokenhearted, “Back in Your Arms” was perhaps the definitive performance of Dublin 1. It’s true that the E Street Band are in their element when playing high-powered rock songs; it’s also true that when they strip down their performance to the core, they reach something elemental. “Back in Your Arms” exemplified the E Street Band’s ability to create magic.
As the band played a gentle, extended intro, Bruce began to speak, like a preacher to his congregation. “I have a question for every man and woman in the house: Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been in love?... And have you ever done something that fucked up a good thing?” There was laughter but little admission, with Bruce quipping, "That doesn’t sound like that many… There are 80,000 people here, that means at least 40,000 people are lying." Finally, shouts of acknowledgement from every corner of the massive stadium; Bruce responded, "Thank you." He continued, "And then you had to go back, if you were lucky, and you had to ask for forgiveness. If you had the chance, and you were lucky. And you had to explain how things would be different from here on in.... You had to go back and say —" And from there he crooned the opening lines to a song performed only 21 times in the band’s history.
Holding only his microphone, Bruce stood alone for the majority of the song, delivering a soulful, heartfelt vocal. The E Street Band harmonized after the first verse, with Charlie Giordano’s keyboard solo giving Bruce a moment of quiet. But then: “Now this, this is a teaching moment. If everything else didn't work, this is where you swallow your pride, and you walk back to that good thing that you threw away, and you get down on your knees. Don't be afraid, fellas! There ain’t no shame in it! Because a good thing don’t come along every day." Singing, speaking, riffing, Bruce went on: “You’ve got to say, baby, baby, bay… I’ve changed. You’ve got to say that! Even if you haven’t." The crowd laughed. “You’ve got to get your ass there so your brain follows.” Bruce and the band powered through the song from there, a ten-minute version, the crowd swaying with each note. The climax of Jake Clemons’ stirring saxophone solo cemented “Back in Your Arms” as the magical moment of the night. “Think about it,” Bruce said, concluding.
Returning to 1973, the E Street Band continued later in the set with tour premiere of “Lost in the Flood,” another sign request. Bruce’s voice was gravelly and raw as it echoed throughout Croke Park. With the underpinning of Roy's piano, the song gradually built up towards an epic drum solo from Max. With 43 years of ageing, “Lost in the Flood” has developed a darkness which emanated through the crowd, set alight, with diehards in the pit shouting “thank you” to Bruce as the song ended.
The encores began three hours in, with the European tour debut of “Jungleland.” Another return to the '70s, the E Street Band were coupling the experience of their age with the vitality of music which was written in their youth. A sense of time was evoked throughout the concert, with Bruce juxtaposing music from the early '70s with material from the modern era, including Wrecking Ball favorite “Death to My Hometown.” This contrast emphasized the importance and limited nature of time, a display of what Springsteen had stated explicitly at the conclusion of each River set on the North American leg. “Jungleland” was delivered as though both for the first time and the last, as Jake's saxophone solo had Bruce visibly moved. With the 80,000-strong crowd lit only by the lights on cellphones, this firefly effect encouraged both the band and the sentiments of the song, before Jake held his saxophone to the sky and Bruce nodded solemnly to his band, which had performed perfectly.
After the “good luck, goodbye” of Bobby Jean, a solo-acoustic rendition of “This Hard Land” ended the 3.5-hour concert, with Bruce reminding us, once again, “the E Street Band loves you!" It was a fitting conclusion to a concert that emphasized the importance of time while making profound use of it.
A new country with a new crowd and a new climate called for a new opener, and Bruce replaced the frenzy-inducing "Badlands" with a fitting and impactful "Atlantic City." Though the song almost always goes over swimmingly, it seemed to particularly resonate with this blue-collar city, its somber tone only enhanced by the overcast skies and light rain.
Perfectly building off the power, pace and even themes of this stunning opener, the subtle references to violent organized crime at the end of "Atlantic City" led directly into the more overt "Murder Incorporated." This, too, is a song that implicitly connected to the culture of Manchester given its important role in the history of the Industrial Revolution (it's often credited as being the first industrialized city in the world). It was a killer (pun intended) one-two punch to open the show — perhaps the best opening of the entire tour. And with another fiery guitar duel between Bruce and Steve Van Zandt, the energy of "Murder Incorporated" fed right into "Badlands" in slot three.
Stevie was immediately engaged, with his vocal harmonies in "Atlantic City" and guitar work in "Murder Incorporated," and his performance tenacity never waned throughout the concert, one of his best of the tour. Yet it was another of Bruce's brothers-in-guitars that provided one of the most memorable moments of the night; right after Bruce and Nils Lofgren finished up their "No Surrender" guitar duet at center stage, Nils turned around, tripped, and took a pretty hard tumble. After making sure he was all right — which Nils confirmed with a sheepish grin — Bruce cracked up and announced: "The raw excitement put Nils right on his ass!"
Though the first few songs were consistently intense, this little mishap transitioned Bruce into more jovial spirits, the first of many mood-shifts throughout the concert (an example of a bi-polar stretch that still totally worked: "Out in the Street" into "Darkness on the Edge of Town" into "Crush on You"). Yet few could have predicted where Bruce would take the show next; still laughing from Nils' fall, Bruce called out a surprising member of the crowd.
"What's the deal with the guy in the Santa Claus suit?" Bruce asked, addressing an older gentleman in the middle of the pit. "Is there some connection to Manchester I don't know about? Or is it a perverted attempt at a sign request?" Bruce hit the nail on the reindeer's head with his final guess, calling up the man and his "Santa Claus is Coming to Manchester" sign. Even though, as Bruce noted, there were still 270 days until Christmas, the band launched into a joyous performance of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." Bruce allowed Santa himself to accompany by singing — hysterically off-key, off-pitch, off-melody, off-everything — Clarence's old "You better be good for goodness sake" part. "Let's hear it for Santa," Bruce concluded at the song's close, "Only in Manchester! This the the only place where that's going to happen."
Sadly, the same could not be said for the rest of the setlist. Though two other sign requests brought only the second tour performance of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and the European premiere of "Backstreets," the remainder of the show featured a lot of the same stadium crowd-pleasers that have already become staples of this European leg (and since the crowd's energy paled in comparison to their Spanish counterparts, most of these songs didn't play nearly as well).
Yes, Bruce happily re-inserted "Crush on You," "You Can Look" and "I Wanna Marry You," which might appease those clamoring for more River songs on this River Tour, but he yet again skipped most of the album's second record in favor of the "greatest hits." Though Bruce and the Band still turned in phenomenal performances of these songs, perhaps fans in Europe would be less disappointed by the lack of River songs if Bruce adhered to his own reasoning he gave in Brooklyn as to why they were going to stop playing the album in full: "We're gonna open up our setlists over in Europe." Much like with his American shows, the latter portion of the night proved the most disappointingly static, which was a shame considering how the opening numbers felt so specifically directed at this Manchester crowd.
Yet for the tens of thousands of audience members in attendance who aren't setlist watchers, the concert must have played like gangbusters for its entire three-hour-and ten-minute duration, largely thanks to Bruce's incredibly high spirits all night long. As usual, the rain brought out the best in the Boss and the Band. During "Glory Days," Bruce felt inspired to go off script in his back-and-forth with his musical consigliere: "Let's keep this thing rocking now — who cares about the rain! Are you with me, Stevie? Is the Band with me?! Are the Mancherians with me?!"
The deafening response from the crowd said it all.
Beneath light cloud, Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium radiated both heat and noise, with three sides of the stadium towering with tens of thousands of fans. In contrast to San Sebastián, where Bruce had played to the pit by way of introduction, on stage in Madrid he quickly launched into "Badlands," shouting only "Hola Madrid!" before igniting the fire of the entire Spanish audience. With "Badlands" leading into "My Love Will Not Let You Down," it was clear that Bruce's focus was as much on the 80,000th fan as it was on the 1st. With no pause, the opening continued with "Cover Me," which featured a blistering guitar solo from Bruce — a potent reminder of Springsteen's own guitar prowess, in a band home to Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt. In his element, engaging his audience as much with his electric guitar as with his voice and personality, Springsteen surveyed his massive audience, clearly enjoying the sight: tens of thousands of people jumping with their fists in the air. This image, accompanied by massive a wall of sound, set the tone for last night's concert in Madrid.
Bruce was quick to respond to the intensity of Bernabéu, capitalizing on it with stadium rocker "Wrecking Ball" before one of the defining moments of the concert. Enshrouded in darkness, Bruce paced the stage for a moment before a soft purple light descended upon the E Street Band. "My City of Ruins" made its tour debut, transforming Bernabéu stadium into a cathedral. Walking down to the center thrust deck, Bruce raised his hands in a movement which was mirrored by the crowd. Stripped down compared with the Wrecking Ball Tour, this rendition of "My City of Ruins" was characterized by a simplicity of sound. With fewer musicians on stage, and despite the absence of the conversation that came with the song in 2012, "My City of Ruins" conveyed intimacy while maintaining intensity. With sweat already dripping from his arms, Bruce conducted the E Street Band from the thrust deck as arms raised from the front row to the last. Roy Bittan's piano proved to be spectacular, a sonic metaphor for the narrative of the song itself, as he and Bruce took the crowd to near silence and then almighty crescendo.
This experience was nearly repeated with one of the only sign requests of the night, "Trapped." Few songs showcase the E Street Band's ability to command an audience like this one, with the crowd reduced to somber silence and then brought to an emphatic celebration of hope and determination within the space of only minutes. In Bernabéu, "Trapped" took us from one extreme to the other, much to the satisfaction of Springsteen, smiling as the song reached its climax.
"The River" transitioned into "Point Blank," more poignant and fine-tuned with every rendition, before the River album was put aside, exchanged for a collection of Born in the U.S.A. tracks, which Springsteen must deem more appropriate to please massive crowds. For those who love The River, the 1984 emphasis mid-set can prove disappointing, fun though it is. It might be hard to imagine it in a stadium, but for Springsteen to combine a U.S. River Tour setlist with a European audience would be to create magic.
The main set concluded with another tour premiere: "Land of Hope and Dreams" recaptured the profundity of "My City of Ruins" and offered another moment of communion. The expression on the faces of the E Street Band combined enjoyment with a serious understanding of the profundity of the moment. This juxtaposition encapsulated a memorable sign from the Magic tour: "It's only rock 'n' roll, but it feels like love."
An encore similar to previous nights followed, before the high-powered concert drew to a close with "Bobby Jean" and "Twist and Shout." After this intense but relatively shorter concert of just over three hours, Bruce remained on stage while the E Street Band filed out, taking an acoustic guitar and harmonica from Kevin Buell. Returning to the center microphone, Springsteen led the 80,000-strong crowd in not "This Hard Land" but "Thunder Road," its acoustic premiere on this tour and a true moment of magic.
Before leaving the stage himself, Bruce stood above the audience, holding his guitar into the air. Taking a moment to appreciate the spectacle, Bruce shouted, "Remember, the E Street Band loves you!" Hesitating briefly on the staircase before descending, as though teasing at the prospect of another song, Bruce left the stage and an audience that continued to call out his name. He also left a concert that raised questions as to the nature of the ongoing River Tour. As the tour progresses through the UK & Ireland in the coming weeks, its arc may bend toward the magic of his 1980 masterpiece, or toward a series of concerts lacking in narrative but generating massive energy.
Casually walking on stage a little before midnight to little fanfare and no introductory music, Bruce and the Band immediately ripped into the same opening three-pack that began Barcelona's concert. Yet the differences between the two shows were immediately apparent: not only was the festival sound system jarringly flat, the crowd, despite its size, initially seemed to be one of the most tepid of the entire tour so far — American leg included — with very few even fist-pumping to "Badlands." Further, the festival's stage design literally separated Bruce from his audience by an uncomfortable distance, figuratively symbolizing the chasm that he would have to cross to engage this more reserved crowd.
Springsteen, as you'd expect, stepped up his game in the face of such a challenge. Forgoing the usual River songs, he hit the crowd with a killer one-two punch of "Cover Me" and the tour premiere of "Darkness on the Edge of Town." By the time he began physically interacting with the crowd during "Hungry Heart" by walking down the long catwalk and all over the field — which was dwarfed by a colorful Ferris Wheel in the distance and had a zip line (yes, a zip line) literally above it which festivalgoers periodically zoomed across during the concert — Springsteen had already begun massaging the crowd into the palm of his hand. They may not have been familiar with the "wife and kids in Baltimore Jack," but their voices were definitely heard for the chorus.
Even though it was technically another stop on The RiverTour 2016, the featured LP on this night was — unsurprisingly, given the greatest hits expectation — Born in the U.S.A, with nine of its 12 songs being played, three times as many as from the tour's titular album.We're now a "My Hometown" away from the entirety of Born in the U.S.A. being played in Europe before the entirety of The River. Though Bruce and the Band brought out the expected heavy-hitters from the 23rd best-selling record of all time globally, the crowd also lapped up the deeper cuts, including the unexpected tour premieres of "Downbound Train" and "I'm on Fire." The latter received the loudest sing-along of the night.
Bruce's focus on Born in the U.S.A. also stretched to the other album from the era, Nebraska, with two songs to satiate fans: "Atlantic City" — unfortunately, a song that really suffers from a lack of widespread crowd involvement — and the tour premiere of "Johnny 99," a rollicking rendition that highlighted the mighty power of the entire E Street Band (we'll forgive Jake for coming in a bit too early with his cowbell). Sandwiched between these two relatively lesser-known-songs were the often-inseparable Born in the U.S.A. twins, "Darlington County" and "Working on the Highway," both of which had Bruce really playing to the crowd on the catwalk and beyond.
This stretch of four songs encapsulates the subtle brilliance of the evening's setlist construction. Bruce knew he had play to the festival's expected greatest hits crowd, yet he did so without disappointing his loyal fan base. For perhaps the first time all tour, fans truly had no idea what song was coming next (until the encores, but by then everyone was having too much of a blast to care), and it was refreshingly thrilling. Take the "night" two-pack in the middle of the show: for every tour staple like crowd-favorite "Because the Night," Bruce threw in a tour premiere such as "Spirit in the Night," a more obscure track during which he made a point of physically interacting with the audience more than normal to ensure everyone was always along for the ride.
Yet the ride on this night didn't just include those at the concert; thanks to a high-quality live stream, Bruce fans from nation to nation were able to tune in to watch. Even though Bruce had won over the enormous crowd by the end of the show — with the set-closing, acoustic "This Hard Land" eliciting tears from locals in my vicinity — what they lacked in typical E Street Band crowd energy was more than made up for by E Street Nation's participation all across the world. My phone was blowing up throughout the concert, with enthusiastic messages from fellow fans following along at homecommunally sharing in the rock 'n' roll spectacular.
Though the concert was on the shorter side — clocking in at a little over two-and-a-half hours, Springsteen's shortest show in a long time but still the longest set of the day — it served as yet another reminder that no matter the country, no matter the venue, no matter the makeup or size of the crowd, very few people in the world are as good at what they do as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Beneath a warm blue sky, shortly after 9pm, the E Street Band ascended to the stage, followed by Bruce Springsteen, to rapturous applause. Despite the Basque audience being only half the size of their Catalan counterparts, the anticipation was palpable, as Anoeta Stadium erupted with a roar few audiences can achieve. For this second concert of the European River Tour, Bruce arrived armed with an acoustic guitar, clearly relishing the opportunity to indulge in his deafening welcome.
With his eyes set on the center thrust deck, Bruce shouted, "Kaixo Donostia!" — "Hello Donosti! — and smiled as though laughing before dancing down to the thrust deck. Immediately, the opening chords of "Working on the Highway" set the crowd alight, with Bruce thrusting his way into the song. Surrounded by hundreds of fans who had queued for more than two days to achieve their position at the front, Bruce was playing to and partying with the diehards.
The E Street Band launched into "No Surrender," with Bruce back on the stage and jumping in place, in both a response to the audience's movement and a feeding of their hunger for intensity. This ferocity continued until, upon collecting a sign request, Bruce introduced "Independence Day." Cut from the set in Barcelona three nights earlier, "Independence Day" allowed the E Street Band to transform vigor into intimacy, with Bruce introducing the song as being about "fathers and sons, fathers and sons."
With the complete album performance dropped for the European River Tour, "Independence Day" provided a welcome return to the narrative which defined the U.S leg, in which Bruce felt able to introduce and contextualize music that is now 35 years old. "Independence Day" clearly resonated with the crowd, which fell silent as the E Street Band played cloaked in a purple-blue light. Despite the age of both the song and band, the performance of "Independence Day" felt distinctly youthful: the E Street Band channeled the energy of youth and coupled it with the experience of their age. This culmination created a highlight of last night's concert; to close one's eyes would be to exist either in 1981 or 2016.
The reinventon of "old" songs continued as Bruce granted a request for "Fire." Springsteen collected the sign, written modestly on the back of an abanico (hand fan), before teasing the crowd with the possibility of it being played. He held the fan to his face, pouting into the camera, flirting with the crowd, before announcing, "We haven't played this in a real long time." With the stage turning red, the renowned bassline of "Fire" echoed through Anoeta Stadium, almost pulsating.
Despite the 35,000 fans in the stadium, Bruce played "Fire" almost entirely to Patti. Beckoning her to the center mic, their lips almost touched as Patti joined Bruce to harmonize. If "Independence Day" channeled the youth of the original River Tour, then "Fire" channeled the sensuality of the Tunnel of Love Express Tour. The band was particularly tight, with Steve and Nils directing, allowing Bruce and Patti to get lost in the lyrics.
"Point Blank" followed "The River," with Roy's piano intro continuing to prove a musical feat. Bruce adopted a serious tone and expression, looking almost angry as the band embodied the song's solemn nature.
"Murder Incorporated" premiered next and allowed for an epic guitar showdown between Bruce and Steve, who traded notes as though dueling. With the entire crowd jumping and throwing their fists to the air, Bruce turned to the camera and screamed, baring his teeth before jumping in place. At this point, Bruce had established Donosti as being a concert which walked a line between profundity and rockabilly party. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," less profound, had its tour premiere, too — the enthusuastic sign-holder getting a ride on Springsteen's shoulders — before they dug deep again on "Drive All Night."
A set similar to Barcelona continued, until the concert ended with a solo-acoustic performance of "This Hard Land." Upon completing "Bobby Jean," Bruce told the Basque audience to "remember, the E Street Band loves you!" It was an emotional climax to a high-energy performance which lasted some 3 hours and 40 minutes. Despite having already played an additional song in the encore, with the E Street Band having left the stage, Bruce paused on the steps while in the process of leaving.
With his head bowed, Bruce took a moment to himself, before turning to smile at the roaring crowd. Clearly moved by his audience, Bruce collected an acoustic guitar and harmonica and returned to the center microphone. With the house lights up, alone on stage, Bruce began strumming the opening chords to "This Hard Land," which the crowd accompanied him in singing nearly in its entirety. To hear a stadium of 35,000 people singing together epitomized the magic that draws fans to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Bruce thanked the audience before reminding them again, "the E Street Band loves you." Leaving the stage, Bruce glanced back and smiled before disappearing into the darkness. With what appeared to be a tear in his eye, Bruce's final expression was one which encapsulated the story of the night: "the older you get, the more it means."
With a full River album performance no longer part of the tour, "Meet Me in the City" was dropped for the first time, too, as the European leg kicked off with "Badlands." Followed by "No Surrender" and "My Love will Not Let You Down," it was a blast of any opening three-pack that put everyone on their feet. Bruce and the band then dove into The River and performed the majority of the double album, 12 out of 20 songs; 16 River songs had been setlisted, but he ended up skipping four of them and also interspersed songs from other eras. "Independence Day" was dropped when Bruce decided to pick a sign for "I'm Goin' Down" instead — funnily, the same song that made us miss "Drive All Night" at the 2008 show in the same venue.
The middle part of the show, which loosely followed The River's second LP, featured some of the night's most memorable performances: "Point Blank," with its amazing piano intro, was followed by an intense "Atlantic City"; it was a powerful juxtaposition that showed off the advantages of Bruce mixing up the setlists again. Later, setting aside "Wreck on the Highway," Springsteen closed the River portion with — finally, for Barcelona — a long, heartfelt "Drive All Night."
In between, it was sign time. Bruce picked up a lot of requests, skipped "Cadillac Ranch" and "I'm a Rocker," and delivered more crowd favorites: "Darlington County" and "Glory Days." (He showed the other side of that sign, which had "Growin' Up," and allowed the audience to choose; the older gem lost, sadly for hardcore fans). By then the excitement level was off the charts, the crowd's energy feeding the band and vice versa, so it was time to rock some more: "I Wanna Be With You" (finally a River outtake!) was a most-welcomed addition, followed by a loose, butt-shaking "Ramrod" and a beautiful "The Price You Pay."
The post-River segment was a blast, too: intense and hard-rocking, with a great vintage solo from Bruce on "Prove it All Night" and Nils Lofgren's stratospheric guitar on "Because the Night," which was mesmerizing. An audible, "She's the One," brought some of that cherished '70s feeling to the show before a great Bruce/Patti duet on "Brilliant Disguise," always underrated and underplayed.
"Thunder Road" closed the main set at the three-hour mark, with the whole stadium singing Bruce's most cherished and unforgettable lyrics. He thanked Barcelona and Catalunya again, as he had on multiple occasions during the night, and surprised us with an unexpected "Purple Rain" to open the encores. With "Born in the U.S.A." — which was loud, louder and beyond that — the whole building was literally moving. That was the beginning of half an hour of total crowd happiness, everyone dancing non-stop, raising fists, singing along, jumping (and some, with too much to drink, literally falling down)… basically, enjoying every minute of it. A moving "Bobby Jean" felt like a bonus song after "Shout," but just when it seemed like could be no more, Bruce came back to the front with his classic "No more! Yeah? No!" routine, which forced another encore and the whole place exploded again to the rhythm of "Twist and Shout."
Was this one of his best shows ever? No. Was this up to his best nights in the city? Certainly no. But it doesn't matter. He came, he delivered (plenty), he rocked, he spread tons of happiness, he conquered. Again, and again, and again.
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