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:

 


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.

Bruce Springsteen at Stand Up for Heroes: Three Songs and Two Dirty Jokes

Tonight is the seventh annual “Stand Up for Heroes” benefit for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, with Bruce once again performing, as he has each of the past six years.

The event continues to grow in size and after three years each at Town Hall and the Beacon Theatre, is now taking place at the Theater at Madison Square Garden (the venue formerly known as the “Felt Forum”). Surprisingly, this will be Bruce’s first ever performance at this venue; an E Street Band show was planned for this venue in 1975 but cancelled.

Three Songs

Most of Bruce’s performances have been solo acoustic, with the songs varying from year to year; he’s never done any song more than twice. Choices have included the usual catalog staples such as “Thunder Road,” “The Promised Land” and “Born to Run” but also contemporary material such as “Devil’s Arcade” in 2007 and “We Take Care of Our Own” last year. Patti Scialfa has joined in at three of the events, including a duet with Bruce on “Tougher Than the Rest” last year. Most of his performances at the past shows have consisted of three songs.

A real wild-card prediction: it wouldn’t be totally out of the question for Bruce to break out a new song. At this time of year in 2008, Bruce performed “Working on a Dream” for the very first time in a solo acoustic arrangement at the last of a series of rallies in support of President Obama’s campaign. With rumors swirling about a new Springsteen album coming out in early 2014, Bruce just might try something out for the first time tomorrow.

Two Dirty Jokes

“Stand Up for Heroes” is a part of the New York Comedy Festival, and Bruce has gamely tried to fit in on a bill that contains mostly comedians. In his first appearance in 2007, noting that “the flyer said ‘night of laughs,’” he came equipped with a few jokes that he admitted he got from his children and were described as “not knee-slapping funny, piss-your-pants funny, they’re sort of mildly amusing.”

Of course, Bruce’s sense of humor tends towards the ribald (e.g. “Red Headed Woman;” “Pilgrim in the Temple of Love”). In 2009, he blamed this on his years on the road – “problem is, problem with my jokes is, I’m on the road with the band, so they’re all kinda bad, they’re bad jokes.” By 2012, it was a running gag: “Now, besides singing a few songs, I also come out and tell bad jokes every year.”

What follows is the comedy stylings of Bruce Springsteen from the past “Stand up for Heroes” performances. Be forewarned: some of these are not family-friendly.

  • “Knock knock.” (Who’s there?) “The interrupting cow.” (The interrupting cow who?)—”Moo!”
  • An Irish guy and Italian guy are sitting at the bar. Irish guy says “Italians are the dumbest people on the face of the planet.” Italian guy says “what do you mean?” Irish guy says “I bet you don’t even know what Easter is.” So they make a bet. Italian guy gets up on the bar and he says “Easter is when Jesus Christ rolls away the stone, steps out into the sun, and if he sees his shadow…”
  • Guy goes into his doctor’s office, for his yearly checkup. Doctor says “You gotta stop masturbating, my friend.” Guy says “How come?” “I’m trying to examine you.”
  • A man and woman had a dog that they really liked. But the dog was getting kinda old, and when it sleeps with them in the bedroom, the dog snores in the middle of the night and wakes everybody up. So the husband says “why don’t you go down to the vet to see if there’s anything we can do for the dog to keep the dog from snoring.” So she goes to the vet, and the vet says “Uh, lady, there’s one thing that’s fail-safe, but it’s going to sound a little strange.” She says “well, ok, what is it?” He says “When the dog starts snoring in the middle of the night, you just get a ribbon, and you tie a ribbon around his penis. I guarantee the dog is going to stop snoring.” So, night comes, and they’re all in bed, and the dog is there, starts snoring, snoring. She says “what do I have to lose?” She finds a little blue ribbon, she comes out, ties it around the dog’s penis, he stops snoring. Two hours later, her husband starts snoring. She thinks, “I don’t know.” Finds a little red ribbon, ties it around his penis, the husband stops snoring. So morning comes, the husband wakes up, and looks down at himself, looks down at the dog. He says “I don’t know where we were last night, but I know that we came in first and second.”
  • I picked up the newspaper today: Pepsi has created a soft drink that has Viagra in it. First of all, guys, that’s good news. You’re actually going to have people who are going to go the supermarket and can pour yourself a stiff one. Problem is, they won’t be able to call it a soft drink anymore. They even came up with a good name. They’re going to call it ‘mount and do.’
  • Mailman dies, he’s in this little town, and they send the body over to the funeral home. And they’re undressing the body, getting the body ready for the wake. And the assistant says to the manager, “come here, you’ve got to see this. You’ve just got to see this. Look at the size of this guy’s penis, will you?” And this was of Smithsonian proportions. And the manager says, “well, that is something, man. We can’t put this in the box. In the interests of science, we’ve got to keep this thing preserved.” And ok, get the hacksaw, they get the hacksaw, and uh, got it. End of the day, he doesn’t know what to do with it, puts it in his briefcase. He thinks, “I’ve got to take this thing home and show the wife.” (Bruce: And so, uh, aw, I fucked up the joke already! Did I mention that the mailman’s name is Mr. Smith? That’s why I’m a musician.”) So he takes it home, and uh, long story short, pops the briefcase, and his wife says “Oh my God, Smith’s dead!”
  • A man’s playing golf. He’s in the rough. Swinging, swinging, swinging at this little stand of buttercups. Swinging, swinging. Buttercups are flying. Big voice comes out of the sky: “This is Mother Nature. You’re killing my buttercups. You’re never going to taste butter again.” Guy goes “Fuck!” Goes home. The next morning he wakes up. Butters the toast. Nothing. Next morning, he makes the pancakes, butters the panckaes. Oh, no. He goes to the movies. Puts the butter on the popcorn. Nothing. He goes “Jesus, Christ.” He’s out with his buddy the next week. They’re golfing. His buddy goes over the rise. Guy goes “Hey Mikey, where are you?” “My ball’s lost over here in the pussywillows! “Don’t swing!”
  • So a guy’s out on the golf course, he’s with a friend of his. And the guy swings with everything he’s got, and the ball slices, and he hits his pal right in the crotch. So the guy, boom! Drops over. And ohhh, writhing on the ground in agony. He says “quick, quick, quick! Get me to the doctor, get me to the doctor!” They get him over and down to the doctor, he says “Doc, how bad is it? How bad is it? You don’t understand, I’m going to be married next week. We saved ourselves for each other. She’s a virgin, this has got to work. This has just got to work!” So the doctor says, “Well, you know, I could put it in a splint. That’ll, heal it, and it’ll keep it straight, and you know, next week, should be ok.” So the doctor takes out four of the tongue depressors and makes a nice little four-sided bandage, and he wires it all together. Looks pretty good! So the guy gets married, doesn’t mention anything to his girlfriend. They get off the plane, they’re in Hawaii, it’s the honeymoon night, everything is perfect. And boom, she rips open her blouse, she has this gorgeous set of breasts, and this was the first time he had seen them. She says “you’ll be the first one who’s ever touched these breasts.” So he sits there and he thinks, and he whips down his pants and says “look at this! It’s still in the crate!”
  • There’s a middle-aged woman who had a heart attack, and she was taken to the hospital. And while she was on the operating table, she had a near-death experience. She saw the white light in the tunnel, and she got up to God, and she said “God, God, is my time up?” He said, “No, no, no, no, no, you’ve got, you’ve got like 40 years left.” “40 years?” “You’ve got 40 years left, says that right here in the book.” So upon hearing this, the light faded away and she kind of woke up, and said “40 years left? Hmm. I’m in the hospital, maybe I’ll get a little facelift, and some liposuction and a tummy tuck while I’m here. Alright, get ready for the rest, you know? Just change your hair color…” So a few days later, she got out, well, she was feeling great, right? She was crossing the street on the way back home, got hit by a car and killed. And she went back up to God, and said “I thought you said I had 40 years left!” And he says, “I didn’t recognize you!”

Bruce and E Street: back on tour in 2014!

The news that Bruce and the E Street Band are touring again in 2014 is certainly received as a surprise here. It was my belief and expectation that 2014 would be a “down year,” with Bruce having just completed his longest tour in the Reunion era.

There are essentially two scenarios for next year’s tour of Australia:

One: Bruce is playing these shows as an “extra” tour and going back to Australia (and nowhere else) because it’s a good financial deal for him (with tickets priced at nearly $200 US), he had fun playing there in 2013, he wants to enjoy Summer weather in February, or some such similar reason.

If this is the case, one could expect a healthy dose of Bruce’s hits, familiar live songs, and probably some of the “album” shows that he played in Europe in 2013.

Two: these shows will be the first of a new world tour, in support of a new Springsteen album. The assumption here is that this is the more likely scenario.

E Street Band circa 2014

With the news (admittedly, with Australian tour promoter Michael Gudinski as the sole source) that Tom Morello will be on the Australian tour, it again appears that the E Street band will be getting even larger.

An argument – indeed, a compelling argument – can be made that there is no need for the band to be quite so large. Even in 1999, there wasn’t really enough for Nils and Steve to do at times, and adding extra singers, percussion and guitar has only compounded the issue. Additionally, it is my belief that the sheer size of the band has contributed to the problems of inadequate sound quality that Bruce’s audience have experienced in recent years.

Since the Reunion tour, no person invited to join the E Street Band on tour (save replacement dummer Jay Weinberg) has ever left the band, with Bruce showing no interest whatsoever in downsizing.

Assuming Bruce has no interest in changing that policy, well, why not invite Morello too? If he does join the tour, hopefully his talents are extended to more than just nightly versions of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

Has Bruce learned from the mistakes of 2009?

The Magic tour lasted 100 shows, from October 2007 to August 2008. Almost immediately, plans were made for Bruce to release a new album (Working on a Dream in January 2009) and return to the road (the tour started April 1, 2009 in San Jose).

There were two big problems with this plan: one, the new songs weren’t good; and two, the band didn’t rehearse nearly enough. Having recently ended a long tour, Bruce clearly didn’t think the band needed much rehearsal time and indeed, he didn’t think he needed much either. Bruce didn’t even attend several of the rehearsal sessions, which were used only to familiarize Jay Weinberg with the band.

Admittedly, there were some new elements added to the show: an adaptation of the “Morello” arrangement of “The Ghost of Tom Joad;” the return of “Seeds,” and the Stephen Foster cover, “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

Yet without much of the new material, and a surprising lack of material from the recent “Magic” album, the shows lacked focus in a manner that was completely uncharacteristic for Bruce. Bruce hadn’t put in enough effort to create a “new show,” and accordingly, he had to resort to gimmicks such as “stump the band” and the full-album shows. Sure, the shows were enjoyable, but there was no challenge to the audience.

So: has he learned from those mistakes? We’ll have to wait and see.

New tour – new setlist?

In the first part of Bruce’s career, it took four tours (Born to Run, Darkness, The River, Born in the U.S.A.) of largely similar setlists before Bruce finally made a change with the Tunnel of Love tour and brought out a radically different set.

In the reunion era, there’s now been another four tours in support of new material where the setlists have remained similar: The Rising, Magic, Working on a Dream and now Wrecking Ball.

On each tour, a core group of new songs was played, but those new songs mostly failed to carry over from tour to tour. A few things from The Rising have remained in regular rotation, but nothing from Magic has seen any significant time since that tour ended. The Promise remains completely ignored. One is left to wonder if Bruce will have any interest in the Wrecking Ball material in 2014, or if it will be relegated to the same fate.

Assuming a new album comes out in 2014, it would be expected that a healthy portion of the new songs make the setlist on a nightly basis. The big hope here is that Bruce finally moves away from the same core group of back-catalog material he has been using to fill out the balance of the set since 2002.

There’s a reason “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” and “The Rising” get played every (or almost every) night, and I would hardly begrudge Bruce playing what he feels are the most important songs of his career. Yet he also needs to draw a distinction between the songs he absolutely must play, and those which could get some well deserved rest.

It would be a disappointment if those remaining spaces in the setlist get the same songs once again (Dancing in the Dark, Waiting on a Sunny Day, Out in the Street, She’s the One, Thunder Road, Rosalita, Darlington County, No Surrender, Lonesome Day, Because the Night, Prove it All Night, The River, Spirit in the Night). Of course any one of those songs is going to be someone’s favorite (here, it’s “Thunder Road”) but at this point in his career, Bruce is simply disregarding too much of his recorded output in favor of a limited group of songs. While it is true that Bruce played 225 songs on his most recent tour, a full half of them (113) were played three times or fewer.

The original incarnation of the E Street Band lasted from 1973 to 1988 (fifteen years) and it was only at the very end of that time that Bruce challenged himself and his audience with an entirely new setlist. The current, reunion-era incarnation has now been together for almost as long. Here’s hoping Bruce isn’t content to keep doing the same thing, and he works to find a new E Street Band show for 2014.

And Then There Were Four: a preview of the end of the Wrecking Ball Tour

In one week, after four remaining shows, the Wrecking Ball tour will reach its symbolic end in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Yes, Bruce and the band will be playing at least two (and likely three or four) shows in South America in September. That being said, what’s transpired over the last few weeks of the tour certainly indicates that Bruce will be treating this coming week as the symbolic conclusion to his tour, in the same manner as the series of shows in Madison Square Garden in 2000, Shea Stadium in 2003, and in the midwestern United States in 2008.

The shows in August 2008 appear to be analogous to the situation on this tour, with the symbolic finale of the Magic tour being the St. Louis and Kansas City performances, despite having an additional “outlier” show played afterwards. In 2008, that was the Harley Davidson Anniversary Festival performance; this year, it’s the Rock in Rio show and the South American dates surrounding it.

After two months of open-air shows, the tour will move back indoors for the next two shows. Tuesday’s show at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff has a capacity of approximately 30,0000, and the venue’s retractable roof will reportedly be closed to hang the curtains that create the smaller capacity. The next night, tour will visit the new arena in Leeds, which, with a 13,500 capacity is the third-smallest venue that the tour will visit. These shows, and in particular, Leeds, are highly anticipated for good reason, as the prior indoor shows on this leg of the tour (Oslo, Turku and Herning), were all outstanding performances, featured diverse setlists, and were not “album” shows.

With the tour debuts of “The Price You Pay” and “Fade Away” at the past two shows, the rumors are alive and well that Bruce may try another performance of The River from top to bottom. To date on the tour, the band has played 16 of the 20 songs from the album; unplayed are “Independence Day” (the version in Paris on July 4 last year was solo-piano), “Crush on You,” “I Wanna Marry You” and “Wreck on the Highway.” Of those four, the band is known to have practiced “Wreck on the Highway,” which even made the setlist for the Herning show in May. Getting prepared for a River show would certainly require some, but perhaps not an insurmountable amount of rehearsal.

In an indoor setting, doing The River is theoretically possible but the prediction here remains that The River – in its entirety – does not get played. Working against it is the fact that the album is just very long. The prior performance in New York in 2009 took one hour, forty-seven minutes. With Bruce’s shows currently running approximately three hours to three hours fifteen minutes, there would hardly be room left for the rest of the Wrecking Ball show. It is true that Bruce said on stage at the time that it would be done “just this one time,” but clearly that comment is not binding. A major concern, however, is that it would be impossible to recreate the amazing performance from Madison Square Garden that night, and to quote Jonathan Pont’s review of the show for Backstreets, “Bruce may be wise to let [that] performance [of The River] stand alone.”

After what transpired in Rome, a full performance of Bruce’s second album is an obvious possibility. Particularly notable was Steve Van Zandt being quoted in Italian media that performing the album was the original plan for that night.

“Wild Billy’s Circus Story” is the only song from the album unplayed on the tour, but Bruce could certainly do it solo-acoustic if the band didn’t have time to practice the accordion and tuba parts. The biggest impediment would seem to be the need for a string section on “New York City Serenade,” as Bruce has arranged for same at both of the song’s last two performances. The prediction here remains that a full-album performance of The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle is also unlikely, but certainly more likely than The River.

Needless to say, Tunnel of Love remains completely impossible, with ten of the album’s twelve songs unplayed this tour, and several having never been performed by the E Street Band.

Before this tour started, acoustic pre-sets by Bruce were extraordinarily rare. This tour, there have been ten, including each of the most recent three shows. Already a treat, they have become even more tantalizing as Bruce has been willing to try things from all corners of his back catalog, such as “Hearts of Stone” and “Maria’s Bed.”

Assuming they continue, the diversity of material therein is likely dependent on the signs Bruce sees in the crowd. If “Maria’s Bed” was possible, then certainly “All the Way Home” might get a try. One intriguing possibility is the long-lost “Man at the Top,” as a sign requesting it has been at multiple recent shows. Bruce’s willingness to try things on the piano is a welcome development and accordingly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a solo-piano version of “The Promise” before the tour is out.

After the disappointing shows in Paris and London, the tour turned a corner in July, in no small part due to the interesting and adventurous setlists used, with the Limerick show (itself with an interesting setlist) the only full-album performance since. It was previously suggested here that the first three Irish shows – Limerick, Cork and Belfast – were obvious candidates to get Born to Run, Darkness, and Born in the U.S.A., respectively; Bruce clearly had other plans.

Accordingly, with Limerick having had Born to Run, it is possible that that the two Kilkenny shows could get Darkness and Born in the USA. I believe it more likely that those shows will be album-free, as Bruce is likely to be focused on bringing things full-circle as he wraps up the tour. Several key songs from earlier in the tour, including “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Jack of All Trades” and “Rocky Ground” have returned to the set in recent shows, and it has been Bruce’s regular practice, as evidenced on the Rising, Magic and Working on a Dream tours to debut multiple new songs over the final few shows of a tour. It’s far more likely that those are the songs we see making up the setlist in Kilkenny, rather than 10 or 12 in a row from one album.

If Kilkenny were to get a full album performance, my preference would be to see a complete performance of “Wrecking Ball.” Admittedly, there has been absolutely no indication that Bruce has considered this, and it would certainly require extra rehearsal to prepare (“You’ve Got It,” definitely, and possibly “This Depression” and/or “Easy Money” as well). It would, however, be the most interesting of the possible full-album performances. The show could start with “We Take Care of Our Own,” go through to “We Are Alive” and then allow a completely open second half of the show, with Bruce free to select rarities, sign requests and crowd favorites for the balance of the show.

Since the beginning of July, an additional 15 songs have premiered on the Wrecking Ball tour. Several have been covers, played due to sign request, such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” but the majority have been Springsteen songs: “One Way Street,” “Man’s Job,” “Roulette,” “Lucky Town,” “New York City Serenade,” “The Price You Pay,” “Real World,” “Nebraska” and “Fade Away.” “Fade Away” was song #212 played on the Wrecking Ball tour and should this development continue Bruce could easily reach 220 before the week is out.

Every end-of-tour show in the Reunion era has had multiple tour premieres, and Kilkenny should be no different. Some possible tour debuts to look for over the final week:

A thematic choice for the end of the tour

At the end of the Reunion tour, it was “Blood Brothers,” with a re-written final verse to sum up Bruce’s feelings about the band and their reunion. On the Magic tour in Kansas City, Bruce opted for a beloved and long-lost cover, “Rocking All Over the World,” thanking everyone in “E Street Nation” they had seen over the course of the tour. In Buffalo at the end of the Working on a Dream tour, Bruce debuted “I’ll Work For Your Love,” using the title of the song as metaphor for his relationship with his fans.

Bruce certainly could repeat one of these, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he found something different from elsewhere in his catalog to say “thanks” and “goodbye.”

“Local Hero”

It’s been practiced repeatedly at soundcheck and is seemingly ready to debut at any point. Perhaps Bruce is just waiting until he sees a sign for it.

“Gotta Get That Feeling” and “City of Night”

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this tour has been the paucity of songs from The Promise that have made the set. Return appearances from “Talk to Me” and “Save My Love” might be more likely, but if Bruce ever does dig deeper into this album, these two songs could be in play, as they were both rehearsed by the band in soundcheck earlier in the tour.

Tunnel of Love”

The hope here is that Patti Scialfa comes back to the fold before the tour is out, and if she does, this song would be an obvious choice for Bruce to highlight her role in the band.

“Roll of the Dice”

Admittedly, not a tour premiere, as Bruce performed it in a solo-acoustic format in Hanover in May. Yet “Roll of the Dice” has been performed by the E Street Band before, on the Reunion and Rising tours, and with Bruce trying more of his 1992 material with the band, this seems like the next logical addition to the set from that group of songs.

 

The Stay Hard, Stay Hungry, Stay Alive End-of-Tour Wishlist

“Further On (Up the Road)”

Perhaps a possibility for that “end of tour” thematic choice, there’s lots of potential for a new version that suits the current incarnation of the band. Bruce has been very flexible with the arrangement of this song over the past decade, and something melding the “rocking” melody from The Rising and the repeated vocal parts sung by the different band members on the Seeger Sessions tour would be welcome.

“I Wanna Be With You”

By all accounts, each of this song’s performances at the top of shows on the Reunion Tour (and once on the Magic tour) went over well, with the crowd engergized by the each of the various members of the band playing their different parts before Bruce started singing the first verse. I suppose everyone has their favorite from “Tracks,” and this is mine.

“Brothers Under the Bridges (’83)”

One of the few songs from Discs 1-3 of Tracks to be never tried live, this is an out-of-nowhere longshot, but then again, so was “Wages of Sin” – so perhaps this outtake from Born in the U.S.A. is not impossible. I’ve noticed multiple signs for this in the crowd, and I hope Bruce saw them too.

“Real World”

I found it quite intriguing that Bruce performed this song twice in Cork. One explanation is that the perfectionist side of Bruce felt that the pre-show performance wasn’t quite on, and he was compelled to try again. A second explanation, favored here, is that Bruce was reminded of the power of the song and that it was worth playing for the full house, and not just the early arrivals down front.

A band version of the song is admittedly far less likely than hearing the piano version again, but I can confirm that a personal appeal was made to Bruce on this tour for a full-band performance of the song. In either arrangement, a repeat performance of “Real World” in Kilkenny is at the top of my list.

On Recent Setlist Developments (Mönchengladbach and Leipzig)

Needless to say, the complete turnaround in the construction of the setlist from only one week ago is as dramatic as it is welcome.

It is extraordinarily gratifying and reassuring that Bruce saw to it that improvements were made in his song selection, and that he and the band are again working on new things for the set in the pre-show soundchecks.

Dumping the full-album performances doesn’t mean that Bruce can’t play something for everyone, of course, and as evidenced in both of the recent German shows, he mixed in his hits and well-known material together with more challenging numbers.  Plus, with the return of “Rocky Ground” in Mönchengladbach and “We Take Care of Our Own” in Leipzig, he is fortunately adding a bit more of the Wrecking Ball album to the set after hitting a low point of 2 new songs in the show (3 if you count the new arrangement of “Land of Hope and Dreams”) in Geneva.

With only nine shows left in Europe, the wish-list for new songs to try is as follows:

5. “Local Hero” – it’s been repeatedly practiced, and should hopefully be making an appearance imminently.

4. “Gotta Get that Feeling” – if the band could nail “One Way Street” so easily, this gem from The Promise should be no sweat.  It was rehearsed last October but hasn’t ever made a setlist yet this tour.

3. “It’s a Shame” – a personal favorite from “The Promise.”

2. “The Big Muddy” – so far, the 1992-93 material that Bruce has tried has all been songs previously attempted with the E Street Band.  He’s never tried this one before wiht E Street and he should.  They could stick to a sparse arrangement with the electric guitar and atmospheric keyboards but I also think this could be transformed into a rock showpiece, similar to what was done to “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

1. “Real World” – in a full-band arrangement.  Bruce successfully reclaimed the song with his solo-piano performances on the Devils and Dust tour, and the band he now has gives him the opportunity to try to get the band arrangement right.  With the horns and singers, this could be spectacular.

Naples and “Thunder Road”

Tonight’s show in Naples featured the first solo-acoustic “Thunder Road” of the tour, in the closing spot, for a post-”Twist and Shout” bonus for the crowd.

The performances of “Thunder Road” this tour have been generally excellent, and Bruce has noticeably become more free about allowing and encouraging the crowd to sing along.  Tonight, at the end of the show, he quite literally relies upon the crowd to carry the song, and it was indeed an outstanding performance, from both Bruce and the audience.

“Thunder Road” has occasionally been used as the closing song of shows before, including the 2002 European leg of the Rising tour.  A solo-acoustic performance to end the show is a relatively new development, however, and something that Bruce has used at some of the private (fundraising benefits for his childrens’ schools) and charity (the Light of Day performances) shows that he’s done in recent years.  This was the first time it’s been done at an E Street Band show, however.

It also appears that encouraging the crowd-singalong to “Thunder Road” at the end of the show may well have been Bruce’s tip of his hat to his last concert in Naples, on May 22, 1997, at the very end of the Ghost of Tom Joad tour.  With a large crowd assembled below the theater singing “O Sole Mio,” Bruce takes a curtain call on the second-floor balcony, and then emerges with guitar, harmonica and Kevin Buell in tow, holding a mostly-unnecessary lyric sheet.  The video below tells the rest of the story; notably, the only words that one can actually hear from Bruce are “The screen door slams…” before the crowd takes over.

Setlist, Melbourne Night 3

Much of what is written here deals with potential changes (and possible improvements) to Bruce’s live set, so it would only be fair to laud him when things go right.  The opening of the third night in Melbourne was a FANTASTIC opening to a show.  (And yes, I say this without having been in the audience).

The opening songs – “Long Walk Home,” “Radio Nowhere,” “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” “Better Days” and “We Take Care of Our Own” is the best opening run of songs any any show this entire tour.

One one level, these are all appropriate choices for Australia, as the first four songs had never before been played there.  Crowds down under never got to see the Lucky Town material as the 1992-93 tour never reached Australian shores and they never got to see Magic songs as that tour also skipped Australia.  The Reunion tour – and its common opening song “My Love Will Not Let You Down” – also missed Australia.

The fifth, “We Take Care of Our Own,” had been inexplicably dropped from several shows earlier in the Australian tour, and its return is hailed here, not just because it is an excellent song, but also because is the most important of the new songs and should be in the show every night.

In a broader view, the presence of this material is also welcome because they are some of Bruce’s finest and most underplayed songs.  The absence of Magic material is at times plain baffling.  “Better Days” has had only four performances since 1993, and “My Love Will Not Let You Down” has been a rarity since the end of the Reunion tour.

To say that this show is a positive indicator for the rest of the tour is an understatement.  Well done, Bruce.