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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.