Looking Back at the River Tour Announcement
No matter how Bruce will refer to it in the press or on television, a tour exclusively for the purpose of looking back at an album released thirty-five years ago is a strange thing to be selling. Especially when his legacy as an artist is built on having relevant and new things to say, rather than resting and relying solely on his past glories.
Having “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band” on the bill still sells plenty of tickets, and given the brisk sales, there certainly was no need for Bruce to go make specific efforts at reaching out to the fanbase in advance of tickets going on sale. Yet, he did so anyway, with a phone call to E Street Radio, and an interview with Backstreets. His justification for the tour certainly made sense: he wanted to tour with the band again, and that he wasn’t sure that his next project would be one that he would tour with the band.
His assertions about the artistic value of playing the entire sequence of an album in a concert are a tougher sell, however. He professed to like performing that specific sequence, given its importance in the creation of the record and the time spent making it. The point is well taken: the importance of the album sequence is undeniable. He even commented that “It’s very strange, I’ve always thought, that the first thing that people do, when they come out on tour, is they break the album completely up. They play a few songs here, a few songs there… it’s actually very unusual, considering all the time and the care you take in the sequencing and in the content of the record.”
What he failed to address, however is that this is a thirty-five year old sequence he intends to play each night of the upcoming tour. He might find it “strange” to “break the album completely up” on tour, but yet he’s never seen fit to do otherwise each time he has new material to play. Even during the times when he’s had a fixed setlist in mind – such as those that Backstreets pointed out – on the Tunnel of Love tour or at the beginning of the Rising tour, those sequences have always been a mix of the old and the new: the story being told is told more effectively when aided by songs from the past.
Further, this plan stands in sharp relief to one of his most frequent metaphors for his performing career: the ongoing “conversation” he has with his audience. Bruce isn’t bringing a new sequence or a new topic to the conversation, and accordingly, the conversation threatens to become repetitive. One hopes the repetition he’s going to be doing this tour won’t also make the larger conversation boring or irrelevant.
What To Expect on the River Tour
In a tip of the cap for doing things correctly, credit is indeed due to Bruce and his staff for being upfront about things. Unlike in 2009, we know exactly who is going to be in the band for the tour, as it was announced before tickets went on sale. Unlike in 2013, we know exactly which shows (all of them!) will have an album sequence, before tickets are sold. Unlike 2012, all of the tour dates were announced at once, so fans could make their plans accordingly.
The big mystery that is left is the non-album portions of the setlist. Bruce’s comments before the tickets went on sale suggested a willingness to play some of the outtakes from the River album, even suggesting explicitly in his call to Sirius that “We’ll pick out the best of our outtakes for the end of the show, and along with obviously, some favorites.”
Bruce’s words notwithstanding, it is still fair to take a believe-it-when-we-see-it approach to Bruce playing outtakes live. On the Reunion tour, Bruce failed to emphasize the Tracks boxset in an meaningful manner, many times playing only one song from it per night, a habit that did not change in the Reunion era. Despite releasing eighteen new songs on The Promise in 2010, the songs from that album were essentially ignored live.
A quick look at the numbers shows Bruce’s general ambivalence to the River outtakes. They basically fall into four categories:
- River Outtakes that Bruce has played with some regularity, on occasion, in the past:
Roulette, Where the Bands Are, Be True, From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), Loose Ends
- River Outtakes that Bruce has played a few times – the “true rarities:”
Take ‘Em As They Come, I Wanna Be With You, Held Up Without a Gun
- River Outtakes that Bruce has played exactly once, and never again:
Dollhouse, Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own, Restless Nights, Living on the Edge of the World
- River Outtakes that have never been played live:
Classics and Warhorses
The specific focus of this tour on the River album might well change the calculus, but the prediction here is that performances of live Springsteen “classics” such as “Badlands,” “Prove It All Night,” “Thunder Road,” and “The Promised Land” are far more likely to show up rather than copious amounts of River outtakes.
Indeed, the recent shot of the rehearsal setlist that was posted on the official Springsteen twitter account suggested a wholly unadventurous approach to the non-River songs for the tour. Here’s hoping that was merely an early draft and not indicative of what Bruce will be playing all tour.
The song after “Wreck on the Highway” in Pittsburgh on January 16 offers perhaps the most intrigue of all. Will Bruce feel compelled to break out “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” yet again, or will he finally rest that song and figure out something else new to play there? Fingers remained crossed here that it will be the latter, and that he does follow through on his plan to create some differences in the various shows by indeed finding spots for those outtakes to finally get played a bit more frequently.
Opening Songs and Setlist Rotation
It is fair to hope that the opening song of the show may well be a chance to hear an outtake; Bruce has never once started any of his “album shows” – not even the one time he did The River previously – with the album itself. A show opening sequence of “Meet Me in the City” followed by something the audience will know (such as “Badlands” or “Prove It All Night”) would make a lot of sense as an introduction to the album.
If Bruce does plan on playing a good portion of his “classics,” then the opening song may well be the best hope for a change in the set from night to night.
Will Bruce play something as a tribute on Saturday night? The prediction here is that he will, with the opening spot of the encore the most likely place in the set for it. “Rebel Rebel” is the straightforward-rock-song that would certainly make plenty of sense. Yet “Modern Love” may well be the best choice for the band: a lively piano part, call-and-response vocals, and a great sax solo (here’s hoping Jake’s up to the task). It’s right in the E Street Band’s wheelhouse and would make a worthy tribute.