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.

Thoughts on the Apollo Show

Recapping from the earlier questions:

  • Is the band as well-rehearsed as we hope they are?

Yes! The performances were good and solid. The beginning of the set was extremely tight. Pacing wasn’t perfect and there are still a couple of transitions to improve on (Rocky Ground into Land of Hope and Dreams). These are minor complaints, though.

  • What, if anything gets played from “The Promise?”

Nothing. A product of the short set? Or does Bruce not think the material fits? I am hopeful that a longer, “full” show will still give us something from this record.

  • Does Bruce have some new ideas about how to use his back catalog among the new songs?

Yes! and No! Hopefully a full show will offer the chance to improve here.

My City of Ruins was an inspired choice and something I didn’t see coming. Masterful use of the back catalog.

The rest of the set though? Not really. Keeping “Sunny Day” in the set is basically inexcusable. I understand what the song does, and coming after Empty Sky and You’re Missing, the optimism and singalong made sense. That was ten years and three tours ago and now somehow the song just won’t go away. Bruce brought out Mary’s Place at the first rehearsal show in 2009 but then wisely decided to put it away and it was absent for the entire tour. We can only hope that the same thing happens here.

I quite enjoy Badlands, Tenth Avenue and The Rising and I embrace those songs as key to the Springsteen live show. It probably helps that they’re among his best songs. Sunny Day is not. Thunder Road seemed a bit miscast in its spot in the setlist.

  • Other notes and comments:

There is a new member of the band! On percussion and vocals. He/she even came down front to sing at one point. Now, if we could just get their name…

People actually left the show early. No, really. You reap what you sow; this is why you don’t hold back 75% of the house for VIPs. Audience sounded pretty good on the broadcast overall.

The beginning of the show (first eight songs) was an inspired and cohesive set. Rocky Ground-Land of Hope and Dreams-Tenth Avenue was a great way to end the main set. The middle? Well, let’s just say — this is why you have rehearsal shows. I think there is some rearranging to be done there.

It’s distinctly possible that The Way You Do the Things You Do, 634-5789 and Hold On, I’m Coming were unique to the Apollo set. Fair enough, but hopefully Bruce doesn’t forget those performances and considers putting a cover or two in the set (perhaps in the encores).

Apollo Show Preview

The tour may not officially open until a week from Sunday in Atlanta but tonight is the first proper show of the 2012 incarnation of the E Street Band.

Kicking things off at a closed show is unusual, but not unprecedented; tonight may be most comparable to the “dress-rehearsal” performance before the 1992 tour began.  The selection of the venue and the live broadcast certainly are great publicity tools and make good sense given that Bruce’s new songs aren’t going to get any substantial radio play anywhere else.  Hopefully lessons were learned after the debacle that was the Sirius broadcast of the July 4, 2008 show and this show is broadcast in full, without “commentary” or interruption.

That the show is essentially a private party on behalf of a for-profit corporation is a bit stranger.  While Sirius did announce that they will “make a contribution” to WhyHunger, that announcement is merely tangential to the existence of the show itself. It seems fundraising opportunities may well have been passed up here.

The various contests run to win tickets to the show will account for approximately 25% of the house and it’s my hope that will increase the chances of having a good show.  It may not be an audience of die-hards at Convention Hall, but it’s better than nothing.

We may never know exactly why Bruce and his management kept changing their minds about whether or not to do public rehearsal shows but there are some questions that I do hope are answered tonight:

  • Is the band as well-rehearsed as we hope they are?

It would be fair to note that the first shows of the past few tours were notably sub-par.  Given that they were billed as “rehearsals,” this was certainly more than acceptable, if not expected.  On a live broadcast, the stakes are a bit different.

  • What, if anything gets played from “The Promise?”

Stevie may have mentioned in an interview that they really have “two new albums” but, all due respect to him, he doesn’t make the setlist.  The presence of the horn section seems to cry out for “Talk to Me” or “Gotta Get That Feeling.”  I think Save My Love is a likely candidate to be in the set most nights.

  • Does Bruce have some new ideas about how to use his back catalog among the new songs?

In some ways, this is the most exciting part of the revealing of the new set.  I fully expect “Born to Run” and “Badlands” to be present but with this new tour there’s a lot of potential to find new and interesting things to play.

The great hope here is that Bruce sees fit to avoid things that have become tired and played out — most notably “American Land” and “Waiting on a Sunny Day” — but also remembers he has a bunch of good songs from albums other than Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town.

With the gospel influences in the new music and having Curtis and Cindy in the band again, some the Human Touch and Lucky Town material could fit well — think “Roll of the Dice,” “Leap of Faith,” or even a full band “Real World.”

The Rising and Magic material, with the exception of two or three songs, has been underplayed over the past few tours.  I think “Living in the Future” could work again and would fit topically (perhaps without the rap).  “Mary’s Place” seems a perfect choice for the horns and would also work well, if that infernal “building a house” monologue is dropped and the song played straight.

“Reason to Believe” was an inspired choice of a back-catalog song to become a regular in the setlist two tours ago; “Seeds” was in the same spot on the last tour.  Perhaps “This Hard Land” would fit in that spot for 2012, for a shot of measured optimism to accompany the themes of salvation and redemption on Side B of Wrecking Ball.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – Friday, 3/2/12

My report on Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Friday appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon can be found at Backstreets.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Ticket

A couple of other notes:

No Curtis and Cindy tonight.  There was just no more room on the stage for anyone else, after Morello and the horns had already been added.

Death to My Hometown comes across a lot stronger without the faux-Irish accent, pennywhistle and “…death to my hometown, boys” line.  I understand the musical reference but he’s not leading a band of Irish workers against their Protestant oppressors in the mid-nineteenth century.  The horns give it more soul and the song comes across truer.

NBC Security and Bruce’s bodyguard did not seem enthused by Bruce’s suggestion that the crowd join him on stage.  It was reminiscent of several of the songs from the Carousel House performance in 2010 with the audience surrounding Bruce.  I am still surprised from time to time at his growing comfort level with physical interaction with his audience, whether something like this or the crowd surfing stunt we saw at the end of the last tour.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – Monday, 2/27/12

The band is extremely well rehearsed.  Obviously things are going to be a bit different in a cramped TV studio than the big arena stage but the performances were tight and energetic.

The intro to Wrecking Ball (with a big chord/percussion introduction) will help it go over better in the arenas, rather than starting with just Bruce’s guitar strumming.

After the Grammies it seemed obvious that We Take Care of Our Own would open the show but having heard the two songs in order (albeit slightly disjointedly, with the commercial break in between) it may work better to have Wrecking Ball open and then We Take Care of Our Own as the second song.  Similar to the pairing of The Rising and Lonesome Day at the top of the setlist on the Rising tour.  It’ll probably also serve as a better lead-in to the third song of the show, the inevitable “wild card” slot of an older song.

No horn section present which was a slight disappointment but the Late Night stage is extremely cramped given the number of people in the band.  I still hold to my prediction that we’ll see something with a saxophone on Friday night.

Curtis and Cindy don’t have a huge vocal role on either We Take Care of Our Own or Wrecking Ball but they are being given more to do – playing percussion, plus Curtis now is doing the triggering of the loops on We Take Care of Our Own.

[Update: Video now available!]



Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

The “Springsteen week” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon makes a lot of good sense for album promotion.

In some ways, this is merely a matter of convenience, as Bruce and the band aren’t going to go to LA to appear on Leno or Conan. Bruce needs no help getting the people who watch Letterman to buy tickets to his show — or his records, which leaves Fallon as the remaining choice.

It’s a good choice, though.  Fallon’s target demographics are a lot younger, and it seems a big part of Bruce’s touring activity these days is about ego and legacy.  He may never have the wide multi-generational appeal of U2 or Prince but in the reunion era, there has been at least a moderate increase of younger fans at shows, seemingly there of their own volition.  Maybe this will help build on that, even just a little.

Bold prediction time:

Two new songs on Monday: We Take Care of Our Own and Shackled and Drawn.

Two songs on Friday: Wrecking Ball and something from the back catalog.  One of the big hits (Glory Days, Dancing in the Dark) is a possibility but I think we’ll see something from the set of songs that Bruce sees as central to his show – Promised Land or perhaps Born to Run.

Plus the comedy bit.  Let’s hope it’s funnier than “Whip My Hair” was.