They’re Here! Springsteen’s Official Live Show Downloads Now Available!

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real…”

And they have!  The day is finally here: one can download an official, high-quality recording of Bruce Springsteen’s live shows.  The E Street Band played in Cape Town, South Africa on January 26, 2014, and late in the evening of January 29, 2014 the first recording was made available – at the reasonable price of $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC.

Instant reaction:

It’s a good mix.  A nice balance of instruments, and a good amount of audience.  Maybe Bruce’s vocals are a little low, but this is the first time they’re doing this.  One imagines a little tweaking to the mix will probably happen over the first few shows.

Lots of little things can be heard in the mix that might get missed at some of the shows: a great guitar part by Tom Morello at the end of the “Death to My Hometown,” or the backing singers in “Out in the Street,” or the baritone sax of Ed Manion adding to the bottom end in “Spirit in the Night.”  Nice lyric change by Bruce in “Hungry Heart” to “…here I am in Cape Town again.”

(And that’s just from the first seven songs!)

Total Disaster as Springsteen Tries to Sell Recordings of Live Shows

UPDATE, JANUARY 22:

Today, Backstreets breaks more news on this subject, and it’s unequivocally positive:

“Backstreets has just confirmed that, in addition to the USB wristband sales model, Springsteen will also be offering direct audio downloads through his official Live Nation online store following each show on the upcoming leg, with no physical purchase required. There will be two options for audio formats: MP3 (320 kbps) or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). Pricing will match Pearl Jam’s, at $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC. Hard to say fairer than that.”

(Emphasis mine)

Needless to say, this is simply fantastic news, and largely addresses each of the issues raised below with Springsteen’s plans as originally revealed.  The original article remains below, with several parts of it now gladly moot.

Original Article:

Last week, Backstreets breaks the news that Bruce Springsteen is finally ready to sell official live recordings of his concerts, and he’s planning on doing so on his upcoming tour.  Jon Landau, Bruce’s longtime manager, is quoted:  “We’re trying to keep the surprises coming…I think we are.”

No kidding.

Today, the program is revealed:
1. Fans will have to buy a “wristband” with a USB drive attached in order to obtain the recording of the show.
2. For each wristband purchased, they can download one show.  Want 10 different shows?  You’ve got to buy 10 wristbands.
3. The downloads are only offered in MP3 format.
4. The cost: $40 per wristband, plus tax and shipping.

The only accurate characterization of this program is that is a massive blunder on the part of Springsteen, and shows a total lack of understanding of his fanbase and of technology generally.

The Price
The $40 price is so far out of line with the industry standard as to be baffling.  Pearl Jam charges $10 per show in MP3 format; $15 per show in FLAC format; $16.98 for physical CDs and $20 for FLAC-HD.   Similar prices are charged by Metallica.  John Fogerty.  Phish.

Plus tax and shipping.  That’s right, because the only way to get the recording is on the silly USB drive, a buyer has to also pay for shipping (minimum charge $8.95 on an item that requires about $2.00 of postage) in order to get the recording.

And the wristband?  A 2 GB USB drive is worth maybe $5.  Assuming the buyer even wants one.

Of course Bruce is free to charge whatever he wants for his music, as is his right as an artist.  As consumers and fans, we are free to call him out on it.  This is just greedy.

The Quality
MP3s are not “high-quality” audio.  This is not up for debate.  Advertising these as “high-quality audio recordings,” as listed in the store on Bruce’s official website, is insulting.

It’s perfectly fair to charge a different rate for MP3s and FLAC-HD, as the artists mentioned above do.  Offering MP3s only is stupid.  Why would Bruce not want his fans to be able to hear the music in the best possible quality?  It simply makes no sense.

The Wristband
The vast majority of people buying the shows do not want or need a wristband with a USB drive attached thereto.

If the shows are going to be downloaded from the internet, there is no sensible reason whatsoever to make it necessary to ship a USB drive through the mail in order to do so!  One wonders how much of the price could be reduced simply by eliminating this nonsense.

The Fundamental Lack of Understanding of the Fanbase (and Technology)
The takeaway here is that Bruce and/or his advisors, including Jon Landau, simply do not understand Bruce’s fanbase.

Official recordings of live shows is something that Bruce’s fanbase has been clamoring for for years and years.  There are tens of thousands of fans who want high-quality recordings of live shows who would be buying two or three or five or ten shows each if the price was fair and the format useful.  There are hundreds of fans (and possibly more) who would buy every single show of the tour if he was doing this properly.

$40 for MP3s and a pointless USB drive is just terrible.  One is left to wonder how something the fans have wanted for so long could have been implemented so terribly.

What to Expect on Bruce Springsteen’s “High Hopes” 2014 tour

Now that Bruce Springsteen’s new album High Hopes has been released, what can we look forward to on the upcoming tour?


Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Tuesday will be Bruce’s fourth appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Playing “High Hopes” is guaranteed. The second song is less certain, but the prediction here is “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Presumably Bruce will also return in another comedy bit as well. I wouldn’t dare predict what is in store there.


Starting the Tour Overseas, in a New Market
With no rehearsal shows scheduled or expected, this tour will wind up as the first time in the Reunion era in which the core setlist is unveiled at the first show of the tour (January 26 in Cape Town). In the past, rehearsal shows — or defacto rehearsal shows, such as the Apollo Theater performance — have served as the first look at the basic set structure that Bruce will use.

Also new is that Bruce is starting his tour overseas. The only time the E Street Band started a tour overseas was the Reunion tour in 1999, but they did have two rehearsal shows in the US prior to doing so.

Further complicating things is that Bruce will be starting the tour in a market in which he’s never played. It stands to reason that the first night in Cape Town will resemble the shows Bruce played in Mexico City and South America last tour, with perhaps songs from High Hopes instead of Wrecking Ball. It would not at all be surprising to see Bruce choose to include the key songs from his back catalog (“The Promised Land,” “Prove It All Night,” “Thunder Road,” “Born in the USA”) in the South African shows rather than focusing on the new material. Accordingly, a true representation of the core setlist for the tour might not appear until Bruce reaches Australia.


How much material from High Hopes makes the set?
The early shows on each of Bruce’s recent tours have all included a large amount of new material. 11 of the 15 songs from The Rising were in the core setlist; 8 of 12 from Magic, and 7 of 11 from Wrecking Ball. Although many of the songs were almost immediately dropped, Bruce did even have 6 songs from the album in the set on the opening night of the Working on a Dream tour.

A similar number of new songs can be expected at the start of this tour. Some of the predictions are easy, as the E Street Band has already played several of the songs from this album live. “High Hopes” is a near-certainty for the first song of the show. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is a definite, and “American Skin (41 Shots)” likely. “Just Like Fire Would” seems certain for the Australian shows, and may well turn up in South Africa (and elsewhere) too.

Bruce discussed playing “Heaven’s Wall,” “Frankie Fell in Love” and “Dream Baby Dream” in the interview recently broadcast on E Street Radio; they all seem logical contenders. I would expect these seven songs to be the “new” songs that are performed most often in concert.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bruce try “Hunter of Invisible Game” and/or “The Wall” at the start of the tour but it would seem only a question of time before they would be dropped from the show. In the past, the quieter and slower new songs (“Magic,” “The Wrestler,” “Jack of All Trades”) were all tried at the start of the tour but eventually dropped from the set. “Empty Sky” is the only recent example of such a song being played every night of a tour.


What’s the song that gets played once and only once?
History tells us that there will be one song from this album that will be played exactly once on the tour, and never again. It was “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” on the Rising tour; “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” on the Magic tour; “What Love Can Do” on the Working on a Dream tour and “You’ve Got It” on the Wrecking Ball tour.

The prediction here is that this time, it’ll be “Harry’s Place.” There’s a lot of different sonic layers in the song that could be hard to replicate on stage (Morello’s guitar, the sax, the distorted vocal); the fact that the song’s time has arguably passed (Bruce has dated the song as commentary on the “Bush years” in America); and the “x-factor” that Bruce might be a little bit uncomfortable singing the expletives in concert.


Album shows?
One would think these are a thing of the past but they can’t entirely be ruled out either. With Bruce returning to Australian markets he played just one year ago, those cities may experience something similar to what happened in Europe this past summer. If one was hoping to hear a Born to Run and/or a Born in the USA album show, the stadium dates in Melbourne and the outdoor dates in Hunter Valley are the most likely candidates. It’s not very likely to happen, but certainly not impossible either. As always, the hope here is that Bruce doesn’t do them.


What gets played from Bruce’s other recent albums?
Not much, in all likelihood. One of the few disappointments of Bruce’s busy touring schedule is that with each successive new album and tour, he has generally ignored his other recent material.

On the Magic tour, only “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” remained from The Rising as regulars in the set. Only “Radio Nowhere” from Magic showed up on the Working on a Dream tour with any regularity, and Magic songs have been sparsely played since. Essentially nothing at all from Working on a Dream was played on the Wrecking Ball tour.

“Death to My Hometown” and “Wrecking Ball” were the two songs from Wrecking Ball played most frequently and seem the two most likely to get played again. “Shackled and Drawn” probably has a shot too. Sadly, we’re unlikely to ever see “We Are Alive,” “Jack of All Trades,” “Rocky Ground” or “Easy Money” played live again in any meaningful quantity.


Does anything from the back catalog get retired for this tour?
Bruce is going to absolutely play “Dancing in the Dark” when he goes to South Africa, but the hope here is that he gives it rest thereafter.

It’s been in the set essentially non-stop since the very beginning of the Rising tour. It might be his biggest hit, but he has other songs that are just as well known and would work fine in the encore to give “Dancing” a well-deserved break.

After 2+ tours of the song being played every night, Bruce finally dropped “American Land” out of the show on the second night of the Wrecking Ball tour, and the song has made only occasional appearances since. One hopes he has the same good sense with “Waiting on a Sunny Day” on this tour.

It will be curious to see if Bruce elects to de-emphasize “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” on this tour. After being an every-night song and feature of the set on the Reunion tour, it made only four appearances on the Rising tour. A similar approach may be taken again on this upcoming tour.

Wrapping up the 2012-2013 Wrecking Ball Tour, Part 4: “Top 5s”

The last of the four parts of the tour wrap-up: a selection of “Top 5” lists, including the best tributes to Clarence Clemons, missed opportunities, and my favorite shows of the tour.

The prior installments in this series were:

Part 1 (Statistics) – The basic numbers, show length, attendance, cities and locales.
Part 2 (Statistics) – Album breakdown, opening and closing songs, and the full song list and more.
Part 3 (“Top 5s”) – Best solo performances, covers, one-time only performances and more.

Part 4 (“Top 5s”):

Top 5 New Songs
The best live performances of the songs from Wrecking Ball. (“Land of Hope and Dreams” was disqualified from this list, given that it had already been a live favorite for the past decade). Video links are intended as representative examples.

5. Rocky Ground
It’s as if the album version was exponentially enhanced with this band. Bruce never seemed more committed on stage than he did when singing this song.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfL6yjs4QvY (March 29, 2012, Philadelphia)

4. Jack of All Trades
Curt Ramm on trumpet and Nils Lofgren (or, occasionally, Tom Morello) on the guitar solo at the end was always magnificent.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLs_vReZ2hM (May 28, 2013, Hanover)

3. Easy Money
This was a great change of pace, with band members moving around – the horn section playing drums; Steve taking a rare guitar solo, and Bruce and Patti’s theatrics, on the front ramps, acting out the lyrics.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZe0bvLn_nk (March 29, 2012, Philadelphia)

2. We Take Care of Our Own
The best regular opening song since “My Love Will Not Let You Down” on the Reunion tour.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkjCfGEN5NE (July 4, 2012, Paris)

1. Shackled and Drawn
It seems hard to believe that this was actually the first of the new songs dropped from the set, three shows into the tour. It would return as a regular when Patti Scialfa dropped off the tour, and earned its spot in the center of each night’s show. It worked because there were so many different things for the various members of the band to do – Bruce’s acoustic strumming; Nils’ holding down the rhythm on electric guitar; Steve’s banjo, the horn riff; and of course, Cindy coming down front to trade off on vocals with Bruce. The big dance line at the end of the song may have been corny but the audiences consistently loved it. “Shackled” even made several appearances as the opening song, one of the only times Bruce has ever used a second “new song” to open shows on one of his tours.


5 Biggest Omissions
Songs that Bruce really should have tried this tour
5. 30 Days Out
If “High Hopes” could be found from the dustiest corner of Springsteen’s back catalog, there’s hope for this one on the next tour. A great guitar solo is lurking within, just waiting for Springsteen (or Morello) to explode with it on stage.

4. It’s a Shame
Another missed opportunity to use the horns on material from The Promise. The horn players had charts for this in their books and were ready if Bruce ever called for this.

3. Out of Work
Not even done when Gary “US” Bonds showed up to guest. It’s an obscure song, but it’s upbeat and would be an easy singalong, perfect for the encores or perhaps instead of the ever-present “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.”

2. I Wanna Be With You
One of the most underrated songs from Tracks. It was a powerful opening song on the Reunion tour and has been surprisingly missing since.

1. Livin’ in the Future
Had (and continues to have) topical relevance and would sound great with the horns and singers in the expanded E Street Band.


Top 5 Tributes to Clarence Clemons
5. Savin’ Up, November 19, 2012, Denver.
In particular, Bruce’s hilarious story about having “some of the best nights of my life” at Big Man’s West and his dedication to Clarence.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyOahrmUH2Q

4. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
During the song’s tour debut, in Omaha on November 15, 2012, Bruce called for the song without realizing what a key part Clarence’s vocals were to the song. Jake Clemons and Eddie Manion shared the sax solo, but Bruce hadn’t ever considered Clarence’s “ho-ho-ho” part.

Particularly at the beginning of the tour, it was clear that Bruce gave a lot of thought about how to handle Clarence’s absence during the show. A similar moment happened the first time Bruce called for “Out in the Street,” and he had to avoid doing the “meet me out in the street” call-and-response, as Clarence wasn’t there to do his signature line.

This night, in Omaha, Bruce was again caught off guard and his shout out to Clarence was particularly moving.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRv0p1Yb0cU

3. My City of Ruins
Bringing this song back for the band introductions and the “if we’re here, and you’re here, then they’re here” line was a great reinvention of a classic from Bruce’s back catalog. The tributes changed as the tour progressed, and perhaps none was more poignant than Bruce singing lyrics from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” as he stood next to the spotlight on Clarence’s place on stage.
Video from Kansas City, November 17, 2012 (at 4:50): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGuhpduZrfg

2. Thunder Road
Jake plays the opening bars of the sax solo and then the entire horn section joins in. This was single best way Bruce adapted one of his classic songs to deal with Clarence’s absence.
Video from Paris, July 5, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdyBhSIHrXA

1. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
A lasting memory of this tour will be Bruce stopping the song to have the crowd cheer for Clarence. Turning the traditional “moment of silence” on his head, Bruce called for “moment of noise” as a tribute video was played on the screens.

But if one was watching Bruce closely (or was close to the stage) you may have sent the most moving tribute of all, underscoring Clarence’s absence, as Bruce sings “When Scooter” (Bruce points to himself) “and the Big Man” (Bruce points to the sky) “bust this city in half” (Bruce does an air high-five to his missing friend).
Example video from Prague, July 11, 2012 (at 4:20): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gti3SqM8N2s


Top 5 Surprises
5. The Price You Pay, July 18, 2013, Cork.
One of several requests granted to dedicated fans bringing signs. Remarkable because the band had deliberately rehearsed in secret (rather than during soundcheck) to avoid spoiling the surprise. The same approach was taken with several other requests, including Fade Away in Belfast on July 20, 2013 and Wild Billy’s Circus Story in Kilkenny on July 28, 2013.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blagg8RRMEo

4. A five song, pre-show acoustic set in Helsinki, July 31, 2012. It wasn’t the first time Bruce had done this – he played “For You” before the second show in Los Angeles in April – but it was the length of the set, Bruce’s interaction with the crowd, and the variety of songs performed – that sets this apart.
Blinded by the Light: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vBUreX9ENE

3. Jungleland, Gothenburg, July 28, 2012. An audible at the very end of the night broke the ice on a song that seemed otherwise destined for retirement.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLs_vReZ2hM

2. Paul McCartney joins the band for “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” in London, July 14, 2012. The biggest surprise guest appearance since Bob Dylan (and, in all fairness, a much performance than the one Dylan turned in).

1. The return of the “’78 Intro” to “Prove It All Night.” Barcelona, May 17, 2012.
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFZrD4hoKeo


My Top 5 Favorite Shows of the Tour:
5. London, July 14, 2012
A legendary show for any number of reasons: the curfew debacle, the Paul McCartney guest appearance, and even the nonsense about Hyde Park being turned to mud and trucks bringing in woodchips by the ton to cover the field. Yet when considering where this show falls, it’s important to separate the musical performance from everything else. Of course a giant field is not the right place for a Bruce show, and the sound was too quiet, the screens too small, the weather uncomfortable and the ending infuriating.

As for the actual music? It was fantastic. July 2012 could well have been the peak of this tour on a performance level. It was a well crafted set, with Bruce finding a good balance of new songs, rarities (including “Take ‘Em As They Come”) and crowd favorites. Tom Morello’s contributions were excellent and of course the magnitude of the McCartney appearance can’t be understated, no matter what happened during the last song.

4. Rochester, October 31, 2012
Once the postponement of this show was announced, resulting in Bruce’s first Halloween-night show in twenty years, it was a pretty safe bet that this would be a special night. (The venue – a small arena in the Northeast US – didn’t hurt either). Bruce didn’t disappoint, of course, and the special songs for Halloween were great fun. What set this show apart, though, was the thoughtful setlist as Bruce was clearly responding to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. It was a dark, intense show, with standout versions of“Atlantic City,” “Downbound Train,” “Jackson Cage,” and possibly the best ““Drive All Night” of the tour.

3. Omaha, November 15, 2012
“Atlantic City” might have been a safe bet perhaps, but Bruce had visited Omaha four years earlier and hadn’t played a single thing from the Nebraska album during that show. Even those who had heard the soundcheck couldn’t have expected Bruce to pull out so many things from his 1982 album. At a time in the tour before Bruce started doing full-album shows, there was a real unknown factor as this show progressed – could Bruce actually play all of the songs from the album? He didn’t quite get there, of course, but the ones he did get to were highlights, including an intense “State Trooper” on solo guitar and the rock arrangement of “Reason to Believe” to open the show. This show was not just about the rarities, either: Bruce did an excellent job of weaving the Nebraska songs in with the new songs as well as choice selections from the back catalog, including “Trapped” and “Backstreets.”

2. Turku, May 8, 2013
This was the show, perhaps more than any other, where Bruce proved that he could craft a show that worked both for the person seeing the band for the very first time and the person seeing the band for the hundredth time. Of course the hits (“The River,” “Born in the USA,” “Dancing in the Dark”) were well-represented, but so were all the other corners of Bruce’s song catalog, including the woefully-underrepresented Magic and The Promise albums. “Wages of Sin” was one of the finest moments of the tour.

1. Paris, July 5, 2012
The gold standard for the tour. A hot night in every imaginable way: the temperature inside Bercy; in the quality of the crowd, a melting pot of diehards from across Europe (and elsewhere), and in the band’s performance.

The surprises this night never seemed to stop, beginning with Bruce cueing Max to start the “We Take Care of Our Own” drum beat at the top of the show before crashing into “The Ties That Bind” instead. There were the repeated audibles during the opening run, and then not only a solo-piano “For You” but also following it with a magnificent “Racing in the Street.” The setlist was varied, but retained the shape and form of the Wrecking Ball show. “We Take Care of Our Own” from this night is arguably the definitive version. Rarities and new songs alike never sounded as good as they did this night.