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.”