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.

On Band Introductions and Dropping “My City of Ruins” from the Show

Sunday night’s show in Melbourne was the first of the Wrecking Ball tour to not include “My City of Ruins,” a song played at every show to date on the tour. Not only was this cornerstone of Bruce’s current live show mysteriously absent, but Bruce either forgot or deliberately omitted introducing the various members of the band on stage.

A fair analysis of the band introductions would certainly acknowledge they could tend towards being overblown, overwrought and occasionally too long, yet they also served as a humorous counterbalance to Bruce’s more serious material. On this tour, they served to introduce the numerous new faces to the crowd (the horn section and singers, in particular) who the more casual fans would not otherwise know while also allowing Bruce to acknowledge the absence of Clarence and Danny. Accordingly, it remains a big surprise that they would be omitted, even if Bruce felt it time to drop “My City of Ruins” from the show.

The importance of the band introductions is underscored by how rare it is for them to go missing. When was the last time they weren’t part of the show?

1. There were no band introductions during any of the three rehearsal shows for the Magic tour in September of 2007. Yet when the tour started on October 2 in Hartford, Bruce had taken to including them at the very end of “American Land,” where they would remain every night of that tour, and every night of the subsequent Working on a Dream tour.

2. There were no band introductions on the Vote for Change or Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tours. These shows, while headlined by the E Street Band, were multi-artist bills, resulting in a shortened set for Bruce. Consequently, the introductions were missing from these shows.

3. The last full-length show to be missing band introductions occurred at the very end of the Born in the USA tour on September 27, 1985.

At the beginning of the Born in the USA tour, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” regularly ended the main set, and included the band introductions, as it had for the prior ten years. Once “Rosalita” dropped out of the show, Bruce started introducing the band during the “Travelin’ Band” section of the “Detroit Medley,” although there were certain shows (beginning with the November 8, 1984 show in Tempe) where the introductions would occasionally be omitted, usually in favor of an additional song in the medley — in Tempe, it was “I See a Train.”

When the “Detroit Medley” also dropped out of the set, the band would simply be introduced in the encores, usually between “”Born to Run” and “Ramrod” or after “Rockin’ All Over the World.” Some shows, however, simply omitted the introductions entirely, the last of which was the September 27, 1985 show in Los Angeles. Every full-length, tour-proper E Street Band show since then had included introductions until Sunday in Melbourne.

Brisbane Thoughts (via YouTube)

A few notes and observations as someone who has been living vicariously through YouTube clips (thanks to everyone who uploaded), photos and show reports:

1. Bruce is relying on Nils to carry a greater load with Steve absent.

Nils is joining in at Bruce’s microphone for the last verse of “Badlands” (video). He also was playing the acoustic guitar part at the start of The River (video).

Also of note: Tom Morello was playing Steve’s banjo part on “Shackled and Drawn” (video) but did not play the mandolin part on “Land of Hope and Dreams.” (video)

I did quite enjoy seeing Morello put his hand in the air, right along with the crowd, for the “I believe in the faith that can save me” line from “Badlands” and “faith will be rewarded” line from “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out lacks the usual audience sing-along (video night 1, video night 2).

This is likely due to the fact that “Tenth Avenue” had never been performed in Australia! It’s not just that the Reunion tour (where the sing-along originated) never made it down under, but the song wasn’t played on the Australian legs of the Born in the USA or Rising tours either.

3. Bruce has added another crowd-surfing song to his arsenal: “Out in the Street.” (video)

That makes four this tour – in addition to “Out in the Street,” he’s also used “634-5789,” “Hungry Heart” and “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.”

4. Security probably isn’t having as much fun as Bruce.

His trips into the crowd now aren’t limited just to the stage at the back of the pit — he went into the pit to dance during “634-5789” (video) and apparently almost to the very back of the floor for “Darlington County” (video).

5. The disappearance of “We Take Care of Our Own” was unexpected.

Aside from “Just Like Fire Would” and “High Hopes,” the biggest surprise from Brisbane is that Bruce would drop another new song from the set, and in particular one that is a key song from the new album. This could be (and I hope is) a similar situation to that of the July 5, 2008 show in Gothenburg, where “Radio Nowhere” was dropped for the only time on the Magic tour.

That being said, it was unusual to see a setlist with only four Wrecking Ball songs so early into this leg of the tour. I was hoping to that “This Depression” and “Rocky Ground” would appear as the alternates for “Jack of All Trades” and “We Are Alive.” The omission of “This Depression” is particularly strange given that Tom Morello is readily available to play the guitar solo.

Australian Tour Preview

Bruce’s first tour of Australia in ten years begins in one week. What can be expected?

Setlist Changes for Australia
It stands to reason that Bruce will return to setlists with more Wrecking Ball material, including key songs such as “Jack of All Trades,” “We Are Alive” and “Rocky Ground,” all of which fell out of the set on the Fall leg in the US. They may not remain staples throughout 2013 but given that nothing from the Wrecking Ball album (save the old arrangement of “Land of Hope and Dreams”) has ever been played in Australia, it’s a safe bet that they appear this month.

Less certain, but certainly appropriate, would be the inclusion of material from Bruce’s other albums of the 2000s, in particular Magic but also potentially Working on a Dream or even Devils and Dust. As the tours supporting those albums never traveled to Australia, Bruce would serve his audience well by adding the best of that material – “Radio Nowhere,” “Long Walk Home” and “Gypsy Biker” to the setlist. The new full-band arrangement of “Devils and Dust” would be welcome as well.

Working on a Dream songs remain a longshot, but certainly are not out of the question. Given how little effort Bruce gave to those songs in 2009, I would be surprised if many of them were played, although the title song may show up. I also suspect that, to my chagrin, “American Land” could be played a time or two.

While they have certainly grown tired in the American shows – and even at times in the European shows – the Australians haven’t had the opportunity to experience Bruce’s full-fledged embrace of the audience’s sign requests. It seems quite likely that there will be multiple requests granted per night. I would expect them to include a balance of hits and favorites – “I’m Goin’ Down” or “Because the Night” – as well as obscurities, such as “Loose Ends” or “Talk to Me.”

Tom Morello
The March 14 show in Brisbane will be the first E Street Band show without Steve Van Zandt since October 15, 1988.

One way of looking at Steve’s absence is that the show will go on without much changing. While the show suffered greatly the last time a band member was temporarily replaced, Steve’s role in the band is certainly far different than that of Max Weinberg. Accordingly, I suspect his absence will affect the overall performance of the band to a significantly lesser degree. It would be fair to note that Steve’s most important musical contributions to the band are as arranger and vocalist (rather than guitarist), and while not having him there is unfortunate, it isn’t a critical loss. The E Street Band did play 243 shows in the Eighties (including eight in Australia) without him.

I imagine Steve’s absence will be most noticeable with respect to the band’s on-stage persona. Steve’s role as Bruce’s best musical friend might be hammed up but overall, it isn’t an act. Particularly with the loss of Clarence, Steve has done a great job this tour in the role of Bruce’s primary foil onstage. He’s one of the few band members who seemingly has the run of the stage without taking specific direction from Bruce as to positioning and performance antics and I predict that this will not be an insignificant loss.

The alternate way of looking at this temporary change is that having Tom Morello on stage will be a challenge of sorts to Bruce, requiring him to increase his intensity, both for the loss of Steve and knowing that the person standing to his left can run circles around him when it comes to guitar skills.

Morello has, of course, guested numerous times with the band over the past year, although mostly on material that is played every night, such as “Death to My Hometown” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Jack of All Trades” is a likely inclusion, as noted above, although it may well alternate with “This Depression.” Each Australian city should be able to count on hearing Morello’s feature “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” although perhaps not every single night.

The hope here remains that Bruce finds some additional songs to feature Morello’s playing. The prospect of them ripping up “Lucky Town” together may be a pipe dream, but “Murder Incorporated” or “Further On (Up the Road)” would be welcome choices.

On another band personnel note, it remains unclear if Patti Scialfa will be joining the band for the Australian tour. She’s been absent since the first New Jersey show last September, but she did make a few surprise appearances in Europe last summer. If she does indeed make it to Australia, “Easy Money” will probably make the set, and it also offers the potential of some Tunnel of Love material in the show (another tour that never reached Australian shores).

Multi-Night Stands
Also notable about this leg of the tour is that the tour plays multiple nights in each city, with three-night stands in both Sydney and Melbourne. Presumably this will mean that Bruce’s back catalog, already opened fairly wide to date on the tour, will continue to get a workout in each city, with plenty of opportunities for changes from night to night. “Second” nights have been rare this tour, but the few that have occurred, such as Paris, Gothenburg or Fenway Park, have been some remarkable shows.

Sydney and Melbourne will also feature the extremely rare third show (only previously done this past September in New Jersey). One aspect of the Reunion and Rising tours that is missed in recent years is the band setting up for multiple shows in one venue: not only does it lead to setlist variety, but by the end of the stand, the band is usually playing at a particularly high level. These upcoming stands have the potential to result in some great shows.