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.
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