Friday, June 29, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Etihad Stadium

Friday, 22 June 2012. One week ago. It was another rainy day in Manchester. Tonight capped off an amazing week of shows. Third time, and possibly quite a while before I get to see Bruce again live, so I wasn't gonna let the rain and cold spoil my mood. The 'night 2' rule was in place for the Manchester gig, and even though it was at a different venue, I knew Bruce would change up the setlist quite a lot from the previous night. After all, lots of hardcore fans would be traveling to this show. So how much better was Manchester? Sunderland last night was a brilliant show. It had everything you'd come to expect from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, and then more. It was essentially a baptism; the Boss gave us a renewed sense of faith (in fact he does everytime we see him live). The crowd wasn't too bad either, and it sure as hell beat Hyde Park '09, but I felt there was a bit of energy lacking on the floor, and that was preventing Bruce and the band from putting on an outstanding show, or rather, a memorable show, one that would stand out from the rest of the shows of this tour thus far, and one that would be talked about in years to come.
Now, the Etihad gig was a memorable show. It was like a thousand times better than Stadium Of Light. Seriously. For those same tunes played tonight, their performances were notches above the previous night's. Bruce's voice held up well too. I won't go into detail about every single song. But the moment the band went into No Surrender instead of We Take Care Of Own as the second song, I didn't doubt for a second that tonight was gonna be ultra-special. There was an electricity in the air that I didn't feel in Sunderland. And it was all thanks to the crowd. The stadium was much more packed. At the Stadium Of Light, there was still a lot of space to move around at the back of the floor. Not here in Manchester. Almost everyone, including those way up in the upper stands were out of their seats and dancing. No one on the floor seemed deterred by the dismal weather. And this must have sparked something in Bruce and the band to give it their all tonight. They were much more loose. It made Sunderland seem like merely a warm-up for Manchester. During My City Of Ruins, Bruce said one thing he learned the last time he was here was that there were two football teams. This resulted in a mix of cheers and boos.
After the staple, Spirit In The Night, came a small barrage of the horns out of tune from one another. Fucking E Street Shuffle!! Played exactly like on the 1974 record, with an added Bruce solo and the drum/percussion duel. After the usual Jack Of All Trades came the highest point of the show, which lasted for the next half an hour or so. Atlantic City. I was brought up on the Live In NYC version (the first album that got me into Bruce), so yeah, definitely great to finally hear it live. The beginning of the next song didn't sound very familiar, as professor Roy Bittan played the opening notes. After ten seconds, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was the fucking 1978 intro to Prove It All Night. Not to over-hype the whole thing, but I felt like I unintentionally stumbled upon the live Springsteen holy grail. Bruce's sloppily excellent guitar solo, matched with Roy's underlying piano and Max's drums created a glorious sound that had a hypnotizing effect on me. The intro lasted for at least three minutes, before the band exploded into the song. And then the crowd exploded (before that, other than those in the pit, most weren't sure what they were hearing exactly). I almost got whiplash. Bruce let Nils take closing solo. Thanks to the fan in the pit who requested this.
Two Hearts might have been another request too. Again, I was schooled on the Live In NYC album. Outstanding live. The crowd were really into this. Bruce and Little Steven did the little Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell It Takes Two extended outtro, which certainly made my day. It looked like Steve was having more fun than anyone else on that stage, so Bruce decided to call an audible: "Stevie double-header!". You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) kept the audience on their toes, including a hilarious dialogue between Bruce and Stevie. Lo and behold, it also featured the "Hey you, get out of the car!" line from its very early unreleased incarnation only found on bootleg. And the fun just continued on into Darlington County, subbing in for Working On The Highway from the previous night, complete with the Honky Tonk Woman intro. Yet another great Jake Clemons solo in the books.
This time on Waitin' On A Sunny Day, Bruce brought up onstage a twelve, thirteen year-old boy from the extreme right side of the pit. He wore a pretty cool t-shirt. And he sang the chorus as if he had been rehearsing for this moment a long time. And at the end, he lifted his arms up, exclaiming "E Street Band!!" into the mike. Fucking awesome, this kid. After Waitin', the band stopped and I knew we weren't gonna get The Promised Land. Holy shit, it was Save My Love!! Only played for the third time so far. Bruce dedicated it to those who traveled far and wide to be here tonight. At this point in the tour, getting anything from The Promise album is always a special thing, because they seldom play anything from there. There was an extended outtro with a new horns arrangement. If this weren't enough, Bruce sat by the piano next, and churned out The Promise (fourth time this tour). I was so excited I was speechless then. Just fucking amazing. I was glad there were no drunks or loud-talkers around me, so I was able to soak in every second of it.
Tonight's Land Of Hope And Dreams seemed more transcendent. It felt like the greatest church gathering ever; we were the congregation, almost 60,000 strong, and Bruce was the most charismatic preacher ever. I will never be able to listen to Land the same way again now. I really thought we were gonna get Rocky Ground and Born In The U.S.A. this time, but we had again Thunder Road going into Born To Run. I'll take the pairing of two of the greatest crafted rock songs ever made by man any day. Bruce gave Hungry Heart a rest and let out Bobby Jean, another crowd-favorite. Then came the fifth and final song off The River, the ever-delightful Cadillac Ranch. Haven't heard this one in donkey ages. In fact, I didn't listen to any Springsteen music for more than a week prior to the shows; a little 'superstition' of mine, but also to psyche myself up. 
Tonight's Dancing In The Dark was much longer. Bruce brought a young lady up who requested to dance with Jake. It was very funny, because I believed she was trying to do it like Courtney Cox, but ended up with something that resembled more of an aerobics move than a dance. Anyway, an even funnier moment was when while this was happening, Bruce picked up this plum lady dressed in this one-piece union jack pajamas (!) to dance with him. Smart move dressing outrageously; there's no way Bruce wouldn't see you under his nose. It was nice to see her so ecstatic onstage. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out here was also much longer. Bruce, already drenched from the off-and-on rainfall, stood on Roy's piano, and did a striptease, a tour premiere in itself! It started becoming funny when his vest got stuck in his jeans halfway, and he tried to force it off to no avail. And damn, he looked fucking fit as hell in his tight grey t-shirt.
At the end of Tenth, Bruce stood in a fighting stance, fists up, ready for another rumble with the Manchester crowd. The stadium was more pumped up than it had ever been. I was damn exhausted, physically and mentally, but I was fully ready for another forty-five minutes, if they so wished to carry on. Twist & Shout was a number everyone knew, Springsteen fan or not. You just could not listen and not groove to it, especially with the E Street Band playing. Final LOL moment was when Curt Ramm, when running down to the stage to do his trumpet solo, slipped and fell. He probably didn't find it so amusing, but Bruce could barely contain himself. He got back up perfectly unscathed (Bruce made a reference to the 'flying trumpeter' at the closing of Isle Of Wight Festival on Sunday [link]). The song seemed to go on forever. There was even a twist of Louie Louie added for good measure. It was clear Bruce didn't want to end the show there. Tonight was one of the rare occasions in which he and the band and the crowd constantly fed off energy from each other. And when that happens, the heavens split. A nuclear explosion occurs.
To paraphrase what Jon Stewart said, "If you wanna know what joy feels like, go watch Bruce Springsteen." He and the E Street Band, second to none, have long perfected the art of the live show, and Bruce has set the bar so high that you would think it's impossible for him to even top himself, but yet everytime he goes out, he manages to do it. And so concluded the greatest concert of my life. The crowd, the AMAZING setlist, a much improved sound over previous night, the man's unreal and superhuman energy, the entire band playing their asses off, Jake Clemons, and last but not least, the freezing rain. It was truly an epic, life-affirming experience. I am eternally grateful to Bruce. He has given me a great life. But the ride ain't quite over yet. Looking forward to Australia next year!
1. Badlands
2. No Surrender
3. We Take Care Of Our Own
4. Wrecking Ball
5. Death To My Hometown
6. My City Of Ruins
7. Spirit In The Night
8. The E Street Shuffle
9. Jack Of All Trades
10. Atlantic City
11. Prove It All Night (with the '78 intro)
12. Two Hearts
13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled And Drawn
16. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
17. Save My Love
18. The Promise (solo piano)
19. The River
20. The Rising
21. Out In The Street
22. Land Of Hope And Dreams
23. We Are Alive
24. Thunder Road
25. Born To Run
26. Bobby Jean
27. Cadillac Ranch
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
30. Twist & Shout

Total running time - 3hrs 22mins

It's only rock & roll, but it feels like love