When signs requesting this appeared (and they have appeared often over the past few tours) I would typically dismiss them as overly optimistic, the same way I felt about the “Higher and Higher” signs in the days before Curt Ramm joined the band.
Why people want the song is no surprise: its two prior performances were nothing short of spectacular. The song was performed twice on the Born in the USA tour, both times with special guest Steve Van Zandt singing the song as a duet with Bruce. Steve would make guest appearances at ten different shows on the Born in the USA tour but “Drift Away” was only present the first two times: at the final night at the Meadowlands Arena (August 20, 1984) and again in Memphis (December 15, 1984).
Although the Miami Horns (including Ed Manion) were present at the first performance, I am generally partial to the Memphis version, for the superior vocal performances of Bruce and Steve. Their duet was pure soul, likely an influence of the show’s setting.
The Foxborough performance is only slightly disappointing in that Bruce elected to sing the entire song himself, rather than as the duet. (He also notably leaves off the lyrics to the bridge and last verse).
In some ways, that may be better, as the emotional space in which the song was sung in 1984 probably can’t be recreated at the drop of a hat. The song was a special choice for Steve’s first return to the stage after his departure from the E Street Band, with the lyrics, including the key line “thanks for the joy that you’ve given me” an obvious tribute to Bruce and Steve’s rock-and-roll friendship and camaraderie.
While seeing the E Street Band get “challenged” on stage can be fun, this is one of those things that seems like it could reach full potential with just a small bit of practice. I could see this as a definite possibility for the setlist at the last few shows of the tour, whenever that actually will be.
Open All Night
The reappearance of this gem from Nebraska is notable for a few different reasons:
-It was the first appearance of the song at an E Street Band show since Melbourne in April 1985;
-It was the first full-band performance by the band; and
-It was the first time Bruce had used a Seeger Sessions re-arrangement of one of his own songs when playing with E Street.
“Open All Night” was a highlight of the Seeger tour but seemed a bit miscast in that arrangement in an E Street Band show on Saturday. I won’t be waiting for Bruce to be telling the story about pleading “guilty with an explanation”** anytime soon but I’d prefer that he consider the version he used for two performances at the Meadowlands in 1992 as the base of an arrangement. 3:00 AM on the “golden roadway of the East” doesn’t really fit with a jump-blues horn arrangement and New Orleans boogie-woogie piano.
One very encouraging thing about the reappearance of “Open All Night,” however, was that Bruce was willing to grant a sign request for a rarity from his own catalog. When collecting signs on Saturday night, he even mentioned specifically that it was a “a deep crowd, a lot of unusual [requests].”
The covers can (and are) great fun but with so much of Bruce’s catalog getting very little play in the past few tours — particularly in comparison to all the different covers — here’s hoping for more Springsteen songs to appear as well.
** One of Bruce’s all-time best in-concert stories. This topic to be explored soon in a future post.