The news that Bruce and the E Street Band are touring again in 2014 is certainly received as a surprise here. It was my belief and expectation that 2014 would be a “down year,” with Bruce having just completed his longest tour in the Reunion era.
There are essentially two scenarios for next year’s tour of Australia:
One: Bruce is playing these shows as an “extra” tour and going back to Australia (and nowhere else) because it’s a good financial deal for him (with tickets priced at nearly $200 US), he had fun playing there in 2013, he wants to enjoy Summer weather in February, or some such similar reason.
If this is the case, one could expect a healthy dose of Bruce’s hits, familiar live songs, and probably some of the “album” shows that he played in Europe in 2013.
Two: these shows will be the first of a new world tour, in support of a new Springsteen album. The assumption here is that this is the more likely scenario.
E Street Band circa 2014
With the news (admittedly, with Australian tour promoter Michael Gudinski as the sole source) that Tom Morello will be on the Australian tour, it again appears that the E Street band will be getting even larger.
An argument – indeed, a compelling argument – can be made that there is no need for the band to be quite so large. Even in 1999, there wasn’t really enough for Nils and Steve to do at times, and adding extra singers, percussion and guitar has only compounded the issue. Additionally, it is my belief that the sheer size of the band has contributed to the problems of inadequate sound quality that Bruce’s audience have experienced in recent years.
Since the Reunion tour, no person invited to join the E Street Band on tour (save replacement dummer Jay Weinberg) has ever left the band, with Bruce showing no interest whatsoever in downsizing.
Assuming Bruce has no interest in changing that policy, well, why not invite Morello too? If he does join the tour, hopefully his talents are extended to more than just nightly versions of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
Has Bruce learned from the mistakes of 2009?
The Magic tour lasted 100 shows, from October 2007 to August 2008. Almost immediately, plans were made for Bruce to release a new album (Working on a Dream in January 2009) and return to the road (the tour started April 1, 2009 in San Jose).
There were two big problems with this plan: one, the new songs weren’t good; and two, the band didn’t rehearse nearly enough. Having recently ended a long tour, Bruce clearly didn’t think the band needed much rehearsal time and indeed, he didn’t think he needed much either. Bruce didn’t even attend several of the rehearsal sessions, which were used only to familiarize Jay Weinberg with the band.
Admittedly, there were some new elements added to the show: an adaptation of the “Morello” arrangement of “The Ghost of Tom Joad;” the return of “Seeds,” and the Stephen Foster cover, “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
Yet without much of the new material, and a surprising lack of material from the recent “Magic” album, the shows lacked focus in a manner that was completely uncharacteristic for Bruce. Bruce hadn’t put in enough effort to create a “new show,” and accordingly, he had to resort to gimmicks such as “stump the band” and the full-album shows. Sure, the shows were enjoyable, but there was no challenge to the audience.
So: has he learned from those mistakes? We’ll have to wait and see.
New tour – new setlist?
In the first part of Bruce’s career, it took four tours (Born to Run, Darkness, The River, Born in the U.S.A.) of largely similar setlists before Bruce finally made a change with the Tunnel of Love tour and brought out a radically different set.
In the reunion era, there’s now been another four tours in support of new material where the setlists have remained similar: The Rising, Magic, Working on a Dream and now Wrecking Ball.
On each tour, a core group of new songs was played, but those new songs mostly failed to carry over from tour to tour. A few things from The Rising have remained in regular rotation, but nothing from Magic has seen any significant time since that tour ended. The Promise remains completely ignored. One is left to wonder if Bruce will have any interest in the Wrecking Ball material in 2014, or if it will be relegated to the same fate.
Assuming a new album comes out in 2014, it would be expected that a healthy portion of the new songs make the setlist on a nightly basis. The big hope here is that Bruce finally moves away from the same core group of back-catalog material he has been using to fill out the balance of the set since 2002.
There’s a reason “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” and “The Rising” get played every (or almost every) night, and I would hardly begrudge Bruce playing what he feels are the most important songs of his career. Yet he also needs to draw a distinction between the songs he absolutely must play, and those which could get some well deserved rest.
It would be a disappointment if those remaining spaces in the setlist get the same songs once again (Dancing in the Dark, Waiting on a Sunny Day, Out in the Street, She’s the One, Thunder Road, Rosalita, Darlington County, No Surrender, Lonesome Day, Because the Night, Prove it All Night, The River, Spirit in the Night). Of course any one of those songs is going to be someone’s favorite (here, it’s “Thunder Road”) but at this point in his career, Bruce is simply disregarding too much of his recorded output in favor of a limited group of songs. While it is true that Bruce played 225 songs on his most recent tour, a full half of them (113) were played three times or fewer.
The original incarnation of the E Street Band lasted from 1973 to 1988 (fifteen years) and it was only at the very end of that time that Bruce challenged himself and his audience with an entirely new setlist. The current, reunion-era incarnation has now been together for almost as long. Here’s hoping Bruce isn’t content to keep doing the same thing, and he works to find a new E Street Band show for 2014.