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.

21 comments on “And Then There Were Four: a preview of the end of the Wrecking Ball Tour

  1. Kathryn says:

    thanks as always for the thoughtful insight. looking forward to your wrap up about what the actual next 4 shows hold for us.

  2. can’t wait for the Flynn collection for this part of the tour with all the recent hits sneaking in there.

  3. ali mac says:

    jesus maria what a wonderful blog. i am leaving vancouver for dublin tomorrow and i am so excited. this has only added to my sheer joy thinking about the concerts to come. thanks so very much for this

  4. Scott Robert says:

    “Brothers Under the Bridges (’83)” wasn’t on “Tracks” but on the third bonus disc of “The Essential”. ; )

    • Scott Robert says:

      You were right! My bad. I was thinking of “None But the Brave”. Carry on…

      • gregory john says:

        It is indeed on Tracks. Song 10 on Disc 3.

        This is great blog. M

        May God bless all the people who write about these shows. It gives us poor souls who won’t see them again this year some positive energy.

  5. mattwolrad says:

    Selfishly, I hope the Garden show is the one and only time for a full album play of “The River.” I was there and it was a highlight of a lifetime of E Street Band shows with Clarence.

  6. Sally says:

    I think Bruce said before the encore performance of Real World in Cork something along the lines of he’d enjoyed singing it earlier so he was going to do it again.

  7. David says:

    Saw three of the North American shows last fall. My highlights were in Toronto City of Ruins that night was the best ever, solo on piano 57th Street, and in Hamilton Terry’s Song — that was a moment, story, event, occurrence, experience never to be repeated.

    Of course, it wasn’t quite as significant at Queen of The Supermarket in Ottawa.

    Hey – after all the shows, all he has done, all of the requests he’s taken – let him play what he wants. I’ll take his choice any night.

  8. Bill Nudo says:

    First of all, it really hurts to say these things, but i have to be honest. I truthfully think that Bruce has completely forgot about his fans in the U.S. who put he and The E Street band where they are today. And, I think he’s forgotten where he came from. And, for a performer, or artist of any sort to forget where they came from is probably the ultimate sin.

    July 23rd’s show was 3 and1/2 hours long, with a total of 33 songs. For example, when he comes to Pittsburgh, PA(when he does!) we might get 24 songs along with a has been, Joe Grushecky. They get the great Eric Burdon. The band has been in Europe all year doing shows that we never get in the U.S. anymore. When i went to the Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Pittsburgh, PA to mainly see Bruce, not his stumping for President Obama, after his segment of songs, he came down to the front of the stage to shake hands. he walked right past me like he didn’t see me, but shook hands of 13 and 14 year old kids. Back in 1972 I was camping out for tickets for his shows. I didn’t even get a glance. In fact, he looked away. I have a Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band tattoo on my shoulder that I’ve been very proud of for the last 20 years. I’m seriously thinking about having it removed. I’m not so proud anymore.

    Bruce, you’ve stepped over that imaginary line. You’ve forgotten where you came from. “We Take Care Of Our Own”!!? When’s the last time you’ve taken care of the United States fans? Or, have you forgotten who we are?

    • Mr. E. Train says:

      He took care of the US fans all last winter. But I guess it’s easy to forget about that.

      FWIW The Pittsburgh show was one of the best shows I saw on the Wrecking Ball tour. It was a great setlist with 27 songs, including things like Pretty Flamingo, Light of Day, and Talk To Me. This sounds like sour grapes that Bruce wouldn’t shake your hand and disagreeing with his politics than any real complaint based in fact.

    • Marcus says:

      The US (and Canada) had some of the best shows this tour. The shows last august until november/december were just awesome. These shows were much better (and longer) than the European shows in april, may and june (with a few exceptions). Only the last European shows – starting in Mönchengladbach, Germany, can compare with these US-shows.

  9. Bridget Dunn says:

    Great analysis. My hopes and predictions, for what they’re worth, is that Drive All Night will feature on Saturday in Kilkenny. I am currently in London, having travelled from New Zealand, flying to Ireland on Thursday for the great Wrecking Ball Weekender in Kilkenny. So excited, Glen Hansard who opens for Bruce on Sat has covered Drive All Night so my hopes are high that it will be performed, probably as a duet. I am Irish and a Boss obsessed fan since 1980!

  10. Don Weisman says:

    I once saw Bruce jump up on stage at the Stone Pony during Steven’s solo days and sing the duet with him on Steven’s “Native American.” I would love to seem them do that again, or perhaps a set of the songs that those two have co-written for others to record.

  11. Barry says:

    Great Blog, But I would rathe rhear that he decides to extend the tour through the end of the year in No. America where there is still demand as the yseem to be playing at such a high level right now!

  12. Michael Curcuru says:

    One of the rarest, and I think only played once is a song he played in Detroit for the Tunnel of Love tour….(?) called IN MICHIGAN. I doubt it was ever recorded, but Bruce says he wrote it on the plane coming to Detroit. It was a solo acoustic song, and he could easily rehearse it, but I doubt he even has the words to it. That is the only song that I doubt he will ever play again. Prove me wrong Bruce.

  13. I would be happy to hear him play “Happy”

  14. gregory john says:

    Has Breakaway been played on this tour ? Or ever ? For my two cents, it’s a brilliant and haunting song. They never get old, eh ?

    But I’m not sure it would fit with the fun to be had in the final few shows.

  15. Alan Sargeant says:

    The Cardiff gig was fantastic. It had all the elements you really hope for from one of Bruce and the Bands shows – humour, passion, soul, heart – it had it all. Probably the best of the 4 that I have seen this year and probably up there in the 30 plus shows that I have been to.
    Re: Bill Nudo. I don’t think Bruce has forgotten where he came from, if anything, last nights show showed he never forgets where he comes from or what the E Street Band has done over the last 40 years or so. The extended tributes to Clarence and Danny last night and the thanks to the fans for their “spirit” that have kept them all going was evidence of that. US and Non-US shows will always be different and I can’t tell you how many reviews I have read of various shows in the US over the years that I think “Wow” if only I could have been there. The thing that unites us all is a genuine love for Bruce, the band and the music and that transcends where you come from.

  16. mace says:

    I have seen Bruce every tour since 1984 and had the chance to meet him in 2008 in Houston. I can’t believe he is not touring Texas or much of the South. He is leaving out a whole section of the country. I am terribly disappointed.

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