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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