High Hopes 2014 US Springsteen Tour Preview

The US leg of the 2014 “High Hopes” tour starts this Sunday, April 6, in Dallas, Texas. What does Bruce (possibly) have in store?

First Free Show Since 1973
Sunday’s show in Dallas will be the first time since the 1970s that the E Street Band has performed a full set that was completely free and open to the public.

There have been past free performances that had limited public access (such as the Apollo Theater show before the Wrecking Ball tour) or performances that were open the public but were less (often much less) than a full set.

Bruce and the band performed times in the 1970s at Colleges and Universities where the tickets were free to students but not otherwise open to the general public. The last known time a show was completely free and open to the public was on September 8, 1973.

With the exciting news that this show will be streamed online, one need not look so far in the past to find the last time that happened; it was September 21, 2013, the last show of the Wrecking Ball tour, at the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil. (Hopefully Bruce won’t do a full performance of the Born in the U.S.A. album this time).

 
Will songs from High Hopes ever make regular appearances in the setlist?
If the South African and Australasian shows are any guide, it appears that Bruce is treating the High Hopes songs much as he did the Working on a Dream songs, showing very little faith in them when creating his setlists.

“High Hopes” (the song) will be there every night, and “Just Like Fire Would” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” will be on most nights as well. The rest of the songs are conspicuous by their absence: “Dream Baby Dream,” “Frankie Fell in Love” and “Hunter of Invisible Game” were only played once each; “This Is Your Sword” twice, and three songs from the album haven’t yet been played live this tour. Even “Heaven’s Wall” and “American Skin” were missing from several of the shows played this tour.

Then again, returning to the U.S. may give Bruce a bit more freedom to try his new material, as he may not feel obligated to play as many of his “regular” or “hit” material to crowds that haven’t had the chance to see him play as often. Further, this leg of the tour notably is playing to several markets that the Wrecking Ball tour missed, so there is the potential that those “new” songs may also make the set.


What about “album” shows?
Another factor that suggests a greater presence of new material is that Bruce should now at this point be completely finished with playing “album” shows. He is no longer playing for crowds that have had rare (or no prior) opportunities to see him in concert. There is simply no reason that he should have to resort to the gimmick that are full-album shows, particularly at the start of a tour behind a new album, and in the country where he plays the majority of his live shows.

 
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction – Thursday, April 10
Next week, the E Street Band will receive the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Award for Musical Excellence” (formerly known as the “Sidemen” award). Of course Bruce will be performing with the band at the event. But what will they play?

Assuming a limited performance slot, the two most obvious choices are “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “The E Street Shuffle.” The former is what Bruce himself has described as the “story of the band” and of course has been used for two years as tribute to the members of the band no longer with us. The latter would be an appropriate choice of song to include Vini Lopez and David Sancious; indeed, Lopez played drums on the song at a show in September 2012.

A final consideration on the band’s song choices is that this may be the one time that the members of the band are given the opportunity to choose the songs played, rather than Bruce himself. In an ideal world, the band would be able to play each member’s signature song (“Racing in the Street” for Roy, “Two Hearts” for Steve, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” for Max, and so on) but time constraints would clearly not allow such a long set.

One further wrinkle is the question of who, if anyone, will be on stage other than the band members being inducted. It would be possible to limit the performance to only those being inducted – with David Sancious playing the keyboards instead of Charlie Giordano – but that would also limit the performance to songs without saxophone.

It further seems unlikely that Bruce would have just Jake on saxophone (rather than the entire horn section). Given that the event falls in the middle of the tour, it is more likely that the current incarnation of the band will be on stage in its entirety.  Including, of course, Steve Van Zandt or Patti Scialfa, in what could be their only time on stage with the band this spring.


Tom Morello replacing Steve Van Zandt (again)
As he did for the Australian tour of 2013, Tom Morello will be replacing Steve Van Zandt, while Steve is off filming episodes of Lillyhammer in Norway.

As evidenced by those ten shows in 2013, Steve’s absence is unlikely to affect the setlist choices, as Bruce played songs during those shows from almost every one of his albums.  The one possible exception is the song “Two Hearts.”  This was the song that Bruce played every time Steve guested on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, and was the song that was played every night on the Reunion tour, when Steve returned to the band.  It was absent in Australia in 2013, and returned to the set in Oslo, on Steve’s first night back.  It’s never been played by Bruce and the E Street Band without Steve on stage, so if it’s that one song you’re hoping to hear, you might be out of luck.

A reasonable analysis of Steve’s role in the modern E Street Band would indicate that his trademark vocals may be missed even more than his guitar playing.  Nils was called on by Bruce, in a manner similar to the Born in the U.S.A. tour, to join in on harmony vocals in Steve’s place but there is still going to be a clear difference.  Steve’s guitar parts, by contrast, were ably covered by Nils and Tom Morello in 2013.  Steve’s solos on more recent material such as “Living in the Future,” “Easy Money” or “Gypsy Biker” would probably require some practice to get right, although the issue is mostly moot, as Bruce regrettably seems to have little interest in playing those songs.


Patti Scialfa
Patti hasn’t played a full show with the E Street Band since September of 2012, and the number of shows she plays goes down on each successive tour.  She has, however, usually been present for the first US leg of a tour, so there is reason to hope that she may be able to make it more than just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.  She obviously will be missing the Nashville show, given the announcement that she’ll be performing at Sting and Trudie Styler’s Rainforest Benefit show that same night.

In the past, Patti’s absence has made it less likely that songs from Tunnel of Love or the song “Human Touch” would be played.  Recently though, Bruce has been relying on Soozie to cover Patti’s vocal parts on those songs, so performances of them are fortunately not completely precluded.


American Beauty
It is unprecedented for Bruce to release new original material while in the middle of a tour (excepting, obviously, the times when a tour started a few days prior to the release of the album it was supporting). Record Store Day is Saturday, April 19, and the band will be performing in Charlotte that night. Here’s hoping that Bruce chooses to debut one (or more) of the new songs from American Beauty at that show.

There is no need to wait for Charlotte, of course.  Bruce does have a long history of playing new songs live before they are released on an album (such as “Point Blank” in 1978, “Seeds” in 1985 or “American Skin (41 Shots)” in 2000).  It wouldn’t be a surprise if he tried some of the American Beauty songs as early as opening night in Cincinnati.


“Local” Cover Songs
There was a great deal of publicity regarding Bruce’s choices of “local” cover songs in South Africa and Australia, and they were obvious highlights of the tour. That said, it seems unlikely to continue in the US, and those hoping for a cover song from different band from Tampa or Raleigh or Columbus are likely to go away disappointed. The nature of the Southern Hemisphere leg, where the band did not fly home after each show and were on an extended tour together naturally lent itself to more time for pre-show practice and more time to come up with interesting ideas for each show.


Miscellaneous
Will the shows continue to be available as official downloads?
There’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

Will there be more shows?
Bruce’s tours are big business and there’s never before been a tour where he’s skipped his biggest markets in the US (for example, New York). At some point in the foreseeable future, he will be playing there again.

But when exactly?
Your guess is as good as mine.

Is this the tour where “Waiting on a Sunny Day” finally gets a rest?
It just might be. In a positive trend, it was absent from 5 of the 13 Australia/New Zealand shows.

What other live staples might get a well-deserved rest?
Hopefully “Dancing in the Dark” will take a break from the show for a while. It’s an intriguing possibility with the tour returning to a “familiar” market; Bruce may not feel compelled to play it for fans overseas that are seeing him for the first time.

Will the Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out tribute continue?
It was present in Australia in 2014, after having already been done there in 2013. It’s possible, but unlikely that it will be left out.

Will Bruce still be taking lots of signs from the audience?
I wish he’d tamp down on this trend. He could easily make an announcement through his website (or his newfound social media presence!) telling people that he’s not doing that this time around.

If he does still want to take signs, I do have a suggestion or two:

 


Dear Bruce: (if you’re at work)…

March 11, 2014

Dear Bruce:

Really enjoying your new use of instagram and the photos you’ve been posting to your website.

Yes, you just got home from a long tour and could be taking it easy.  But since the pictures were taken in your “workroom,” here’s hoping you are:

1. Figuring out how to work the new songs from High Hopes into the setlists for the upcoming shows.

2. Looking over your back catalog and considering some new things to play this spring (how about “30 Days Out?”)

3. Putting together the River box-set.

4. Arranging that new full-band version of “Real World” I suggested to you last year.

5. Listening to recordings from past shows and finding some favorites to use for the start of an archive download series.

6. Thinking about balancing your setlists with both your “classic” material – songs such as “Badlands” and “Born in the USA” and the best of your “contemporary” material – songs such as “Long Walk Home” and “Rocky Ground.”

7. Drafting new essays for an update to the Songs book (you’ve put out 6 albums since The Rising!)

8. Reading the latest issue of Backstreets and making sure we didn’t make any mistakes.

9. Mulling over that auto-biography you’ve had kicking around for a while.

10. Writing new songs!

They’re Here! Springsteen’s Official Live Show Downloads Now Available!

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real…”

And they have!  The day is finally here: one can download an official, high-quality recording of Bruce Springsteen’s live shows.  The E Street Band played in Cape Town, South Africa on January 26, 2014, and late in the evening of January 29, 2014 the first recording was made available – at the reasonable price of $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC.

Instant reaction:

It’s a good mix.  A nice balance of instruments, and a good amount of audience.  Maybe Bruce’s vocals are a little low, but this is the first time they’re doing this.  One imagines a little tweaking to the mix will probably happen over the first few shows.

Lots of little things can be heard in the mix that might get missed at some of the shows: a great guitar part by Tom Morello at the end of the “Death to My Hometown,” or the backing singers in “Out in the Street,” or the baritone sax of Ed Manion adding to the bottom end in “Spirit in the Night.”  Nice lyric change by Bruce in “Hungry Heart” to “…here I am in Cape Town again.”

(And that’s just from the first seven songs!)

Total Disaster as Springsteen Tries to Sell Recordings of Live Shows

UPDATE, JANUARY 22:

Today, Backstreets breaks more news on this subject, and it’s unequivocally positive:

“Backstreets has just confirmed that, in addition to the USB wristband sales model, Springsteen will also be offering direct audio downloads through his official Live Nation online store following each show on the upcoming leg, with no physical purchase required. There will be two options for audio formats: MP3 (320 kbps) or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). Pricing will match Pearl Jam’s, at $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC. Hard to say fairer than that.”

(Emphasis mine)

Needless to say, this is simply fantastic news, and largely addresses each of the issues raised below with Springsteen’s plans as originally revealed.  The original article remains below, with several parts of it now gladly moot.

Original Article:

Last week, Backstreets breaks the news that Bruce Springsteen is finally ready to sell official live recordings of his concerts, and he’s planning on doing so on his upcoming tour.  Jon Landau, Bruce’s longtime manager, is quoted:  “We’re trying to keep the surprises coming…I think we are.”

No kidding.

Today, the program is revealed:
1. Fans will have to buy a “wristband” with a USB drive attached in order to obtain the recording of the show.
2. For each wristband purchased, they can download one show.  Want 10 different shows?  You’ve got to buy 10 wristbands.
3. The downloads are only offered in MP3 format.
4. The cost: $40 per wristband, plus tax and shipping.

The only accurate characterization of this program is that is a massive blunder on the part of Springsteen, and shows a total lack of understanding of his fanbase and of technology generally.

The Price
The $40 price is so far out of line with the industry standard as to be baffling.  Pearl Jam charges $10 per show in MP3 format; $15 per show in FLAC format; $16.98 for physical CDs and $20 for FLAC-HD.   Similar prices are charged by Metallica.  John Fogerty.  Phish.

Plus tax and shipping.  That’s right, because the only way to get the recording is on the silly USB drive, a buyer has to also pay for shipping (minimum charge $8.95 on an item that requires about $2.00 of postage) in order to get the recording.

And the wristband?  A 2 GB USB drive is worth maybe $5.  Assuming the buyer even wants one.

Of course Bruce is free to charge whatever he wants for his music, as is his right as an artist.  As consumers and fans, we are free to call him out on it.  This is just greedy.

The Quality
MP3s are not “high-quality” audio.  This is not up for debate.  Advertising these as “high-quality audio recordings,” as listed in the store on Bruce’s official website, is insulting.

It’s perfectly fair to charge a different rate for MP3s and FLAC-HD, as the artists mentioned above do.  Offering MP3s only is stupid.  Why would Bruce not want his fans to be able to hear the music in the best possible quality?  It simply makes no sense.

The Wristband
The vast majority of people buying the shows do not want or need a wristband with a USB drive attached thereto.

If the shows are going to be downloaded from the internet, there is no sensible reason whatsoever to make it necessary to ship a USB drive through the mail in order to do so!  One wonders how much of the price could be reduced simply by eliminating this nonsense.

The Fundamental Lack of Understanding of the Fanbase (and Technology)
The takeaway here is that Bruce and/or his advisors, including Jon Landau, simply do not understand Bruce’s fanbase.

Official recordings of live shows is something that Bruce’s fanbase has been clamoring for for years and years.  There are tens of thousands of fans who want high-quality recordings of live shows who would be buying two or three or five or ten shows each if the price was fair and the format useful.  There are hundreds of fans (and possibly more) who would buy every single show of the tour if he was doing this properly.

$40 for MP3s and a pointless USB drive is just terrible.  One is left to wonder how something the fans have wanted for so long could have been implemented so terribly.

What to Expect on Bruce Springsteen’s “High Hopes” 2014 tour

Now that Bruce Springsteen’s new album High Hopes has been released, what can we look forward to on the upcoming tour?


Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Tuesday will be Bruce’s fourth appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Playing “High Hopes” is guaranteed. The second song is less certain, but the prediction here is “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Presumably Bruce will also return in another comedy bit as well. I wouldn’t dare predict what is in store there.


Starting the Tour Overseas, in a New Market
With no rehearsal shows scheduled or expected, this tour will wind up as the first time in the Reunion era in which the core setlist is unveiled at the first show of the tour (January 26 in Cape Town). In the past, rehearsal shows — or defacto rehearsal shows, such as the Apollo Theater performance — have served as the first look at the basic set structure that Bruce will use.

Also new is that Bruce is starting his tour overseas. The only time the E Street Band started a tour overseas was the Reunion tour in 1999, but they did have two rehearsal shows in the US prior to doing so.

Further complicating things is that Bruce will be starting the tour in a market in which he’s never played. It stands to reason that the first night in Cape Town will resemble the shows Bruce played in Mexico City and South America last tour, with perhaps songs from High Hopes instead of Wrecking Ball. It would not at all be surprising to see Bruce choose to include the key songs from his back catalog (“The Promised Land,” “Prove It All Night,” “Thunder Road,” “Born in the USA”) in the South African shows rather than focusing on the new material. Accordingly, a true representation of the core setlist for the tour might not appear until Bruce reaches Australia.


How much material from High Hopes makes the set?
The early shows on each of Bruce’s recent tours have all included a large amount of new material. 11 of the 15 songs from The Rising were in the core setlist; 8 of 12 from Magic, and 7 of 11 from Wrecking Ball. Although many of the songs were almost immediately dropped, Bruce did even have 6 songs from the album in the set on the opening night of the Working on a Dream tour.

A similar number of new songs can be expected at the start of this tour. Some of the predictions are easy, as the E Street Band has already played several of the songs from this album live. “High Hopes” is a near-certainty for the first song of the show. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is a definite, and “American Skin (41 Shots)” likely. “Just Like Fire Would” seems certain for the Australian shows, and may well turn up in South Africa (and elsewhere) too.

Bruce discussed playing “Heaven’s Wall,” “Frankie Fell in Love” and “Dream Baby Dream” in the interview recently broadcast on E Street Radio; they all seem logical contenders. I would expect these seven songs to be the “new” songs that are performed most often in concert.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bruce try “Hunter of Invisible Game” and/or “The Wall” at the start of the tour but it would seem only a question of time before they would be dropped from the show. In the past, the quieter and slower new songs (“Magic,” “The Wrestler,” “Jack of All Trades”) were all tried at the start of the tour but eventually dropped from the set. “Empty Sky” is the only recent example of such a song being played every night of a tour.


What’s the song that gets played once and only once?
History tells us that there will be one song from this album that will be played exactly once on the tour, and never again. It was “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” on the Rising tour; “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” on the Magic tour; “What Love Can Do” on the Working on a Dream tour and “You’ve Got It” on the Wrecking Ball tour.

The prediction here is that this time, it’ll be “Harry’s Place.” There’s a lot of different sonic layers in the song that could be hard to replicate on stage (Morello’s guitar, the sax, the distorted vocal); the fact that the song’s time has arguably passed (Bruce has dated the song as commentary on the “Bush years” in America); and the “x-factor” that Bruce might be a little bit uncomfortable singing the expletives in concert.


Album shows?
One would think these are a thing of the past but they can’t entirely be ruled out either. With Bruce returning to Australian markets he played just one year ago, those cities may experience something similar to what happened in Europe this past summer. If one was hoping to hear a Born to Run and/or a Born in the USA album show, the stadium dates in Melbourne and the outdoor dates in Hunter Valley are the most likely candidates. It’s not very likely to happen, but certainly not impossible either. As always, the hope here is that Bruce doesn’t do them.


What gets played from Bruce’s other recent albums?
Not much, in all likelihood. One of the few disappointments of Bruce’s busy touring schedule is that with each successive new album and tour, he has generally ignored his other recent material.

On the Magic tour, only “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” remained from The Rising as regulars in the set. Only “Radio Nowhere” from Magic showed up on the Working on a Dream tour with any regularity, and Magic songs have been sparsely played since. Essentially nothing at all from Working on a Dream was played on the Wrecking Ball tour.

“Death to My Hometown” and “Wrecking Ball” were the two songs from Wrecking Ball played most frequently and seem the two most likely to get played again. “Shackled and Drawn” probably has a shot too. Sadly, we’re unlikely to ever see “We Are Alive,” “Jack of All Trades,” “Rocky Ground” or “Easy Money” played live again in any meaningful quantity.


Does anything from the back catalog get retired for this tour?
Bruce is going to absolutely play “Dancing in the Dark” when he goes to South Africa, but the hope here is that he gives it rest thereafter.

It’s been in the set essentially non-stop since the very beginning of the Rising tour. It might be his biggest hit, but he has other songs that are just as well known and would work fine in the encore to give “Dancing” a well-deserved break.

After 2+ tours of the song being played every night, Bruce finally dropped “American Land” out of the show on the second night of the Wrecking Ball tour, and the song has made only occasional appearances since. One hopes he has the same good sense with “Waiting on a Sunny Day” on this tour.

It will be curious to see if Bruce elects to de-emphasize “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” on this tour. After being an every-night song and feature of the set on the Reunion tour, it made only four appearances on the Rising tour. A similar approach may be taken again on this upcoming tour.

Wrapping up the 2012-2013 Wrecking Ball Tour, Part 4: “Top 5s”

The last of the four parts of the tour wrap-up: a selection of “Top 5″ lists, including the best tributes to Clarence Clemons, missed opportunities, and my favorite shows of the tour.

The prior installments in this series were:

Part 1 (Statistics) – The basic numbers, show length, attendance, cities and locales.
Part 2 (Statistics) – Album breakdown, opening and closing songs, and the full song list and more.
Part 3 (“Top 5s”) – Best solo performances, covers, one-time only performances and more.

Part 4 (“Top 5s”):

Top 5 New Songs
The best live performances of the songs from Wrecking Ball. (“Land of Hope and Dreams” was disqualified from this list, given that it had already been a live favorite for the past decade). Video links are intended as representative examples.

5. Rocky Ground
It’s as if the album version was exponentially enhanced with this band. Bruce never seemed more committed on stage than he did when singing this song.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfL6yjs4QvY (March 29, 2012, Philadelphia)

4. Jack of All Trades
Curt Ramm on trumpet and Nils Lofgren (or, occasionally, Tom Morello) on the guitar solo at the end was always magnificent.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLs_vReZ2hM (May 28, 2013, Hanover)

3. Easy Money
This was a great change of pace, with band members moving around – the horn section playing drums; Steve taking a rare guitar solo, and Bruce and Patti’s theatrics, on the front ramps, acting out the lyrics.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZe0bvLn_nk (March 29, 2012, Philadelphia)

2. We Take Care of Our Own
The best regular opening song since “My Love Will Not Let You Down” on the Reunion tour.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkjCfGEN5NE (July 4, 2012, Paris)

1. Shackled and Drawn
It seems hard to believe that this was actually the first of the new songs dropped from the set, three shows into the tour. It would return as a regular when Patti Scialfa dropped off the tour, and earned its spot in the center of each night’s show. It worked because there were so many different things for the various members of the band to do – Bruce’s acoustic strumming; Nils’ holding down the rhythm on electric guitar; Steve’s banjo, the horn riff; and of course, Cindy coming down front to trade off on vocals with Bruce. The big dance line at the end of the song may have been corny but the audiences consistently loved it. “Shackled” even made several appearances as the opening song, one of the only times Bruce has ever used a second “new song” to open shows on one of his tours.


5 Biggest Omissions
Songs that Bruce really should have tried this tour
5. 30 Days Out
If “High Hopes” could be found from the dustiest corner of Springsteen’s back catalog, there’s hope for this one on the next tour. A great guitar solo is lurking within, just waiting for Springsteen (or Morello) to explode with it on stage.

4. It’s a Shame
Another missed opportunity to use the horns on material from The Promise. The horn players had charts for this in their books and were ready if Bruce ever called for this.

3. Out of Work
Not even done when Gary “US” Bonds showed up to guest. It’s an obscure song, but it’s upbeat and would be an easy singalong, perfect for the encores or perhaps instead of the ever-present “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.”

2. I Wanna Be With You
One of the most underrated songs from Tracks. It was a powerful opening song on the Reunion tour and has been surprisingly missing since.

1. Livin’ in the Future
Had (and continues to have) topical relevance and would sound great with the horns and singers in the expanded E Street Band.


Top 5 Tributes to Clarence Clemons
5. Savin’ Up, November 19, 2012, Denver.
In particular, Bruce’s hilarious story about having “some of the best nights of my life” at Big Man’s West and his dedication to Clarence.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyOahrmUH2Q

4. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
During the song’s tour debut, in Omaha on November 15, 2012, Bruce called for the song without realizing what a key part Clarence’s vocals were to the song. Jake Clemons and Eddie Manion shared the sax solo, but Bruce hadn’t ever considered Clarence’s “ho-ho-ho” part.

Particularly at the beginning of the tour, it was clear that Bruce gave a lot of thought about how to handle Clarence’s absence during the show. A similar moment happened the first time Bruce called for “Out in the Street,” and he had to avoid doing the “meet me out in the street” call-and-response, as Clarence wasn’t there to do his signature line.

This night, in Omaha, Bruce was again caught off guard and his shout out to Clarence was particularly moving.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRv0p1Yb0cU

3. My City of Ruins
Bringing this song back for the band introductions and the “if we’re here, and you’re here, then they’re here” line was a great reinvention of a classic from Bruce’s back catalog. The tributes changed as the tour progressed, and perhaps none was more poignant than Bruce singing lyrics from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” as he stood next to the spotlight on Clarence’s place on stage.
Video from Kansas City, November 17, 2012 (at 4:50): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGuhpduZrfg

2. Thunder Road
Jake plays the opening bars of the sax solo and then the entire horn section joins in. This was single best way Bruce adapted one of his classic songs to deal with Clarence’s absence.
Video from Paris, July 5, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdyBhSIHrXA

1. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
A lasting memory of this tour will be Bruce stopping the song to have the crowd cheer for Clarence. Turning the traditional “moment of silence” on his head, Bruce called for “moment of noise” as a tribute video was played on the screens.

But if one was watching Bruce closely (or was close to the stage) you may have sent the most moving tribute of all, underscoring Clarence’s absence, as Bruce sings “When Scooter” (Bruce points to himself) “and the Big Man” (Bruce points to the sky) “bust this city in half” (Bruce does an air high-five to his missing friend).
Example video from Prague, July 11, 2012 (at 4:20): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gti3SqM8N2s


Top 5 Surprises
5. The Price You Pay, July 18, 2013, Cork.
One of several requests granted to dedicated fans bringing signs. Remarkable because the band had deliberately rehearsed in secret (rather than during soundcheck) to avoid spoiling the surprise. The same approach was taken with several other requests, including Fade Away in Belfast on July 20, 2013 and Wild Billy’s Circus Story in Kilkenny on July 28, 2013.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blagg8RRMEo

4. A five song, pre-show acoustic set in Helsinki, July 31, 2012. It wasn’t the first time Bruce had done this – he played “For You” before the second show in Los Angeles in April – but it was the length of the set, Bruce’s interaction with the crowd, and the variety of songs performed – that sets this apart.
Blinded by the Light: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vBUreX9ENE

3. Jungleland, Gothenburg, July 28, 2012. An audible at the very end of the night broke the ice on a song that seemed otherwise destined for retirement.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLs_vReZ2hM

2. Paul McCartney joins the band for “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” in London, July 14, 2012. The biggest surprise guest appearance since Bob Dylan (and, in all fairness, a much performance than the one Dylan turned in).

1. The return of the “’78 Intro” to “Prove It All Night.” Barcelona, May 17, 2012.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFZrD4hoKeo


My Top 5 Favorite Shows of the Tour:
5. London, July 14, 2012
A legendary show for any number of reasons: the curfew debacle, the Paul McCartney guest appearance, and even the nonsense about Hyde Park being turned to mud and trucks bringing in woodchips by the ton to cover the field. Yet when considering where this show falls, it’s important to separate the musical performance from everything else. Of course a giant field is not the right place for a Bruce show, and the sound was too quiet, the screens too small, the weather uncomfortable and the ending infuriating.

As for the actual music? It was fantastic. July 2012 could well have been the peak of this tour on a performance level. It was a well crafted set, with Bruce finding a good balance of new songs, rarities (including “Take ‘Em As They Come”) and crowd favorites. Tom Morello’s contributions were excellent and of course the magnitude of the McCartney appearance can’t be understated, no matter what happened during the last song.

4. Rochester, October 31, 2012
Once the postponement of this show was announced, resulting in Bruce’s first Halloween-night show in twenty years, it was a pretty safe bet that this would be a special night. (The venue – a small arena in the Northeast US – didn’t hurt either). Bruce didn’t disappoint, of course, and the special songs for Halloween were great fun. What set this show apart, though, was the thoughtful setlist as Bruce was clearly responding to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. It was a dark, intense show, with standout versions of“Atlantic City,” “Downbound Train,” “Jackson Cage,” and possibly the best ““Drive All Night” of the tour.

3. Omaha, November 15, 2012
“Atlantic City” might have been a safe bet perhaps, but Bruce had visited Omaha four years earlier and hadn’t played a single thing from the Nebraska album during that show. Even those who had heard the soundcheck couldn’t have expected Bruce to pull out so many things from his 1982 album. At a time in the tour before Bruce started doing full-album shows, there was a real unknown factor as this show progressed – could Bruce actually play all of the songs from the album? He didn’t quite get there, of course, but the ones he did get to were highlights, including an intense “State Trooper” on solo guitar and the rock arrangement of “Reason to Believe” to open the show. This show was not just about the rarities, either: Bruce did an excellent job of weaving the Nebraska songs in with the new songs as well as choice selections from the back catalog, including “Trapped” and “Backstreets.”

2. Turku, May 8, 2013
This was the show, perhaps more than any other, where Bruce proved that he could craft a show that worked both for the person seeing the band for the very first time and the person seeing the band for the hundredth time. Of course the hits (“The River,” “Born in the USA,” “Dancing in the Dark”) were well-represented, but so were all the other corners of Bruce’s song catalog, including the woefully-underrepresented Magic and The Promise albums. “Wages of Sin” was one of the finest moments of the tour.

1. Paris, July 5, 2012
The gold standard for the tour. A hot night in every imaginable way: the temperature inside Bercy; in the quality of the crowd, a melting pot of diehards from across Europe (and elsewhere), and in the band’s performance.

The surprises this night never seemed to stop, beginning with Bruce cueing Max to start the “We Take Care of Our Own” drum beat at the top of the show before crashing into “The Ties That Bind” instead. There were the repeated audibles during the opening run, and then not only a solo-piano “For You” but also following it with a magnificent “Racing in the Street.” The setlist was varied, but retained the shape and form of the Wrecking Ball show. “We Take Care of Our Own” from this night is arguably the definitive version. Rarities and new songs alike never sounded as good as they did this night.

Wrapping up the 2012-2013 Wrecking Ball Tour, Part 3: “Top 5s”

Today is Part 3 of 4: The first of a set of “Top 5s” from the tour. Parts 1 and 2 covered the tour stats and can be found here (1) and here (2).

Top 5 Solo/Acoustic Performances:
Songs performed just by Bruce, either on acoustic guitar or piano

5. Incident on 57th Street, December 6, 2012, Phoenix
Granting a request, Bruce chose the opening of the encore of his last US show for this special version. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrBCgS_ELoE

4. The Ghost of Tom Joad, June 22, 2013, Nijmegen
Bruce opened several shows on his Europe 2013 tour with a new acoustic arrangement. The faster tempo, powerful harmonica break and deliberate vocal phrasing seemed to have been inspired by Tom Morello’s frequent guest appearances on the song. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEVkmF9wsKI

3. This Hard Land, July 28, 2013, Kilkenny
Starting this past October, Bruce’s official website released several official videos from the tour. Bruce introduced the series, writing: “as we’ve been on break we’ve had a chance to look back on some of the tour highlights.” It was no surprise that this song, from the final night in Kilkenny, was the first one chosen. On the symbolic “last night” of the tour, Bruce chose this song as the very last number. Watch for Bruce’s voice to quiver with emotion during the third verse: “Well, now even the rain it don’t come around, don’t come around here no more/and the only sound at night’s the wind slamming that back porch door.”
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssg4_KMrS0o

2. Roll of the Dice, May 28, 2013, Hannover
Granting a sign request, Bruce admitted that he’d never played this song before in a solo arrangement. The result shows that was no impediment – he sang the piano parts as necessary, and his vocal delivery was strong throughout.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9fM-9ssaUE

1. Independence Day, July 4, 2012, Paris
Bruce choosing to perform this song on the 4th of July (American Independence Day) wasn’t much of a surprise, but the arrangement certainly was. Bruce has often joked on stage about his lack of skill on the piano, but when he’s really concentrating (and probably with a little luck) he will sometimes pull something off flawlessly, as he did that night in Paris. In recognition of the magnitude of the performance, an official video was posted on Springsteen’s website and YouTube channel.


Top 5 Alternate Arrangements
(Songs performed in a arrangement different than their best-known version)

5. High Hopes, March 16, 2013, Brisbane
A new arrangement that was so good, Bruce selected it to be the title track of his forthcoming album. Featuring percussion from Everett Bradley, a trademark solo from Tom Morello and the E Street Horns.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O7kIRrgt0A

4. The Promise (full band), April 1, 2012, Washington
The full band version of “The Promise” was done at special performance in December 2010 before a tiny crowd, but never during a tour-proper show since its full-band debut on the first night of the Darkness tour. Just like in 1978, it was performed full-band just this one time, with Bruce returning to a solo-piano arrangement each subsequent time it was performed on the tour.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opzf0QU4dCY

3. Thunder Road (piano version) July 14, 2012, London
Bruce returned to this stripped-down version, with just Roy’s piano, voice and harmonica to open his performance in London – it was “the first thing we played when my feet first touched British soil in 1975.”
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpM_E8pM7kM

2. Prove It All Night (’78 Introduction), May 18, 2012, Barcelona
Fans yearned for its return. Bruce said it was unlikely to happen. But then, seemingly out of the blue, during the first of two shows in Barcelona, Bruce cued Roy and Max to begin the piano vamp that starts the famed extended introduction that was a hallmark of the Darkness tour. It would be performed a total of 18 times in this arrangement during the course of the tour.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFZrD4hoKeo

1. Devils and Dust (full band) November 12, 2012, St. Paul
Bruce and the E Street Band had worked on this song multiple times: in April 2003, when the song was first written; in October 2004, for the Vote For Change Tour; in April 2008, during the Magic tour – and never seemed to be able to get a band version right. After trying again several times at soundchecks in the fall of 2012, they finally debuted this on Veterans Day. The instrumentation in this arrangement had something for the entire band – Max’s pounding drums; a horn part; Charlie’s accordion; a guitar solo; and the backing singers adding to the chorus. The song had previously been performed either acoustic or with minimal instrumental backing. Now, with this arrangement, Bruce finally found music to match the power of the lyric.


Top 5 Songs Performed Once
Performed once and only once on the Wrecking Ball tour

5. Into the Fire, September 22, 2012, East Rutherford
A song that gained power by not being in the set every night, and a moment almost forgotten between the late start to the show and Bruce’s birthday. The “may your strength give us strength,” with a full complement of singers never sounded so good. This performance was dedicated to the memory of Rich Nappi, a New York firefighter (and big Bruce fan) who died in the line of duty earlier that year.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KxTPxfTSOM

4. Local Hero, July 24, 2013, Leeds
Practiced repeatedly at soundcheck and then finally brought out at the very end of the tour. In Bruce’s own words: “This song is one of my favorites off Lucky Town. A real ‘sleeper,’ this ought-a be played more often.”
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELEGhf7dMJw

3. Man at the Top, July 28, 2013, Kilkenny
One of the requests granted to patient sign-holders at the end of the tour, this was the song’s first performance since the Born in the USA tour. It was an inspired arrangement, with the horn players brought down front, gathered around Nils’ microphone to provide the backing vocals.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWtMBPfVCEE

2. New York City Serenade, July 11, 2013, Rome
The song’s long-awaited European debut, with guest strings from the Roma Sinfionetta. On a day off in Rome prior to the show, Bruce rented out a local club to rehearse with the strings to make sure they got it right, and the results speak for themselves, with a stunning official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-IZWISZ8CY

1. Wages of Sin, May 8, 2013, Turku
Already one of Bruce’s best “lost” songs, it was a surprise debut, performed beautifully and flawlessly, and as the start of a powerful thematic arc in the setlist. The special care Bruce and the band took in getting the performance right was obvious: the song was driven by Max’s steady beat, played with drum mallets on the toms and cymbals; Bruce’s singing was clear and deliberate with Roy’s piano just underneath; and a gorgeous, understated trumpet part. Combine the surprise factor, the rarity factor and the performance and it all adds up to one of the finest moments of the tour.


Top 5 Cover Songs
5. Knock on Wood, August 15, 2012, Boston
The horn section showing off their chops. With just a little polish, this would have been worthy of multiple appearances.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNu54cX61JQ

4. I Fought the Law, July 17, 2012, Dublin
A great response by Bruce to the pulling-the-plug debacle in London.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R68gn0eE2E

3. Just Like Fire Would, March 14, 2013, Brisbane
Only performed once on this tour, but will be on the forthcoming album and presumably will be played a bit more frequently next tour. Like “High Hopes,” a song that comes alive with the expanded version of the E Street Band.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBkBSSWQunQ

2. Rockin’ All Over the World, Mönchengladbach, July 5, 2013
Bruce’s best use of a band-introduction song after he dropped “My City of Ruins” from the set. A great change of pace from “Twist and Shout,” which was becoming somewhat rote by the time the tour reached Europe in 2013.
Video: http://www.youtube.com1/watch?v=-sL_EqN5ZLs

1. Shout, June 3, 2013, Milan
Originally just a one-off request from a show in November 2012, this developed into a regular encore feature for the 2013 European leg of the tour. Sure, the “a little bit softer now/a little bit louder now” bit is silly, but silliness has long been a feature of Bruce’s encore.


Top 5 Most Unexpected Covers
“Twist and Shout” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” are a given each tour. These are the cover songs that nobody saw coming.

5. Drift Away, August 18, 2012, Foxboro
There were two much-beloved performances of this Dobie Gray classic in 1984, when Steve Van Zandt made guest appearances with the E Street Band, but never since. The power of Steve and Bruce reuniting in 1984 probably can’t be replicated, but that didn’t stop this from been a frequently seen sign request. Bruce had ignored all the signs, but then, one night, changed his mind.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDE0Sj7ZyWI

4. Manifesto, September 12, 2013, Santiago
Bruce has long favored “local specials” in his shows, covering an artist whose hometown the band is playing in, or a song about that particular location. For his debut performance in Chile, Bruce tackled Victor Jara’s “Manifiesto.” Particularly notable: Bruce singing in Spanish. He’d tried a verse of “Across the Borderline” in Spanish at several shows in 1993, but never before an entire song in that language.
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNQm1Plu63k

3. Sociedade Alternativa, September 18, 2013, Sao Paulo
As the tour moved on to Brazil, Bruce upped things a notch: not only was he singing a song by Brazilian native Raul Sexias, he was doing it to open the show.
Official video: http://vimeo.com/74972181

2. The Weight, May 2, 2012, Newark
An unfortunate example of bad behavior being rewarded, a sign requesting something to honor Levon Helm’s death was held up at the front of the pit for most of this show. Bruce eventually took it, initially to the dismay of all reasonable fans.

The performance though, was stunning. The band pulled this off with no rehearsal, and the results speak to the combined musical knowledge of the players on that stage, in particular Roy, Charlie and Max and the horn section. Adding to the moment was the crowd participation, as surprising (they knew all the words!) as it was welcome.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY2DO_QLRIA

1. When I Leave Berlin, May 30, 2012, Berlin
A seemingly out-of-the blue choice, as discussed here.
Played to open the show in Berlin, as a thank-you for the memorable German concerts of 2012, and released as an official video by Springsteen.



Top 5 Underplayed Songs
Songs played fewer than ten times on the tour that deserved to be regular features

5. Real World (played 1 time on the tour)
Bruce tried it twice in Cork on July 18, 2013, during his pre-set and again to open the encore. Both were a solo-piano arrangement. Sadly, he never tried to a full-band version, as the tools available to him with this incarnation of the E Street Band could have made this a showstopper.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYY9uJ5CKBQ

4. Girls in Their Summer Clothes (2)
From the underrepresented Magic album, Bruce debuted a new, horn-highlighted arrangement in Gothenburg on July 27, 2012 and then proceeded to play it only one other time on the tour.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3CRu0eur7Y

3. Mary’s Place (2)
Without band introductions or a long shtick about “building a house,” this is actually a great song and makes good use of the horns and singers while also allowing Bruce to have fun prowling around the stage.
Video from July 5, 2013 in Mönchengladbach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FPYgKARK4A

2. This Depression (7)
The times when Tom Morello was present to do the guitar solo were great, but as proven on September 21, 2012 in New Jersey, Nils could do that solo just as well and still maintain the attention of a stadium-sized crowd. “Jack of All Trades” was a hugely important song for the show, but this one seemed neglected in comparison. It’s a shame Bruce didn’t find a way to fit them both into the ser.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChlVtg7aW3E

1. Talk to Me (6)
In the middle of the third show of the tour, on March 23, 2012 in Tampa, Bruce spots a sign behind the stage and calls this one out to the band. It’s one of the biggest highlights of the show, and a crowd favorite each time it’s played. So why was it only done six times? A mystery.


Top 5 Songs Practiced in Soundcheck but Unplayed
Songs confirmed to have been rehearsed but were never played to a public audience during the tour.

5. My Father’s House, November 15, 2012, Omaha
The show in Omaha already included six songs from the Nebraska album, including the tour’s only performances of “Highway Patrolman” and “State Trooper.” Yet this song, the rarest of all from the Nebraska album, went unplayed, despite being on Bruce’s handwritten setlist.

4. One Step Up, March 26-27, 2013, Melbourne
The song made Bruce’s handwritten setlist during the second show in Melbourne and was practiced again in the soundcheck before the third night. It would’ve been the song’s first playing by the E Street Band since 1988.

3. City of Night, November 26, 2012, Vancouver
Another tantalizing possibility of material from The Promise that went unfulfilled this tour.

2. Can I Get A Witness, April 13, 2012, Detroit
Extensively rehearsed before the tour’s only stop in Detroit, it’s not quite clear what Bruce’s intentions were. This Motown classic could have been a logical replacement for the “Apollo Medley,” or perhaps a “local special” for the encore. Alas, this one gets filed away in the same category as Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” (planned for the August 21, 2008 show in Nashville) as songs that Bruce has never tried live despite being practiced at soundcheck.

1. County Fair, September 2, 2012, Philadelphia
Played not once, but twice, in a beautiful full band arrangement at the first of the two Labor Day weekend shows in Philadelphia. The big ameliorating factor: those lined up for the general admission pit on the field got to hear and see the band practicing this gem, as well as “TV Movie.”

Acknowledgements: thanks to all those who filmed shows (in particular: Dan French, “dvddubbingguy” and “The MagikRat”) for the great videos that were invaluable in conducting the research for and illustration of this article.