A much shorter version of this post originally appeared on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.
Minutes after Bruce and the Band – sans Patti – bounded onto the stage of Denver’s Pepsi Center for their first stop on The River Tour 2016’s Midwestern swing, the former had a special introduction planned for the Mile High City during “Meet Me in the City.” Referencing the state’s most popular local resource, Bruce posed a new question to the crowd for the first time on this tour: “What I want to know is…WHERE ARE THE MARIJUANA GUMMY BEARS?!” Receiving an expectedly huge ovation – including many around me offering their own personal stash to the Boss – the crowd probably didn’t realize at the time that this city-specific joke would set the whole mood for the night: it was an out and out PARTY, with both Bruce, the Band, and the crowd on a pure rock and roll jovial high from beginning to end.
Most wouldn’t have expected Denver to provide one of the best crowds of the tour, but this city is undoubtedly a Music High City in addition to being the Mile High City. Though properly loud and participatory throughout the night, perhaps even more importantly, they understood that a loud crowd isn’t necessarily a good crowd, resulting in the entire arena falling completely silent for the many beautiful ballads contained on The River. This temporary, appropriate quiet seemed to rejuvenate the crowd throughout the night, allowing them to come back with even more energy for the conventional rockers.
Bruce increasingly fed off that participatory party energy all night long, which was reflected in his post-River setlist choices. Starting with a sign request for the sha-la-las of “Darlington County” – a rollicking performance that included Bruce literally kissing a girl in the front row, him haphazardly tossing his mic halfway across the stage to one of the tech guys who miraculously caught it, an elongated dual sax and violin solo from Jake and Soozie, and a finish that featured Bruce briefly cutting out the band so he and Stevie could get one last guitar riff in – all of the non-tour staple songs called for audience participation of some kind, from “She’s the One” to “Backstreets” and finally “Bobby Jean,” which was a post-“Shout” reward to the crowd from Bruce, who just kept yelling “I. CAN’T. STOP.” without a single trace of any altitude fatigue whatsoever
Though it was undoubtedly a special night – as all of their concerts almost always are – many will point out that the setlist wasn’t really special in relation to the other shows on this tour. Yes, “Darlington County” has only been played once recently in Washington D.C., but it’s been somewhat of a staple on previous tours. However, nights featuring more standard setlists give those lucky enough to see multiple stops on this tour an opportunity to appreciate the small but meaningful changes that Bruce adds at every show to further reinforce the two stated themes that he’s exploring by playing The River every night: community-building and time, and how both are inextricably intertwined with each other on this tour.
On the final night of Bruce and the Band’s dump-destroying run of shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the dedicated fans in attendance added a new dimension to “The Price You Pay” by contributing their own “oooh-oooh-oooh-oooooh-oooohs” chants to match the song’s instrumental introduction and conclusion. Bruce clearly liked this addition, for he’s begun chanting it himself to get the audience to join him at every show since. In a song that’s about the consequences and sacrifices we all have to endure simply by pursuing our daily dreams, these communal chants serve as a reminder that though there’s always a price to pay in life, that payment also always comes with some sort of a reward. Bruce and the Band have joyfully sacrificed much of their lives to spreading their unique rock-and-roll gospel the world over, and we’ve sacrificed a plethora of time and money to be able to let that gospel shower over us as much as possible. Bruce, the Band, and their fans have all paid these prices, but our reward is the creation and continued existence of the global E Street Nation community, which was fully felt as the entirety of the Pepsi Center was communally chanting the beginning and end of “The Price You Pay” at the top of their lungs.
The fact that Bruce is now incorporating the Los Angeles audience’s impromptu chant into his nightly performance of “The Price You Pay” further emphasizes how much importance he places in the type of crowd participation that was so electric in Denver. We’re an integral part of the magic that is a Springsteen concert, so much so that we can actually change how he performs a song every night. Bruce allowing us to be in the show in so many different ways – such as the bushel of women of all ages and races that he brought onstage for “Dancing in the Dark” – makes us feel that much more special for a few hours, and thus more inclined to join in the show. Case in point: the “fireflies” that the crowd now provides with the cell phones nightly to illuminate the entire arena during “Drive All Night.”
Yet in the same way that the party vibes of The River end on a solemn reminder of the finite nature of time with “Wreck on the Highway,” the party atmosphere for shows like Denver seem to exist not only in spite of but perhaps because of the fact that we all know the end must be nigh for the E Street Band. It’s yet another price to pay for dedicating so much of your life to something you love so dearly; everything must come to an end. Yet instead of going gently into that good night, Bruce is advocating we go out in the same way we came in: rocking out, together, until the last note sounds.
And perhaps that’s why Bruce continues to play a lot of the same songs every night, all of which call for the most crowd participation; they each connect to the message he’s trying to communicate to the audience with this tour. In addition to the post-River songs listed above, the legendary “Badlands” chant and lyrics like, “Because the night belongs to us” further reinforces his focus on community-building, as do songs like “The Rising,” the sing-alongs of “Thunder Road,” and of course all of the encore staples. The Denver crowd was with Bruce every step of the way, perhaps in part because they were either consciously or subconsciously wondering if this may be the last time the E Street Band comes to their city, located in a region of the country that the Band frequents much less than the Northeast.
Bruce seemed much more focused on “ends” than usual in the Mile High City. During the instrumental denouement of “Independence Day,” he kept repeating, “say goodbye,” and during the portion of “Backstreets” once reserved for his “Sad Eyes” interlude, Bruce instead just said, “We swore forever friends, on the Backstreets until the end…until the end…until the end…” over and over and over again.” It of course ended with Bruce giving his all to the song’s signature howl into the void that replaced the lead character’s relationship with Terry, and on this night in Denver the crowd joined in mightily, reminiscent of the earlier “Price You Pay” chant. We all know a similar void is approaching that will replace our relationship to these Springsteen concerts, but we’re not going to stop rocking until it does; that’s the price we’ll all happily pay in return for nights like Denver’s show, because, “we swore forever friends, on the Backstreets until the end…”
Though it’s become a standard song on this tour, “Bobby Jean” was an absolutely fitting conclusion to a night steeped in partying into the void. As he screeched to the audience before the song, Bruce couldn’t stop after “Shout,” and none of us wanted him or want him to. But if this was a final goodbye to Denver, he sure went out on a high note. And in the future, when we’re out there on that road somewhere and we hear him sing a recording of these songs, we’ll be thinking of Bruce and the Band and concerts like these, regardless of the temporal miles in between.
Not since the Tunnel of Love Express Tour has Bruce and the Band been so focused on communicating such clear ideas at every concert, which may be why both tours featured rather static setlists. But in the same way that those setlists were a form of a temporary goodbye from E Street to their fans, perhaps we’re facing a similar goodbye here. We may miss them in the future, but everyone inside the Mile High Pepsi Center were just so grateful to be able to see the greatest show on Earth one more time.
 Take note, MSG.
 I’m not 100% positive about this because enunciation has never been Bruce’s forte, but I’m fairly sure he added a “stars in the night” line during the “Dream Baby Dream” portion of the song.
- Meet Me in the City
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Jackson Cage
- Two Hearts
- Independence Day
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Crush On You
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- I Wanna Marry You
- The River
- Point Blank
- Cadillac Ranch
- I’m a Rocker
- Fade Away
- Stolen Car
- The Price You Pay
- Drive All Night
- Wreck on the Highway
- Darlington County
- Because the Night
- She’s the One
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
- Bobby Jean
One thought on “DENVER: ‘The River’ Tour Express 2016”
Steve, great summary of that night! That show was my first and likely only once in a lifetime chance to witness Bruce and the E St. Band “empty that tank” at the “young age” of 43. I ALSO witnessed your inspirational rocking out as I stood to your left right next to you the entire show. It was a day of decision to go – I’ve got 3 kids under 9 – and their performance will stay for me forever. My entire family is reliving that night as we continue to listen to this masterpiece of an album. I can’t describe how intense my 3 yr. old gets when he shouts the “1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4!” to me so I can play “Meet Me in the City” again for the 30th+ time and counting!
ps you should see him screech “Streets of Fire”! as it’s his breakfast song request.