When Bruce launched into "Light of Day," a sign request, and "100 miles... 200 miles... 300 miles...," I knew exactly what he meant — I had traveled 5,000 of them from Singapore to Scandinavia to follow him and the band across the region and close Europe out. I knew I was on the right train with that heartfelt show in Oslo, and I could feel the expectations build as we traveled east, particularly after Gothenburg's groundbreaking (if not stadium-breaking) second show. Sure, there was no media blitz, page ones, and special sections as in Norway and Sweden, but as 50,000 of us made our way into Helsinki's Olympic Stadium, the same questions roamed through everyone’s minds: will they break four hours? Can what many now considered the best show of the tour so far — or of the decade — be topped?
The answer is yes, and no, which is the beauty of these legendary tours: you never get what you anticipate, and I mean that in a good way. But first, an opening act — a solo troubadour named Bruce Springsteen took the stage at 6:15pm with a guitar (and a harmonica that never worked out and was discarded quickly). The stadium was about one-third full at this point, and Bruce showed why patience (and faith) would be rewarded, playing an acoustic five-song set for "the regulars," which included three tour premieres: "I'll Work For Your Love," "Leap of Faith," and "Blinded By the Light." Throughout, he acknowledged the faces he recognized and the love of his more hard-core fans — “You're all broke and homeless, and it's my fault!" After the 30-minute warm-up — during which he sounded like he was fighting a cold (for the rest of the evening, he coughed, blew his nose and had tissue paper on hand several times) — he spent another ten shaking hands, chatting, and making some ladies very happy with kisses on the cheek. It was tough to doubt that that night's show would be anything but less than phenomenal and stratospherically special when he left the stage.
The full band came out at 7:54pm and powered right into "Rockin' All Over the World," the first of five — count them all! — tour premieres for this last show on the continent. Without skipping a beat for the next eight songs, the band surged from song to song, including an epic "Prove It All Night" with the 1978 intro during which Bruce soloed ferociously with the usual classy support from the Professor's keys.
While songs such as "Because the Night" soared with that Lofgren slashing guitar aria you never tire of, and "Darlington County" was that firecracker of a hootenanny you can't get enough of, "Loose Ends" and "Be True" were refreshing change-ups, and the "My City of Ruins" roll call got a few more touching ruminations than usual: "I’m going to stand right here where time can't get to me."
Springsteen had more fun with sign requests than at the other Nordic shows, joking that Americans knew nothing about public transportation before calling for "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" and vaguely toying with the idea of "Secret Garden" before going with "Back in Your Arms" instead. The soulful rendition drove straight to that part of the heart where the sun doesn't usually reach, verses interspersed with monologues about hopes, dreams, and that special someone, but ending on that high note that you often get to when Bruce is in the driver's seat.
When the tour premiere of "Detroit Medley" made its grand appearance like a knee slide across the stage after "Born to Run," followed by "Glory Days," you started looking at your watch like soccer fans at a match and, sure as the ticking of the clock on the wall, you did the math and knew the end wasn’t near. After "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," Bruce pointed out emphatically that "The Finns aren't finished!" and happily obliged a sign request for the tour premiere of the Steve-penned "I Don't Want to Go Home," nudging his friend repeatedly to take the lead and mic on a stripped-down, duet rendition. Although there were snags in the audience participation portion of "Higher and Higher," the final tour premiere (Bruce ended up calling for "singers, help me out!" to straighten the parts out), there was no denying that everyone knew what to do during "Twist and Shout." At the three-hour-and-fifty-eight-minute mark, a crew member ran out to tell Bruce what was happening, and he seemed surprised — of course, that only motivated him to take this favorite closer where it's never been before. For one, Jon Landau was helping out on guitar — for nearly 10 minutes, he was living in the future of rock 'n' roll.
I am a marathon runner and half-Ironman finisher, but Bruce’s feat of endurance Tuesday night never once flagged in passion, dedication, and undying commitment to send everyone home delirious with rock 'n' roll salvation in their spirits. It was all that Helsinki — no, Heavensinki — would allow.
After Bruce and the band delivered a solid show yesterday, aimed to please a record-breaking 66,000-plus audience, hopes were high for a second show to be just as good but very different, as with the two-night stand in Bergen earlier this week. Well, we did get a different show: 19 songs not played the night before, and several tour premieres... and we got a lot more.
From the very beginning, Bruce seemed to be full of confidence following Friday night's show, which won rave reviews in all the newspapers. Entering the stage in a white T-shirt and a black vest, he opened with the full-band redention of "Who'll Stop the Rain" (Gothenburg had heavy rain all day, tapering off just about an hour before the concert). "The Ties That Bind" followed, sounding tight despite being infrequently played, Jake sounding as good as the Big Man himself at his prime. A "Born in the U.S.A. double-header," in Bruce's words, brought us "Downbound Train" and "I'm Goin' Down," with Jake really shining once again. The first sign request of the evening — "We haven't played this in quite a while, but due to the weather conditions..." — was the tour premiere of "Lost in the Flood." While both Bruce and Roy needed a bit of brushing up before the song could start, once it got going we got a stellar performance of this song, which ever since the reunion tour redention has been a fan favorite whenever it is played. During a particularly emotional "My City of Ruins" the "we are not worthy" waving from the crowd toward the side of the stage previously occupied by the Big Man was particularly heavy — indeed a sign for things to come later in the evening.
A sign request brought "Saint in the City": "A lucky song. I got my record contract playing this one," Bruce introduced it, going on to deliver hot guitar solos with Steve during an extended coda. Introduced as a song from The River album, out came the tour premiere of "Frankie." The introduction with Nils on 12-string supported by Soozie on fiddle was new, adding a country flavor to this one, which Bruce called "a beautiful song" (despite seemingly missing the fact that this was recorded for both Darkness and Born in the U.S.A., the latter version released on Tracks). Also new was Bruce's guitar solo (in place of the sax solo) toward the end of the song.
To please the crowd, no fewer than three sing-along staples in a row ensured that causal fans got their money worth: "Hungry Heart," "Shackled and Drawn," and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." As a special thank you to fans who have been "following us from place to place to place to place..." we got the tour premiere of "Where the Bands Are," with Bruce playing the first verse alone before the full band kicking in. But he clearly wasn't finished expressing his gratitutde: up next was a truly masterful performance of "Backstreets," delivered with a lengthy interlude (not as long as the much-loved '78 version, but close), with Bruce repeating "til the end" and "come a little closer" before taking on the "hiding on the backstreets" part. The best performance of this song I've seen since the Darkness tour period. If some Swedish authority had decided to the plug there and then, this would have been the best show of the tour, but Bruce and the band were far from done.
Closing out the main set was a hot version of "Badlands" and an epic "Land of Hope and Dreams." Kicking off the encore, we got a crystal-clear "Thunder Road" delivered with incredible passion and determination, getting us to believe that we really were gonna pull out of this town and win. Following an earth-shaking "Born in the U.S.A." and "Born to Run," we got some pure fun through "Ramrod." By the end of "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce signaled that his voice was gone — which was partially true, already having shown some signs of wear and tear yesterday — but as usual, Steve got him on his feet again after a few liters of water from the sponge.
When we thought this could be all over after the tribute that is "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," Bruce wasn't done talking about the Big Man. He noted that "Clarence always had a special connection to Sweden," and then: "We haven't rehearsed this, but this is for you and for the Big Man." What followed was the tour premiere of "Jungleland." With Soozie moving back a little bit, a spotlight fell on a lonely saxophone placed at Clarence's usual stage position, and we got an extremely moving redention of his signature tune. To say that Jake was up to the task would be a severe understatement. Following the song, Bruce and Jake embraced, and tears were not only in Jake's eyes, but in everyody's. Clearly one for the history books of the E Street Band.
Having thanked the Swedish audience for "two amazing nights" and an "Oh my God" seldom heard from Bruce on stage, he said that "We need to send these people home!" But not before the stadium-breaker anthem "Twist and Shout," with the La Bamba part thown in for good measure making it the longest version of the song since the Amnesty tour. After that it really was the end to a show which not only can be described as the best of this tour by a good distance, the best of the decade (yes, St. Louis 2008 has served us well so far), and possibly, just possibly, the best one ever. I'm sure such a statement is up for grabs, but there's no doubt this is a strong contender.
Walking onto the stage (now with intro music), Bruce skipped the acoustic opener and kicked right into a full band "The Promised Land," which has gained power after a deserved rest at many of the European shows. What seemed clear from the start was that Bruce was focused on delivering a real stadium show, taking into account that Ullevi, with a capacity of 65,000-plus, is almost triple the size of the Bergen venue of the previous two shows. Thusin Gothenburg there was less emphasis on requests and rarities; rather, the focus was on delivering a no-nonsense show that could grab the attention of the whole crowd rather than pleasing every die-hard fan.
Which is not to say there were no rarities. Following "Prove It All Night" (Steve taking the extended solo at the end) and "Cover Me," we got a very welcome "Something in the Night," which made for a Darkness-heavy opening stretch. Next up was "My Love Will Not Let You Down," which always gets the crowd going even though it has been played infrequently since the reunion tour. During "Spirit in the Night" Jake showed that he has now fully recovered from his back injury, joining Bruce once again at the lower stage during the final verse. Only one request was picked during the sign section, for the tour premiere of "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." Bruce noted that "we have actually practiced this," adding, more obviously, "This is for all the lovely Swedish girls."
Having been rested throughout all the shows in Norway, "Jack of All Trades" was back in the set — it was a masterful performance, with beautiful solos from Curt and Nils and a strong vocal delivery from Bruce. Too bad many in the audience used this as an opportunity to get a beer, which often happens during shows of this size. After a quadruple depression section starting with "Jack of All Trades" and ending with "Johnny 99," the mood radically changed with a heavy focus on crowd pleasers such as Born in the U.S.A. staples "Working on the Highway" and "Darlington County." While "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" is most likely the hardcore fans' number one candidate for a deserved setlist rest, it is indeed facinating to see 65,000 people joining in on this one. Tonight Bruce was even extending both the beginning and the ending of this song, which received one of the loudest cheers of the night.
Speaking of die-hards, Bruce ensured these were not ignored delivering tonight's highlight, the tour premiere of "Drive All Night" (with an introduction of "this one's especially for you," which always triggers high expectations). Also played during the last Ullevi show (July 5, 2008) as noted by Bruce, this saw Jake Clemons delivering two simply amazing sax solos, which prove exactly why he is part of this tour and deserves to stay here for the long haul.
During the intro to "We Are Alive," Bruce noted that one newspaper had a feature on his clothes from all eras of his career — what he wore in '75, '85 and even these days — before heading into the usual graveyard story. To end a high-energy set of encores, he said what we all hoped for: "We can't leave without the stadium breaker, so let's test the stadium!" An extended "Twist and Shout" followed, bringing back memories of the concerts here on June 8 and 9 of 1985 — after those E Street Band shows, the stadium had to be closed for several years and be rebuilt due to the crowd's jumping en masse during the "Twist and Shout" show closer. I hope that the stadium is still in good shape after tonight, because I'm planning to be back tomorrow to watch the now "curfew-hating" E Street Band have another go at Ullevi.
July 24 / Bergenhus Festning-Koengen / Bergen, NORWAY
Appearing in front of an audience enjoying the afternoon sun instead of yesterday's heavy rainfall, Bruce offered an acoustic version of "Long Walk Home" to open, which felt fresh after the standard band version played so often during the two previous tours. Following a great "We Take Care Of Our Own" (the Norwegian audience truly embraces the Wrecking Ball material, giving all songs from the new album an ovation on the level of old classics), Bruce offered the tour premiere of "My Lucky Day." The spotlight was on Steve for this one, suggesting that he was the catalyst for for this welcome addition from the Working on a Dream album, which has seen just one song (the title track) played previously on this tour. In the "1973 spot" (Bruce asked how many of us were born that year) we got "The E Street Shuffle," giving "Spirit in the Night" a deserved rest. The crowd was really into this one, even though many causal listeners were probably hearing it for the first time.
With so many signs on display in the crowd ("Protection" being my favorite of all the signs I saw), Bruce didn't gather any; rather, he just pointed at them and away the E Street Band went. First off was the tour premiere of "Red Headed Woman," delivered in a blues-shuffle arrangement without any solos, just the verses and the bridge. Next up was CCR's "Proud Mary," which has been played on previous tours, but very infrequently. Pointing at a sign from the hotel building near by Koengen saying "Bruce, we're on FIRE," we got another rarity with Steve taking the Big Man's role as Bruce's mugging partner on this one.
After being rehearsed extensively at soundchek during the afternoon, the first full-band arrangement of "This Depression" followed Night 1's acoustic version. This was a clear highlight, with Nils nailing the solo performed by Tom Morello on the album. The response from the audience was excellent, so let's hope this one stays in the set. Continuing the theme, powerful versions of "Youngstown" (spotlight on Nils again), "Murder Incorporated," and "Johnny 99" followed, making this a quadruple Depression outing, with Bruce referring to "the hard times over in the States."
With "You've Got It" also being part of the afternoon's soundcheck, we finally got the world premiere of this track, preceded by a long introduction from Bruce, who said the song could be good material for a physics class. Compared to "This Depression," "You've Got It" probably needs a few more rounds of soundchecking before it works perfectly; nevertheless, it was a very welcome addition to the show, and the last of the Wrecking Ball songs to be palyed live (not counting CD bonus material).
"Racing in the Street" replacing "The River" was another highlight with spotlight on Roy as usual during an extended coda, which was better than ever with the horns added to the beautiful organ melody. From there on, we got a pretty standard encore, but with "Rosie" added for good measure — Bruce and Steve were down on the lower stage, Bruce bringing a young girl up to the stage to sing the final chorus with him (flashes from the old '78 Phoenix video). For "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce chose not to bring any girls on the stage. Also gone was the sponge routine before "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," indicating that Bruce needed less outside stimulation than yesterday, when he really seemed to need some fresh water to keep the show going.
Finally — and possibly just to prove that this night was going to differ from the last one — we got "American Land" as a show-closer. Played more rarely these days, it felt fresher than it has for some time, and it closed a show which did prove, all night, exactly why there is a very good reason to attend more than just one show in one city. It's now time for a two-day rest before we move on to Gothenburg and, we can only hope, some serious stadium-wrecking shows.
As the weather got somewhat better, the set switched back temporarily into a more standard mode, but it was clear that Springsteen was still deviating from his original setlist. As Bruce gave the usual five-finger sign to start "Death to My Hometown," Max started playing "Badlands," and the song had to be restarted. After the song, Bruce noted that "We've actually got a setlist, but I tend to go away from it, showing mysterious signs to the band members." A really funny moment. He exclaimed later in the show that "Max was right!" — referring to the Mighty One following the setlist, but showing that sometimes not even the closest Springsteen-watcher in the world (Max, that is) can keep up with what Bruce is doing.
As in Bergen in 2009 when Steve's acoustic guitar did not work during the intro to "The River," this time he played the wrong notes during the first few bars and they had to start all over. With a fairly standard redention of "The Rising," the show lost some energy, and Bruce seemed to notice it as well. Skipping "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "We Are Alive," he went into high-energy mode, delivering hard rocking versions of "Radio Nowhere" and "Badlands."
With "I'm on Fire" kicking off the encore, this was a concert relying heavily on Born in the U.S.A. material (seven songs from that 1984 album, versus five from Wrecking Ball). During "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce was pointing at a sign saying, "I want to dance with Max while Bruce is playing drums." What actually happened: Bruce picked a girl to be his dance partner while the girl with the sign ran up to Max's drum kit, got the sticks, and started to pound away. Max stood by the side of his kit cheering while Bruce was doing the regular dance routine at the lower stage. An amazing moment, and the girl could drum, too! As Bruce noted: "This has never happened before!" If that weren't enough, during the now-regular "Steve squeezes the water sponge on Bruce" routine before "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out", Steve pulled a little girl of five years or so up on stage and gave her the honor of shaking even more water onto Bruce's face. A funny yet touching moment. With "Twist and Shout" about to end and Bruce down on the lower platform delivering a final, final round of twisting, he got the little girl to do it all over again. A perfect ending to a night filled with all but standard procedures. With a "We'll see you tomorrow," we could all go home with smiles on our faces, looking forward to more setlist shakeups tomorrow.
The Norwegian press had been making much of the coincidence of Springsteen's Norwegian shows taking place around the same time as the troubling anniversary, and over several months, wishful thinking turned to rumors, to counter-rumors, and back to strong rumors that Bruce might make an appearance. Wary of overshadowing the nature of the event, concert arrangers made a point to neither confirm nor firmly deny his involvement, but towards the end of the concert, a couple of highly anticipated international performers were announced.
Springsteen emerged with Little Steven, Bruce with his harmonica and both men carrying acoustic guitars. "Steve and I are honored to be included here tonight, and for all of us who love democracy and tolerance, it was an international tragedy," Bruce told the assembled crowd in Oslo. "I want to send this out as prayer for a peaceful future for Norway, and dedicate it to the families who have lost their loved ones." A touching and powerful "We Shall Overcome" followed, as an appreciative crowd gently waved roses above their heads. It was an excellent, understated selection for an event dedicated to the virtues of peace and tolerance; it was an also appropriate nod to the country that, more than any other, embraced Bruce's We Shall Overcome album. The performance tied nicely in with the show-closing "Barn av regnbuen," a rewritten Norwegian version of Pete Seeger's "My Rainbow Race," performed by prominent Norwegian folk musician and singer-songwriter Lillebjørn Nilsen.
Combined with the Oslo show on the 21st and upcoming shows in Bergen on the 23rd and 24th, this will make for four Norwegian Springsteen performances in as many days.
The Norwegian crowd is known for taking a while to really get going, and tonight was no exception. Perhaps that's understandable, considering that the show took place the day before the first anniversary of the 2011 terrorist attacks that shook Norway to its core and have continued to dominate news for the past year. Bruce didn't mention this directly, but the show was built around several respectful and appropriate nods to the dark occasion that was on everyone's minds, from the solo acoustic "Promised Land" opening through an intense trio of ballads that began with "Rocky Ground." He put some extra power into the third verse of a rousing "No Surrender": "I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lovers bed." Most of all, when he called out to the audience asking if they were "missing anybody" during "My City of Ruins," he just wasn't talking about band members who had passed on.
That notwithstanding, the mood of the show was primarily joyous, with Bruce in high spirits and unexpectedly nice weather. Bruce did have to work hard to bring much of the crowd up to fifth gear, breaking out the singalong "Hungry Heart" mid-set, but there were plenty of treats for the indoctrinated as well, including the scorching debut of "Streets of Fire" and a solo piano "The Promise."
Of several sign requests, "Ain't Good Enough For You" was by far the most unexpected, a very welcome tour premiere from The Promise. After spending a few moments figuring out the song onstage and a few false starts, the band delivered a loose but convincing rendition, complete with the absolutely infective call and response that would make this a true show highlight if it were tightened up just a notch and played again a few times.
The show really lifted off with the encores. "We Are Alive" kicked things off, this time with a very special introduction. Bruce seemed amused by the fact that at this time of the year it hardly gets dark at all in Norway, so he made up a whole verse on the spot (to the melody of "We Are Alive") referring both to the sun that never goes down and the lack of curfews ("Live Nation can kiss our behinds..."). After that, starting with a monstrous "Born in the U.S.A.," we got another hour or so of non-stop rock 'n' roll energy that simply didn't let up for a second. Bruce had finally gotten the Norwegians exactly where he wanted them, arms in the air and moving as one, and they were rewarded with a slew of familiar hits and crowd pleasers. Bruce kept teasing the crowd, pointing at the darkening sky while threatening to go home, but he kept coming back because it wasn't night time quite yet. There was more than the usual amount of clowning around between Bruce and Steve, with Norway's favorite E Streeter squeezing out a sponge full of water over Bruce's head repeatedly as he lay on the stage insisting he couldn't go on. Setlist watchers knew to hope for "Twist and Shout" to close the show, and after one false ending I was sure they were done. But Bruce had promised to play "until the night time," so the final closer was his way of giving us one more jaw-dropping surprise, and also letting us know it was finally time to go home.
Coming between much-hyped two-night stands in Dublin and Bergen, this was no off-night. At 33 songs, and clocking in at at roughly 3:45 of Boss Time, Oslo got the real deal.
A sign reading "Only the Boss Says When to Pull the Plug" was retrieved from the audience as individuals dressed as a London Police Officer and City Official (later revealed to be friends of Bruce's) appeared on stage, reminding Bruce about the "curfew," as Bruce tore up the written ordinance they tried to direct his attention to.
Having a Beatle show up tends to overshadow everything else, but the other guests at this concert were quite special as well. The day's first collaboration came during John Fogerty's set, when Bruce walked on to play with the man he again introduced as "the Hank Williams of our generation" and a "hero" of his. Their collaboration was "Rockin' All Over the World," the first time they had sung the song together. Later, during the E Street set, Fogerty and Bruce reprised their Vote for Change tour duet of "The Promised Land."
Tom Morello performed his acoustic Nightwatchman material earlier in the afternoon but was fully plugged in when he joined the E Street Band for "Death to My Hometown" and "Jack of All Trades." He returned after "The River" for another incendiary "The Ghost of Tom Joad," dedicated to Woody Gurthrie on the occasion of today being his 100th birthday. Morello stayed to play guitar and share Steve's microphone for backup vocals on "The Rising" and "Land of Hope and Dreams."
Although ostensibly a festival, Hard Rock Calling differed from the prior European festival shows the band played this tour (such as Roskilde or Pinkpop) in that tickets had sold out when Springsteen was the only announced artist. Accordingly, Hyde Park was full of Springsteen partisans, allaying fears that they would get a "festival setlist." Allotted three hours and fifteen minutes on the schedule, the show started immediately after the stage had been set following the changeover from the previous artist.
Taking the stage to a clear blue sky with sunshine streaming, Bruce appeared by himself and was joined by Roy at the piano. He greeted the crowd and said he was going to start the show with something special: "this was the first thing we played after our feet touched English soil." So began a quiet but powerful version of "Thunder Road," with Bruce only singing and playing harmonica, which was dedicated as "a little love letter to you tonight."
Bruce would later joke about the good weather ("just wait fifteen minutes") and sure enough, the rain that was present earlier in the afternoon reappeared during "Johnny 99" and remained off and on for the duration of the show. Bruce was not deterred in the slightest, however, and he took extra trips out from the cover of the stage to interact with the audience along the various runways created for him to reach the crowd.
With so many special happenings this night, the strong structure of the set and the bands’ performance should not be overlooked, as this would have been considered a remarkable show even if there had been no guest musicians on the stage. The set flowed particularly well between "Spirit" and "Sunny Day," and the band's performance was tight, compact, and powerful.
An emotional moment occurred during "Spirit," when Bruce brought Jake Clemons down front for what has become a regular bit in the song. This time, Bruce reclined flat on his back on the staircase and paused in the verse to recall Clarence, telling Jake, "I don't think you were old enough — you probably weren't even born yet. But me, and your uncle..." before finishing the final verse. "Empty Sky" remained in the show and is still a strange choice given the topical disconnect between it and the Wrecking Ball songs, but sign requests were curtailed in favor of Bruce playing the set he intended. Bruce also appeared more relaxed than in other recent shows, particularly as his introductions during "My City of Ruins" and "Spirit in the Night" were better received in a country where he speaks the language.
The night's sole sign request resulted in the tour premiere of the long-missing "Take 'Em As They Come," last played more than nine years ago. A tip of the hat is due to the unique sign, on which the requestor listed his shows this tour (ending in London) with each prior one (at which the song was not played) crossed off. Bruce had particular fun reviewing the list of cities, noting that the requestor "went to Seville but had no luck there... he went to Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower, but no song!" Although Bruce admitted that some in the crowd would have no idea what this "obscure" rarity was, its performance was excellent, with Steve's harmony vocals featured and Garry nailing the bass part during the instrumental ending of the song.
Tonight's show was the first of the tour to omit "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," although not for lack of trying. After finishing "Twist and Shout," with Paul McCartney leaving the stage, Bruce and Steve both were signaling for the band to return to their positions so they could play one more song. Bruce tried to count off the song, but his microphone was no longer being amplified over the speakers. Bruce's monitor engineer actually had to come on stage to advise that the PA had been cut off. Unwilling to just walk off without doing something else, Bruce sang a few lines of the folk standard "Goodnight Irene," audible only to those near the stage, before leaving. Beholden to a 10:30pm curfew which had been broken by about eleven minutes at that point, Bruce was unable to continue as the plug was literally pulled on this amazing show.
The night's proceedings started hours earlier with the "standard" show opening — a strong performance from the band, but audience engagement was lacking, in part due to the considerable distance from the stage to the seats (the stage was set up along one side of the oval-shaped stadium). Adding to the lack of energy was show's delayed start, despite the venue being completely full at the time set by the special announcement, sent to all ticketholders, noting that the show would begin "promptly" at 7:30pm.
Bruce attempted to keep the crowd engaged by adding a reprise to "Badlands" and the call and response of "Spirit in the Night," but they appeared to lose interest during an unfocused "My City of Ruins" and were largely indifferent once Bruce began granting sign requests.
For better or worse — and both extremes were reached tonight — the sign requests defined Springsteen's performance in Vienna. Facing a crowd that showed little understanding of sign request etiquette, the number, diversity and sheer size of the request signs forced Bruce to do something. He elected not to rebuke the audience and tell them to put the requests away, instead reverting to the ways of the Working on a Dream and Magic tours, where he collected a number of requests and then proceeded to play a grab-bag setlist. Doing so offers the possibility for great surprises, including this night's three tour premieres, but it also runs the risk of creating massive problems with pacing, flow, and the thematic arc of the show.
First up among the requests were two of Steve Van Zandt's favorites: "Rendezvous," and then — "a song that was originally on the first version of The River, but it was too good so I threw it off" — the tour debut of "Loose Ends." Jake Clemons shined on the latter, with his saxophone solo being of stellar quality and precision. Going back to his sign pile, Bruce pulled out "Empty Sky," calling it "one of my favorite songs from the Rising album." He played acoustic guitar and harmonica, with only light accompaniment touches from the band. Another pull from the stack of requests yielded a limp version of "Trapped," and Bruce then moved on to "Jack of All Trades," which, while essential to the show, did little by way of fixing things. Unfortunately, by this point, the crowd's reactions ranged from polite but subdued respect for the musicianship to outright boredom and confusion.
Bruce pressed on. He started "Johnny 99" but abruptly stopped after two lines and switched to "Darlington County," which helped recapture the crowd's attention, and after "Shackled and Drawn" and "Waiting on a Sunny Day," he added in "Raise Your Hand" to keep the tempo up.
Acquiescing to further requests from the crowd (Bruce noted an abnormal number of signs for this one particular song), he elected to skip "The River" and instead sat at the piano for the third time in the past five shows. What followed was the tour premiere of "Tougher Than the Rest," the first airing of material from the perennially underplayed Tunnel of Love album, complete with the crowd singing in harmony with Bruce. Arguably the biggest highlight of the show, Bruce's piano playing earned him a special round of applause from Roy at the end of the song.
Finally "in concert" with one another, Bruce proceeded to take the audience everywhere they wanted to go in the encore. "Hungry Heart" and "Glory Days" were clear favorites, keeping the energy going high. It was the material they had been hoping for earlier, and their finally getting it also jolted the band, transferring even more energy back to the crowd. Not everyone knew "Seven Nights to Rock," but they were revved up enough to keep dancing through it as well, instead of heading for the exits early. This pace continued through the entire encore, including a boisterous response to the Big Man tribute video, all the way through to the multiple (and welcomed) codas of "Twist and Shout."
Springsteen had played in Prague one previous time, during the Ghost of Tom Joad solo tour, which he immediately referenced upon taking the stage. Walking on by himself and without any introductory music, he started with the first acoustic "The Ghost of Tom Joad" of the tour. Later in the show he recalled his prior visit, calling it a "big, big experience for me" and noting how he had the opportunity to meet Vaclav Havel and host him as a guest for that concert. Bruce noted specifically that he was "so glad to be back here with my band," and later during "My City of Ruins," he took special note to remind the crowd that "we have a bigger band that what you see on stage tonight," an acknowledgment of the fact that neither Danny nor Clarence had ever played here.
The show had a distinctly internationalflavor, with not only fans traveling from traditional Springsteen strongholds (Spain, Germany, the United States) but also with many fans from other European countries (Greece, Poland, Romania) for whom this show represented the closest Springsteen tour stop to their hometown. The die-hards down front brought much energy to the vicinity of the stage, but the rest of the house was a different situation: people applauded, and clapped along at times, but remained seated.
Presented with this challenge, along with a language barrier — Bruce managed only one short greeting in Czech — the occasion of the first visit by the E Street Band to Prague had Bruce working extremely hard, showing off the different pieces of what a Springsteen show encompasses. There was his fierce guitar solo during "Prove It All Night," and Bruce displayed his harmonica and falsetto skills on a particularly strong version of "The River." He tried goofy dancing during "Working on the Highway" and the party-trick singalong that is "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." He played his new material with confidence, with only "We Are Alive" missing from the typical rotation of Wrecking Ball songs.
Two key requests via sign enhanced the main set to great effect. First, there was a request for "Blowin’ in the Wind," which initially sent the band scrambling as Bruce joked: "that's the other guy!" Instead, Bruce wanted to play something he called "kinda like that," the tour debut of "This Hard Land," which he dedicated to the fans who had travelled to the show. The second request, "My Love Will Not Let You Down," followed the pairing of "Atlantic City" and "Because the Night," the rare occasion of Bruce spotting a perfect sign request and adding it to the show immediately to take things that one step higher.
Finally, by the encore, Bruce succeed — most notably with the power of "Born in the U.S.A." to get the Czech audience up and out of their seats. Encore songs such as "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing in the Dark" may be rote elsewhere, but they fit the mood perfectly in Prague, helping keep energy high and bodies dancing until the end of the show. A reported 10:00pm curfew was ignored as Bruce exclaimed, "It’s too early to go home!" before bringing the show to a close with "Twist and Shout."
"We'll be seeing you" may be a stock response to the crowd at the end of a show, but after tonight's performance, here’s hoping it comes true sooner than later, and if not in Prague then perhaps in another European country new to the E Street Band.
The "Don't Look Back" opener got the hardcore faithful in the front of the pit very fired up, but those in the seats seemed more along for the ride. In spite of a very energetic opening pack (including a "Wrecking Ball" lyric change from "Meadowlands" to "swamplands" — I guess the lowlands of NJ aren't globally known), it really wasn't until the "If you're here, and we're here, then they're here" speech during "My City of Ruins" when the whole thing really got going. People finally got their butts out of the seats and let loose, which played right into a very entertaining "Spirit in the Night." The Jake/Bruce moment during the final verse is great to see — a new tradition with a new saxophonist — proof that the band evolves no matter what the circumstances.
Things got a little weird for the first sign request of the night. I've never seen such a tepid response for a sign (and, dare I say, I heard a few boos from where I was standing) than for "Working on a Dream." Bruce seemed excited to play it, so God bless him, it's his show. But I can't say that it seemed any fresher than it did in 2009. "Growin' Up" and "Save My Love" were great follow-ups that kept the show and the crowd enlivened, if not exuberant. The journey from Northeast Ohio to Charlotte County was fast and furious, but "Shackled and Drawn" is the stop where everyone had the most fun. The new material in general went over very well with the Swiss crowd.
"If I Should Fall Behind" was a very large sign request that barely fit on the piano, as Springsteen sat down to play this one solo. The tour debut was a subdued (though not heavy) moment that, in this fan's opinion, is the way the song was meant to be sung.
There weren't any surprises from that moment on (except maybe for Bruce's 1988 look as he rolled up the sleeves under the vest), but that's not to say the show wasn't exciting, engaging, ecstatic, exhilarating, or exhausting. No setlist on paper (or on a message board) can describe the scene properly. From "We Are Alive" forward, the band and the crowd pushed to higher and higher ground, and by the time "Seven Nights to Rock" came around, it was an experience that's difficult to describe unless you're there. We Americans may have heard the encore songs before, but there's something magical about the enthusiasm from the Europeans who are, in many cases, hearing it for the first time.
As the last note of "Twist and Shout" finished, I had no idea how many songs had been played or how long the show was (three hours and 20 minutes, as it turns out). It didn't matter. All I knew was that I had seen a band at the top of their game performing before a crowd who couldn't get enough.
July 7 / Roskilde Festival / Roskilde, DENMARK
Bruce started very strong and energetic with "No Surrender" followed by "Badlands," but then he seemed to lose some steam. A few snot rockets during the early part of the show added to the impression that he might not have been feeling well. But whatever he might have been suffering was soon forgotten, as he threw himself more and more into the performance, enjoying it, interacting with both the crowd and his bandmates. I've never seen Steve being hugged so much and so involved in the show: "Come on, Stevie" all night, and Steve ready and glad to follow Bruce's call.
"Spirit in the Night" again prominently featued Jake trading bluesy sax with Bruce's vocal on the slower part, close to the crowd... Bruce had to gently correct his timing in the beginning, but Jake instantly got into it and beautifully responded to Bruce's singing. Really a fine performance from Jake all night.
Then there were The Roots joining in for "The E Street Shuffle," introduced as "my friends from New York City" (they were back later for "Twist and Shout"). They were sharing background vocals and adding some cowbell percussion; Black Thought had to be turned up in the mix as Bruce noticed that his voice was almost drowning in the brass sound of the extremely powerful horn section. "Trapped" and "Because the Night" were early highlights of the set, with Nils nailing his ultralong solo in the latter. "Working on the Highway" with a straw cowboy hat intro and lots of hip shaking, and a real highlight in "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" with no kid singing but an extended crowd sing-along intro — a party song that was eagerly soaked up by the audience.
An extremely intimage start to the encore in "We Are Alive," with the story about playing at the graveyard as kids, but it soon became energetic and pounding, the band clearly enjoying the "Ring of Fire"-style horn parts as if Johnny Cash was just rising from his grave to join in and fight "shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart." Just awesome.
Then, a shock: I swear that I could not believe what followed after "Roskilde, are you ready?"... I knew that "Born in the U.S.A." has been played on this tour in a powerful version that, from its effect on my heart and stomach, comes close to what happened to my guts way back during the 1984/85 tour. And I knew that the sound is brilliant on this tour, and bass is prominent. But Bruce counted the song off as if he wanted to say "EAT THIS"... and it almost literally blew us away, the subs drowning the whole place in earthquaking vibrations, leaving the crowd looking at eachother in awe and disbelief. From Bruce's brilliant vocal to the pounding E Street Band, my personal outstanding tour highlight so far.
Spotlight on Steve again for "Glory Days," and a bonus after "Tenth," with a couple hundred thousand hands way up in the air for "Twist and Shout." Bruce waved good-bye telling the crowd "Jeg elsker dig ['I love you'] and we'll be seein' ya!"
I am 21 years old, I've been coming to the Isle of Wight for almost 20 years, and I've been to the festival for going on ten years. In all that time, there has remained one act, one man, who I have longed to see grace the legendary stage. Like many others, I was distraught only a year ago to hear of the passing of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, such an integral part of the E Street sound, not least because I feared it might be the end of the greatest working rock 'n' roll band. And then, out of the blue last November, came the astounding news: not only will Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band be touring in 2012, but the first date announced is the Isle of Wight festival.
I had to restart my computer to be sure. Then I pinched myself several times, and then I cried and laughed from sheer overwhelming delight. A dream — and a seemingly lost, impossible dream at that — had unexpectedly come true.
By the time he arrived here, I had in fact seen him three times in the previous two weeks. Each show was special in its own right, and I won't dare to rank them, but his presence on the Isle of Wight transcended mere fandom. A festival crowd is not necessarily a home crowd, so watching him win over the skeptics (with ease, I may add) was particularly satisfying.
Through the mud and the beers — a hell of a lot of both — we'd seen champions come and go, but the whole event had been leading up to 8:00 on Sunday evening when the E Street Band stormed out onto the stage and blasted into "Badlands." Suddenly it was three hours later, 25 songs had flown by with unrivalled energy and showmanship, and as sparks flew over E Street from the closing fireworks, Bruce took a final bow and headed off to "catch a fucking boat!"
Highlights? There weren't any lowlights. At twenty-five songs the set was long enough, but trimmed of any flab that may have lost this more casual audience. The new album, forming the core of the set, more than stands up in its own right, aided of course by a ridiculously strong back-catalog. The now standard opening sequence, delivered flawlessly, was followed by a rare early "Lonesome Day," but the high point of the main set was the killer one-two of "Atlantic City" into an audibled and particularly intense "Because The Night." "The River," always special, was timed perfectly as the sun had just disappeared, and a rousing and emotional "Land of Hope and Dreams" more than justified its inclusion ahead of "Thunder Road." A surprising U.K. performance of "Born in the U.S.A." (the first full-band airing here for a decade) – kick-started the encores. "Born to Run" reaffirmed its status as the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time just as the England football team was losing to Italy on penalties, but nothing could dampen the pure joy that song brings.
The playful "Twist And Shout," as fireworks lit up the night sky, was a perfect end to what stands to my (totally objective) mind as the best festival headline performance I've ever seen. Discussing this on the way home, various other greats were name-checked — McCartney from two years ago, the Stones a few years before that — but what distinguishes Bruce is that this isn't a legend just turning up to play the hits, or a crowd turning up to get one last look at one of the greats or tick him off the bucket list; rather, Springsteen remains at the absolute peak of his powers, a step above anyone else out there at the moment, as vital and relevant as he has ever been. Forty years after he started, this is an enormously impressive feat, and his infectious visible joy at still being up there, hour upon hour, night after night, means that hopefully there are still a good few similar nights left in him and his legendary band yet.
*Four pro-shot songs were broadcast on Sky Arts in the U.K.: "Wrecking Ball," "Death to My Hometown," "Shackled and Drawn," and "Twist and Shout." These minus "Twist and Shout" were broadcast on Palladia in the U.S.
* * *
A few familiar chords gave way to the first surprise of the night: "Growin 'Up," for the first time on tour. Bruce spoke again in French, then English, and told one of his stories, only this time with a local accent: "And there I was... trying to speak French... I fell asleep and had a dream... a ball was being kicked from this side to that side... and they called it football! And Montpellier was the Champion of France!" (referring to the Montpellier football club's recent championship). The magnificent performance of "Growin’ Up" received a well-deserved standing ovation before everyone stayed silent listening to "Jack of All Trades." No one went to the bar, nobody talked. It was time to listen to one of the best songs from the new album.
Next up was an incendiary trifecta. A breathtaking "Candy's Room" led to a great "Prove it All Night," which Bruce finished with a riveting guitar solo that, again, ressembled the classic ’78 performance. It was delirious. The band was absolutely tight, Jake was on fire on the sax, and "She's the One" came next to take the show’s temperature up even higher. From then on, there was no pause to catch our breath. Bruce and the band showed they're in spectacular shape on this tour, each and every song a shot of new energy. The duet between Cindy and Bruce in "Shackled and Drawn" was riveting, and as the show went on, Bruce was everywhere, jumping up and down, interacting with the front rows, running through the side ramps, going around the pit to the ministage.
A sign request brought us a majestic "Point Blank." It was sumbline, with Stevie doing some fine guitar work and singing harmony vocals to great effect, all supported by Garry Tallent's steady bass, while Roy embellishes with some piano on top.... It was one of those moments. Indoors Bruce's voice sounds deeper and heartfelt, making for rich performances as the dark and serious tone of the concert continued with "The River." "The Rising" and "Out in the Street" (during which a daring young fan mouthkissed Bruce for a few seconds) were the uplifting moments before ending the main set with the best version I've heard of "Land of Hope and Dreams," where the horns play such a big and effective role. Just brilliant.
Before the encore began, Bruce picked up a two-sided sign which had "Thunder Road" on one side and "Fire" on the other. He chose the latter for the tour premiere of "Fire," showing his most sexy, funny and provocative sides all at once. "Rocky Ground" got a warm reception from the audience before the E Street Band launched into a powerful "Born to Run" followed by a thunderous "Born in the U.S.A." Max's drumming was terrific, and the song sounded even more overwhelming in such a small venue. As the delirious encores continued, both Bruce and Steve wore work helmets, Steve drenched Bruce in water, and at some point Bruce went to Roy’s riser and started playing the piano with his left ear. It was Springsteen at his best in front of 14,000 French who had the luck to attend a thrilling, vibrant concert.
The stadium was packed and expectations were high (especially after those extra-long shows in Italy the week before). Bruce opened the show with the fury of "Badlands" and "No Surrender" before digging into Wrecking Ball, the album he's strongly supporting. Bruce looked fresh after a week off and despite the jetlag (he landed in Madrid that same morning). As the show progressed, both Bruce and the audience started sharing a huge dose of feedback. The audience got more and more enthusiastic, and Springsteen responded with great joy and dedicated effort.
The world debut of one of the mythical outtakes from the '70s marked one of the highlights of the show. After numerous rehearsals during soundchecks in both San Sebastián and Madrid, the song finally made it onto the setlist. "Spanish Eyes" was dedicated to the Spanish women, and being in a huge stadium didn't matter at all: none of the intimacy was lost, and there was magic and nuance behind every note. The afternoon soundcheck also included "One Way Street" (another track from The Promise) and Sam Cooke's "Havin 'a Party," but those will have to wait for another occasion.
Another highlight, again from The Promise, was "Talk to Me." No big surprise here, as it had been played before on the current tour. But having Southside Johnny (who recorded the song originally) as a guest was a memorable thing to behold. It was a flashback to 1978, as we had onstage the three guys behind those fabulous Jukes albums: Southside Johnny, Bruce Springsteen, and Miami — yes, let's call him Miami again for once — Steve Van Zandt. It might not have been a popular or well-known song among the 60,000 people in the stadium, but both Bruce and Johnny gave a formidable performance, soulful, strong, and fun, and absolutely everyone danced and had a great time. For a few minutes we felt like we were in a small club in the Jersey Shore in the mid-'70s. It was the first time the trio had been together on a stage in Europe.
"Spirit in the Night," revitalized with the new intro, sounded more powerful and soulful than ever. It was immediately followed by another rarity, "Be True," originally the B-side to the single "Sherry Darling" in Europe in 1981. It was a brilliant performance by the band, Bruce sang it beautifully, and Eddie Manion's solo was just perfect.
As the night went on, Bruce's energy level just seemed to increase and increase, and a lot of adrenaline was spent on stunning performances of songs like "She's the One," "Youngstown," "Murder Incorporated" (with its blistering guitar solos), as well as a rare appearance of "My Love Will not Let You Down." Another gift for Madrid was a spectacular "Because the Night," with Steven doing the final guitar solo. The "Apollo Medley" was back in the set after a little rest and it was well received. One of the emotional moments of the night was "The River," which was dedicated to Nacho, a 20-year old fan who passed away the week before due to a brain tumor. Family and friends had sent messages asking Bruce to dedicate a song to him, as this was going to be his first Bruce show.
Come "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," the show had surpassed the Milano mark from a week before, and Bruce still looked as fresh as when he came onstage hours earlier. The roar from the crowd was huge, and Bruce couldn't resist doing "one more for Madrid." A long and loose "Twist and Shout"brought Southside back to the stage and put an end to the show, which by then had just made history: Bruce had just played the longest set of his career. All we could see then were happy faces everywhere in the stadium, faces of disbelief and surprise at the length, intensity and joy of the show.
Let's say it again: it is incredible what this man is doing at 62, playing some of the longest, most intense shows of his career. His honesty, attitude, and dedication to his fans is just incredible. He's a man on a mission. And right now he's provin' it all night, every night.
An appreciative crowd waited for Bruce along the pit with banners and signs, many of them requesting songs, of course, and some with other special requests: a dance with Cindy, a dance with Soozie, a "Dance with my mom, please!" Bruce honored a request for "Downbound Train" as the first surprise of the night, and another special moment came soon with "Youngstown," which exploded into an incredible Nils solo, a trademark of the live rendition of the song. A rare "Murder Incorporated" followed, keeping up the intensity.
After missing them in Milan and Florence, we waited in Trieste to hear "Because the Night" and "Thunder Road"... and Bruce made it happen. The piano intro of "Because the Night" drove the crowd wild, and Bruce sang with passion, while Steve took the solo. And if anyone in the stadium hadn't had their minds blown by that, the harmonica opening of "Thunder Road" finished the job, driving the whole place wild. The song is really one of the best ever written in rock music, and the new arrangement with the horn section taking the lead in the coda is the perfect way to close it. And then a surprise extra song in the main set, as out came "Rosalita" by request, with Bruce dancing out into the crowd.
"Siete pronti?" ("Are you ready?") was the signal for the encores, starting with a massive "Born in the U.S.A." before Elliott Murphy, Bruce's great old friend now based in Paris, took the stage to guest for "Born to Run," just like he did in Bologna in 2002. (Elliott was in town to play a show of his own in Trieste the next day, so it was a special chance to have him on stage.)
Another hard rocking "Seven Nights to Rock," and then the stage became a sort of a great, open space for a house party, with boys and girls coming up to dance: a girl to partner with Bruce, a guy dancing with Soozie, a girl with Little Steven, too. It was that kind of show, with a constant give and take between Bruce and the band, on one side, and the crowd on the other. Finally, Bruce and the band left the stage to what seemed like an endless ovation, leaving us with some amazing memories of this Italian part of the tour. More than ten hours of music over three shows, almost a hundred songs, many tour premieres and rare songs… all in all, we couldn't ask for more.
The Artemio Franchi stadium was completely filled when at 8:30 the notes of "Once Upon a Time in the West" rang out and Bruce, echoing Steve's play on words, came onstage yelling, "Are you ready? Are you ready? The frenzy in Firenze, here we go!" before kicking off with a great rendition of "Badlands." When a rockin' "No Surrender" followed it, it was clear that a special night was about to come; at the same time, the first drops of rain began to come down, just the beginning of a crescendo that by the end of the show would have all the crowd soaked to the bone. "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," and "Death to My Hometown" gave the audience a chance to jump and sing non-stop, until the moving music of "My City of Ruins" warmed the souls, with tears falling when Bruce, speaking in Italian, said "Are we missing anybody?" and, answering to the shout of the crowd, "I can hear them in your voices."
After a rousing "Spirit in the Night," with the extended intro and Bruce running all over the first row, came the first surprise of the night: the tour premiere of "Be True," the "Fade Away" B-side that had already been a special treat for Italy in Udine three years ago. "Jack of All Trades," with a dedication to the recent earthquakes in Italy and "all the people who are struggling," succeeded in making the stadium silent, while everybody tried to keep their lighters on under the rain. "Trapped" was pure emotion, and the temperature jumped up with a never-ending solo by Bruce on a rocking "Prove It All Night."
After that it was time for a long sequence of dancing and sing-along songs, starting with "Darlington County" in combination with the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," helped along by 43,000 voices singing as one. It was just the start: after picking a sign from a lucky fan, Bruce launched the band into an ultra-rare, extra-fun, and totally unexpected version of Elvis' "Burning Love," sounding great with the horn section and followed by the uninterrupted fun and energy of "Working on the Highway" and "Shackled & Drawn." By now the rain was coming down hard, so "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" wasn't just a song, but exactly what the audience was doing. Everybody back to the last row went crazy when Bruce picked up a child to sing the chorus. The rare (in Europe) "Apollo Medley" brought the show to another level: Jake broke out some amazing dance moves, the band was loose, and Springsteen was clearly galvanized by the dedication of the audience. Wishing to have his share of wet, he was running back and forth along the crowd, holding hands, with a perpetual smile on his face. After the dancing, it was time for the crying, with "The River" (during its falsetto ending, the stadium was completely silent), "The Rising," and a breathtaking "Backstreets" that made the audience explode: when Bruce sang the "just me and you, baby" interlude under the pouring rain, it was pure wonder and emotion.
The encores were a total frenzy in Firenze: by "Hungry Heart," people were dancing shirtless under the deluge like there was no tomorrow, and the unexpected "Seven Nights to Rock" only got things more frenzied. The same feeling was onstage, with a soaked Bruce yelling in disbelief, "You're fuckin' die-hards!" when he saw that after "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” people were still asking for one more. He gave it to us, with a never-ending "Twist and Shout." Then it was all over, it seemed: the encores had been played in a surreal atmosphere of collective ecstasy, and at every song everybody wondered how could he go on with another one in those conditions, so it was beyond any expectation when Bruce decided to pick up his guitar again and close the evening with a moving and highly appropriate "Who'll Stop the Rain," a worthy finale to a historic night.
After the show, it was enough to look at the faces of people, radiant even in conditions that will probably ensure colds and temperatures for many... or to listen to the "Badlands" chant in the streets of Florence... to understand that no one, soaked as they were, had any complaints. Like a friend of mine for whom this was his first Springsteen show said to me at the end, "This is not a singer, this is a religion." I think he's right.
The length of the show—one of the longest of Springsteen's career—only tells part of the story. We got "The Promise" on the piano. We got not one, but two extra encores after "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." There were moments of typical Bruce madness, not least getting a very reluctant girl to sing on "Sunny Day," and picking up a blow-up doll with a Bruce face on it and singing from behind it. We got a girl dancing with Jake, for Gods sake! And the band was simply on fire.
The first part of the set went on like in Lisbon, with a good number of powerful songs (the opener "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," "Badlands," "Death to My Hometown") mixed with some "breath-saving" ones ("My City of Ruins," "Jack of All Trades"). The crowd exploded at the first surprise, "Candy's Room,"
However, the real fun came with the encores. It was a quiet start, with a special talk for San Siro saying how much the Italian crowds have meant over the years, and how Milan in particular is a very special place ("number one," Bruce said) for him and the E Street band since their historic first concert there in June 1985. Bruce dedicated "Rocky Ground" as a prayer for the Italian people (during the show he had spoken of the victims of the recent earthquakes in Emilia Romagna), and that began an immense encore set (ten songs altogether!) that rocked San Siro to the foundations.
"Born in the U.S.A." was sung with fists up to the sky by a crowd of more than 60,000 people, and without interruption he started "Born to Run" while all the lights went on. "Cadillac Ranch," by reuqest, closed with the '85-style dance with Little Steven, Nils and Jake. "Hungry Heart" was particularly heavy with the audience participation that the Italians are so famous for, and then Jake was the star of the following "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing in the Dark," complete with not one, but two girls on stage: one for Bruce, and one for Jake. Bruce had picked up a girl with the sign, "Can I dance with Jake?" and she didn't need to ask twice: the Boss sent her to dance side by side with Jake, as his final sax solo stretched out. The madness peaked when "Jake's girl" did a "'Rosalita' video moment" on Bruce, and he carried her off the stage with her arms around his neck!
And still it wasn't close to over. "Tenth Avenue" was fantastic with the homage to Clarence: the crowd offered up lengthy applause to the memory of Big Man, and a lot of us were caught crying (the Boss himself appeared to be very moved before resuming the song). This moment gave us and the band the strength for one more splendid rendition of "Glory Days," after which the Boss seemed to be done for the day. After three-and-a-half hours, we might finally have been ready to head for our homes... but on the big screen we could see him calling for one last song, and soon a classic finisher for Milano: Bruce took off his jacket and tie and ripped open his shirt for "Twist and Shout." Everybody up singing and dancing, life does not get any better than this. Then it really was the end, with Bruce cheering the crowd and thanking Milano for this special night. As he sent the musicians backstage, thanking them one by one, it looked like he had to convince some of them to leave the stage. Maybe, like all of us, they still wanted going on rocking us all night long!
The band took the stage very late and after a long wait, at 12:15, and started roaring through the setlist. Everyone was thankful when, after "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," "Badlands" and "Death to My Hometown," we finally had a chance to breathe during the beautiful "My City of Ruins." Bruce explained why he was he was singing that song, and he did it in Portuguese.
"Spirit in the Night" had Bruce coming up to the crowd to sing the last verse; then the spotlight was on Nils, who delivered a stunning solo at the end of a particularly inspired "Because the Night." After "No Surrender," Bruce quickly came down to pick up (and soon play) two sign requests: "She's the One" and "I'm on Fire."
The rest of the main set pretty standard, though again, delivered with sky-high levels of energy. Highlights were the crowd pleaser "Waitin' on a Sunny Say" (with a young kid from the audience helping out Bruce as usual), a particularly touching rendition of "The River," and a moving and apropriate version of "We Are Alive."
The encore was a wild party, packed with hits. 81,000 voices chanted the "Born in the U.S.A." riff, pumped their fists to "Born to Run," and danced their asses off before Bruce pulled out a sign to give everyone a chance to sing the first verse of "Hungry Heart."
When Bruce finished playing "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," everyone thought that would be the last song of the festival, so the sky filled with fireworks as Bruce and the band took a bow. The crowd kept cheering relentlessly and finally convinced Bruce to play one more. As the opening riff to "Twist and Shout" sounded, Bruce had a huge grin on his face at the sight of 162,000 arms up in the air waving, clapping, and dancing to end the night — the morning! — in communion and sheer joy.
The afternoon soundcheck was a real tease, getting us all excited as Bruce worked out a number of rarities in an extended rehearsal including "Higher and Higher," "Be True," "Burning Love," "Pink Cadillac," and, from The Promise, "Spanish Eyes." It was a joy to be able to hear a song like "Spanish Eyes," from the street but still crystal clear. He's never played the song in concert, and the only known live version comes from a closed rehearsal in Asbury Park in 1978. So though it was from a distance, we could say this was the song's first-ever "public" performance.
As predicted, the rain began one hour prior to the show, and it rained hard. After saying "Hola San Sebastián, Gabon Donostia” (Hello/Good evening, San Sebastian, both in Spanish and Basque), the Creedence classic "Who'll Stop the Rain?" came first. And though it didn't stop the rain at all, it brought powerful energy to the stadium and the show itself. "The Ties That Bind" sounded as fresh and vital as when, as a young teenager, I used to drop the needle over and over on the vinyl tracks of The River album. Bruce showed some sympathy for his soaked fans when he went to the front during "Death to My Hometown" to purposely and profusely drench his guitar. Michelle Moore is having more and more moments in the shows, and in San Sebastian she was onstage already for "My City of Ruins," and then the next song, "Spirit in the Night," which now sounds a lot closer to its 1978 incarnation. Bruce wore a hat for this one, recalling his '70s look.
As the show progressed, Bruce called for some audibles and kept changing the setlist. "Night" came next (with Steve sharing vocals on several verses), then "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?," both fast-paced. "Jack of All Trades" was well received, and it was followed by a terrific trio: "Adam Raised a Cain," "Prove It All Night," and "She's the One." Bruce was on fire, and after the standard "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" (during which the kid onstage tried to run away from Bruce!) he started called audibles and skipping the setlisted songs ("Apollo Medley," "The Rising," "Lonesome Day" and "We Are Alive" were all left aside). Thus we got a very welcome "Save My Love," a note-perfect "The River" (with more amazing vocal and guitar work from Stevie), a monumental "Backstreets" (with a short interlude, very similar to the one in the Houston ’78 video), and an accelerated "Badlands" that led us to a great "Land of Hope and Dreams" to end the main set.
So far, a great show, but a good part of the audience was probably expecting more hits. Come encore time, they got what they wanted, and the stadium was on its feet dancing, singing, and partying like crazy in the middle of the storm. A magnificent "Rocky Ground" was followed by an explosive “Born in the U.S.A.” that literally shook the stadium, then a joyous "Hungry Heart" and a frenetic "Seven Nights to Rock," then "Dancing in the Dark" (with two kids onstage) and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" to close. I'm still amazed at the level of joy, energy, and enthusiasm that Bruce is showing on this tour, and how perfectly each song is performed.
Bruce and the band were in high spirits throughout, collecting signs early on for "Hungry Heart" ("Damn, this should have happened two hours later!") and "Trapped," the latter actually written on a business card. "Youngstown" again featured a great solo from Nils. Another great surprise was the first ever European "Save My Love" ("We've got this very obscure request from this young man here"), featuring a nice little rap by Bruce about a radio station connecting lovers.
Before the encores Bruce pulled another sign, commemorating the legendary 1988 show in East Berlin. Springsteen is much adored in Berlin for being one of the few superstars of the West to perform before the German reunification in the East "German Democratic Republic" in 1988. What was supposed to be a sedate concert in front of hand-picked members of the Communist youth organization FDJ turned into a triumphant celebration of rock music for an unbelievable 180,000, most of whom simply crashed the gates. There were many in the 2012 crowd who remembered the occasion, and for Bruce it stands as one of the most memorable of his entire career: "Once in a while you play a place, a show that ends up staying inside of you, living with you for the rest of your life," he told the crowd, "East Berlin in 1988 was certainly one of them." What followed was a very beautiful version "Rocky Ground," which brought the stadium to complete silence, and an especially welcomed "Born in the U.S.A.," which in '88 was seen as defiance of the Communist authorities.
Springsteen promised this time to rock the pants off his Berlin fans, and as the encore progressed and he threw in an incredibly energetic "Seven Nights to Rock," he gleefully waved a pair of jeans and pronounced his intentions fulfilled. After a long and warm cheer for Clarence in "Tenth Avenue," Bruce thanked the crowd for a fantastic evening and a very special night, sending home the capacity crowd of 58,000 people with big smiles on their faces. And even after three hours, still just a slight tinge of envy that Frankfurt got 20 minutes more of precious "Boss time."
The next surprise of the evening came as Bruce bolted down the steps and practically dove into the audience to retrieve a sign. When he came back up it was to the sound of "The Ties That Bind." Jake Clemons nailed the solo sax part to this unplanned request.
The band all seemed well rested and were clearly having a lot of fun on stage as Bruce took turns introducing them during "My City of Ruins." First the horn section, then the singers, the band... and when he got to the "searching for my baby part" and there was no Patti, he turned, pointed, and ran back to the audience to retrieve a long, redheaded wig. He promptly carried it over and placed it on Roy Bittan's head, making longing "missing you" eyes at him. it was very funny and won over the typically stoic German audience. The next surprise of the evening was "Honky Tonk Women" as an intro to "Darlington County," followed by "She's the One" and "Working on the Highway."
The arrangement of "Shackled & Drawn" is evolving, with a bit of a reggae mashup, Cindy Mizelle singing up front, and a lot of emotion. It will be interesting to see how this sounds after a few more shows. This led to a soul set with "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and the Wilson Pickett classic "634-5789" (the "Apollo Medley" has been rarer on this European leg). The whole band seemed to be up front and dancing, Jake thrilling everyone with his moves. After "The River" and "The Rising," the next surprise of the evening was" Radio Nowhere," its only performance since Tampa. "Land of Hope and Dreams" ended the main set.
When "Born in the U.S.A." opened the encores, American flags appeared all over the crowd. "Born to Run" and "Hungry Heart" were next, and then the big surprise of the evening, the tour premiere of "Seven Nights to Rock." For "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce went back into the audience in search of a long, redheaded wig... this time three of them, on a group of women who held a sign proclaiming them the "3 Pattis." Bruce brought the whole trio up to dance. "American Land" with particular emphasis on the German line made the crowd happy, and then the show ended — 29 songs, three-and-a-quarter hours later — with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," the video montage of Clarence received with first with silence and then many cheers.
"My City of Ruins" was very poignant, and following it with "Spirit in the Night" and "E Steet Shuffle" really showed the song's roots, highlighting Bruce's ability as a soul performer as well as an out-and-out rocker. Both of those early tracks were a real treat and certainly pulled the heartstrings of the more "experienced" Bruce fan.
The slow waltz of a sublime "Jack of All Trades" following hot on the heels of '70s funk was a pleasant shift; this song worked surprisingly well in a stadium and was particularly resonant in a Europe in recession. "Darkness" and "Youngstown," forming a thematic arc, were tremendously powerful as well; "Johnny 99" maintained the economic theme but lightened the mood with a rock 'n' roll big band feeling that had the whole crowd jumping. Further highlights were a raucous "Shackled & Drawn" (with some fine vocals by Cindy Mizelle), a marvellous "Rocky Ground" (another great cameo from Michelle Moore), a truly inspiring
The encore was truly a whopper, with eight songs including a brilliant "Born in the U.S.A." that shook the fillings of our teeth. The summertime feel was further lifted with the tour premieres of "Cadillac Ranch" and "Sherry Darling" and a rip-roaring "Glory Days" before heading back into the standard "Dancing in the Dark"/"Tenth Avenue" pair to close.
With no time to catch his breath came two jewels from the early days: "Spirit in the Night" and "The E Street Shuffle," both memorable and so musically rich. "Spirit" featured a lot of crowd interaction with Bruce, and "Shuffle" was pure musical joy, with the E Street Horns shining on. It was a thrill, and a surprise, to see "Trapped" (another superb performance that brought back memories of the ’81 tour) followed by a great, uptempo "Downbound Train," the always intense "Because the Night," and, after a false start, a nice rockabilly version of "Working on the Highway." "Shackled & Drawn" was a highlight again, featuring Cindy and Bruce doing some great singing and dancing down front.
Later in the set, Roy Bittan's piano brought us a marvelous ten-minute "Racing in the Street," with great vocals from Bruce and an astounding lengthy coda that, again, brought us to another level. It was the musical highlight of the night. Surprisingly, there was no "Thunder Road" or "Land of Hope and Dreams" after "We Are Alive"; rather, a familiar instrumental intro (back to 1978 again) led us to a rousing, furious version of "Badland," with several codas, to end the main set. The stadium roared in approval.
"Ramrod" opened the encores instead of "Rocky Ground," which followed next. The rest was the same predictable encores as the first night, only a little less spirited. After such a great night I expected something else, but maybe that's me. Nevertheless, it was, again, another exhilarating concert. Both nights in Barcelona were an act of affirmation of a man's enormous talents, with no tricks, no gimmicks, no fireworks: pure Springsteen at its best.
Bruce and the band came onstage at 9:46 while Donna Summer's "Last Dance" was playing on the PA. After saluting the crowd with his now-classic "Hola Barcelona, Hola Catalunya," he went straight into a fast-paced "Badlands" that got everyone on their feet. Jake's first sax solo was received with joyous cheers of admiration by the 54,000 people in the audience. After good versions of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball," songs that only improve as the tour progresses, came "No Surrender," an impetuous "Death to My Hometown" (once again received enthusiastically) and another beautiful rendition of "My City of Ruins," which Bruce introduced with some words in Catalan: "This is a story of hellos and goodbyes, of life and death, of what we lose and what remains." The end of the song was very moving, with Bruce singing "I've been so lonely... I’m in a sad mood tonight” before asking “Trovem algú a faltar?” (Are we missing anybody?) which was inmediately followed by chants of "Clarence, Clarence..." and a big roar.
Sadness was followed by joy when "Out in the Street" and an unexpected "Talk to Me" kept the whole audience singing and dancing. He addressed the audience again in Catalan before "Jack of All Trades," which he dedicated to the Spanish 15-M movement "and those who fight in Catalunya." The song was respectfully followed with silence and attention. And then... something happened. Because Bruce, who was already doing an excellent job, went two steps up and for the next half-hour brought the show to another level, with electrifying versions of “Youngstown," "Murder Incorporated," "Johnny 99," "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" (a tour premiere that sounded exactly as it did on the River tour) and "She's the One." It was a pure blast of non-stop rock with the E Street Band in top gear.
A fantastic "Shackled & Drawn" came next, with the horns and Cindy Mizelle in the spotlight. With this level of energy and enthusiasm, even "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" wasn't the drag it usually is, and "The Promised Land" sounded better than it has all tour, with a faster tempo and an exhilarating ending with Bruce on the small stage in the back of the pit. Bruce was on fire, running back and forth on the side ramps, going to the various mini-stages in front, and receiving plenty of feedback from this deliriously happy audience. After nearly an hour of non-stop uptempo songs, it was time to calm down a bit. "The River" was a nice surprise, so beautifully sung (with help from the audience) and so close to the original version, with the addition of some falsetto singing at the end.
What came next was one of the biggest surprises ever: some familiar piano chords started (which went unrecognized at first), with Bruce saying "for this man, over there." And then we were speechless, awestruck, once we knew what that melody was: the 1978 intro to "Prove it All Night," with some striking guitar work from Bruce. Something we would have never thought of, not even in our wildest dreams. The unthinkable was happening. After so many years of memorizing that guitar melody note by note, listening to "the magic of bootlegging" late at night via the recordings of the Winterland and Passaic shows, we were finally witnessing the magic. This long-lost live arrangement has become kind of a holy grail to Springsteen aficionados, something we always dreamed of and had to comfort ourselves by watching videos from that legendary tour. Anyone remember how exciting it was back in the early '80s to find out that videos from '78 actually existed and someone might send us a copy? Three decades later that excitement surfaced again, only this time it was real: we were there, we are here, a few feet from Springsteen, and he's doing it all again. Dreams come true sometimes. The next nine minutes we went to heaven and back and felt like teenagers again watching our first rock show.
Some may argue that intro and its guitar solo have been performed better, and they'll be right; but after 32 years, it sounded like the best guitar solo ever done. Until Thursday, just a few thousand could say "we were there." The 54,000 fans attending the Barcelona show are now proud to say, "We were there, too." It was that good. Add in Steve's solo at the end of the song, which was just mesmerizing, and the energy and excitement levels were sent to the stratosphere.
Without pause Bruce yelled "one, two, three, four!" and we moved from '78 to the summer of '81 with a great "Hungry Heart," sounding as fresh and vital as the first time we heard it (no more "automatic pilot"). "The Rising" came next and benefited from the general state of excitement in the stadium. After a spirited "We Are Alive," the main set ended with yet another masterpiece, "Thunder Road," possibly most fans' all-time favorite song, sung again with faith like in the old days, and ending triumphantly with an impressive sax solo from Jake and all the horns joining in at the end.
After a brief pause the band was back onstage for the final half-hour of encores, starting with a great "Rocky Ground," which led to a thunderous "Born in the U.S.A." And then a frantic string of rock with the house lights on to the end: "Born to Run," "Bobby Jean," "Dancing," and "Tenth Avenue." The concert on Thursday is one that won't be forgotten, at least for the 54,000 lucky souls who attended this historic performance. I haven't been this excited since I was lucky enough to attend the St.Louis 2008 show.
The show opened with "We Take Care of Our Own," moving "Badlands" to the third slot, followed by "No Surrender." Just four songs, and the audience was in awe, ready to rock, sweaty (it was also a very hot and humid day in Las Palmas), jumping, singing, dancing... the usual big party stadium show.
Though most of the show was of the festive, participative kind, there were moments to dig into the older stuff, with some hot versions of "Seeds," "Prove It All Night" (with Steve doing the final guitar solo, probably for the first time ever; it was smoking, very much in the '78 style) and "Two Hearts," played after a sign request from a couple of vistors from Maine. For the tour debut of "Working on the Highway," Bruce walked down to sing it in the small stage. He stayed there for the next song, "Shackled & Drawn," and was joined by Cindy Mizelle for a little singin' and dancin'.
As the show progressed the new audience got more and more into it, having a blast with the "Apollo Medley" and Bruce's runs to the side ramps and the other side of the pit area. No crowdsurfing in Europe, but tons of audience interaction and close encounters, wich was received with awe and huge roars. "The River" was a clear highlight, performed perfectly, almost note-for-note to the album version.
Setlist-wise there's not much else to say, and though this may not be the dream set list for most veterans (it certainly wasn't mine), one has to acknowledge that the performance of each and every song was brilliant, and both the audience and Bruce were on fire. And despite our complaints sometimes, the Las Palmas audience fully loved the "The Rising"/"Lonesome Day" segment. The main set finished with a fantastic version of "Land of Hope and Dreams," which seems to have taken the place of "Thunder Road".
"Born in the U.S.A.," another sign request and the first encore, was a blast. It was strong, huge, overwhelming, though I'm still wondering why he had to sacrifice "Rocky Ground" when he could have done both and no harm would be done (and it was so very welcome in Seville).
The crowd had a blast from the start and did not stop jumping and singing for the next three hours. Springsteen knows well how to control an audience: at this first stadium show of the tour, he raced across the stage and went down to the front constantly throughout the show. He also performed many songs from his catalog that work well for a mass audience so willing to participate: "Out in the Street," "Darlington County," "Bobby Jean," "Dancing in the Dark," and the infallible "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." There were many youngsters everywhere in the audience, singing their hearts out and knowing the words even to songs like "Badlands" and "Because the Night."
Though the set list included "The E Street Shuffle" and "The Promise," Bruce decided to play more recognizable songs instead; but it's a good indication that he wants to keep playing some of his deeper cuts. As it was, the mix of old and new stuff worked well in a stadium setting and pleased everyone. And though there were as many as four songs from Born in the U.S.A., other albums were also well represented (two songs off The River, three each off Darkness and Born to Run). Highlights included "The Ties That Bind," "Trapped" (a sign request from a 14-year-old fan), and the tremendous duo formed by "Candy's Room" and "She's the One." "Because the Night" featured the classic Nils Lofgren guitar solo, and the audience gave a huge roar of approval.
Springsteen dusted off his Spanish for several of the song intros. Before "Jack of All Trades" he said in Spanish: "I dedicate this song to the people of the 15-M movement and all the people struggling in the south of Spain." The 15-M movement started a year ago in Spain, a precursor to the Occupy movement in the US.
Patti was absent, but Michelle Moore at last took on a greater role, on stage not only for "Rocky Ground" but also during the "Apollo Medley" and the closing "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." Another request, "I'm Goin' Down" had its tour premiere and featured some extended guitar work by Stevie at the end of the song. Though Bruce went to the small stage in the back of the pit a couple of times, there was no crowdsurfing at this show. It was a very, very hot night — with a temperature of around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and particularly steamy in the overcrowded pit — but Bruce worked his ass off nonetheless.
"We Take Care Of Our Own" and "Death to my Hometown" came first, followed by "Rocky Ground," sung with Michelle Moore, who'll be also singing on these European dates. The only absence was Patti Scialfa, who will apparently join the tour next week. Right after performing "Rocky Ground" there were some distant screams suddenly breaking the silence: they came from a large group of fans who were watching the soundcheck from the stadium's own hotel building, which has windows facing the inside of the stadium. Bruce joked with them, asked if they wanted to hear any particular songs, and then delivered an inspired version of "Thunder Road." The horn section's final solo was impressive, particularly in the emptiness of the stadium, which allowed the sound to be perfect and powerful. Seeing that epic ending from just a few meters away was really something.
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day" brought the first contact with the small audience, as Bruce jumped down to the pit, walked through the back of it, shook hands and even had two journalists sing part of the song.
Then came two surprises: the upbeat "I'm Goin' Down," followed by a historic moment: Bruce and the E Street Band gifted us with a full band live version of "The Promise." Something that has only happened four times in public (first show of the '78 tour, the 2010 carousel show in Asbury Park, the Washington show a few weeks ago, and now in Seville, in this semi-public rehearsal in front of the press).
"Shackled & Drawn," "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "We Are Alive" closed the session, and then Bruce sat on the edge of the stage for a 15-minute Q&A with the press, mostly to respond to questions about the current political climate in the US, the huge economic crisis in Spain, the Occupy movement, etc. Sadly, there were almost no questions at all related to his impressive musical career.
For previous setlists,
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