July 31 / Stadion Letzigrund / Zurich, SWITZERLAND
The nightlong message was clear from the get-go with a rip-roaring two-pack of declarations, "Prove It All Night" and "My Love Will Not Let You Down." Based on the stadium-wide clapping during the former and an extended coda in the latter due to the relentless chanting and jumping, this was a signature European crowd that would be participating nonstop in the E Street proceedings from beginning to end.
Springsteen turned in a fast and loose performance, allowing the crowd to help dictate the flow of the night by calling upon no less than five quality signs. First was a rousing "Trapped," a creative request written on top of a cardboard jail with little cutout figures of Bruce and Stevie trapped behind bars. After we all went down to Greasy Lake together for "Spirit in the Night," Bruce took a few minutes to collect a plethora of "explosive requests," ultimately choosing two true rarities that he joked the band may have forgotten. For only its second ever performance in Europe — and fourth ever during a proper E Street Band concert — the tour premiere of "None But the Brave" was a real shocker. Jake in particular showed his mettle on this beloved, sax-heavy outtake — he always seems to come through for such big, unexpected moments. Though he joked with Bruce during the introduction that he might not be ready, the whole thing was a beautiful, near-flawless performance.
And then it was time for the highlight of the night. Many European fans long to hear tracks from the Human Touch/Lucky Town era given the full E Street Band treatment — for one thing, to allow others who dismiss these gems to realize that their initial negative opinion may have had more to do with the band's dissolution than with the songs themselves. Bruce answered their prayers with the tour premiere of "Roll of the Dice," only its second performance in Europe since the 1992-'93 tour. The song began with a long buildup that had Bruce repeatedly bellowing, "Are you ready to gamble with the E Street Band?! Are you ready to put it all on the line with the E Street Band?! Am I just stalling because I'm afraid to start the song?!" He shouldn't have been scared; the crowd was clearly ready, greeting the song with the same level of jumping and chanting as his more familiar stadium anthems. With Bruce partaking in some "I Wanna Marry You"-esque dance moves with his maracas, and the performance ending with Bruce and Stevie going back and forth a la "Two Hearts" and "You Can Look," it was the type of rambunctious moment that can only occur when the Band and the crowd are so in sync.
Impassioned versions of "Jole Blon" — which featured Soozie and Charlie taking long violin and accordion solos — and "Atlantic City" closed out the sign request portion. Another transcendent rendition of "American Skin" demonstrated that palpable connection between Bruce and his European audiences. Performances of this song have only increased in power over the course of the tour, fueled by tragic real-world events sadly confirming the relevance of this nearly 20-year-old track and culminating here with the entire crowd emulating Jake's "hands up" stance. It was a soul-stirring symbol of the power of music to cross all borders, with thousands of hands of different nationalities and genders and races showing their solidarity with this American problem thanks to Bruce's deft musical insight. Let's hope this song makes the trip back to the U.S. with the band.
Thanks to the increased time that the European G.A. system allows fans to spend with each other, the European contingent of E Street Nation feels like a real united community. Those who travel from show to show — as many in the Zurich pit did — have formed profound friendships with one another, facilitating a true exchange of cultures. No one will question the best concerts are those shared with friends, and that's exactly what happens at almost every stop in Europe. A majority of the most passionate fans-turned-friends end up in the front of the pit, and both they and Bruce feed off each other's communally enhanced energy all night long. This was perhaps never truer than in Zurich.
A pre-show torrential downpour had failed to dampen the mood; after it started to rain again toward the end of the main set, Bruce's decision to play "Mary's Place" felt like an ode to these dedicated fans — who must be "familiar faces" to him at this point — standing in the pit. Sharing in the rain, Bruce sang the second verse on the center platform, quite literally surrounded by people that the song depicts: "Familiar faces around me/Laughter fills the air/Your loving grace surrounds me/Everybody's here/… I lose myself in the crowd/Let it rain..."
Though Springsteen's music helps many of us through dark days as portrayed in "American Skin," this tour has been more about the type of partying through the rain as presented in "Mary's Place." Crowds have turned up to revel in the continued opportunity to party with the unparalleled magnitude of the E Street Band. As such, this night felt less like an emotional farewell and more like a triumphant celebration — of not only the last few months, but also the enduring love between Bruce, the band, and their fans over the last 40 years.
After an audibled "Jungleland," the remaining encores were predictable yet, as always, effective. If Bruce intends to work up the crowd into a climactic frenzy with the show's final stretch, he has no real reason to mix it up; the encores have become a perfectly-tuned machine of kinetic energy. But there was still a surprise ahead, as the night ended with an impromptu post-ovation closer of "Twist and Shout." Instead of saying goodbye with a small, resonant solo performance, Bruce and the E Street Band rocked out with everyone for as long as possible.
Before leaving, he made sure to thank what seemed to be the focus of the night: all of his traveling fans who allow him to "always get an incredible welcome over here. It's been a great adventure." And perhaps this didn't feel like a farewell because it's not; before the final buildup in "Twist and Shout," Bruce riled the crowd up by specifying this would be the last one for 2016. But before hopes of Springsteen returning to Europe in the near future, he first needs to finish up The River Tour 2016 back in his home country. And if Zurich turns out to be a taste of what Bruce and the Band will be treating Americans to, the upcoming stadium leg will be ten more nights of truly great adventures when this train picks back up in three weeks.
People were out to have a good time in what is arguably Norway's prettiest park; indeed, it was here after his two-night Oslo stand in July 2008 that Bruce sat down for a beer with fans as he wandered around the park to take in the sculptures and enjoy the atmosphere. It's the perfect place to relax, he said then, and it seemed he had not forgotten that as we got underway, preceding the full E Street Band show with a casual and fun acoustic number, "Working on the Highway."
With the full band, the opening "Meet me in the City" was delivered perfectly, and those of us hoping for a full River performance to follow were not to be disappointed. Sure enough: "This is our second visit to Oslo this summer, so we're going to do something special…." The sun-drenched crowd was clearly happy with this turn of events, and as we launched into "The Ties That Bind," the mood was fantastic.
As the intro to "Independence Day got underway it was again obvious how much Bruce was enjoying the "picnic in the park" feel. He waved to us under the trees, and during his introduction he mentioned growing up in a small town with beautiful trees like these. It was a very personal speech and poignant with regard to the difficulties fathers and sons have communicating with each other. A cooling breeze blew up out of nowhere, and the song was played to perfection.
Other highlights of the album were, of course, "Point Blank" and "Drive All Night," but the crowd was in more of a party mood, and the rockers really blew the leaves off the trees. As we finished the album portion, Bruce again underscored that he was enjoying himself, complimenting Oslo on the beautiful park and the crowd on looking great. "Wreck on the Highway" floored me — what a song, what a delivery, what a venue.
For the "afterparty," the crowd went wild. What better way to make that happen than lead off with "Badlands" into "The Promised Land"? Lots of by-now fairly standard rockers and party songs were just what we needed after such an emotional rollercoaster: "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," "Shout," "Bobby Jean," all designed to leave us in an upbeat mood. But The River is about both fun and seriousness, and an acoustic "This Hard Land" brought us back to reality, drifting like a ghost among the trees.
July 26 / Granasen Arena / Trondheim, NORWAY
Considering the weather, it wasn't a shock to get the tour premiere of "Who'll Stop the Rain" as an opener, but it was a fine River Tour moment: an arrangement harkening right back to 1980/'81, with Bruce alone on the guitar during the first verse before the band kicking in. During an otherwise standard batch of opening songs, the audience appeared quite sedate, which seemed to make Bruce even more determined than usual. "Spirit in the Night" felt inspired and worked very well as the first sign that things were about to get interesting. The first request of the evening came next: "Loose End," introduced by Bruce as a song "from Darkness" (!). Rather than picking it as a sign request from the audience, Bruce referred to a sign he had seen hanging from a bridge on his way from the airport. In any case, "Loose End" was a masterful performance and a real highlight.
As always, "Independence Day" was an emotional peak, and it's great to see this song played quite regularly now. Bruce's instant reaction after the first verse of the "Hungry Heart" sing-along was "That's terrible!" — and he was right. The few who joined in sang the lyrics to the chorus instead. But after one round of the chorus itself, we finally got "That's good!" By request came the tour premiere of "Radio Nowhere." Despite its long absence, the Magic single was intense and note-perfect; Max Weinberg showed not only during his incredible drum break but throughout the whole song that he really is at the top of his game. The coupling of "The River" into "Racing in the Street" is a magical one, with the latter again being a showcase for Professor Roy Bittan.
After being set aside for a few shows now, the "Darlington County" / "Working on the Highway" / "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" segment returned, but this time it felt absolutely right and necessary — this was what could get the Trondheim audience moving. During his vocal solo spot on "Darlington" Nils sang the wrong verse, which got Bruce shouting out, "What in the world were you singing?" After much laughter, Nils got it right the second time. During the intro of "Sunny Day," where people usually shout/sing/scream out the chorus melody, the audience was totally quiet, much to Bruce's surprise. He had to pull out all of his tricks (complete with a little boy being brought on stage to sing the chorus, of course) to get this audience into gear. Happily, by the end of the song, hands were waving from side to side, and from this moment on, finally there was no hesitation for people to dance, sing and really get into the show.
The coupling of "Candy's Room" and "She's the One" remains among this tour's highlights, propelled by Mighty Max, who was simply fantastic this evening. Again with no pause between "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "Born in the U.S.A.," the latter was a Max tour de force, to an extent this writer has never experienced before (and I've seen more than a few shows): powerful, intense, precise and exploding. For the first time on this tour as far as I have observed, Max was not wearing his signature tie. Well, if that's the reason for his exceptional performance tonight, let's keep that tie in the closet, Max! Bruce, too, must have noted that the drummer was simply was on fire, screaming out "The Mighty Max Weinberg!" after the song ended.
During "Ramrod," Bruce brought a girl on stage to join in during the "ass shaking" moment, before Steve added the very fitting "Is it ski jumping time?" during the regular "Boss time" break. For "Dancing in the Dark" no fewer than six dancers were brought on stage, along with a young boy with a sign asking, "Can I watch Max play the drums?" Not only did he watch Max play, he got to punch the snare drum on "Dancing" and remain at his spot on the drum raiser during all of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." A special moment not only for this lucky boy, it seemed, but for the E Street Band as well.
At the end of "Shout," which had the whole arena going wild, the "Boss has left the building" segment seems to reach new highs every night, complete with a glittering "The Boss" cape and Bruce's sudden return from below the stage, raising the cape and throwing it away in his best Elvis-in-Vegas imitation. A hilarious moment, and at this stage of the evening it felt just right. After this, "Bobby Jean" felt almost like an afterthought before Bruce closed the evening with "one more for Trondheim," a passionate, crystal-clear "Thunder Road." Having kicked off the concert three hours and ten minutes earlier to an audience that must have been among the quietest on this European tour, the show ended on a happy note, Bruce having demonstrated that 40-plus years on the road has given him the ability to turn things around 180 degrees, delivering a fun, heartfelt, and exciting show deep in the Norwegian woods.
Being the only European city to be granted three shows, hopes were high for a special night; after the full River album performance in Paris, many fans hoped that this could be repeated here at Ullevi. If it were, it would be the first time that this concept would be tested in an outdoor stadium setting. Well, did we get the full album sequence of The River? Yes. And did it work in a stadium with a crowd of 63,000? Absolutely, yes.
Following the regular routine from the U.S. album performances, the show kicked off with "Meet Me in the City," only its second outing in Europe, and a very welcome opener — particularly as a clear sign that our prayers for a full River performance were about to pay off. Bruce followed the outtake with a quick announcement simply stating that they would play The River start to finish. This received an absolutely deafening ovation from the crowd.
With only complete River sequence in Europe to this point, it seemed that this had some positive effects on the performance itself, which felt inspired and fresh while still benefitting from having been played many times earlier this year: they delivered a flawless performance of the album's 20 songs. As has been the case during the latter part of the European tour, the first record really rocked; highlights for European fans were clearly "I Wanna Marry You," complete with the "Here She Comes" intro, as well as a rather wild "Crush on You." At the end of "The River," Bruce waited for the crowd to return to the humming of the title track's chorus; it creating a lovely transition into the second record and "Point Blank," with Roy Bittan providing the intro first introduced during the original River Tour.
Following the crowd-pleasers "Cadillac Ranch" and "I'm a Rocker," two of the night's biggest highlights came with a beautiful "Fade Away" and an intense "Stolen Car," complete with fireflies filling the stadium as the evening darkness replaced the sunny Northern skies. After a rocking "Ramrod" we got a truly amazing performance of "The Price You Pay" with the crowd shouting out the opening and closing chants, suggesting that this song was made for a stadium setting. The fireflies were back in full during "Drive All Night," which really feels like a defining song for Ullevi, including Bruce's riff on "Dream Baby Dream" during the "don't cry now" segment. Again, a truly fantastic performance. "Wreck on the Highway" closed the full album performance on a somber note, including Bruce's speech saying The River was about "the passage of time."
With no time to really bask in the excellent full album performance, Bruce and the band fired on all cylinders straight away for the next portion of the show, launching right into "Badlands." Particularly hot versions of "Candy's Room" and "She's the One" followed before Nils once again took the spotlight on "Because the Night".
Following what would normally be a main-set closer, "Land of Hope and Dreams," there was no pause at all as this transitioned directly into "Born in the U.S.A." to kick off a rather standard set of encores until the very end, with the only sign request of the night. A big banner read, "It's time for the stadium breaker." Bruce clearly agreed, as we got "Twist and Shout" as a bonus, and it appeared that this time Bruce and the band clearly tried very hard to break the stadium just as they literally did 31 years ago. A fitting finale to a tremendous show that delivered all we hoped for and a little bit more. Referencing the stadium display at the start of the concert, Bruce left us with not only "We'll be seeing you," but also "Thanks for welcoming us home."
We didn't have to wait long for an answer: Bruce and the band started off with a heartfelt version of Vega's "Dream Baby Dream," intense and haunting. You could feel his pain through every word. It was a lovely tribute, but I couldn't help but wonder if more than 10 percent of the crowd knew the song or knew about the Suicide singer's passing. It just felt a bit too quiet.
But those who thought we'd get a sad and dark show after that opener were wrong. The band was really having fun, laughing and goofing around on stage. It felt like Bruce wanted to celebrate life, walking around on the small stages, shouting "Let's hear some party noises!" before "Sherry Darling." They were having a great time. The odd thing was, it almost seemed like they were the only ones — the crowd was flat, hardly reacting. Somehow the energy you normally get from the band and crowd interacting wasn't there at all.
It didn't seem to bother the band, but it did make the show feel a bit odd and sometimes a bit unbalanced. After all the uptempo songs it was nice to slow down a bit with a lovely "Independence Day," which got a great intro about the relationship between parents and their kids, but after that it was back to another party song with "Hungry Heart."
While Max was still drumming after "Out in the Street," it was time to collect some signs. Bruce held off on "American Skin (41 Shots)" (he left the sign on the small stage and would play the song later in the show), and he showed us "Cover Me," too, but he decided to collect another one first. Probably because he'd seen a sign he loved, but also to go easy on Max: "I gotta give him a break. You see, Max doesn't only play songs, he plays in between songs as well. Which he doesn't get paid extra for…."
So the "Cover Me" sign had to wait; first it was time for a fun version of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell." He practiced some vocals first ("It goes like this every time we cover this") and was thankful for the crowd clapping along ("We need some help with this one!") before they went into a great version, with solid solos by Roy, Soozie and Nils.
Another highlight was another tour premiere, the lovely summer song "Frankie," for a sign made by Danish fan Bodil who was there with her daughter. Not sure what key to play it in, the band had to restart the intro. Bruce smiled — "So far the band isn't doing that good. What key? F? Let's try again!" — before going into a wonderful version of the perfect song for this summer evening.
It wasn't the last time the E Street Band was challenged in Horsens. Nils had some trouble coming up with the lines for "Darlington County" after the Boss decided to drink some beer and handed him the mic. We got some extra "sha la laas" before Bruce spat out some beer and rescued Nils by taking the mic again. And later on Bruce decided to test the band after he took a sign for "Follow That Dream." Helping the band out by showing them the bridge ("and you have to play that twice"), Bruce started the song on his own, bringing the band in after the first verse, making it an intense but quiet highlight.
Almost all the lights on stage went out after the regular set, showing Bruce with his guitar in the air, staring quietly at the audience for what seemed like minutes before going into a roaring "Backstreets." Most of the Danes seemed to prefer "Born in the U.S.A.," though, which came after that. The audience went wild (which didn't happen very often), and Max gave us all he had and a little more during his solo. As one of the signs in the audience read, Max is definitely born to drum.
After Bruce and Steve messed up the lines during "Ramrod" (they where laughing so hard they couldn't sing), it was time for "Dancing in the Dark." The E Street Band got twice as big with dancing partners for Steve, Soozie, Max, and Jake, as well as a guy giving all he had on a guitar Bruce was more then happy to lend him. Then, after a fun "Shout," the band waved goodbye, leaving Bruce on stage for a heartwarming "Thunder Road." The audience went crazy, singing along with every word. You could see him smile after they roared "and that's all right with me," and you could softly hear him say, "That's good." And it was.
Some things never change. As a group of smartly clad Italians stride out on stage we have our first inkling that something extra special — extra spiritual — is going to happen tonight. It's a string section. Then the goosebumps come. I feel mine first, then see the rest; an old fella in front of me shivers, his bronzed skin coated in teeny tiny bumps and raised hairs as Roy plays those first few bars.
"Por Roma!" Bruce calls out to a 70,000-strong gathering of passionate Italians and holidaying Brits, Americans and more, before leading us into a near 15-minute long rendition of "New York City Serenade." Close-up camera shots of his face are broken up with big-screen snippets of a beaming Rome Symphony orchestra. The crowd? Shocked. Silent. Then "singing, singing, singing," before Bruce blows the string group three kisses, shakes the conductor's hand to say thank you/farewell and…
And we're off. "Badlands" rips out over the all-standing audience, which is crammed into a seemingly never-ending valley sandwiched between crumbling Roman ruins and towering pine trees. It's the perfect setting, Bruce realizes, grabbing an early sign, to wing a sketchy yet infectious tour premiere cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues." A strong run from The River album follows. The crowd, unlike Milan this year (frenzied, manic, amazing) and Rome 2013 (pushy pushy, eager, amazing) strikes the balance between crazy-energetic, chilled, and, well… amazing. As the likes of "Sherry Darling" and "Jackson Cage" are belted out underneath the pinky moonlit sky, it's clear we're all in for a big old sing song.
And what's better than "Boom Boom"? Bruce grants the sign request (props to the cut-out, Telecaster-shaped cardboard that he opts for a little jam on), and the crowd shakes its ass to the track, which has us, and the entire E Street line-up, grinning. Bruce is in the mood for sign requests, and better yet, there's some good ones. Up next is a Motor City skyline and the hastily scrawled words "Detroit Medley." "Work that tambourine, Jake," Bruce whoops, and a raucous party ensues on a rare mid-set Mitch Ryder blowout. A particularly furious "Death to My Hometown" has the crowd going wild with jabbing hands and full-pelt singing. (Okay, shouting. It was definitely shouting.)
Then the E Street Band leaves the stage, and the lights dim to an eerie green. Can we handle another "Serenade"-level surprise? "This is a request… for the Italian social workers on the front line," Bruce tells us, all eyes on his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The crowd holds its breath for "The Ghost of Tom Joad," arguably the most captivating performance of the night. Haunting, spellbinding. Relevant. It's followed up with a gorgeous version of "The River," the audience relishing the chance to sing the falsetto back at Bruce as the track ends — he's clearly struck by the effort — before he signals for that "Point Blank" intro. And we're silenced — again — by a chilling, intense, poetic take on another River favorite. The men and women around me shake their heads at the effect of this power trio, "Mio Dio" (my god) whispered around me as we try to take it all in.
"Light 'em up," Bruce hollers at the start of "The Promised Land," soon leading into some classic staples including "Working on the Highway," "Darlington County," and "Bobby Jean." The camera pans the grinning, sweat-slicked faces along the barrier. "I risked a divorce to be here," one sign reads. Hell, we all know that feeling.
Another sign soon grabs him: "My mom's favorite song," it reads, before Patti slow dances over to Bruce at the center mic for a smoldering rendition of "Tougher Than the Rest." Ciao Roma! A spectacular "Drive All Night" has the crowd hypnotized and hushed — yet again — for the entire track. It's rounded off with a run of barely audible, husky whispers from Bruce. "Don't cry now," he comforts us, over and over. Cue tears.
Sure, avid set list watchers will have come to expect it by now, but "Because the Night" was remarkable, the lights flashing black and white and heads furiously nodding as Nils delivered his blistering guitar solo, working the crowd into an absolute no-holding-back cheering frenzy. Nils steps up again for an extended intro on "Land of Hope and Dreams." "For Nice, for our French brothers and sisters," Bruce tells us. The change is subtle, the tempo ever so slightly slowed, but this version feels raw and even more emotion-packed than usual. "Let me see your hands," he commands. Circus Maximus obliges.
Surely we're in for the obligatory heavy-hitting closers now? Not before the encore starts with a blinding "Jungleland," which is delivered to a — you guessed it — silent, appreciative crowd. Noise comes, in cheers and applause, following Jake's sax solo, when Bruce turns his back to the audience and gives his bandmate a hug.
Another dancing frenzy's next: a solid "Born in the U.S.A." (the Italian crowd always responds well to this track), a chant-heavy "Born to Run," a flirty, hip-dipping "Ramrod" before "Dancing in the Dark," which prompts at least 30 on-the-shoulder Italian signoras to try their luck with various signs. They're humored with points and smiles, but the main dancers this evening are with the E Street Band — one for Garry, a 13-year-old boy for Max, another for Stevie. Bruce opts for a 64-year-old woman whose cardboard reads, "65 soon, dance with me before it's too late!" next to a dodgy passport pic. Shortly after, "Shout" works the crowd into a mental Dad-dancing-style party.
"Graze mille," Bruce tells us, repeating the words before and after a sublime acoustic closing "Thunder Road." Around me the crowd shouts, whispers and cries their own grazie milles back. As for those spiritual experiences that have taken place in Rome's Circus Maximus? Add Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to that list.
The concert opened with an equally rare occurrence: the first performance in Europe (the third ever in the world, and only the second with the E Street Band) of "Iceman." The Darkness outtake was given a tight, focused, and intense full band treatment (sans Patti) with Bruce's voice fittingly gruff to match the song's subject. They kept the rarities coming with "Lucky Town," which was once again capped with a fiery Boss guitar solo.
And then, it was time for the main event. When Springsteen revealed in a little speech — in French, no less —that The River would be played in its entirety for Paris, the crowd erupted with a deafening ovation of sheer joy. As many fans have made clear since this European leg began, they've been waiting years for the opportunity to see one of Bruce's greatest albums performed in full. It felt like all of the anticipation and hoping and dreaming was released in a rush of excitement to the opening chords of "The Ties That Bind," and this ceaseless enthusiasm was sustained through the final notes of "Wreck on the Highway."
Their starved desire for these tracks makes even more sense considering how rarely a lot of them have been played in Europe since the original River Tour 35 years ago: "Stolen Car," never since 1981; "Wreck on the Highway," one time (solo); "Fade Away," three times. Ignoring performances on this tour, "I Wanna Marry You" (never performed since 1981), "The Price You Pay," (performed once) and "Independence Day" (performed four times) are almost as rare. The entire crowd responded in a way that made it feel like they understood the special significance of this evening.
Everyone from the pit to the upper deck looked and sounded engaged from beginning to end, rarely allowing the energy to wane enough even to sit down — the first two sides of the record were basically a non-stop sing-along, jump-along, and chant-along party — while always remaining deadly silent for the ballads. Many fans clearly bought tickets for this River Tour 2016 to hear The River, and not only its greatest hits: the whole place bellowed the lyrics to "Jackson Cage"; applause greeted the opening chords of "Stolen Car"; "The Price You Pay" elicited a decibel-busting level of crowd participation that rivaled "Badlands"; and the entire arena respectfully applauded through the final coda of "Wreck on the Highway."
Bruce brought back a lot of the same stage blocking from the American leg, including a "Hungry Heart" crowd surf that was way slower than normal — it seemed the handlers in the pit wanted to pass Bruce back and forth to give everyone a chance to touch the Boss. As he did in Baltimore, Bruce once again oversaw a wedding proposal during "I Wanna Marry You," pronouncing them "Mr. and Mrs. Rock 'n' Roll… in the name of rock 'n' roll!" Two songs later, the crowd continued Bruce's soul-stirring humming at the end of "The River" all the way through the silence while Bruce and the Band cued up "Point Blank." Bruce waited until this humming had organically reached the melody's end before having Roy seamlessly begin the song — a hauntingly beautiful transition between the two records.
All together the evening felt like one long ecstatic catharsis. Tears, hugs, kissing, jumping, clapping, singing, chanting, smiles, all plentiful throughout. More than any other show on this tour, the concert actually felt the most like the first time The River was played in its entirety way back in 2009 at Madison Square Garden. Since the crowd knew this wasn't a nightly occurrence, a special vibe of overwhelming elation was in the air. Judging from the rousing standing ovation that greeted the album's conclusion, their lofty expectations were exceeded, and then some.
With the exception of a story-less performance of "Growin' Up" — the only sign request of the night — the rest of the night felt predictable and a little rushed; the set-ending "The Rising" literally went directly into the encore-opening "Born in the U.S.A.," with not even a second of a pause between them. But after The River, any other song was just gravy for this crowd. These fans had finally gotten what they had been waiting so long to hear — what more could they ask for?
Paris will only enhance the legendary status of the "grass-mowing, fuse-blowing, legendary E Street Band's" full album River performances ("Ramrod" also included a bevy of references to fuse-blowing by Bruce and Stevie), and I'm sure all of the European fans not in Paris will be chasing it for the remainder of the tour. Gothenburg 3? Zurich for the final European stop? They can only pray…
Bruce took the stage alone and greeted the crowd. "Bonjuor Paris! Comment allez-vous? Tres bien," he said, before taking a seat at the piano. In soft purple and turquoise lighting he fumbled around for a few chords before settling into a nearly ten-minute "Incident on 57th Street." A hush fell over the crowd, and I saw at least one person reaching for their eyes as Bruce lent his powerful voice to an incredibly personal rendition. The applause in AccorHotels Arena was overwhelming as Bruce played the gentle outro and the band took the stage.
Bruce's solo "Incident" was the first of several in the set that leaned towards the intimate and the emotional. Springsteen reached for some unusual selections that could be heard to address the troubling news back home in the U.S. — "American Skin" isn't the only song in his back pocket for mean times like these. For the first song with the band, he brought back the distorted bullet microphone effect from the Devils & Dust and Magic tours for a 2016 premiere of "Reason to Believe."The full-band arrangement featured a blues rhythm and Little Steven at the front on the teardrop-style guitar. The instrumental bridge had the floor jumping and Bruce dancing in the center cutout, silhouetted against a dark stage.
Workhorse "Badlands" kept the crowd's blood pumping, with Bruce shuffling to the back of the stage to point at some familiar faces dancing wildly on the first row. And the songs about faith and hope in dark times continued: "Fella outside the hotel today lost his wife recently," Bruce said. "This was one of her favorite songs." In dim lightning Soozie opened with a few long and mournful notes on the violin before Bruce and the band joined in the tour premiere of "Into the Fire." Springsteen would later take the stage alone with a 12-string for another tour premiere from his 1982 solo album. With the shrill sound of his harmonica, standing in a single spotlight on an otherwise dark stage, Bruce played "Nebraska" — performed at only one other E Street Band show since 1985, at Belfast '13.
Despite the rare dips into Nebraska, this was most certainly a River show: the set featured 15 songs in total from the tour's eponymous album, and for a stretch it seemed like they might play the whole thing. The band had a little trouble finding all the right instruments for "Jackson Cage." "We'll be right there," Bruce said. He stopped during "Hungry Heart" to shake the hand of a young girl on her father's shoulders, and he pulled another fan up onto the walkway for a lengthy hug during "I'm a Rocker" while the band continued to play.
The intimacy would continue with the River album standouts "Point Blank" — with Roy bathed in hard purple and red light and the silhouette of Bruce whispering tenderly to the audience — and "Drive All Night,"featuring a booming Jake Clemons saxophone solo. Bruce turned his affection towards Patti Scialfa for a duet on "Tougher Than the Rest," serenading his wife on the harmonica to close the song. The Queen of E Street's vocals also featured heavily on "Darlington County" and "Because the Night."
After the main set, which brought us out of the valley with "The Rising" and "Land of Hope and Dreams," Bruce came to the mic and hushed the crowd. He turned his back and held his guitar over his head while Roy and Soozie started "Jungleland." Elliott Murphy and his son Gaspard joined Bruce on stage for "Born to Run," with Bruce falling to his knees to plead to the crowd, "Lemme see your hands!"
"Steve, look over yonder, see the Eiffel Tower lights," Bruce said, beginning Ramrod. Little did he know, his words would prove inauspicious. For the second time in just over four years, the E Street Band was too much for the Parisian power grid, and the lights and sound failed mid-song. The crowd went wild as the band kept right on playing, with lighting equipment crackling and sputtering overhead. Bruce, with a bewildered look on his face, led everyone to the front of stage to dance and play. The only sound that could be heard from the band were the drums and the occasional faint hint of saxophone.
The crowd filled the void with chanting and wild cheering as Bruce and the band marched their way onto the floor. Charlie and Nils picked up accordions to join the procession and try to be heard by the nearby crowd at least. Overhead speaker loops were calling for evacuation, but the fans refused to leave. By the time the band had made its slow circuit of the pit, the stage was crawling with techs trying to figure out what was going on.
When the lights finally returned, the band performed a quick, 30-second sound check. Bruce took the microphone after what had been about a 20-minute intermission. "Stevie," he said, "Is it quitting time? Is it fuse-blowing time?" The crowd went crazy, the show returned to something like normalcy, and the band jumped right back in to the end of "Ramrod"like this was any other hijinks.
Bruce wasn't finished having fun with the band's misadventure. "Can you hear me?" he asked to start "Shout." "Are you sure?!" Bruce drenched himself in water, once for the front of stage and again for the back, and Steve cloaked Bruce in a shining coronation mantle embroidered with a "Boss" insignia. "You've just seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping... rock out till the lights are out, legendary E Street Band," Bruce hollered before one last verse of "Shout."
Bruce took a moment to reflect on the evening before a solo acoustic "Thunder Road." "What a surprising night. What a great night," he said, "Electricity is on. It's off again. It's on. It's off. Nothing stops the mighty E Street Band. Thanks for sticking in with us." Rolling with the punches, Bruce and the band took full advantage of the smaller venue and stage to provide a uniquely intimate performance, with three solo arrangements, three tour premiers, and enough E Street Band power to shut out the lights.
- Andrew Telesca reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen (1-5), Lucas Girard (6,9) and Geoffrey Robinson (7,8)
The Werchter Classic has a tight schedule, but Bruce proved who's the Boss: he and the E Street Band took the stage ten minutes before their scheduled 10pm showtime, to maximize the length of their set. They opened with a strong "Prove It All Night," and the crowd went crazy! Even my husband went crazy — this was his first Springsteen show. After "Prove It," it looked like Springsteen was in a hurry to give 65,000 attendees as many songs as possible in their alloted time. (Though scheduled for a two-and-a-half hour slot, Bruce and the band not only started ten minutes early but went 15 minutes long, bringing it closer to three hours). "Darkness on the Edge of Town" went quickly into "No Surrender," "The Ties That Bind," and the always funny "Sherry Darling."
After a drink of cool water, it was "Spirit in the Night." Bruce interacted with the fans as usual, going to the left side of the stage, to the right, and walking through the center. Fans held out their hands, and Bruce took it like a big, warm hug. Jake's sax was like a warm blanket. Bruce always has a lot of interaction with the crowd, but this felt particularly special. Someone handed him a drink —like fuel for a great night — and he even managed to get 65,000 people absolutely pin-drop quiet. It was magical.
There were multiple sign-selection moments, and after "Spirit" Bruce picked out "Thunder Road" for a rare mid-set performance. Whether it's on the setlist or not, when you get your sign chosen it’s a special personal moment when he's singing your song. I think the lucky ones can agree on this. After "Hungry Heart" came another request, written on a T-shirt: "Cover Me."
The next request was the tour debut of "Mansion on the Hill" [video]. He didn’t pick up the sign, but he read it in the crowd, pointing and saying, "This one is for you. It’s from the Nebraska album." So the beautiful "Mansion on the Hill" was played solo acoustic. How lucky can you get!
We have all seen the news or read about the terrible things happening in America, so "American Skin (41 Shots)" [video] was very powerful. While Bruce was singing, Jake Clemons was standing in the back with his hands held up high. The crowed followed. It must have been a moving view from the stage to see all these people holding their hands up. "Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"… and so we did.
Back on the setlist after being skipped in Milan was "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." A girl with a handwritten sign got picked out, and she sang great! Wearing a cap that read "Amazing" — and this must have been the most amazing night for this girl —she waved to the audience from Bruce's shoulders. The crowd went wild during "Because the Night," and we all pointed out with our little fingers to the band — our expression to show the love we feel for them. On a beautiful "The Rising," fingers became hands in the air; after our hands, our feet didn’t touch ground during the set-closing "Badlands."
To start the encore, two "Born" songs in a row, first "Born in the U.S.A." and then the national anthem of Springsteen fans, "Born to Run." The crowd went wild, and during "tramps like us" our Springsteen "family" grew with 65,000 new members. With the first notes of "Dancing in the Dark," all the signs asking for a dance went up: a dance with Bruce, a dance with Soozie, or with the whole band. There were two guys for Soozie, one woman got a dance with Bruce, but then, just when you thought luck didn’t come your way, Bruce looked back into the crowd…. He left the stage and ran to a family of two young boys and their mother. Their sign featured a big guitar, and it said the boys were promised a guitar if they could get on stage to dance. They all went on stage — and hopefully mama keeps her promise!
By the time a beautiful "Bobby Jean," finished, it was curfew time. But Bruce still wanted to play one more, an acoustic closer. He had already played "Thunder Road," so I guessed we'd get "This Hard Land" — but no, one more surprise for Belgium. "If I Should Fall Behind" [video] was another solo acoustic tour debut.
As I mentioned, it was my husband's first Springsteen show (please forgive him, he’s not a bad guy!). While waiting I asked him, "What sign do you want me to make for you?" He said, "If I Should Fall Behind," and so I did. While Springsteen ran past us, my husband showed him his sign. I saw Bruce read it, but he didn’t pick it. But you can imagine what I was wondering… did that sign make him sing "If I Should Fall Behind"? My husband said that Springsteen looked at him when he finished the song, so he decided to stay on Cloud Nine — Bruce sang this song for him. Best first Springsteen show ever!
The weather was again hot and humid. But if you thought that the long roll call procedure in the heat and the long wait inside the stadium (more than five hours between doors and show time) might take its toll on the spirit of the audience… you'd be proven wrong. The show started with the usual Ennio Morricone music over the PA — no message displayed from audience members in the stands, no massive signs like the first night's "Dreams Are Alive Tonight." At least, not yet. The first song was the long-overdue European premiere of "Meet Me in the City," which opened the show for the first time since Brooklyn. The River outtake sounded fresh and crisp, not like a song that had been put aside for more than two months now.
"Prove It All Night" followed, with Steve doing a great guitar solo at the end. With "Roulette" as the third track we already had two River outtakes. To be fair, as great as it was to hear "Roulette," it was far from getting the greatest response of the night. But we were very much in River territory, as "The Ties That Bind" and "Sherry Darling" followed. Bruce came down from the stage for the first time during "Sherry Darling" and collected a few signs. There were lots of them, some very large, some pretty obscure — "Life Itself," anyone?
"Spirit in the Night" was the first granted request. Tonight's version was a bit looser than Sunday —Bruce himself seemed a bit looser than on Sunday overall, and he let Jake play a short and very quiet solo. Another warhorse from the '70's followed: "Rosalita" came out for a 15-year-old who requested the song, (only its second performance on this European leg after being a regular encore in the U.S.), and the audience ate it up, using almost every opportunity to sing along and join the fun. The most impressive request sign was a cardboard replica of the stadium itself, picturing that "Our Love is Real" banner from the last visit and asking for "Fire," yet another classic from the '70s. "Something in the Night" seemed to be an audible and gave the audience a good opportunity to sing along with the intro of the song. And after another dip into The River it was back to request signs, as "Mary's Place" got its second airing in 2016.
With "The River," always a favorite here, another display in the stands opposite the stage suddenly appeared. Lights from cellphones created a heart and three letters: ESB, for E Street Band. It was a very moving and beautiful thing that the fans did again here in Milan, with the help of the promoters. Bruce was clearly moved by it, and a beautiful rendition of "The River" was one of the emotional highlights of the evening.
The next came right after, with "Racing in the Street." It was a perfectly played version (with a slightly shorter coda than in Gothenburg a week earlier) that almost brought silence to the whole stadium. "Cadillac Ranch" was a perfect fit as a follow-up. Much too rarely played on this European tour, it got the whole crowd back on its feet to sing and clap along and feel the power of the E Street Band.
The setlist for the first night was obviously centered around a lot of songs that gave the San Siro audience opportunities to do what they are famous for. With the setlist for tonight's show, Bruce seemed to be trying three things at the same time. First, to play many songs not played on Sunday (which he achieved with 51 different songs over both shows, the highest number after the two Gothenburg shows in June). Second, to play an impressive number of deep cuts or rare tracks for the critical "hardcore" fans; and third, to keep the brilliant atmosphere from Sunday's show going strong and not lose the momentum. Therefore, the setlist might look a bit uneven on paper, but it worked very well.
Especially noteworthy is that "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" wasn't played at either show, even here in the city that probably invented singing along to a tune like that. But the Italian crowd had plenty of opportunities to do what they do. After "The Price You Pay" was played at Ullevi in Gothenburg, it was pretty clear that the song is not wasted in a stadium. Here in San Siro, the vocal audience took over the melody, and Bruce encouraged them to do so. It was the next highlight of the show and proof that sometimes songs hidden in the shadows for far too long can come out and shine brightly.
The highest energy of the night was reached during Nils' guitar solo for "Because the Night." Somehow the band and audience drove themselves into a frenzy during that song that was unparalleled over both nights. And maybe Bruce was thinking afterwards that he would like to do a guitar solo himself — at least he had a grin on his face as he told the rest of the band that "Streets of Fire" was next. On paper the tour premiere was a very unusual choice, but it worked to control the ebb of flow of the show and play something rare (which was also requested). Bruce guitar solo was mean, dirty, and really great, even though it didn't get the same response as Nils's.
"Badlands" ended the main set with the double reprise at the end, and the audience and atmosphere was back to maximum power. The only point during the show Bruce had some slight trouble with the control of the show was during the interlude of an otherwise beautiful and strongly sung "Backstreets." He could not calm down parts of the stands in the stadium.
After that it was full blast until the E Street Band left the stage. A mass sing-along for "Born to Run," a rocking and rolling "Seven Nights to Rock," "Dancing in the Dark" with a partner for Jake (same hairstyle!), a drumming aide for Max, a bachelorette to dance in style with Bruce and a young boy to strum guitar with him. Instead of the "James Brown"-like cape routine at the end of "Shout" on the first night, it was the stretcher routine: two men (one of them apparently local promoter Claudio Trotta) dressed as paramedics tried to carry an exhausted Bruce off stage. Of course he was soon back to life to finish another wild version of the song, with "Bobby Jean" added on top of it, creating an impressive sea of waving hands and arms in the stadium.
After a short speech in Italian in which Bruce thanked the crowd for the two nights here in Milan, he played a beautiful solo version of "This Hard Land." He took his time to finally leave the stage of this famous place after three and a half hours and to leave behind the fans of San Siro — the best in the world, as he said before. And judging by all seven shows he has played here since 1985, he might have a point.
There was a sign hanging high in the rafters across from the stage that read "Welcome Home Blood Brother," but that wasn't the one that everyone noticed. That latter, made possible by thousands of fans working together, was an amazing, stadium-wide choreographed display in River teal and white, proclaiming: "Dreams are Alive Tonight." It wasn't just Bruce's jaw that dropped at this effort, a follow-up to a similar message reading "Our Love is Real" here in 2013 — Milan once again set the bar high.
Then with a shout of "Andiamo!" — let's go! — the band kicked in with the only song that Bruce introduces each and every time he plays it: "This is 'Land and Hope and Dreams'!" I looked at my friend who had traveled from the U.S. to meet me here, and with tears in our eyes we hugged each other at those words. Leave behind your sorrows – indeed. Okay, it's going to be one of those kinds of nights. I braced myself for the emotional roller coaster that was to come.
That Bruce enjoys playing Europe, especially Italy, is apparent; he looks tan and fit and happy as he blasts through the first few opening numbers including "My Love Will Not Let You Down." It was clear to all of us that it never has. His love for us is shown in the music he writes; it is the river that flows through our lives. The mighty Max Weinberg hammered that point home with a blistering drum solo that drove the crowd wild. Bruce may love us, but he sure wasn't being easy on us as he delivered the first seven songs with no break in intensity, almost daring us to keep up. More than half of them were from The River, in a concert that would continue the tour's trajectory of putting the emphasis back on the 1980 album — tonight we got 14 of its 20 songs.
Jake has really come into his own on this leg of the tour; during "Hungry Heart" he ran to join Bruce on the back pit riser, blowing his saxophone the whole way. Bruce grasped the hand of a young boy of about 11 years old on his run through the pit. Afterward, as Bruce blew kisses to the Italians from the stage, I glanced back to see the lad brushing away the tears that were streaming down his face. Yes, it is that kind of night. Love flows freely from the stage to the audience.
The first request of the evening was delivered by a card-carrying creature from another world, "Lucille" held in the hands of a what looked like a space alien stuffed animal. Garry Tallent, cool rockabilly hero in black shades, nodded his approval at this Little Richard cover from the '50s, and when Roy Bittan joined in with the piano riff, his playing was out of this world. Don't try to stump the E Street Band — they had the whole crowd twisting.
Judging by the audience response to the opening notes of "The River," this was what they came to hear. The haunting and plaintive melody set the stage for the next group of songs, and there was quiet in the crowd as they listened to the heartbreak of dreams that don't come true. "Point Blank" was delivered in what can only be described as performance theater, Bruce pacing inside the cage of a spotlight, glaring out at some unknown enemy, at some memory of love that was a lie, the song delivered in hopeless anger at the injustice of the world, the bitterness of the memory, his words echoing through the stadium challenging us, "Did you forget how to love, did you forget how to fight?" And then into "Trapped" and a collective howl of understanding from everyone in the audience. This three-song trilogy of the ways love can go wrong was followed up by a personal favorite for setting your life right, "The Promised Land." Jake was especially effective at blowing away all that anger and heartbreak not only with his sax, but by putting his whole heart and soul into singing the back-up chorus with arms outstretched.
The next sign request, "Lucky Town," showed off Bruce's guitar chops. Any doubt that this show is a show about love was dispelled by the intensity of "I'm on Fire" leading right into "Drive all Night."
At the beginning of "The Rising," I glanced up at the night sky to see the first star had appeared. The sky of memory and shadow took me back to 13 years ago, hearing this song in this same stadium. Our country and I personally were reeling from loss then. I remembered how hearing those words helped our country to heal, how hearing the Italians sing them that night all those years ago helped me to heal. Hearing them now, when this song has taken its place next to all the great classics in Bruce's catalog, it is clear that the music is the river, flowing through our lives, delivering the love that unites us and ties us together. Yes, it was that kind of night.
In the end, Bruce stayed behind with his vest off and his harmonica on, and he sang to us a lullaby of "Thunder Road." The audience listened, only singing along when he asked them to. As the notes faded away, he said San Siro is the best audience in the world. I couldn't help but agree.
O ye of little faith.
For some reason this was the first time Bruce had played at Ullevaal. It's a smallish stadium, capacity 30,000, giving the setting an intimate arena feel. Perhaps that was what tipped the balance in our favor, perhaps it was the dark clouds that seemed to enclose the stadium… perhaps some things will never be explained.
As a statement of intent, the "Prove It All Night"/"My Love Will Not Let You Down"/"No Surrender" start can't be bettered. There was an urgency to the proceedings, as if sheer force of will would get the job done: I don't care if the weather's bad, the crowd is quiet, and it's daylight — you will experience the mighty force of the E Street Band. And as if by the magic Bruce provides, my concerns melted away, and I was swept up into that place. There was no one else at the show but me. Faith will be rewarded.
We were raised up with the opening three-pack, brought down to earth by "Darkness," and then we were off on a ride down The River. The first nine songs in a row from that album, in sequence, from "The Ties That Bind" through to "You Can Look." Stevie was in on the act and in a hugely good mood, giving away a plectrum to a boy in the crowd during "Jackson Cage." Would we get the whole of the first record? Alas, no, but who on earth would complain?
"Independence Day" deserves a particular mention. Not only because as is often the case my favorite parts of a show are the more serious parts, but because since becoming a father it hit me in the gut, full and square. Reflecting on my relationship with my own father and imagining myself and my son at that kitchen table was more than my tear ducts could handle. And that's the thing, isn't it? Throughout the show I saw people crying, smiling from ear to ear and experiencing their private moments, "Point Blank" later of course being one of those songs that many hold dear.
So we didn't get the full first record, but "Lost in the Flood," "Trapped" (harkening back to the '81 tour), "The River," and "Point Blank" all carried on with the darker nature of the show. At that point I had won the lottery, Christmas had come and it was my birthday all at once. "The River" was really the first song that the whole stadium knew, and the crowd finally seemed to loosen up. After that the hits came thick and fast. "Because the Night" was fantastic with Nils playing his signature solo, and even the predictable moment with a child vocalist guesting on "Sunny Day" was great fun. Four-year-old (!) Hope wore a woolly hat and knew all the words, even kickstarting the band! "Norway's got talent," Bruce smilingly remarked as he returned to the stage.
There was one final twist in the tail, as a stunning "Backstreets" led into the home stretch. Adding "Ramrod" to the by-now pretty standard encore brought Oslo a total of 13 tracks from The River album. Clearly Bruce had not forgotten that this was The River Tour after all. After "Shout," the band left the stage and Bruce went to get his acoustic guitar. "Thunder Road," maybe? But no. The harmonica was left with Kevin Buell, and a gentle strumming revealed the most downbeat and heartfelt "For You" I've ever heard. Amazing.
As Bruce took the stage together with the whole E Street Band (as opposed to Night One's solo kick-off), we got the tour premiere of "Mary's Place" to get this thing started. Bruce asked if we were ready for a "Swedish houseparty." He made a note of the weather conditions but added, "We don't care," a sentiment echoed in the opener's "let it rain" refrain. Following this unusual but surprisingly fitting opener, the rain stopped as the concert went along, and the E Street Band kicked into full speed with "Out in the Street." This was quickly followed by a stirring "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and a rousing "No Surrender" before taking a breather with a fantastic performance of "Something in the Night." As on the Darkness album itself this was followed by a great "Candy's Room," the first of many effective couplings throughout the evening. A thunderous "She's the One" got the whole stadium into the Bo Diddley groove with Bruce skipping the harmonica solo, instead focusing on the guitar during the song's outro.
While during recent stops the tour has moved further and further away from the River concept, tonight was a different case altogether. Three River rockers, capped by "Two Hearts," followed in quick succession before "Independence Day," complete with a moving introduction from Bruce, saying it was the first song he wrote about fathers and sons. It was a stand-out performance, clearly among tonight's highlights and a showcase for a song that hopefully will be played more often. Again tracking the original River album sequence, Bruce and the band followed "Independence Day" with "Hungry Heart."
The first sign request of the night kept the River theme rolling in a different way, with "Jole Blon" making a surprise visit — a very fitting tour premiere, as this was among the gems first mined on the original European River tour in 1981. Even though Bruce seemed unsure whether it should be in the key of C or B-flat, once they started the performance was flawless — a great moment.
However, there were even better things to come: another sign request, this time for "The Price You Pay" (not played since the European opener in Barcelona), really confirmed that we were now being brought back to The River territory. A masterful performance, with the crowd giving all they had during the opening and closing chant. Next, to reinforce the feeling of The River even further, Bruce kept the title track in the set; another masterstroke came when he followed that with an outstanding "Racing in the Street." The Darkness song was an incredible a showcase for Roy Bittan, of course, but moreover the sequence of these three songs really created a very different and more somber tone than what we have seen during recent shows, and it gave room to revisit some of the emotional depth found on The River album.
Another surprise tour premiere came by sign request for "Lucky Town," with great backing vocals from Steve and blistering guitar solos from Bruce. After "The Promised Land," Bruce called out for "I'm a Rocker," keeping the spotlight on River tracks and also mixing up the setlist in places where it has appeared quite static during recent shows ("Waitin' on a Sunny Day" took a well-deserved rest). With Patti Scialfa back in the fold, "Tougher Than the Rest" replaced "Tunnel of Love" from Saturday as a showcase for The Queen of E Street. Patti also displayed her fine vocal form on "Because the Night," which again sounded convincing and better than ever.
After "Badlands" closed the main set, the encores opened with "Jungleland." As always, an emotional moment with Jake looking towards the sky following his note-perfect solo. Following a truly inspired "Born in the U.S.A., "Ramrod" returned to the encores, with Bruce not letting an opportunity to refer to the "Gothenburg lights" pass by. "Thunder Road" was skipped all together, as Bruce closed the show with a solo acoustic "This Hard Land" before thanking Sweden and saying, "You are a very special audience to us."
Clocking in at 3:29, half an hour shorter than on Saturday, this performance really proved the point that a longer show isn't necessarily a better show. While setlist watchers and for those going to multiple concerts clearly enjoyed that of the 34 songs played, 17 were not played during the previous show, it was Bruce's ability to throw us onto an emotional rollercoaster which made this night a fantastic one. That's what both Bruce's music and life's about anyway, isn't it? Let's hope for more deep River tracks when we head off to Oslo for Wednesday's concert.
Shortly before the 8:15 showtime there was considerable activity around Roy's piano with a mini teleprompter being set up, indicating that we might get a solo piano performance from Bruce to start the show. So it was not a big surprise when Bruce appeared on stage without the band to greet the audience saying "mitt folk," Swedish for "my people." Without any further introduction, he launched into the tour premiere of "The Promise," the first time this song has ever started a show. It surely takes some guts and confidence to start a stadium show with this kind of song, but the whole place greeted it with respect — you could almost hear a pin drop inside the stadium.
With the full E Street Band on stage and Patti Scialfa back in the fold, things kicked off with hot versions of "Badlands" and "Out in the Street." A welcome return of "The Ties That Bind" followed. While this song for obvious reasons was a stayer on the first U.S. leg, it has taken a rest in Europe; this version felt fresh, delivered with crystal clear sound and Bruce in great vocal form. Haven gotten 70,000 "party noises" joining in for "Sherry Darling," we got this tour's second rendition of "My Lucky Day," with Steven clearly enjoying his solo spot.
The next segment of the show included mostly staples from the Wrecking Ball tour, including the title track. And while we clearly could "feel the spirit" during "Spirit in the Night," this string of songs reinforced the feeling that — with the full River performance have being dropped in Europe — this leg of the tour struggles to find its real purpose and common theme, something we always have been used to during previous tours. But with a lack of a common theme and brand new songs to play (save for the River outtakes, which continue to be a lost opportunity), this has been replaced by an energy level from both Bruce and the band that few or no other performers can match.
The only sign request of the night was "Save My Love," introduced by Bruce as a "Darkness outtake" about "how radio connected everyone." A fine rendition, including an extended coda with Bruce and Jake sharing the solo. "American Skin" has not been played often in Europe over the years, and this song seemed to resonate well with the audience, sadly being as relevant today as it was when it was written 16 years ago. Bruce delivered a smoking guitar solo in the middle of the song, while Nils provided the solo during the closing part. One of the night's highlights.
As usual before these shows, fans discuss what we want to hear and what we can expect to hear. One song that always comes up before an Ullevi show is "Drive All Night," as this is where, back in 2008, we got the first full-band version since the original River tour in '81. Thus, it felt almost like a relief hearing Roy's opening chords to this beautiful tune introduced by Bruce simply saying, "For Gothenburg." Again, an exceptional strong vocal delivery from Bruce (including a "Dream Baby Dream" snippet) and two stunning sax solos from Jake.
Next up were two tour premieres (both soundchecked in the afternoon along with "Seeds"), "Tunnel of Love" and "Shackled and Drawn." With Patti back on stage "Tunnel" seemed to fit well, and the interplay between her and Bruce sent thoughts back to those hot summer days in '88. An extended outro solo from Nils made this a real highlight. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of "Shackled and Drawn," which on the Wrecking Ball tour was heavily centered around the horns and Cindy Mizelle's soulful vocal delivery — it became all too apparent during this version how important their contributions were. "Because the Night" started the "home stretch," and while this song is being played nightly, the delivery always appears convincing, especially with Nils' extraordinary solo. Patti also added some nice harmony vocals, giving this version some added flavor. With the tour premieres being added to the regular last part of the main set, it was already clear before the encores that we were witnessing a show which would be close to the four-hour mark, which always creates some additional excitement.
A thunderous "Born in the U.S.A." kicked off the encores, with Roy's synth and Max's drums literally shaking the whole stadium. "Seven Nights to Rock" seems to be returning to the encores every time the tour moves on to Europe, and the audience participation was particularly strong on this one with lots of dancing. On "Dancing in the Dark," both Soozie and Steve got their own respective dancing partners in addition to Bruce. Bruce's choice of the evening could not resist taking a selfie with him; she took her time, much to Bruce's amusement. While "Twist and Shout" is a trusted choice for the encore at Ullevi (being the "stadium-breaker," as Bruce calls it), we got instead "Shout," which for European audiences is a fresher tune and again, got people dancing and "shaking their asses."
An acoustic "Thunder Road" closed the show again, with a fantastic vocal delivery from Bruce, having first teased the audience that "we have another hour or so to go." While the length of the show clearly made it special, and it had its share of highlights, it was not quite at the level of the July 28, 2012 Ullevi show, which for this writer always will be among the best ever. But with 38 songs for mitt folk and clocking in at approximately 3:58 — after "The E Street Band loves you" and "We'll be back on Monday night" — this proved to be Springsteen's second-longest show ever, just beat by Helsinki in 2012." With three Ullevi shows this summer, how about making one of these a special treat for European audiences with a complete River performance?
Opener "Out in the Street" perfectly introduced the evening, establishing the joyous, crowd-pleasing vibe of the night, and also an early indicator of a River-heavy set. Perhaps that was thanks to the Band's return (without Patti) to an arena setting — a good sign for the many River-deprived Europeans fans hoping to get the entirety of the record in Paris. On top of the usual suspects, a rollicking "Cadillac Ranch" made an early appearance, the haunting "Point Blank" returned, and, after being soundchecked, Darkness outtake "Rendezvous" (the best known recording of which came from the original River tour) had its tour premiere — a major highlight.
Bruce was in fast-and-loose spirits, calling upon another sign two songs later for the arguable tour premiere of "Blinded by the Light" — arguable because it was partially played in Brooklyn, with lead vocals sung by the little girl who had requested it. In Copenhagen, this Greetings gem was given the full band treatment. Despite a false start, it was a relentlessly fun performance, with Bruce repeatedly wiping rivers of heat-induced sweat out of his eyes to keep up with the flood of lyrics.
Bruce brought the crowd back to the 21st century with the tour premiere of the soundchecked Wrecking Ball track "We Take Care of Our Own" (two songs were soundchecked but not played: "Boom Boom" and "Shackled and Drawn"). It was a tight, crisp rendition, perhaps inspired by the gun control debate currently raging back in Bruce's homeland, in the news again on Wednesday thanks to a House sit-in. Later in the show, a three-pack featuring gun violence — "Point Blank," "Murder Incorporated," and "Atlantic City" — reinforced this connection.
This first half was also striking for the breadth of songs Bruce called upon from throughout his career, from an old classic off his first album to a modern classic from one of his newest records, with outtakes along the way. The man truly has a full career's worth of exceedingly quality tunes from which to choose, and he spread the wealth in Copenhagen by playing songs from 11 different albums, not to mention covers.
The final tour premiere of the night has to be one of Bruce's most popular outtakes: "Pink Cadillac" for a sign that read in pink paint: "Three generations took their pink Cadillac to go dancing in the dark." "That comes later," Bruce responded, "but 'Pink Cadillac' might come now!" The crowd roared, and after briefly talking his way through how to play the song, informing the audience the Band hadn't done so in a while, Bruce launched into a raucous version. The relatively quiet crowd quickly came to life to sing along, their voices echoing off the walls.
In addition to featuring a wonderful sax solo from Jake, the song also let the lighting team shroud the stage in pink. One of the coolest parts of the concert, in fact, was finally being able to see this team's brilliant design work due to to the arena's enhanced darkness. Also making a return: the cellphone fireflies of the crowd, during both "The River" and "I'm on Fire."
Unfortunately, the return of this arena atmosphere failed to change the latter half of the setlist, which included the same stadium crowd-pleasers that Bruce has been playing at almost every show. True statistic: 15 of the last 16 songs in both Berlin and Copenhagen were the exact same and played in the exact same order — a predictable stretch longer than any of the post-River portions of the setlist that American fans grumbled about on the U.S. leg. Though some have cited how much casual fans seem to love these songs, the range of different albums represented earlier in the show served as a reminder of the seemingly endless depth of Bruce's catalog; there's just no way that the likes of "Working on the Highway," "Darlington County," and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" are the only songs that can work up the entirety of the crowd into a familiar frenzy.
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day" did, however, feature the most surprising moment of the homestretch. Instead of choosing yet another child, Bruce gave the microphone to a passionate fan probably in her mid-20s who had lined up for days to be able to stand in the front row. She absolutely rocked the performance, reveling in her lifelong dream of sharing a stage with the E Street Band. She basically blew the roof off of Telia Parken Arena, energizing the room and bringing a gigantic smile to seemingly everyone's faces, especially Bruce's. Ultimately, her performance served as a reminder of how a small deviation from the nightly script can go such a long way.
P.S. Bruce didn't close with, "We'll be seeing you," even though we know the Band will return to Denmark later in the summer — further proof (for all those with antennas up) that he's not trying to subtly communicate his future plans at the end of each show.
With "Badlands" and "Out in the Street" following, we were back on familiar turf. It's interesting to note that after the short break in the European tour Bruce has not only reduced the number of The River songs in the setlist but also given up on the idea of playing them in sequence; the name of the tour feels more and more misleading. But "Sherry Darling" was next, and then we got another big surprise with "My Lucky Day," a tour premiere from Working on a Dream. Although we aren't aware of it being soundchecked, it sounded really good. Exactly the same arrangement as in 2009, with Steve playing the guitar solo at the end.
After a strong "Wrecking Ball" Bruce collected a few signs, and we got "Night" for a high school graduate and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" for a birthday girl. "Spirit in the Night" made a nice double-shot of songs from his debut album. Bruce then grabbed a really well-made request-sign, which was actually a cardboard replica of "Candy's Room": a bed, some other furniture, and, most importantly, pictures of her heroes on the wall: Bruce, Eddie Vedder, David Grohl, and miniature Led Zeppelin poster. A great rendition of that song was followed by an audible, "She's the One."
"Hungry Heart," with Bruce walking all around the area in front of the stage, was coupled with another uptempo River track, "You Can Look." Similar to the other German show in Munich two days ago, he again paired "Death to My Hometown" with "My Hometown" and created an interesting thematic arc by following those two with "The River" and "American Skin." The harp solo at the end of "The River" sounded a bit different than usual, something worthwhile to notice on a tour where there hasn't been much in the way of different arrangements or new ideas for the old songs.
The four-pack that followed — "The Promised Land," "Working on the Highway," "Darlington County" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" — is the part of the show were lots of fans these days wish for more diversity; it's also the part (together with the encores) that engages the remaining 95 percent of the audience the most. Bruce himself is clearly having fun, as those songs create a lot of interaction with the audience. Of course, they are seldom taking chances by playing unrehearsed songs or taking obscure requests in 2016, compared to 2013 or 2014. That may leave out lots of surprises and disappoint some longtime fans, but one can argue that in the end it will lead to a better performance on the night itself for the majority of the people in the stadium. It's worth noting that this show in Berlin was — not counting the famous East-Berlin show in 1988 — the one with the highest attendance ever by Springsteen in Germany, at 67,000.
For me the band had been running in fourth or fifth gear until after "I'm on Fire," and then with "Because the Night" turned into the "mighty" E Street Band, firing on all cylinders and running in sixth gear until the end. The main set (can you really make a distinction these days between that and the encores?) ended with a majestic "Land of Hope and Dreams." On the setlist the next song would have been "Born in the U.S.A.," but before that Bruce called an audible, holding his guitar up in the air as Roy started playing the famous piano notes to introduce "Backstreets." It was a marvelous version of that song, clearly one the highlights of this Berlin show.
For me every show on this European tour now feels a bit like one big encore. Song after song after song, with almost no talking to the audience. Tonight in Berlin he greeted us with "We missed you" and left us with "you were fantastic," both in German. While "Born to Run" was shortened with a pretty brief break (he did not leave the stage to let people touch his guitar) we got an extended "Seven Nights to Rock" with solos by Roy, Jake, Nils (playing slide), Steve and even a bit of Max. During "Shout" we got a little more detailed Band introduction, including Roy "88 keys is not enough" Bittan and a plug for Garry's solo album, Break Time. The show finished after 200 minutes with a beautiful solo rendition of "Thunder Road" while the full moon started to appear above the stadium.
Olympic Park — with construction and renovations underway — is a unique venue for a show. The stadium forms the center of large open park, with several ponds, a network of bustling bike paths, a city overlook, and a well-attended biergarten. The stadium itself lies at the top of the hill, rimmed with curved glass overhangs reminiscent of modern art sculptures, with large inclined stepped seating and a single grand entrance from above.
"Sch?n euch zu sheen," Bruce greeted the capacity crowd. "Beautiful day today," he would later say, "All I can remember is the last time. Oh my god. I froze my ass off, and the wind and the rain..." The mood was anything but dampened as Roy played Bruce into a slightly slower tempo "Prove it All Night" with the incomparable '78 intro, its first appearance this tour. Bruce's guitar work on the intro was nothing short of clean and sharp; he seemed much more comfortable than in previous attempts I'd seen on the High Hopes tour. Bruce cut it loose as the tempo and tension built with screaming bends and his agonized facial expressions. Not to be outdone, Steve Van Zandt gave an impassioned, extended solo after the body of the song.
A high-energy block continued with perennial crowd-pleaser "Badlands." An invigorated Steve snarled and goaded the floor section, fans there already bouncing and chanting. Fans swayed and waved their arms in unison while Bruce beckoned to "Meet me out in the Munich street," stopping to point out a young boy on his father's shoulders. Bruce audibled into "Sherry Darling" and met Steve at the center cut-out for the last verse; Steve held out the mic for the same boy to sing the final line.
The energy of the show led to several moments of candid silliness. Bruce and Steve broke out into spontaneous laughter during the "It Takes Two" outro for "Two Hearts." That nervous energy spilled over into "No Surrender," as the band misfired and had to begin again amidst raucous cheers from the crowd. Bruce had some fun with microphones, nearly dropping his into the crowd, and later tossing his mic over his shoulder to an awaiting stage hand, who picked it out of the air mouthing, "Oh my god."
Guitar technique was at the forefront of the show. Bruce let feedback build with plenty of wrist vibrato as an intro for "Youngstown," before Nils Lofgren alighted into his wild, spinning solo just as the sun was setting behind Olympic Stadium. Nils would eventually deliver a second extended solo for "Because the Night." Bruce led "Murder Inc." with a stripped-down intro and a growling solo full of open notes. Even the closing verse of "American Skin (41 Shots)" featured a brilliant, understated background riff from Nils, leaning heavily on deep bends and precise phrasing.
Marking the first of several striking shifts in instrumentation, Bruce was accompanied by Soozie's fiddle, Nils' banjo, Charlie's accordion, and Jake's bass drum for "Death to My Hometown." Nils picked up a slide guitar for a stylish solo during the bridge of "Johnny 99." Jake even took the spotlight with the cowbell after Bruce shouted for the band to "break it down." Steve backed Bruce's vocals on the acoustic twelve-string in a two-man arrangement of "The River" before the full band joined in the second verse.
A hush fell over the crowd as Soozie and Nils picked up acoustic guitars for an emotional "My Hometown" (paired, interestingly, with "Death to My Hometown"). The orchestration relied heavily on persistent keyboard and synth, with Garry and his fretless acoustic-electric bass melody heavily featured in the closing verse. Bruce stood with his eyes closed in soft lighting at center stage as the Band played the outro.
Bruce was impressed with a girl in a bright yellow hat with rays like the sun, pointing at her and later helping her on stage to sing a heavily accented "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." "Danke, Danke," Bruce said, "I love your hat. I love your sun." But soon enough the dusk lit up with stadium lights for the trio of "Born in the U.S.A.," "Born to Run," and a rousing "Seven Nights to Rock," complete with a walking bass line and a Steve Van Zandt guitar riff that was a throwback to the early days of rock 'n' roll.
Bruce looked at Steve and pointed to a sign saying "Let's dance Dr. Zoom" before inviting a woman on stage for "Dancing in the Dark" on her 40th wedding anniversary. The boy who received so much attention earlier in the show made his way to the stage and held up a sign revealing himself as "Little Bruce," showing off his guitar skills. Springsteen himself took a turn for the political, grabbing a "Fuck Trump, we wanna dance with the Boss!" sign, before playing typical show finishers "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and "Shout."
The crowd broke out in chant as Bruce ushered the band off stage. By the time the last E Street Band member left, the roar had become deafening. Bruce turned to oblige the masses, grabbing a harmonica and an acoustic guitar and heading back to center stage alone. He fumbled with a few chord sequences before saying, "Alright, let's see if I remember this on guitar." The crowd grew quiet and Bruce closed the show with what had been a recent opener on piano, a slow, haunting "For You." After such a hard-driving night, fans couldn't help but feel the intimacy of this final moment, closing a three-hour-and-21-minute show — it was quiet enough to hear Bruce's voice echo off of the far rim of the stadium.
This show marked the 25th anniversary of Bruce in Holland. He had performed 24 times before in our tiny country, and the last time Bruce and The E Street Band played here, in Nijmegen 2013, he had opening acts. An unusual move, since he hardly ever takes support acts, but somehow in Holland he does: this time, the Stereophonics took the stage around 6pm. The Welsh rock band played a great set, but it was hard to get the audience up on their feet. Literally. Some people decided to give their legs as much rest as possible and sat down during their show. Everybody was waiting for The Boss.
Rather than starting solo, as the past few shows had, Bruce followed the entire E Street Band on stage. With a powerful "one, two, three, four!" they dove into a full-blast "Badlands," the mark that this was going to be an energetic evening. "Nederland, hoe gaat het?" — Netherlands, how are you doing? — was greeted by a large cheer from the crowd. After "No Surrender" and "My Love Will Not Let You Down," it was time for some requests. Bruce took some signs from the audience and decided on "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)," a River-era outtake getting its River Tour premiere.
It was only during the seventh song of the evening that Bruce slowed things down a bit; up until then it was just a steam train rolling through, party song after party song, with immense energy. During "My City of Ruins" Bruce preached and held his hand above the audience. It was a religious experience outside a church. Afterward, Bruce stood in a ray of sunshine. For a moment he was quiet, overlooking the audience and clearly enjoying the weather and the moment.
An especially remarkable request was played next. Someone was holding a sign that read, "One dream left." Bruce took that sign but didn’t see the back of it right away; the crowd, though, went wild, because on the back of the sign was a request for "Jersey Girl." Bruce decided to play it. "This has never been played outside of the United States," he told the crowd. Even though that isn’t exactly true, the next few minutes were something extraordinary: "Jersey Girl" was played in The Hague, and nobody in the audience could believe that it was actually happening.
We were treated to another treasure when Bruce took an inflatable saxophone from the audience, and attached to the sax was a sign that said "Racing." What followed, another tour debut, was a long and intense version of one of the most beautiful songs in his repertoire, "Racing in the Street." The playing of Roy Bittan, in his leading role on piano, brought the audience to ecstasy. However, when the final notes faded away, the audience had hardly time to catch its breath. Bruce immediately picked up his harmonica and started "The Promised Land." Whereas Bruce is a talkative guy at many shows, in The Hague he didn’t say much. The steam train kept on rolling.
As soon as I heard the first notes of "The Rising," the Bruce Blues began to creep in; I was already anticipating the post-show emotional hangover and heartache, after looking forward this show for so many months. We were approaching the end of the set list. But I was too early — Bruce had some wonderful surprises left. The encore started with an emotional "Jungleland" for a lady with a sign that read, "This is my last concert, 'Jungleland' please." Bruce saw the sign and granted her wish.
After "Born to Run," everybody partied like crazy on "Seven Nights to Rock," an unusual enough choice, but Bruce still had something else up his sleeve. He was searching for a sign that he had seen in the audience earlier that night. The camera focused on "Atlantic City." Bruce smiled and shouted, "No!" The camera turned to "Backstreets." Bruce smiled and shouted "No!" The camera then found the sign that Bruce wanted to play: "Detroit Medley."
The energy was phenomenal. Bruce and the band clearly had their party hats on. They were dancing on stage, laughing and joking all the way. It was amazing to see that group of friends on stage. It felt as if you were in their living room, joining the party with 67,500 people. The party continued through "Shout," after which the band left the stage. The lights stayed out; Bruce came back with a guitar and harmonica to play a beautiful and quiet version of "This Hard Land."
"The E Street Band loves you!" We all clapped and held our breath, hoping for that one other sentence he often says. And when he did, you could almost hear the relief: "We'll be seeing you!" Yes!
“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” the fourth track of Springsteen’s 1973 debut, oozed from Bruce’s piano. More mature and with a slower rhythm than its original rendition, the performance preserved an enthusiasm synonymous with youthful optimism, Bruce smiling and giggling as he played. Midway through the song he paused, turning to the silent crowd. One fan cheered, which Bruce acknowledged — “at least one of you is having fun!” —before the entire crowd followed with applause. Laughing, Springsteen returned to complete the song, which set the tone of last night’s concert: beneath a baking hot sun, Wembley Stadium was set to have fun.
A dark, impassioned performance of “Seeds” followed. Bruce’s voice roared, practically spitting out the lyrics, as the E Street Band maintained a mechanical rhythm behind him before launching into the riff that defines this Born in the U.S.A. outtake. Originally known as “Gone Gone Gone,” the song allowed Bruce’s passion to manifest in a ferocious guitar solo which had Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt grooving alongside him. Springsteen’s solo was underpinned by Max Weinberg, his eyes pinned on Bruce, his mighty drums nearly shaking Wembley Stadium.
With the set progressing, Bruce took a sign request for The River outtake/B-side “Be True," only its second performance on this tour. Few songs sound as pure as “Be True,” which allowed the E Street Band to truly reassume its 1980 sound. Each member of the band was integral to the performance, with Roy Bittan’s piano and Max’s cymbals defining its opening. Stevie’s vocal accompaniment turned rhetoric into conversation, creating the sense of young men appealing to the love of a girl. Jake Clemons’s saxophone brought “Be True” to its climax, as Bruce stood alongside him with a smile on his face.
“I’ll Work For Your Love,” from 2007’s Magic, was another sign request; Bruce noted that it was a song “never requested” and was struck by another two signs for it in the audience. Taking an acoustic guitar, Bruce put himself on the spot at the center microphone, trying to recapture a song seldom performed. With the E Street Band either having left the stage or, in the case of Steve, Patti Scialfa, and Garry Tallent, sitting under Roy’s piano, Bruce strummed his guitar, working it out. With a couple of false starts, he promised, “After this, it’s going to be perfect!” Bruce’s voice delicately echoed throughout Wembley Stadium, with the E Street Band smiling as though members of the audience.
Following “American Skin (41 Shots)” — more finely tuned than in Glasgow but still lacking a strong solo — the set continued with familiar crowd favorites. “Badlands” closed the main set before “Jungleland” opened the encores. The Born to Run epic is defined in its opening by Soozie Tyrell and Roy, at opposite sides of the stage, playing violin and piano. Last night, with an explosion of blue lights from the stage, Soozie played her violin to the eruption of the audience. Roy’s piano met this energy, before Bruce’s vocals —nearly spoken, like poetry — reverberated through the stadium. Singing at Bruce’s instruction, the crowd followed the lyrics up to Steve's shredding guitar solo, which seemed to tear through the London air.
Then there was Jake's saxophone solo, the high point of the London concert. As the entire stadium fell silent, the mournful sound of his sax echoed throughout Wembley and beyond. The E Street Band pulsated with prowess and precision behind him, before Jake’s spotlight moment concluded with his saxophone held to the sky. Bruce met Jake on the stage, the two sharing a hug, before he returned to the microphone to bring the song to its close. Few songs define the power of the E Street Band as well as “Jungleland.” With the atmosphere truly electrified, beneath an ink-blue sky, Springsteen and his chorus of 80,000 sang the closing lines. Although not of The River — an album from which only six songs were played despite it being this tour's namesake —“Jungleland” stood out in a concert that (contrary to the grumbling of some setlist watchers) enjoyed moments of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their best.
As the concert passed three-and-a-half hours, “Bobby Jean” found the house lights up, emitting an intense brightness, each of the 80,000-strong audience raising their arms to the air, swaying and singing in unison. The E Street Band were truly connected with this audience, lingering on stage before their exit. Springsteen, however, remained.
A solo figure punctuating a plethora of instruments on stage, Bruce closed his performance with an acoustic “Thunder Road." In the city which marked his first performance outside of the U.S.A., in 1975, Bruce closed last night’s concert with the first song he ever played in the United Kingdom. Summoning the experience of 40 years, Bruce led his audience through the most passionate performance of “Thunder Road” this tour. Following his vocal at the end of the song, which felt like a lullaby, Bruce looked at the crowd with a glint in his eye and a smile on his face. To an endless roar, Bruce said goodnight: “The E Street Band loves you. We’ll be seein’ ya!”
The tour premieres kicked off right away with another solo performance on the piano, "For You." Springsteen walked onstage alone a little after 6:45pm (gotta love those 10:30pm English curfews), gave a quick "Good evening" at the mic, and then went straight to work on Roy's perch. Hearing the song in this context recalibrated its emotional effect, scaling back the romanticism for a sadder vibe, fitting the gloomy, overcast skies.
Bruce finished his beautiful rendition with a simple smile, and after the band (sans Patti) unceremoniously walked onstage, they built upon this introductory mood by launching into a second tour premiere that had been worked out at recent soundchecks: "Something in the Night." If a few in the crowd tried to start singing along to the final lines of "For You," this Darkness gem turned into a full-blown haunting sing-along, with Bruce wholly committing to the performance. The European premiere of another Darkness classic, "Prove It All Night," built upon the intensifying pace, and "My Love Will Not Let You Down" at last turned the stretch into the type of rock 'n' roll extravaganza typical of E Street openings, further enhanced in Coventry by how brilliantly Bruce led up to it.
After the expected River triumvirate was broken apart by a sign request for "No Surrender," another sign brought the rare Darkness outtake "Save My Love," which received almost no reaction from the crowd when Bruce flashed it to the cameras. He joked that most were probably asking themselves, "What the fuck is that?!" before explaining the song was influenced by his youthful nights staying up late to listen to the "small squawk box transistor radio underneath my pillow." The performance fit the characteristics of the songs "Save My Love" expertly channels: loose, a little sloppy, but so much fun.
With the stoic crowd receiving the actual song in much the same way they greeted its sign, Bruce made a point of bringing them back into the fold with a particularly rowdy "Hungry Heart," thereby launching into the energetic stretch of The River through "You Can Look" that was one of the nightly highlights of the American leg. Bruce appeared absolutely giddy, yet he perfectly transitioned this intense party vibe into a more serious, passionate intensity with the three-pack of "Death to My Hometown," "Youngstown" (Nils killed the solo), and "Murder Incorporated" (Bruce and Stevie killed theirs, too). By this point Bruce the band were absolutely on fire, with the show having seamlessly built to a blistering pace from the quieter beginning. "The River" and the welcome return of a gorgeous "Drive All Night" brought the show full circle back to the soulful opening. Taken all together, it was a masterclass in how to construct a fluid, fluctuating, and flat-out fantastic setlist.
And then, predictability set in. One song after another, Bruce made the same old second-half setlist choices that have frustrated many European fans (though perhaps he felt the need to stay on safer ground after the crowd's reaction to "Save My Love."). He of course has to play a lot of his crowd-pleasing "greatest hits" for these stadium crowds, but bunching them back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back only compounds the effect. More than just being a drag for the many audience members who had made the easy drives to all of the U.K. stops, such familiar stretches seem to make the band a little complacent, letting them get off their musical toes.
As such, there was almost no momentum going into the main set closing "Badlands," which may have been what inspired Bruce to spot out of nowhere a sign for Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band," only its fifth performance in the Reunion era. Simply put, the Band crushed it, scrambling to remember how to play this raucous classic. This curveball re-animated everything — Bruce, the band, the crowd, and the rest of the encores, easily the best of the tour — immediately restoring the level of energy sustained throughout the first half of the show. It clearly doesn't take much to catalyze a setlist in such a way.
And Bruce wasn't done with the surprise tour premiere covers. As "Born to Run" came to a close, he immediately went into the opening riff of "Seven Nights to Rock." The concert had once again gone off the rock 'n' roll Richter scale — Bruce literally banging his head against Roy's keys during the song, humorously almost mocking his show-opening performance — and it would only come back down for another transcendent acoustic performance of "Thunder Road," closing the show in much the same soulful way as it began: Bruce alone on stage, surrounded by 50,000 of his adoring fans, only now with everyone singing along. It was a touching and harmonious bookend. If only every book in between had been on the same level.
“Spirit in the Night” followed — which continues to allow Bruce to preach to an audience he encourages to “Testify!” — and soon “Rosalita” made an early appearance. Holding a sign request for the song to the camera, the crowd cheered as Bruce and Steve jumped back into 1973 and onto the center thrust deck to party with their audience. Seven songs in, but only slightly after 7pm (owing to a relatively early start time), the sun was unrelenting, shining on a majority of the crowd. A combination of an energetic “Rosie” coupled with the extraordinarily bright atmosphere set the scene of last night’s performance; Hampden Park assumed the feel of a summertime party in the late afternoon.
Inviting the band down to the thrust, Bruce was joined at the microphone by Steve Van Zandt and Jake Clemons, who danced and encouraged the ever-developing party atmosphere. Stevie appeared to be in his element, smiling and dancing, flirting with the audience. Jake’s saxophone poured sound into the stadium, while Bruce’s guitar wailed.
The tour debut of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” followed, creating “a Wild & Innocent double header!” as Springsteen accepted a special sign request “for the man who had it as his wedding song.” With the sun still warm, and light streaming into the stadium, the audience was naturally quieter than a crowd in darker conditions, which worked perfectly for a song that commands such attention. Roy Bittan assumed an unfamiliar position next to Bruce, accordion in hand, as the E Street Band passionately felt their way into a gorgeous rarity. Despite being 3,500 miles from Asbury Park, seeing a smiling E Street Band groove to the beat of the music, the stadium of 50,000 felt intimate and spirited. As we've seen before on The River Tour, the E Street Band assumed a youthful vitality that allowed them to channel their younger selves, with “Sandy” melting into the audience as though being performed for the first time.
“American Skin (41 Shots)” also had its tour debut, having been soundchecked earlier in the day. One of the strongest performances of the night, “American Skin” was delivered passionately, with Bruce looking furious as he blistered his way through his guitar solo. The E Street Band was tight, and Bruce’s vocals pierced the audience as he stared outwards and upwards. A camera centered on Springsteen’s face as he parted with the microphone, still shouting “41 shots” as the band prepared space for Nils Lofgren to assume a solo that never quite developed. This was the only sore spot in an otherwise electrifying performance. On the High Hopes tour, Tom Morello's free reign in that moment took this song soaring; on this night, Lofgren’s lead felt a little lost in the wider sound of the E Street Band.
“Point Blank” into “Darkness on the Edge of Town” offered a profound combination of The River and Darkness, with the River track continuing to prove a highlight of these concerts. Few sounds epitomize the E Street Band like Roy Bittan’s piano, which is prominent on both songs and carries a narrative in itself. Springsteen appeared deeply proud of the band upon completing each song, taking a moment with his back to the audience, smiling and nodding at his bandmates.
“Because the Night” finally allowed Nils Lofgren to fully unleash his guitar, which howled and echoed throughout the stadium. Spinning to the chanting of the crowd, Nils’ solo proves to be an enduring treasure of the E Street archive.
“Born in the U.S.A.” opened the encores, which found the Glaswegian audience finally digging deep to find the energy on which Springsteen thrives. Earlier, during “I’m Goin’ Down,” he shouted, “Would you help me out? Jesus!” as the crowd was unusually quiet. But with the sun finally having set behind the stadium, and a cooling breeze, Hampden Park became electric, which Bruce rewarded with a particularly high-energy “Shout." Stage lights behind the band pulsed to the rhythm of the music, as Hampden rocked beneath an ink-blue sky. After three-and-a-half hours, Bruce thanked his Northern audience for years of support — “We always love coming up here" — and, with his voice notably stronger than at the last concert in Dublin, closed on just guitar and harmonica with "This Hard Land."
The opening chords of "Incident on 57th Street" emanated from the piano as the audience fell with Bruce into the lyrics of his 1973 masterpiece. Continuing with the theme of reinventing early material, which has come to partly define The River Tour, Bruce's solo performance magnetized the audience. The atmosphere of Croke Park was transformed, becoming intimate and exposed, as the singer appeared so absorbed that he didn't once turn his head to the audience. Sitting alone at his piano, Springsteen looked either at the keys or directly ahead, like a man alone at the back of a bar with nothing left but his music.
This intimacy did not, however, translate into a somber tone. "Incident"'s progression was powerful and empowering, with Bruce's playing becoming more intense as the song quaked towards its climax. The crowd of 80,000 swayed together while the final lyrics, "Goodnight, it's all right, Jane" echoed throughout the stadium. The smiling faces and teary eyes of his audience were projected on the screen behind Bruce, which he noticed as his solo performance concluded. Walking back to the center mic, Springsteen invited the E Street Band to the stage. To a familiar roar, the E Street Band assumed their places as Bruce introduced "Spirit in the Night": "Are you ready to testify?!"
"Testify!" Bruce repeated, until the audience became suitably impassioned. Raising his arms to the air, Springsteen led the E Street Band and 80,000 others through "Spirit," which transitioned into to "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and then "Growin' Up." The E Street Band were playing to a massive audience, but also those who know and love Bruce's earliest work. Acknowledging the "triple header from Greetings," they had Croke Park travelling from 2016 to 1973, with the first four songs of the night from Springsteen's first two albums. It was an intimate, warm feel, so different from the blasts of high energy that open many E Street Band concerts.
During "Growin' Up," with the atmosphere just right, Bruce began to tell the story of his childhood and the acquiring of his first guitar. Roy's piano accompanied Bruce as he spoke, providing a rhythm which incorporated rhetoric with verse. "13 years old, I lived on this little L-shaped block, with a church in the middle, Catholic school here, the nuns' convent here, the priests' rectory here, and we had five houses filled with Irish." The crowd cheered and Bruce laughed, continuing, "Now, I come from… O'Hagans, McNicholases, Farrells… and when I was little I was brought up by the Irish side of my family. They were very, very superstitious." Bruce scratched his face, looking whimsical.
"I remember when, whenever it would thunder, my Grandmother, Nana McNicholas, would grab my hand, rush me down to my aunt, and we'd sit in the living room. They'd pull all the blinds down, and when the thunder and lightning started, my Aunt Jean had a little bottle of holy water, and she'd start spraying it all over everybody" — Bruce mimicked this movement and the crowd erupted with laughter — "while telling all these horror stories of neighbors who had been struck by lightning." This clearly resonated with the Irish audience, who indulged Bruce in his storytelling with cheers and laughter. Bruce continued at the microphone, telling the story of finding his first guitar, of muffling the sounds of being in bed with his girlfriends by throwing balls around a pool table, "so it sounded like we were playing pool," and then the moment he first wore his guitar. "And I swear, it was the big Irish voice that came from somewhere, and it said…" Here Bruce adopted an Irish accent… "Let it rock, son, let it rock!"… before returning to an enchanting "Growin' Up."
A familiar setlist followed, carried by the energy of the opening performance. "Youngstown" allowed Nils Lofgren to unleash a blistering guitar solo, nearly levitating as he spun in a circle to the chanting of the crowd. Guitar duelling between Bruce and Steve was a highlight of an intense "Murder Incorporated," which was performed beneath a deep red light.
Bono joined Bruce and the E Streeters for "Because the Night," introduced as "a local boy." The U2 frontman fell around the stage, between notes and missing the odd cue, but was clearly reveling in his chance to join the E Street Band and experience their audience. "Badlands" closed the main set, as Springsteen's voice became noticeably strained, which he acknowledged by the end of the concert. This didn't hamper the performance, however, with "Badlands" proving the appropriate way to conclude a set that had been building a crescendo since the start.
"With whatever voice I have left!" Bruce played a solo-acoustic "Thunder Road" to close the night. "I'm gonna need your help with this one!" With the crowd singing along, Bruce sang softly and, despite the sore voice, harmonized with a near-angelic quality. House light illuminated the massive stadium, with Springsteen looking deeply appreciative of the moment. A smile appeared on Bruce's face as he held his guitar to the sky. "The E Street Band loves you!" and then the greatest cheer of the night, "We'll be seein' ya!"
Contrasting with the light atmosphere of Dublin on an early summer’s evening, the E Street Band opened with an impassioned “Darkness on the Edge of Town," also reflecting their return to English-speaking audiences. Whereas “Badlands” featured predominantly as an opener in Spain, “Darkness” emphasized lyrical narrative from the outset. With “Darkness,” an intensity not only of sound but also of meaning was generated, setting the scene for a performance that would transpire to be one of the tour's strongest thus far.
“Darkness” segued into “Badlands,” with Bruce seeming to scream at the crowd, teeth bared, before jumping in place. By request, River outtake “Roulette” followed “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” further emphasizing an intensity which fed both the E Street Band and their audience, with Max Weinberg’s drumming so powerful that its sound became near physical in its impact.
In a return to 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen accepted a sign request for “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.” Caressing their guitars, the E Street Band gently opened the song in a move that transformed the atmosphere of Croke Park from a stadium of 80,000 people to that of an early-'70s backstreet club, with an intimacy that bordered on sensuality. Under purple lights, Roy Bittan’s piano seamlessly seeped into the E Street rhythm, evoking a youthful vitality that defined Springsteen's first foray into music. The E Street Band were obviously in their element, as were the audience, who celebrated the song by dancing as it grooved towards its climax.
Another sign request followed, this time for a song Bruce described as “too fucking sad” to play often, “too sad for the E Street Band.” Despite being a song for the brokenhearted, “Back in Your Arms” was perhaps the definitive performance of Dublin 1. It’s true that the E Street Band are in their element when playing high-powered rock songs; it’s also true that when they strip down their performance to the core, they reach something elemental. “Back in Your Arms” exemplified the E Street Band’s ability to create magic.
As the band played a gentle, extended intro, Bruce began to speak, like a preacher to his congregation. “I have a question for every man and woman in the house: Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been in love?... And have you ever done something that fucked up a good thing?” There was laughter but little admission, with Bruce quipping, "That doesn’t sound like that many… There are 80,000 people here, that means at least 40,000 people are lying." Finally, shouts of acknowledgement from every corner of the massive stadium; Bruce responded, "Thank you." He continued, "And then you had to go back, if you were lucky, and you had to ask for forgiveness. If you had the chance, and you were lucky. And you had to explain how things would be different from here on in.... You had to go back and say —" And from there he crooned the opening lines to a song performed only 21 times in the band’s history.
Holding only his microphone, Bruce stood alone for the majority of the song, delivering a soulful, heartfelt vocal. The E Street Band harmonized after the first verse, with Charlie Giordano’s keyboard solo giving Bruce a moment of quiet. But then: “Now this, this is a teaching moment. If everything else didn't work, this is where you swallow your pride, and you walk back to that good thing that you threw away, and you get down on your knees. Don't be afraid, fellas! There ain’t no shame in it! Because a good thing don’t come along every day." Singing, speaking, riffing, Bruce went on: “You’ve got to say, baby, baby, bay… I’ve changed. You’ve got to say that! Even if you haven’t." The crowd laughed. “You’ve got to get your ass there so your brain follows.” Bruce and the band powered through the song from there, a ten-minute version, the crowd swaying with each note. The climax of Jake Clemons’ stirring saxophone solo cemented “Back in Your Arms” as the magical moment of the night. “Think about it,” Bruce said, concluding.
Returning to 1973, the E Street Band continued later in the set with tour premiere of “Lost in the Flood,” another sign request. Bruce’s voice was gravelly and raw as it echoed throughout Croke Park. With the underpinning of Roy's piano, the song gradually built up towards an epic drum solo from Max. With 43 years of ageing, “Lost in the Flood” has developed a darkness which emanated through the crowd, set alight, with diehards in the pit shouting “thank you” to Bruce as the song ended.
The encores began three hours in, with the European tour debut of “Jungleland.” Another return to the '70s, the E Street Band were coupling the experience of their age with the vitality of music which was written in their youth. A sense of time was evoked throughout the concert, with Bruce juxtaposing music from the early '70s with material from the modern era, including Wrecking Ball favorite “Death to My Hometown.” This contrast emphasized the importance and limited nature of time, a display of what Springsteen had stated explicitly at the conclusion of each River set on the North American leg. “Jungleland” was delivered as though both for the first time and the last, as Jake's saxophone solo had Bruce visibly moved. With the 80,000-strong crowd lit only by the lights on cellphones, this firefly effect encouraged both the band and the sentiments of the song, before Jake held his saxophone to the sky and Bruce nodded solemnly to his band, which had performed perfectly.
After the “good luck, goodbye” of Bobby Jean, a solo-acoustic rendition of “This Hard Land” ended the 3.5-hour concert, with Bruce reminding us, once again, “the E Street Band loves you!" It was a fitting conclusion to a concert that emphasized the importance of time while making profound use of it.
A new country with a new crowd and a new climate called for a new opener, and Bruce replaced the frenzy-inducing "Badlands" with a fitting and impactful "Atlantic City." Though the song almost always goes over swimmingly, it seemed to particularly resonate with this blue-collar city, its somber tone only enhanced by the overcast skies and light rain.
Perfectly building off the power, pace and even themes of this stunning opener, the subtle references to violent organized crime at the end of "Atlantic City" led directly into the more overt "Murder Incorporated." This, too, is a song that implicitly connected to the culture of Manchester given its important role in the history of the Industrial Revolution (it's often credited as being the first industrialized city in the world). It was a killer (pun intended) one-two punch to open the show — perhaps the best opening of the entire tour. And with another fiery guitar duel between Bruce and Steve Van Zandt, the energy of "Murder Incorporated" fed right into "Badlands" in slot three.
Stevie was immediately engaged, with his vocal harmonies in "Atlantic City" and guitar work in "Murder Incorporated," and his performance tenacity never waned throughout the concert, one of his best of the tour. Yet it was another of Bruce's brothers-in-guitars that provided one of the most memorable moments of the night; right after Bruce and Nils Lofgren finished up their "No Surrender" guitar duet at center stage, Nils turned around, tripped, and took a pretty hard tumble. After making sure he was all right — which Nils confirmed with a sheepish grin — Bruce cracked up and announced: "The raw excitement put Nils right on his ass!"
Though the first few songs were consistently intense, this little mishap transitioned Bruce into more jovial spirits, the first of many mood-shifts throughout the concert (an example of a bi-polar stretch that still totally worked: "Out in the Street" into "Darkness on the Edge of Town" into "Crush on You"). Yet few could have predicted where Bruce would take the show next; still laughing from Nils' fall, Bruce called out a surprising member of the crowd.
"What's the deal with the guy in the Santa Claus suit?" Bruce asked, addressing an older gentleman in the middle of the pit. "Is there some connection to Manchester I don't know about? Or is it a perverted attempt at a sign request?" Bruce hit the nail on the reindeer's head with his final guess, calling up the man and his "Santa Claus is Coming to Manchester" sign. Even though, as Bruce noted, there were still 270 days until Christmas, the band launched into a joyous performance of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." Bruce allowed Santa himself to accompany by singing — hysterically off-key, off-pitch, off-melody, off-everything — Clarence's old "You better be good for goodness sake" part. "Let's hear it for Santa," Bruce concluded at the song's close, "Only in Manchester! This the the only place where that's going to happen."
Sadly, the same could not be said for the rest of the setlist. Though two other sign requests brought only the second tour performance of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and the European premiere of "Backstreets," the remainder of the show featured a lot of the same stadium crowd-pleasers that have already become staples of this European leg (and since the crowd's energy paled in comparison to their Spanish counterparts, most of these songs didn't play nearly as well).
Yes, Bruce happily re-inserted "Crush on You," "You Can Look" and "I Wanna Marry You," which might appease those clamoring for more River songs on this River Tour, but he yet again skipped most of the album's second record in favor of the "greatest hits." Though Bruce and the Band still turned in phenomenal performances of these songs, perhaps fans in Europe would be less disappointed by the lack of River songs if Bruce adhered to his own reasoning he gave in Brooklyn as to why they were going to stop playing the album in full: "We're gonna open up our setlists over in Europe." Much like with his American shows, the latter portion of the night proved the most disappointingly static, which was a shame considering how the opening numbers felt so specifically directed at this Manchester crowd.
Yet for the tens of thousands of audience members in attendance who aren't setlist watchers, the concert must have played like gangbusters for its entire three-hour-and ten-minute duration, largely thanks to Bruce's incredibly high spirits all night long. As usual, the rain brought out the best in the Boss and the Band. During "Glory Days," Bruce felt inspired to go off script in his back-and-forth with his musical consigliere: "Let's keep this thing rocking now — who cares about the rain! Are you with me, Stevie? Is the Band with me?! Are the Mancherians with me?!"
The deafening response from the crowd said it all.
Beneath light cloud, Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium radiated both heat and noise, with three sides of the stadium towering with tens of thousands of fans. In contrast to San Sebastián, where Bruce had played to the pit by way of introduction, on stage in Madrid he quickly launched into "Badlands," shouting only "Hola Madrid!" before igniting the fire of the entire Spanish audience. With "Badlands" leading into "My Love Will Not Let You Down," it was clear that Bruce's focus was as much on the 80,000th fan as it was on the 1st. With no pause, the opening continued with "Cover Me," which featured a blistering guitar solo from Bruce — a potent reminder of Springsteen's own guitar prowess, in a band home to Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt. In his element, engaging his audience as much with his electric guitar as with his voice and personality, Springsteen surveyed his massive audience, clearly enjoying the sight: tens of thousands of people jumping with their fists in the air. This image, accompanied by massive a wall of sound, set the tone for last night's concert in Madrid.
Bruce was quick to respond to the intensity of Bernabéu, capitalizing on it with stadium rocker "Wrecking Ball" before one of the defining moments of the concert. Enshrouded in darkness, Bruce paced the stage for a moment before a soft purple light descended upon the E Street Band. "My City of Ruins" made its tour debut, transforming Bernabéu stadium into a cathedral. Walking down to the center thrust deck, Bruce raised his hands in a movement which was mirrored by the crowd. Stripped down compared with the Wrecking Ball Tour, this rendition of "My City of Ruins" was characterized by a simplicity of sound. With fewer musicians on stage, and despite the absence of the conversation that came with the song in 2012, "My City of Ruins" conveyed intimacy while maintaining intensity. With sweat already dripping from his arms, Bruce conducted the E Street Band from the thrust deck as arms raised from the front row to the last. Roy Bittan's piano proved to be spectacular, a sonic metaphor for the narrative of the song itself, as he and Bruce took the crowd to near silence and then almighty crescendo.
This experience was nearly repeated with one of the only sign requests of the night, "Trapped." Few songs showcase the E Street Band's ability to command an audience like this one, with the crowd reduced to somber silence and then brought to an emphatic celebration of hope and determination within the space of only minutes. In Bernabéu, "Trapped" took us from one extreme to the other, much to the satisfaction of Springsteen, smiling as the song reached its climax.
"The River" transitioned into "Point Blank," more poignant and fine-tuned with every rendition, before the River album was put aside, exchanged for a collection of Born in the U.S.A. tracks, which Springsteen must deem more appropriate to please massive crowds. For those who love The River, the 1984 emphasis mid-set can prove disappointing, fun though it is. It might be hard to imagine it in a stadium, but for Springsteen to combine a U.S. River Tour setlist with a European audience would be to create magic.
The main set concluded with another tour premiere: "Land of Hope and Dreams" recaptured the profundity of "My City of Ruins" and offered another moment of communion. The expression on the faces of the E Street Band combined enjoyment with a serious understanding of the profundity of the moment. This juxtaposition encapsulated a memorable sign from the Magic tour: "It's only rock 'n' roll, but it feels like love."
An encore similar to previous nights followed, before the high-powered concert drew to a close with "Bobby Jean" and "Twist and Shout." After this intense but relatively shorter concert of just over three hours, Bruce remained on stage while the E Street Band filed out, taking an acoustic guitar and harmonica from Kevin Buell. Returning to the center microphone, Springsteen led the 80,000-strong crowd in not "This Hard Land" but "Thunder Road," its acoustic premiere on this tour and a true moment of magic.
Before leaving the stage himself, Bruce stood above the audience, holding his guitar into the air. Taking a moment to appreciate the spectacle, Bruce shouted, "Remember, the E Street Band loves you!" Hesitating briefly on the staircase before descending, as though teasing at the prospect of another song, Bruce left the stage and an audience that continued to call out his name. He also left a concert that raised questions as to the nature of the ongoing River Tour. As the tour progresses through the UK & Ireland in the coming weeks, its arc may bend toward the magic of his 1980 masterpiece, or toward a series of concerts lacking in narrative but generating massive energy.
Casually walking on stage a little before midnight to little fanfare and no introductory music, Bruce and the Band immediately ripped into the same opening three-pack that began Barcelona's concert. Yet the differences between the two shows were immediately apparent: not only was the festival sound system jarringly flat, the crowd, despite its size, initially seemed to be one of the most tepid of the entire tour so far — American leg included — with very few even fist-pumping to "Badlands." Further, the festival's stage design literally separated Bruce from his audience by an uncomfortable distance, figuratively symbolizing the chasm that he would have to cross to engage this more reserved crowd.
Springsteen, as you'd expect, stepped up his game in the face of such a challenge. Forgoing the usual River songs, he hit the crowd with a killer one-two punch of "Cover Me" and the tour premiere of "Darkness on the Edge of Town." By the time he began physically interacting with the crowd during "Hungry Heart" by walking down the long catwalk and all over the field — which was dwarfed by a colorful Ferris Wheel in the distance and had a zip line (yes, a zip line) literally above it which festivalgoers periodically zoomed across during the concert — Springsteen had already begun massaging the crowd into the palm of his hand. They may not have been familiar with the "wife and kids in Baltimore Jack," but their voices were definitely heard for the chorus.
Even though it was technically another stop on The RiverTour 2016, the featured LP on this night was — unsurprisingly, given the greatest hits expectation — Born in the U.S.A, with nine of its 12 songs being played, three times as many as from the tour's titular album.We're now a "My Hometown" away from the entirety of Born in the U.S.A. being played in Europe before the entirety of The River. Though Bruce and the Band brought out the expected heavy-hitters from the 23rd best-selling record of all time globally, the crowd also lapped up the deeper cuts, including the unexpected tour premieres of "Downbound Train" and "I'm on Fire." The latter received the loudest sing-along of the night.
Bruce's focus on Born in the U.S.A. also stretched to the other album from the era, Nebraska, with two songs to satiate fans: "Atlantic City" — unfortunately, a song that really suffers from a lack of widespread crowd involvement — and the tour premiere of "Johnny 99," a rollicking rendition that highlighted the mighty power of the entire E Street Band (we'll forgive Jake for coming in a bit too early with his cowbell). Sandwiched between these two relatively lesser-known-songs were the often-inseparable Born in the U.S.A. twins, "Darlington County" and "Working on the Highway," both of which had Bruce really playing to the crowd on the catwalk and beyond.
This stretch of four songs encapsulates the subtle brilliance of the evening's setlist construction. Bruce knew he had play to the festival's expected greatest hits crowd, yet he did so without disappointing his loyal fan base. For perhaps the first time all tour, fans truly had no idea what song was coming next (until the encores, but by then everyone was having too much of a blast to care), and it was refreshingly thrilling. Take the "night" two-pack in the middle of the show: for every tour staple like crowd-favorite "Because the Night," Bruce threw in a tour premiere such as "Spirit in the Night," a more obscure track during which he made a point of physically interacting with the audience more than normal to ensure everyone was always along for the ride.
Yet the ride on this night didn't just include those at the concert; thanks to a high-quality live stream, Bruce fans from nation to nation were able to tune in to watch. Even though Bruce had won over the enormous crowd by the end of the show — with the set-closing, acoustic "This Hard Land" eliciting tears from locals in my vicinity — what they lacked in typical E Street Band crowd energy was more than made up for by E Street Nation's participation all across the world. My phone was blowing up throughout the concert, with enthusiastic messages from fellow fans following along at homecommunally sharing in the rock 'n' roll spectacular.
Though the concert was on the shorter side — clocking in at a little over two-and-a-half hours, Springsteen's shortest show in a long time but still the longest set of the day — it served as yet another reminder that no matter the country, no matter the venue, no matter the makeup or size of the crowd, very few people in the world are as good at what they do as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Beneath a warm blue sky, shortly after 9pm, the E Street Band ascended to the stage, followed by Bruce Springsteen, to rapturous applause. Despite the Basque audience being only half the size of their Catalan counterparts, the anticipation was palpable, as Anoeta Stadium erupted with a roar few audiences can achieve. For this second concert of the European River Tour, Bruce arrived armed with an acoustic guitar, clearly relishing the opportunity to indulge in his deafening welcome.
With his eyes set on the center thrust deck, Bruce shouted, "Kaixo Donostia!" — "Hello Donosti! — and smiled as though laughing before dancing down to the thrust deck. Immediately, the opening chords of "Working on the Highway" set the crowd alight, with Bruce thrusting his way into the song. Surrounded by hundreds of fans who had queued for more than two days to achieve their position at the front, Bruce was playing to and partying with the diehards.
The E Street Band launched into "No Surrender," with Bruce back on the stage and jumping in place, in both a response to the audience's movement and a feeding of their hunger for intensity. This ferocity continued until, upon collecting a sign request, Bruce introduced "Independence Day." Cut from the set in Barcelona three nights earlier, "Independence Day" allowed the E Street Band to transform vigor into intimacy, with Bruce introducing the song as being about "fathers and sons, fathers and sons."
With the complete album performance dropped for the European River Tour, "Independence Day" provided a welcome return to the narrative which defined the U.S leg, in which Bruce felt able to introduce and contextualize music that is now 35 years old. "Independence Day" clearly resonated with the crowd, which fell silent as the E Street Band played cloaked in a purple-blue light. Despite the age of both the song and band, the performance of "Independence Day" felt distinctly youthful: the E Street Band channeled the energy of youth and coupled it with the experience of their age. This culmination created a highlight of last night's concert; to close one's eyes would be to exist either in 1981 or 2016.
The reinventon of "old" songs continued as Bruce granted a request for "Fire." Springsteen collected the sign, written modestly on the back of an abanico (hand fan), before teasing the crowd with the possibility of it being played. He held the fan to his face, pouting into the camera, flirting with the crowd, before announcing, "We haven't played this in a real long time." With the stage turning red, the renowned bassline of "Fire" echoed through Anoeta Stadium, almost pulsating.
Despite the 35,000 fans in the stadium, Bruce played "Fire" almost entirely to Patti. Beckoning her to the center mic, their lips almost touched as Patti joined Bruce to harmonize. If "Independence Day" channeled the youth of the original River Tour, then "Fire" channeled the sensuality of the Tunnel of Love Express Tour. The band was particularly tight, with Steve and Nils directing, allowing Bruce and Patti to get lost in the lyrics.
"Point Blank" followed "The River," with Roy's piano intro continuing to prove a musical feat. Bruce adopted a serious tone and expression, looking almost angry as the band embodied the song's solemn nature.
"Murder Incorporated" premiered next and allowed for an epic guitar showdown between Bruce and Steve, who traded notes as though dueling. With the entire crowd jumping and throwing their fists to the air, Bruce turned to the camera and screamed, baring his teeth before jumping in place. At this point, Bruce had established Donosti as being a concert which walked a line between profundity and rockabilly party. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," less profound, had its tour premiere, too — the enthusuastic sign-holder getting a ride on Springsteen's shoulders — before they dug deep again on "Drive All Night."
A set similar to Barcelona continued, until the concert ended with a solo-acoustic performance of "This Hard Land." Upon completing "Bobby Jean," Bruce told the Basque audience to "remember, the E Street Band loves you!" It was an emotional climax to a high-energy performance which lasted some 3 hours and 40 minutes. Despite having already played an additional song in the encore, with the E Street Band having left the stage, Bruce paused on the steps while in the process of leaving.
With his head bowed, Bruce took a moment to himself, before turning to smile at the roaring crowd. Clearly moved by his audience, Bruce collected an acoustic guitar and harmonica and returned to the center microphone. With the house lights up, alone on stage, Bruce began strumming the opening chords to "This Hard Land," which the crowd accompanied him in singing nearly in its entirety. To hear a stadium of 35,000 people singing together epitomized the magic that draws fans to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Bruce thanked the audience before reminding them again, "the E Street Band loves you." Leaving the stage, Bruce glanced back and smiled before disappearing into the darkness. With what appeared to be a tear in his eye, Bruce's final expression was one which encapsulated the story of the night: "the older you get, the more it means."
With a full River album performance no longer part of the tour, "Meet Me in the City" was dropped for the first time, too, as the European leg kicked off with "Badlands." Followed by "No Surrender" and "My Love will Not Let You Down," it was a blast of any opening three-pack that put everyone on their feet. Bruce and the band then dove into The River and performed the majority of the double album, 12 out of 20 songs; 16 River songs had been setlisted, but he ended up skipping four of them and also interspersed songs from other eras. "Independence Day" was dropped when Bruce decided to pick a sign for "I'm Goin' Down" instead — funnily, the same song that made us miss "Drive All Night" at the 2008 show in the same venue.
The middle part of the show, which loosely followed The River's second LP, featured some of the night's most memorable performances: "Point Blank," with its amazing piano intro, was followed by an intense "Atlantic City"; it was a powerful juxtaposition that showed off the advantages of Bruce mixing up the setlists again. Later, setting aside "Wreck on the Highway," Springsteen closed the River portion with — finally, for Barcelona — a long, heartfelt "Drive All Night."
In between, it was sign time. Bruce picked up a lot of requests, skipped "Cadillac Ranch" and "I'm a Rocker," and delivered more crowd favorites: "Darlington County" and "Glory Days." (He showed the other side of that sign, which had "Growin' Up," and allowed the audience to choose; the older gem lost, sadly for hardcore fans). By then the excitement level was off the charts, the crowd's energy feeding the band and vice versa, so it was time to rock some more: "I Wanna Be With You" (finally a River outtake!) was a most-welcomed addition, followed by a loose, butt-shaking "Ramrod" and a beautiful "The Price You Pay."
The post-River segment was a blast, too: intense and hard-rocking, with a great vintage solo from Bruce on "Prove it All Night" and Nils Lofgren's stratospheric guitar on "Because the Night," which was mesmerizing. An audible, "She's the One," brought some of that cherished '70s feeling to the show before a great Bruce/Patti duet on "Brilliant Disguise," always underrated and underplayed.
"Thunder Road" closed the main set at the three-hour mark, with the whole stadium singing Bruce's most cherished and unforgettable lyrics. He thanked Barcelona and Catalunya again, as he had on multiple occasions during the night, and surprised us with an unexpected "Purple Rain" to open the encores. With "Born in the U.S.A." — which was loud, louder and beyond that — the whole building was literally moving. That was the beginning of half an hour of total crowd happiness, everyone dancing non-stop, raising fists, singing along, jumping (and some, with too much to drink, literally falling down)… basically, enjoying every minute of it. A moving "Bobby Jean" felt like a bonus song after "Shout," but just when it seemed like could be no more, Bruce came back to the front with his classic "No more! Yeah? No!" routine, which forced another encore and the whole place exploded again to the rhythm of "Twist and Shout."
Was this one of his best shows ever? No. Was this up to his best nights in the city? Certainly no. But it doesn't matter. He came, he delivered (plenty), he rocked, he spread tons of happiness, he conquered. Again, and again, and again.
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