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.

Bruce Springsteen and Halloween Night (and Rochester wishlist)

With the news that the Rochester show has been postponed to Wednesday brings the first Halloween night show for Bruce since 1992.

History and past performances tell us that this is one of Bruce’s favorite holidays. Now that Halloween festivities at his house are no longer an annual event – a victim of “catastrophic success” and too many visitors in his neighborhood, as he wrote on his website a few years ago, here’s hoping he has something up his sleeve for the fans in Rochester instead.

Bruce has had four prior special performances for Halloween:
1. October 31, 1980 – Los Angeles Sports Arena

Bruce is carried on stage in a coffin and starts the show with a cover of “Jumpin’” Gene Simmons’ “Haunted House.” Youtube (audio) link is here. This performance was previously discussed on this site as one of Bruce’s best one-time-only covers. Lesser known about this show is that Bruce also did a special cover this night to start the show’s second set: the instrumental “Out of Limits” (a takeoff on the “Outer Limits” television show theme), originally done by the Marketts in 1964.

2. October 31, 1984 – Los Angeles Sports Arena

The show starts with a skit about “midnight in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory,” and how “they were trying to awaken the monster. They tried all sorts of scientific methods, such as the mystery of electricity…then they tried to awaken his sexual perceptions…and then they performed an attack on his auditorial system (as “Louie Louie” is blasted)…but nothing seemed to work.”

“But then they tried Professor Frankenstein’s foolproof monster-wake-up, and then out of the darkness came a mystery man” – and Bruce is presented a guitar, leaps out of the coffin, and starts playing “High School Confidential.”

(A further description of the night’s proceedings can be found in Dave Marsh’s Glory Days).

3. October 31, 1992 – Target Center, Minneapolis

A special keyboard introduction by Roy leads into a rare “Spirit in the Night” opener.

Bonus – October 30, 2007 – Los Angeles Sports Arena

No special song this time, but back at the Sports Arena (this time, the night before Halloween), Bruce is again carried on stage in a coffin. Steve presents him a guitar and he asks “Is there anybody alive out there?” as he starts the standard “Radio Nowhere” opener. Video of these events was originally shown on Bruce’s website and can be found on Youtube here.

Note: there was also a Halloween show during the Born to Run tour in 1975 but there is no known tape and no known details about anything “special” for the holiday.

Special Songs for Rochester?

What might Bruce break out on Wednesday night? There are many possible choices, and not just the ones discussed above:

5. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”. Yes, it’s obvious. Yes, it’s cliched. But that didn’t stop Bruce from playing this rarity in Paris this past July 4, either.

4. Wages of Sin.” This Nebraska era-outtake may only have a tenuous connection to Halloween – one particular lyric about “the devil snapping at my heels” (a line that was also used in “My Father’s House”) – but the general mood of the song and the verse about the narrator trying to make it home through the woods before darkness falls are plenty spooky on their own. Never before performed live, this song resides on the famous Disc 2 of Tracks, well known to be a favorite of Steve Van Zandt. The past three tours have included the live premieres of “Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own,” “Restless Nights,” and “Living on the Edge of the World,” all from that same Disc 2, so perhaps this one’s not totally out of the question.

3. “Monster Mash.” Novelty songs have their place, and that the crowd will know it certainly helps its chances. The band (in particular, the backup singers) should have no problem with this. A possibility for the encore, particularly if there’s a sign requesting it.

2. “Werewolves of London.” Part of what has made Hurricane Sandy so big of a storm is the high tides associated with the full moon. Technically, the full moon is today but that’s close enough for some howling on Wednesday night. Even without the connection to the storm, this classic by Bruce’s friend Warren Zevon would perfect for the occasion.

1. “A Night with the Jersey Devil.” Notable as the first time Bruce released original material on his website, this composition was made available on Halloween 2008 as an MP3 download with an accompanying video. Halloween night in Rochester seems as likely a time as any for the live debut of this composition, which gave writing credits to “Bruce Springsteen / Robert Jones / Gene Vincent.” Check out the official video here and keep your fingers crossed for Wednesday!

On “Frankie” and When Live Performances Can’t Beat the Studio Version

More than “Jungleland,” the thing that really caught my eye in the Gothenburg show (and pre-show soundcheck) was that Bruce was giving another try to “Frankie.”

He’s had a complicated history with the song ever since it debuted on the final leg of the Born to Run tour in 1976. It was recorded during the Darkness sessions but went unused, having much more in common with the lost fourth album than the released version of Darkness. Rerecorded in its definitive form during the Born in the USA sessions, it remained in the vault until the release of “Tracks,” although being considered (losing out to “Murder Incorporated”) as an option for the “Greatest Hits” album.

These series of events (the song being considered for three different albums) certainly suggests an affinity towards the song from Bruce, but sadly, its live performance history has been somewhat checkered.

It was tried live for the first time in years during the Reunion tour in New Jersey: it was night 13 (August 9, 1999) of the 15-night stand, played in the wildcard spot in the setlist in the show, after “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Things started out promisingly but by the time the band reached the bridge, the playing was a bit heavy handed, and descended into trainwreck territory by the time they reached the instrumental coda. Reports from the show indicated that the crowd, save the hardcore fans, were lost to the significance of the song’s reappearance in the set. Audio can be heard here: (link to YouTube).

After exactly one performance on the Reunion tour, “Frankie” returned for exactly one performance on the Rising tour. Its second appearance, on September 7, 2003 at Fenway Park went a bit better, helped in part by several soundcheck performances. Things still weren’t quite right, however, as the band notably flubbed the opening, with Bruce and Danny not playing in sync with each other for the introductory organ/guitar line. Bruce’s vocal delivery wasn’t the greatest here, and I think Bruce oversang it. The instrumental coda flowed pretty well but Clarence’s solo wasn’t his finest moment. Bringing the song back to the introductory riff gave it a clean ending but also truncated the best part of the song.

Bruce tried the song on piano a few times during the Devils and Dust tour, and in its solo-piano debut in Milwaukee on August 7, 2005, Bruce provided probably his best vocal and harmonica performance of the song. His piano skills were sufficient only to get through the verses, though, and he ended things quickly, rather than including the instrumental portion at the end. Bruce even commented that “I can’t guarantee I get through it without any mistakes, so any mistakes are intentional.” A subsequent performance, captured on video (link) from the Meadowlands on November 17, 2005 shows him rushing through the performance, and singing it in what I’d call a lackadaisical manner. Whether disinterest or self-consciousness of his piano skills, this performance could charitably be described as “not very fulfilling.”

Almost seven years later, “Frankie” reappeared on Saturday night in Gothenburg. Video can be seen here: (link). It was soundchecked again before the show, and this time Bruce tried a rearrangement, adding a violin part for Soozie at the beginning of the song. The mid-song story telling was distracting in my opinion, but save that, there’s no denying that from the beginning to the end, this was the best performance in totality.

Unfortunately, neither Gothenburg nor any of the other performances can compare to the studio version. The last two minutes of that song, with the interplay between the piano, guitar, drums and saxophone is, according to a description I once read, “the E Street Band playing like an orchestra.” The precision of the solo has never been effectively replicated live (even when Bruce tried omitting the sax part altogether, as he did in Gothenburg, replacing it with a guitar part). Perhaps it’s just not meant to be. This doesn’t mean I don’t want Bruce to keep trying though.

For me, “Frankie” is the clear #1 on the list of songs that have never been able to be performed live better than they were in their studio incarnation. The balance of the list:

#5: Jackson Cage
I never understood why he dropped the harmonica part from the bridge.

#4: Magic
In fairness, Bruce never tried to perform a version in the album arrangement, with the organ line and percussion that added the mystical effect to the song. There was definitely power in the acoustic duet between Bruce and Patti but that was something he’d tried the two tours previous (“Mansion on the Hill,” “Empty Sky”) and seemed like taking the easy way out in 2007. With a little more rehearsal, the album arrangement could’ve worked live.

#3: Worlds Apart
On the studio cut, the drum machine kept the tempo moving. Live performances of the song were great in their own way but the piped-in vocals were troublesome and the various different parts played by the band didn’t coalesce as well as they should have.

#2: Pink Cadillac
A casualty of the size of the band, unfortunately. The dirty groove captured when just Bruce, Garry and Max were playing is lost with all of the extra players.

Bruce Springsteen’s Most Surprising Cover Songs

Opening Bruce’s May 30, 2012 show in Berlin was a cover of Wizz Jones’ “When I Leave Berlin.” Yes, really.

Yes, Berlin is obviously a city of great geopolitical and historical importance. And yes, the city has inspired plenty of music, both before (Heroes, Berlin) and after (Achtung Baby) the wall came down. Yes, Bruce’s 1988 concert in East Berlin was a significant moment in his career, both for the location of the show and the size of the audience.

But this was not Bruce’s first return visit to Berlin (that was in 1993) or even his first return visit with the E Street Band (1999). Nor was this a cover from Bruce’s usual repertoire. Doing “Get out of Denver” in Denver (September 25, 2003) might have been unexpected, but given Bruce’s friendship with Bob Seger, the choice was easily understandable. However much it makes sense that Bruce would appreciate the music of Wizz Jones, actually doing a song at an E Street show — as the opening song — ranks pretty high on the “surprise” list.

The top 5, “most surprising” covers by Bruce Springsteen:

5. Run Through the Jungle
Premiered May 29, 1981 in Rotterdam

The third of four John Fogerty-penned songs that Bruce would play on the River tour, this song qualifies for the list primarily for its total rearrangement. Rather than played “straight,” Bruce and the band did a ethereal version to start the show on three different occasions. Changing the music wasn’t enough; he also created new lyrics, including “man’s pulling shotguns out of the trunk/city’s on fire tonight” and “baby look out your window/can’t you see the tide’s turning,” themes that he would later expand on when creating the song “Murder Incorporated” during the Born in the U.S.A. sessions.

4. Have Love, Will Travel
Premiered April 23, 1988 in Los Angeles, CA

A perfect choice for the tour, with Bruce being able to declare the song’s title “my motto” as the encores climaxed. On a tour with mostly static setlists, this addition to the encores was one of the most significant changes to the show. This garage rock song (popularized by the Sonics) was turned into a horn-filled rave-up, complete with a trombone solo from La Bamba. It disappeared from the set shortly after the tour reached Europe and has not been played since.

3. I Wanna Be Sedated
Premiered April 22, 2009 in Boston, MA

First, the signs were for classic E Street repertoire, such as “Rosalita,” “Thunder Road, and “Jungleland” and Bruce was happy to oblige.

Then, the signs started requesting covers from E Street’s past, such as “Mountain of Love” or “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” and Bruce obliged those “sassy” requests (“the elephant never forgets!”)

But until this sign request was granted, Bruce had only granted requests for songs the band had already played. With this Ramones cover, the floodgates for the “stump the band” feature were open wide.

2. Satan’s Jeweled Crown
Premiered May 14, 1993 in Berlin

The 1993 leg of the world tour in support of Human Touch and Lucky Town featured a significant development: an acoustic three song mini-set by Bruce to start the show. For all of the shows in Europe that spring, Bruce’s three song set would always end with “This Hard Land,” preceded by two songs out of a roster of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Mansion on the Hill,” “Seeds” and “Adam Raised a Cain.”

Opening the show with a singular acoustic number had happened plenty of times in the past, but doing the three songs in a row was a big change and also foreshadowed Bruce’s future live plans. The three-song set was expanded for the only time all tour in Berlin, when Bruce debuted this “country gospel song,” accompanied by Roy and the five backup singers on the tour. An obvious feature for the the singers’ abilities, the song would be added to the main set, alternating with the other cover added that tour that featured the singers, “Many Rivers to Cross.”

The song’s last performance was at the “Concert to Fight Hunger” on June 24, 1993, at the close of the 92-93 tour. After 6 performances, this Louvin Brothers song (from their 1959 album Satan is Real) was never heard from again.

1. Dream Baby Dream
Premiered May 11, 2005 in Rosemont, IL

During the encore of this show, Bruce finished “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and gave his usual end-of-show thanks to the crowd. He then began his acoustic version of “The Promised Land,” which had ended every show on the tour to date, and as the song finished, it seemed as if the show was over.

But Bruce then walked to the pump organ, stage right, and sat down. The organ had previously only been used for the show-opening “My Beautiful Reward,” so it was clear that something was up. With no introduction to the song, Bruce starts singing: “Dream baby dream / keep on dreaming / dream baby dream / come on, baby, keep on dreaming”

As a member of the audience that night, I was both transfixed and completely baffled. What WAS this? Bruce was playing the pump organ for most of the song, but he eventually got up and walked to the front of the stage — and the music kept going — before he walked off stage without further comment.

The song was identified in short order as a cover of synth-punk band Suicide, and remained as the show closer for the balance of the tour, and while it may never have been quite the shock it was that night at the Rosemont Theatre, it kept most of its power for the remaining shows.

There was some Bruce-Suicide history, of course, as Bruce did identify their song “Frankie Teardrop” as a favorite of his in 1984 interview with Rolling Stone. A Backstreets interview with Suicide singer Alan Vega later in the tour revealed the previously unknown fact that Vega and Springsteen were doing shots of vodka together in the bathroom of the the studio in New York were both were recording at the time.

Even so, this choice holds the #1 spot on this list, and remains one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever seen at at Bruce show.

Also considered:
“Achy Breaky Heart” (March 23, 1993) and “You Sexy Thing” (December 7, 2001). (Both were played jokingly rather than as serious inclusions in the set).
Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife,” at Sting’s Rainforest Benefit in 2010.
The aforementioned “When I Leave Berlin.”

Dishonorable Mention:
Centerfield
Premiered October 1, 2004 in Philadelphia, PA
No, it’s technically not a cover, as Bruce was singing the song with John Fogerty. But it makes the list, if only for the horrible surprise that was Fogerty’s baseball-bat guitar and the fake handclaps that started this song during the Vote for Change tour.

Bruce is playing a set with his most clearly focused theme since the Tunnel of Love tour. He brings the “Hank Williams of our generation,” author of numerous classic rock and roll songs, many with political overtones, as a special guest on the tour. Perhaps “Who’ll Stop the Rain” would be too obvious, but “Centerfield,” a contender for the title of worst song of all time? It remains perhaps the most inexplicable setlist decision of Bruce’s career. Maybe it was Fogerty’s choice. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is not revisited in Hyde Park this July.

Springsteen’s Best “One Time Only” Covers

The E Street Band’s performance of “The Weight” in Newark on Wednesday night was not just a great performance; it was notable as the only time Bruce has ever performed the song. So where does it fall in the rankings of Bruce Springsteen’s best “one-time-only” covers?

Many of Bruce’s greatest covers (“Sweet Soul Music,” “Rockin’ All Over the World,” the “Detroit Medley”) have been played numerous times over the years, and the audiences’ familiarity with them often adds power to their performance. But there are also those lighting-in-a-bottle moments where the band tries something for the first time and nails it. Hence this exercise.

The songs presented here are those performed once and only once. I was fully prepared to include the performance of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” from October 4, 1975 in Detroit (Audio: Link) — it would have come in at #3 on the list below — until research revealed that Bruce had done the song a few other times (albeit without the E Street Band). Additionally, performances where the songwriter was on stage are excluded. Is it really a “cover” if you’re singing “Better Man,” “Bad Luck,” or “Keep the Car Running” with the person who wrote and performed the song? A debate for another time, but those “covers” are also excluded here.

The top 5:

5. Expressway to Your Heart, May 4, 2009, Nassau Coliseum

Video: Link
Ostensibly a “sign request,” but rehearsed in the pre-show soundcheck, to obvious great effect.

4. When I Grow Up to Be a Man, June 1, 1985, Slane Castle
Audio: Link
Dave Marsh suggested in Glory Days that Bruce sounded miserable due to the large, sometimes-out of control crowd at Slane Castle that afternoon and coming out for the encore with a mostly acoustic number was a clear attempt to change the direction of the show, if only temporarily. The choice of song is also notable as this was Bruce’s first show after getting married (for the first time).

3. Haunted House, October 31, 1980, Los Angeles Sports Arena
Audio: Link
The first of the Halloween shows in Los Angeles with Bruce carried on-stage in a coffin. Originally by “Jumpin’” Gene Simmons, and a classic example of the humorous Bruce-Clarence interaction on stage.

2. I’ll Fly Away, April 22, 2008, St. Pete Times Forum
Video: Link
Essentially the public memorial service for Danny Federici, this entire show featured a setlist tailored specifically to emphasize Danny’s role in the band. And then, to start the encore, the entire band (yes, even including Max on the backing vocals) came to the front of the stage for this, a moment too powerful to ever be repeated.

1. Ballad of Easy Rider, August 20, 1981, Los Angeles Sports Arena
Audio: Link
A big part of why the benefit concert for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation remains one of the most important (and best) shows of Bruce’s entire career.

Also considered: Night Train (Atlanta ’78); Little Bit O’Soul (Philadelphia ’09); I Sold My Heart to the Junkman (Boston ’74).

So where does “The Weight” come in? Outside the top 5, but not by far; it would likely be somewhere between #6 and #9, a remarkable feat, as all of the songs in the top five were likely rehearsed and practiced ahead of time.

Ranking the Fallon Appearances

Where do Bruce and the E Street Band’s appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon rank within a list of Bruce’s television appearances?   As posed in the comments on a below post, it’s certainly an interesting question.

For the exercise, only appearances on television “shows” are considered.  Portions of full shows, such as the MTV Europe live broadcast of the Barcelona 2002 show is out, as is the Live in New York City HBO special.  Also out are things like the SOS Racisme Concert, or the Carousel House or the Super Bowl.

The top five:

1. My City of Ruins,” America: A Tribute To Heroes Telethon – September 21, 2001

I’m not sure this could ever be topped.

2. “Death to My Hometown,” “Jack of All Trades,” and “The E Street Shuffle,” Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, March 2, 2012

I’d put this at number two due to a confluence of factors: the performance (excellent), the use of the special guests (Morello and the Roots), and the high stakes nature of the performance, debuting two new songs and the first use of saxophone in the E Street Band after Clarence’s death.

http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=1388769

3. Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…, September 25, 2009

There was Bruce and Elvis doing a Sam and Dave song on the stage of the Apollo Theatre.  There was the solo acoustic “American Skin” and the definitive version of “Galveston Bay.”  And the three songs with Bruce, Roy and Nils joining Elvis and the Impostors, bringing a new power to “The Rising” plus an incendiary “Seeds.”

4.Kitty’s Back” and “Merry Christmas Baby,” Late Night with Conan O’Brien, December 11, 2002

The band in mid-tour form, basically bringing a small part of their then-annual Christmas shows to national television.

5. Lonesome Day” and (in particular) “You’re Missing,” Saturday Night Live, October 5, 2002.

“Lonesome Day” was solid if unspectacular, but the still-never-repeated solo piano “You’re Missing” was unexpected: conventional wisdom dictates either second new song or a live classic for the second SNL song.

Missed the cut:

SNL ’92, Letterman ’93, Letterman ’95, MTV Where It’s At ’98, Conan ’99, MTV VMAs ’02, Fallon ’10, Fallon ’12 (first appearance)