“The older you get, the more it means” – Wrecking Ball Tour Finale, Kilkenny Night 2, July 28, 2013

Man at the Top

Bruce seemed particularly focused at the start of the show, saying very little to the crowd as he ran through the first eight songs. It would be very interesting to see the planned setlist as Bruce was calling off each of the songs to the band. They may not have all been audibles per se, but perhaps were the planned songs shifted around in order. “My Love Will Not Let You Down” into “Badlands” worked extremely well and provided an early demonstration to Bruce that he had a great crowd down front for the finale.

We Take Care of Our Own was restored to its rightful place at the beginning of the show as Bruce brought things full circle by bringing back this key new song at the end of the tour.

“Adam Raised a Cain” signaled that tonight wouldn’t be a “Darkness show,” and also that Bruce wasn’t planning on leaving anything behind on stage, as he turned in a couple of ferocious solos, and even started adding extra guitar licks between lines near the end of the song.

“American Skin (41 Shots)” was as powerful now as it was when it debuted this tour in Tampa, with Bruce’s solo only overshadowed by the song’s coda, with Nils soloing on guitar, Jake on saxophone, Bruce singing the “you can get killed just for living in” line, and the crowd singing the “41 shots” refrain.

Bruce’s first introduction of a song was when he called for “Wrecking Ball,” noting that “we gotta do this one, it’s what the tour’s all about.” He was significantly more chatty during “Spirit in the Night,” asking everyone “are you ready for the last dance?” before turning a bit more philosophical, saying “there is a weight, a cumulative weight that every night you play, at the end of the tour, weighs upon you, and I see so many of you who have been at so many shows — and I know there is a cumulative weight from just watching this motherfucker so many times, but it’s a good weight.  And I want to thank you for carrying us on so many nights.”

When Bruce started “The River,” he mumbled something about “having debts to pay with the next four songs” and it wasn’t quite clear what he was referring to at the time, as Bruce made a dedication before song, but with no additional explication.

But then, when he came down to the front platform to retrieve the “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” sign, it was understood that he chose the final show of the tour to reward his regulars with the songs that they had been requesting all tour.

The Wild Billy sign had been to twenty-seven different cities, and Bruce had great fun reading them all. He remembered that he had taken the sign several times before without playing it, and somehow the sign kept coming back. Clark played the tuba part, Roy on accordion, Steve on mandolin, and Bruce and Nils on acoustic guitars. Everett even had the crash cymbal part covered after “the 95…96…97!” lyric.

The theme continued with Bruce retrieving a “Man at the Top” sign, this time noting all the tape holding the sign together as a reference point for all the shows it had been to. The arrangement on this song was nothing short of brilliant, with Bruce finding new ways to use the band. The singers – Curtis, Cindy, Michelle and Everett – lined up stage left but then Bruce also had the entire horn section gathered around Nils stage right to add vocals as well.

The third tour premiere was “When You Walk in the Room,” with Bruce playing the twelve-string electric guitar and Charlie shining on the keyboard part. The three premieres were the only “requests” granted all night, and each were obviously well rehearsed and planned; Bruce really was “all paid up” at this point.

The Born to Run album performance was dedicated to Jimmy Iovine, in attendance at the show, with Bruce recalling a “skinny Italian kid” at the recording studio and being unsure if Iovine “really knew what he was doing.” My preference was that Bruce would have avoided a full-album performance at the last show, but it was good to see the full-band version of “Thunder Road” make one final appearance on tour, and with “Tenth Avenue” and “Born to Run” going to make the setlist regardless of the album choice, there wasn’t too much unnecessary redundancy from recent shows.

It should also be noted that band’s playing on the album segment was excellent, including, particularly on “Backstreets” and “Meeting Across the River.” And yes, during “Jungleland,” a soft summer rain did indeed start falling, ending shortly after the song ended.

Earlier in the tour, I had heard a third-hand report that Bruce was not a particular fan of “Ain’t Good Enough For You,” as possible explanation as to why it was played so infrequently, despite being requested so often. Tonight could be some corroboration of that theory, because if there was ever a show to play the song, it would presumably be the show where Mr. Iovine is actually in the house.

It has been stated here multiple times that “Ain’t Good Enough For You” would be a worthy alternate for “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” in the Wrecking Ball tour shows. It never happened, but at least for this final show, Bruce actually dropped “Sunny Day” from the set. In some ways, this was perhaps the biggest surprise of the night.

At the start of the encore, Bruce took the unusual step of gathering the entire band in a huddle at the center of the stage, which I suppose let to expectations of something out of the ordinary, rather than several of the hits from Born in the U.S.A. Tonight, “Dancing in the Dark” was particularly notable, as Bruce brought all of the horns and singers down to the front of the stage. The horn players were already there, having come up for “Seven Nights to Rock,” and Bruce stopped them from returning to the riser at the back of the stage after “Dancing” started. Up at the front, along with the singers, they got to show off their self-choreographed dance moves for the entire crowd one last time. Watching the two sections at the back of the stage is always great fun, and I found it quite meaningful that Bruce wanted to show off that fun aspect of his band one last time as well.

“After a and a half, and 130 shows….you know you make me wanna Shout!” was the introduction to the Isley Brothers number that has worked so well as a finale song this tour. Bruce started his usual introduction of the band – “earth shocking, booty-quaking, history-making” which was itself quite amusing, as so many of the fans can now do the same introduction along with Bruce simply by memory. Yet after finishing, Bruce continued – we want to salute, the “ticket-seeking, hotel-booking, money-juggling, plane-taking, train-riding, queue-forming, tramp-meeting, feet-throbbing, back-breaking, burger-eating, rain-enduring, music-loving, Boss-following…E Street Fans!, as all of the band members went up to the microphones to shout the last line. The list Bruce read was from one of the truly great fan-made t-shirts and it was quite touching that he chose to incorporate it with the band introduction.

Bruce retrieved an acoustic guitar from Kevin to start “This Little Light of Mine” but either in the guitar transfer or the start of his strumming, he appeared to tear a fingernail, which he then finished ripping off with his teeth and kept going, despite the blood now dripping from his finger.

As the band exited the stage, it was clear that Bruce was going to do an acoustic performance to close the show, despite his injury. Coming to the microphone he seemed at a genuine loss for words, noting “I don’t know what to say. I’ve been doing this – next July, for 50 years. Feel like I just started! I’ve got another 50 in me! “

He continued: “The older you get, the more it means. I’ve enjoyed this tour, I think – even losing so many people that were so close to us – this tour has just been really wonderful to us. He thanked the E Street Band, the crew, Jon Landau and Barbara Carr and repeated his thought again: “the older you get, the more it means.”

It should come as no surprise to readers here that I heartily endorsed Bruce’s choice of “This Hard Land” as the final song of the night. Bruce was getting visibly choked up during the third verse. In the final verse – the one Bruce has identified as one of his favorites, and the one that gives title to this site – Bruce slowed down, and stopped strumming has he allowed the crowd to shout back to him: “stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive!”

His final words, finishing the song: “Until we meet again!” and then, before he left the stage: “be good to yourselves.”

Kilkenny, Night 1, July 27, 2013


Given how the Wrecking Ball tour has progressed, it was certainly very surprising to see the Born in the U.S.A. album get played again.  I would hardly presume to compare an arena show such as Leeds – or even a small stadium show such as Cardiff – to a Kilkenny stadium show.  Comparing Limerick, Cork or Belfast certainly seems fair, however, and tonight’s setlist compares quite unfavorably to any of those shows.

As stated here before, setting aside any general dislike of the gimmick that is full-album shows, there’s not anything specifically wrong with Born in the U.S.A.; from top to bottom, it’s certainly one of Bruce’s most consistent records, and if no doubt serves as the crowd-pleaser.  What remains frustrating about the shows where this album is featured is that Bruce takes such a strange approach to the setlist surrounding it.  It’s as if he goes on auto-pilot and can’t realize that when playing the album full of hits, he can and should use the balance of the set for more challenging material.

Of course “Badlands” and “Out in the Street” is a great way to open a show.  But if the set is already guaranteed to contain a run of hits in the middle, it would be appropriate to try something less familiar at the top of the show, when Bruce has the audience’s attention simply because it’s the very beginning of the show and everyone’s excited.

The covers granted by sign request were great fun.  Yes, the performance might have been a little sloppy, but it hardly detracted from them.  They’re both personal favorites and I was thrilled that Bruce played “Shake” and “Sweet Soul Music.”  Looking at them objectively, though, it is obvious that they were misplaced in the show.  Those songs are exactly the sort of thing that should be saved for the encore, particularly when the Born in the U.S.A. hit singles are being played in the main set.  There was no reason Bruce couldn’t simply have taken the signs and deferred playing them until the encore; he’s certainly done that numerous times before.

if anything, tonight’s show simply sets hopes higher for Sunday.  It would be a fair expectation that Bruce keeps the repeated songs to the absolute minimum (Wrecking Ball songs, “Born to Run,” “Tenth Avenue,” “Badlands,” and “Dancing in the Dark”) and sends the tour off with a worthy finale.


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.

Hard Rock Calling, London, June 30, 2013

Reports on the show can be found at Backstreets and Brucespringsteen.net.

Playing “Born in the USA” for a festival crowd is a logical move, and Bruce was clearly focusing on his three British shows as a set, as he had done “Darkness” in Wembley and “Born to Run” in Coventry.

The lack of imagination necessary to choose to full album performances is well-documented here and need not be repeated. These issues notwithstanding, playing “Born in the USA” on consecutive nights was not an error on Bruce’s part, and while my personal preference is for something different, it seemed clear that a majority of his paying customers were happy with the choice.

The issue with London’s show was that the actual performance of the material was severely lacking. Paris may have been a completely unadventurous setlist but there was little complaint as to how well those songs were played.

London, conversely, did have a few different choices for the set surrounding the album but the performance as a whole was simply not up to the standard that is reasonably expected from an E Street Band show.

“Reason to Believe,” for example, was a more challenging choice for a festival audience, but never got the chance to work as Bruce and the band were out of sync for the entire song. If Bruce is going to leave his setlist variety to the whims of the signs he sees down front, these results can be expected. Additional time spent on pre-show rehearsals during soundcheck is clearly warranted; the benefits of which can clearly be heard in, for example, “Save My Love” from Wembley two weeks ago, or the version of “Long Time Comin’” from Coventry.

With only thirteen shows left on the European leg, there are still plenty of opportunities for Bruce to finish out the tour strongly. It would seem logical that one of the remaining German shows will get “Born to Run” (“USA” having been done in Munich), and the prediction here is that the Limerick, Cork and Belfast shows will each get one of the three albums being done on the tour. That leaves wide open the possibility for some special shows before the end of the month, including, in particular, the arena show in Leeds and the two final nights in Kilkenny.