Top 5 Solo/Acoustic Performances:
Songs performed just by Bruce, either on acoustic guitar or piano
5. Incident on 57th Street, December 6, 2012, Phoenix
Granting a request, Bruce chose the opening of the encore of his last US show for this special version. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrBCgS_ELoE
4. The Ghost of Tom Joad, June 22, 2013, Nijmegen
Bruce opened several shows on his Europe 2013 tour with a new acoustic arrangement. The faster tempo, powerful harmonica break and deliberate vocal phrasing seemed to have been inspired by Tom Morello’s frequent guest appearances on the song. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEVkmF9wsKI
3. This Hard Land, July 28, 2013, Kilkenny
Starting this past October, Bruce’s official website released several official videos from the tour. Bruce introduced the series, writing: “as we’ve been on break we’ve had a chance to look back on some of the tour highlights.” It was no surprise that this song, from the final night in Kilkenny, was the first one chosen. On the symbolic “last night” of the tour, Bruce chose this song as the very last number. Watch for Bruce’s voice to quiver with emotion during the third verse: “Well, now even the rain it don’t come around, don’t come around here no more/and the only sound at night’s the wind slamming that back porch door.”
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssg4_KMrS0o
2. Roll of the Dice, May 28, 2013, Hannover
Granting a sign request, Bruce admitted that he’d never played this song before in a solo arrangement. The result shows that was no impediment – he sang the piano parts as necessary, and his vocal delivery was strong throughout.
1. Independence Day, July 4, 2012, Paris
Bruce choosing to perform this song on the 4th of July (American Independence Day) wasn’t much of a surprise, but the arrangement certainly was. Bruce has often joked on stage about his lack of skill on the piano, but when he’s really concentrating (and probably with a little luck) he will sometimes pull something off flawlessly, as he did that night in Paris. In recognition of the magnitude of the performance, an official video was posted on Springsteen’s website and YouTube channel.
Top 5 Alternate Arrangements
(Songs performed in a arrangement different than their best-known version)
5. High Hopes, March 16, 2013, Brisbane
A new arrangement that was so good, Bruce selected it to be the title track of his forthcoming album. Featuring percussion from Everett Bradley, a trademark solo from Tom Morello and the E Street Horns.
4. The Promise (full band), April 1, 2012, Washington
The full band version of “The Promise” was done at special performance in December 2010 before a tiny crowd, but never during a tour-proper show since its full-band debut on the first night of the Darkness tour. Just like in 1978, it was performed full-band just this one time, with Bruce returning to a solo-piano arrangement each subsequent time it was performed on the tour.
3. Thunder Road (piano version) July 14, 2012, London
Bruce returned to this stripped-down version, with just Roy’s piano, voice and harmonica to open his performance in London – it was “the first thing we played when my feet first touched British soil in 1975.”
2. Prove It All Night (’78 Introduction), May 18, 2012, Barcelona
Fans yearned for its return. Bruce said it was unlikely to happen. But then, seemingly out of the blue, during the first of two shows in Barcelona, Bruce cued Roy and Max to begin the piano vamp that starts the famed extended introduction that was a hallmark of the Darkness tour. It would be performed a total of 18 times in this arrangement during the course of the tour.
1. Devils and Dust (full band) November 12, 2012, St. Paul
Bruce and the E Street Band had worked on this song multiple times: in April 2003, when the song was first written; in October 2004, for the Vote For Change Tour; in April 2008, during the Magic tour – and never seemed to be able to get a band version right. After trying again several times at soundchecks in the fall of 2012, they finally debuted this on Veterans Day. The instrumentation in this arrangement had something for the entire band – Max’s pounding drums; a horn part; Charlie’s accordion; a guitar solo; and the backing singers adding to the chorus. The song had previously been performed either acoustic or with minimal instrumental backing. Now, with this arrangement, Bruce finally found music to match the power of the lyric.
Top 5 Songs Performed Once
Performed once and only once on the Wrecking Ball tour
5. Into the Fire, September 22, 2012, East Rutherford
A song that gained power by not being in the set every night, and a moment almost forgotten between the late start to the show and Bruce’s birthday. The “may your strength give us strength,” with a full complement of singers never sounded so good. This performance was dedicated to the memory of Rich Nappi, a New York firefighter (and big Bruce fan) who died in the line of duty earlier that year.
4. Local Hero, July 24, 2013, Leeds
Practiced repeatedly at soundcheck and then finally brought out at the very end of the tour. In Bruce’s own words: “This song is one of my favorites off Lucky Town. A real ‘sleeper,’ this ought-a be played more often.”
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELEGhf7dMJw
3. Man at the Top, July 28, 2013, Kilkenny
One of the requests granted to patient sign-holders at the end of the tour, this was the song’s first performance since the Born in the USA tour. It was an inspired arrangement, with the horn players brought down front, gathered around Nils’ microphone to provide the backing vocals.
2. New York City Serenade, July 11, 2013, Rome
The song’s long-awaited European debut, with guest strings from the Roma Sinfionetta. On a day off in Rome prior to the show, Bruce rented out a local club to rehearse with the strings to make sure they got it right, and the results speak for themselves, with a stunning official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-IZWISZ8CY
1. Wages of Sin, May 8, 2013, Turku
Already one of Bruce’s best “lost” songs, it was a surprise debut, performed beautifully and flawlessly, and as the start of a powerful thematic arc in the setlist. The special care Bruce and the band took in getting the performance right was obvious: the song was driven by Max’s steady beat, played with drum mallets on the toms and cymbals; Bruce’s singing was clear and deliberate with Roy’s piano just underneath; and a gorgeous, understated trumpet part. Combine the surprise factor, the rarity factor and the performance and it all adds up to one of the finest moments of the tour.
Top 5 Cover Songs
5. Knock on Wood, August 15, 2012, Boston
The horn section showing off their chops. With just a little polish, this would have been worthy of multiple appearances.
4. I Fought the Law, July 17, 2012, Dublin
A great response by Bruce to the pulling-the-plug debacle in London.
3. Just Like Fire Would, March 14, 2013, Brisbane
Only performed once on this tour, but will be on the forthcoming album and presumably will be played a bit more frequently next tour. Like “High Hopes,” a song that comes alive with the expanded version of the E Street Band.
2. Rockin’ All Over the World, Mönchengladbach, July 5, 2013
Bruce’s best use of a band-introduction song after he dropped “My City of Ruins” from the set. A great change of pace from “Twist and Shout,” which was becoming somewhat rote by the time the tour reached Europe in 2013.
1. Shout, June 3, 2013, Milan
Originally just a one-off request from a show in November 2012, this developed into a regular encore feature for the 2013 European leg of the tour. Sure, the “a little bit softer now/a little bit louder now” bit is silly, but silliness has long been a feature of Bruce’s encore.
Top 5 Most Unexpected Covers
“Twist and Shout” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” are a given each tour. These are the cover songs that nobody saw coming.
5. Drift Away, August 18, 2012, Foxboro
There were two much-beloved performances of this Dobie Gray classic in 1984, when Steve Van Zandt made guest appearances with the E Street Band, but never since. The power of Steve and Bruce reuniting in 1984 probably can’t be replicated, but that didn’t stop this from been a frequently seen sign request. Bruce had ignored all the signs, but then, one night, changed his mind.
4. Manifesto, September 12, 2013, Santiago
Bruce has long favored “local specials” in his shows, covering an artist whose hometown the band is playing in, or a song about that particular location. For his debut performance in Chile, Bruce tackled Victor Jara’s “Manifiesto.” Particularly notable: Bruce singing in Spanish. He’d tried a verse of “Across the Borderline” in Spanish at several shows in 1993, but never before an entire song in that language.
Official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNQm1Plu63k
3. Sociedade Alternativa, September 18, 2013, Sao Paulo
As the tour moved on to Brazil, Bruce upped things a notch: not only was he singing a song by Brazilian native Raul Sexias, he was doing it to open the show.
Official video: http://vimeo.com/74972181
2. The Weight, May 2, 2012, Newark
An unfortunate example of bad behavior being rewarded, a sign requesting something to honor Levon Helm’s death was held up at the front of the pit for most of this show. Bruce eventually took it, initially to the dismay of all reasonable fans.
The performance though, was stunning. The band pulled this off with no rehearsal, and the results speak to the combined musical knowledge of the players on that stage, in particular Roy, Charlie and Max and the horn section. Adding to the moment was the crowd participation, as surprising (they knew all the words!) as it was welcome.
1. When I Leave Berlin, May 30, 2012, Berlin
A seemingly out-of-the blue choice, as discussed here.
Played to open the show in Berlin, as a thank-you for the memorable German concerts of 2012, and released as an official video by Springsteen.
Top 5 Underplayed Songs
Songs played fewer than ten times on the tour that deserved to be regular features
5. Real World (played 1 time on the tour)
Bruce tried it twice in Cork on July 18, 2013, during his pre-set and again to open the encore. Both were a solo-piano arrangement. Sadly, he never tried to a full-band version, as the tools available to him with this incarnation of the E Street Band could have made this a showstopper.
4. Girls in Their Summer Clothes (2)
From the underrepresented Magic album, Bruce debuted a new, horn-highlighted arrangement in Gothenburg on July 27, 2012 and then proceeded to play it only one other time on the tour.
3. Mary’s Place (2)
Without band introductions or a long shtick about “building a house,” this is actually a great song and makes good use of the horns and singers while also allowing Bruce to have fun prowling around the stage.
Video from July 5, 2013 in Mönchengladbach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FPYgKARK4A
2. This Depression (7)
The times when Tom Morello was present to do the guitar solo were great, but as proven on September 21, 2012 in New Jersey, Nils could do that solo just as well and still maintain the attention of a stadium-sized crowd. “Jack of All Trades” was a hugely important song for the show, but this one seemed neglected in comparison. It’s a shame Bruce didn’t find a way to fit them both into the set.
1. Talk to Me (6)
In the middle of the third show of the tour, on March 23, 2012 in Tampa, Bruce spots a sign behind the stage and calls this one out to the band. It’s one of the biggest highlights of the show, and a crowd favorite each time it’s played. So why was it only done six times? A mystery.
Top 5 Songs Practiced in Soundcheck but Unplayed
Songs confirmed to have been rehearsed but were never played to a public audience during the tour.
5. My Father’s House, November 15, 2012, Omaha
The show in Omaha already included six songs from the Nebraska album, including the tour’s only performances of “Highway Patrolman” and “State Trooper.” Yet this song, the rarest of all from the Nebraska album, went unplayed, despite being on Bruce’s handwritten setlist.
4. One Step Up, March 26-27, 2013, Melbourne
The song made Bruce’s handwritten setlist during the second show in Melbourne and was practiced again in the soundcheck before the third night. It would’ve been the song’s first playing by the E Street Band since 1988.
3. City of Night, November 26, 2012, Vancouver
Another tantalizing possibility of material from The Promise that went unfulfilled this tour.
2. Can I Get A Witness, April 13, 2012, Detroit
Extensively rehearsed before the tour’s only stop in Detroit, it’s not quite clear what Bruce’s intentions were. This Motown classic could have been a logical replacement for the “Apollo Medley,” or perhaps a “local special” for the encore. Alas, this one gets filed away in the same category as Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” (planned for the August 21, 2008 show in Nashville) as songs that Bruce has never tried live despite being practiced at soundcheck.
1. County Fair, September 2, 2012, Philadelphia
Played not once, but twice, in a beautiful full band arrangement at the first of the two Labor Day weekend shows in Philadelphia. The big ameliorating factor: those lined up for the general admission pit on the field got to hear and see the band practicing this gem, as well as “TV Movie.”
Acknowledgements: thanks to all those who filmed shows (in particular: Dan French, “dvddubbingguy” and “The MagikRat”) for the great videos that were invaluable in conducting the research for and illustration of this article.