Leading up to The River Tour 2016 launching its excursion across Europe in the city of Gaudi, paella, and ceaselessly exuberant Catalonian fans, the concert felt less like merely the first stop of the European leg and more akin to the first show of a new tour. Without the full album, in sequence performance providing the predictable framework for the setlist, those inside Barcelona’s legendary and massive Camp Nou on Saturday night – not to mention everyone else following along at home – were promised a show full of the cherished feeling that has long epitomized a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band spectacular: spontaneity.
As the eager fans who braved Europe’s far more time-consuming first-come, first-served system to be granted access to the pit waited for the show to begin, FC Barcelona – the local soccer/football team who play their home games on the stadium ground that these fans were sitting on – clinched first place in their league, resulting in everyone following the game on their phones enthusiastically cheering in unison each time they scored, preshow rain be damned. It was clear from the Barcelona crowd’s impassioned response to the game – and their subsequent increasingly loud series of chants imploring Bruce to start the show – would once again be bringing their globally renowned Catalonian fanaticism this evening, but the real question remained: what would Bruce and the Band bring?
The answer: a bevy of songs familiar to this tour played in an unfamiliar order, though perhaps not as unfamiliar as was expected – especially in regards to The River portion of the night. It was everything the first night of a tour usually is, but also much more: relentlessly fun, a little sloppy, inconsistently paced, all over the place, but most importantly, a ludicrously fun time for the tens of thousands of religiously singing and dancing fans from many different nations who got to enjoy 36-songs (one of the most ever) over three hours and thirty-five minutes inside one of the most famous venues in the world.
As Bruce and the Band – which included the first lady of E Street, Mrs. Patti Scialfa – took the still somewhat sunlit-stage at 9:15pm, they were greeted to yet another large scale stadium “mosaic” that was popularly pulled off by the “Our Love is Real” Italian fans in Milan in 2013. Continuing the rivalry between the two cities to claim the title of the best place to see Bruce in the world, a group of Spanish fans had taped color coordinated signs to the backs of thousands of seats across from the stage, and the people in those seats were instructed to hold up their signs when the show began. The result:
It was clear most inside Camp Nou had been anxiously awaiting this moment, and the built-up energy was finally released when Bruce counted “one-two” into the start of “Badlands,” the first of many instances of a song familiar to this tour being played in an unfamiliar slot that was usually reserved for “Meet Me in the City.” The song was greeted to the type of rapturous response that has become a staple of European crowds: unwavering jumping, high volume singing/chanting – to the point where it was actually hard to hear Bruce at points – and in general just exceedingly endearing raucousness from the floor to the top of the grandstands. Everything you’ve heard about the insanity of European Boss fans? All true, and in full, joyous display from the get-go.
This energy didn’t wane one iota for the subsequent two songs, both of which have also been regularly played on this tour. “No Surrender” served as an immediate reminder that Born in the U.S.A. songs seemingly always receive ebullient responses from European crowds, maybe because many were introduced to Bruce through the global phenomenon that the album became. Perhaps more surprising was their almost equally fervent response to the more obscure Born in the U.S.A. outtake “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” with many knowing more of the words than your average American audience. Three songs in, and Bruce already felt compelled to join in on the never-ending leaping from the fans.
By this point, two truths were already evident: the awe-inspiring crowd would passionately sing, chant, jump, clap, fist-pump, and just generally rock their way through almost every song, and my was it refreshing not knowing what was coming next.
But up next were the most familiar songs of all, introduced simply with, “Now, a little bit of The River.” Forgoing his usual spiel – perhaps due to the inevitable language barrier – about the recording process and community building-themed meaning of the album, Bruce dove right into “The Ties That Bind.”
Next up: “Barcelona” party noises for “Sherry Darling,” which required Bruce to traverse a far greater distance to play to both sides of the stadium. With two extra platforms added to the American arena setup on the extreme sides of the stage, he had to sprint back to the center platform to join Stevie and Patti for their harmonizing on the final verse. All of these somewhat new antics may have temporarily gotten the better of him, since he forgot to cut out the band to let the audience take over chorus-singing duties at the end of the song. Most of the band followed the modus operandi for the performance, but Max – always with laser focus on the Boss – never cut out. The musical mishap made Bruce realize his mistake, but it didn’t really matter: this crowd didn’t need a cue to sing along all night long, and they never seemed to be bothered by all of the band’s other small musical missteps.
After “Jackson Cage” and “Two Hearts” followed, I honestly began to wonder if Bruce had heeded the complaints of some European fans and decided to play the entirety of The River for the rest of the world, which would have been somewhat of a shame since the crowd’s energy marginally decreased over this increasingly predictable four-pack. Perhaps the European fans simply needed a little time to adjust to this apparent lack of spontaneity because they clearly wanted to hear songs from the album – there were a plethora of signs requesting various River songs.
Yet it was another sign that caught Bruce’s eye during the “It Takes Two” coda. Dipping back into the beloved BITUSA well, “I’m Goin’ Down” made its third appearance of the tour in a rollicking yet sloppy performance. The crowd sang along so loudly to the repeated “Down, down, down, down, down” of the chorus that Bruce ended the song by cutting out the band – properly this time! – to let the audience’s voices take the spotlight for a few measures. But the song proved only a momentary departure from The River because it simply replaced “Independence Day,” one of the many slow ballads on the album that most people assumed were the reason Bruce decided against playing every song, fearing they would fall flat in the vastness of your average stadium.
“Hungry Heart” returned the show to familiar ground, but the pit was waaaaaaay too big for his familiar crowd surf. Bruce still ran aaaaaaaaaaall the way to the platform in the middle of the audience, but he didn’t surf his way back. Instead, he invited Jake to join him on the second mid-crowd platform that was added to the new stadium stage setup. Heeding the Boss’ request, as always, he played his sax solo while literally sprinting to the platform, ultimately calling to mind the curated nightly stage picture at the end of “Thunder Road” with Bruce on one platform, Jake on the other, and the crowd in between. After yet again running back to the stage – this time in opposite directions – at the end of the song, they both collapsed onstage, jokingly exhausted from this new workout. But it was only a momentary respite before next taking the crowd “Out in the Street,” with Nils singing, “Meet me out in these Barcelona streets tonight” during the call-and-response portion.
Perhaps on account of this added physical exertion, Bruce leapfrogged two of the nightly highlights of the American tour – “Crush on You” and “You Can Look” – by going right into “I Wanna Marry You.” Though he shortened his customary introductory speech to simply asking, “Do we have any lovers out there?” in Spanish, he and Stevie sang the “Here She Comes” intro in full, leading to the first ever performance of the song on the European mainland. Even so, the crowd’s singing was as loud as ever.
A song that’s been played many times overseas but is still received momentously was next: a beautiful rendition of “The River,” which was greeted not only to potentially the loudest singalong of the night but also saw the first appearance of the “Drive All Night” cellphone fireflies. People loved seeing full arenas illuminated by their fellow fans in the states, but a stadium 4-5 times bigger than those took this organic phenomenon to another level. The song ended on a hauntingly beautiful note with the crowd joining in on the concluding “ooos” as they engaged in the “Bobby Jean” arm wave.
Speaking of hauntingly beautiful performances, “Point Blank” followed, extended intro and all. What was new, however, was the noticeable – but not distractingly so – echo of Bruce’s voice and the music throughout the stadium. These acoustics unique to larger venues only added to the ominous vibe of the song.
Since he had just played three of the slower ballads people assumed he was trying to avoid in a stadium setting, I expected “Cadillac Ranch” and “I’m a Rocker” to inevitably follow. Instead, it looked like he audibled a breathtaking performance of “Atlantic City,” only the third time played on this tour and undoubtedly the best rendition, mostly due to the emotional resonance added by the crowd chanting along to the chorus’ melody.
After four straight songs on the slower end, Bruce brought the party back with “Darlington County,” which he goofily performed while wearing a straw hat with a pink ribbon provided by a generous audience member. The tune ended with an extended solo from Jake, allowing Bruce to scan the entirety of the crowd to collect signs.
Taking audience participation to another level, he let them choose the song from the first sign request, which had “Glory Days” on one side and “Growin’ Up” on the other. He kept showing each side to the audience, trying to gauge which received a bigger ovation. In perhaps the most predictable moment of the night, they chose yet another BITUSA track, the first and only other time played on this tour since Phoenix and a rare mid set appearance not in a full album show.
The next sign brought us back to River territory, but not the album proper: yet another musically clumsy yet wholly vivacious performance of the outtake “I Wanna Be With You,” the third outing for the song on this tour. More unexpected than the song itself was the level of crowd participation for this little known track, perhaps the reason it’s oddly been played more times overseas than stateside.
Just when we began to think the show had left The River behind for good, Bruce brought us back to the roadhouse with a frisky “Ramrod,” which skipped the “what time is it?” bit but retained the band’s foray into “ass-shaking.” The performance capped off an exceedingly boisterous four-pack of straight up party jams that basically replaced the four-song River stretch between “Point Blank” and “Ramrod.
The pace jarringly slowed down for the unexpected continuation of side four, first for “The Price You Pay” receiving its second European performance since the original River tour, and only the fifth ever. European-favorite “Drive All Night” began with Bruce yelling “Barcelonaaaaaa” over an extended instrumental introduction. Though the type of song that fans assumed wouldn’t translate to a gargantuan venue, it basically became a respectful and heartfelt singalong, with the crowd’s voices adding extra emotional resonance. The performance also really benefited from the aforementioned acoustical echo, capturing the set-up of the chorus, namely of a man driving through the night for his love with his affectionate thoughts echoing around his mind.
Though Bruce wisely skipped “Wreck on the Highway” – which works best in the context of the album’s full story leading directly into the song – there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as to which River songs he decided to play. Were they totally random choices based solely on whether or not he felt like playing the next song in the album sequence? Or will these be the songs he plays almost every night? The man is currently faced with the rather difficult task of finding the most seamless way to mix the largely scripted River shows of the American tour with the more spontaneous nature of a typical E Street Band show.
Though he nailed stretches – such as the opening three-pack leading into “The Ties That Bind” – it appeared as if he was still trying to figure it out. Along with the multi-week break adding a little rust to the band’s customarily tight performances, the show really felt like the first of a new tour. As such, the unusually erratic pacing caused by these factors may have been the reason in the crowd lost a bit of the energy that consumed the beginning of the concert; though they were still singing and dancing their hearts out, the audience did not stay on the same animated level that have made past Catalonian crowds so notorious, immortalized on the Live in Barcelona DVD from The Rising Tour.
For those hoping to see the same type of ‘anything goes’ setlists in Europe enjoyed by the fans at the last show of the American tour in Brooklyn, Bruce seemed more concerned with the overall setlist structure than with his individual song choices. As such, without any concluding remarks to close The River portion, Bruce and the Band continued by ripping off a series of songs entirely comprised of the typical fare that most Americans heard during this portion of the show stateside: “Lonesome Day” (it didn’t go over much better here than it did on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean), “Prove It All Night” (the crowd participated by engaging in a single clap-double clap-“YEAH!” to the melody of the final verse, and chanting “Hey! Hey! Hey!” over Bruce’s guitar solo), “The Promised Land,” “Because the Night” (Bruce tried to make it seem like a sign request even though he pulled the sign from his collection AFTER he called it out to the Band. Regardless, the song was similarly received like a rock and roll classic as it was by the end of the American tour, of course featuring Nils’ fiery guitar solo), “She’s the One” (late in the show for the first Born to Run song), and “Brilliant Disguise” (for Patti!).
Once they reached the normal closing two-pack of “The Rising” and “Thunder Road” – with the entire first verse of the latter rivaling the “Hungry Heart” singalong – most expected it would be the same old encore. Instead, Bruce unexpectedly began by bringing his Prince tribute across the pond with them for yet another soul-stirring performance of “Purple Rain” for the third show in the row. It was then followed by the expected encore opener: “Born in the U.S.A,” which Bruce started by playing the wrong guitar, but that mild distraction was quickly made up for by the bass being so loud that it felt like the very foundations of this 60-year old venue were rattling.
By now we had hit the homestretch, with all of the stadium lights coming on for “Born to Run.” Two girls – one for Jake, the other for Bruce on her 18th birthday – danced onstage as the crowd did the same in their own spots for “Dancing in the Dark.” In perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, Rosy didn’t come out; instead, we all went directly to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which actually brought the most memorable moment of the night. Though Bruce didn’t return to the center platform in the crowd for the tribute segment, he and a cameraman instead fixated on a German flag held by a group in the front row that was soon projected onto the big screens, simply reading, “Danny and Clarence are unforgotten.”
Though “Shout” capped off an encore stretch that riled up the crowd into a total frenzy, I found myself surprisingly emotional – and unsurprisingly hoarse – by the end of the evening, especially after seeing that sign. Though Bruce didn’t talk about community-building to introduce “The Ties That Bind,” it was hard not to think about the E Street community when looking around to see a classic stadium that can hold nearly 100,000 people packed with fellow fans singing, dancing, and jumping from the front row to the last, all while knowing an untold number of additional people from various countries all around the world wished they could have been in attendance. With their music and concerts, Bruce and the Band have created a community that can keep rocking through the deaths of some of its most beloved members – both onstage and off – and this community is showing absolutely no signs of dissolving anytime soon.
After a particularly emotional “Bobby Jean” – with the Bobby Jean wave included, obviously – the band came out for their final bows…but the crowd simply would not let them dissolve into the night. Chanting, “Olé, Olé, Olé” deafeningly loudly over and over and over again, Bruce finally gave in after pointing to the non-existent watch on his wrist trying to convey it was too late to go on. But it’s of course never too late to keep rocking, so the band returned to their spots as Bruce yelled, “One more for Barcelona! One more for Catalonia!” For the first of undoubtedly many tour premieres to come in Europe, Bruce went with a bacchanalia-type performance of “Twist and Shout” that saw Jake and Bruce engaging in the classic dance move, Roy getting an elongated solo, and everyone basically reveling in their final chance of the night to enjoy the legendary E Street Band. After a call and response of the iconic build-up that had Bruce asking us to alternate between being loud and quiet, he kept repeating the phrases, “Can we do it one more time?!” and “Let me know you’re mine.”
On Saturday night in Barcelona, Bruce, the Band, and the crowd showed that through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, we can always do it one more time, because the band is ours and we’re the bands. Returning to a line from the very first song of the night, it was clear that everyone in the stadium not only believed but outwardly expressed the fact that, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” Near the end of the night, a camera focused on another simple sign that conveyed the sentiment everyone – including Bruce and the Band – were feeling: “Thank you.”
Though it may not have been a perfect show, it was a hell of a start that sets the bar so excessively high for this European leg…yet we know they’re going to top it. Yes, the setlist may not be ideal yet, but at least the new structure of the show allows a lot more room for potential changes.
The show came to an end well after midnight, making it officially Pentecost – a formal holiday in Bosselona. How fitting that this holiday fell on the night our rock and roll God returned to Europe with his apostles onstage and his disciples both in the crowd and following along at home, desperately waiting for their next chance to be taken to the Church of E Street.=
San Sebastián, you’re up next.
 A preshow acoustic set by Bruce – which he’s played at previous European stadium shows to entertain the pit denizens waiting inside the stadium for many hours after lining up outside for many days – did not accompany the storm.
 European shows are normally called for 9pm.
 You never forget your first time…
 Bruce also said something in Spanish that these American ears unfortunately could not translate.
 He repeated the question in English, which is the only reason I could overcome my aforementioned lack of Spanish fluency.
 It’s been played three times before in Great Britain.
 For the most part, the sound was echo-free and surprisingly clear all night.
 Who definitely didn’t get their hat back because it literally almost smacked me in the face when Bruce chucked it into the crowd upon the song’s conclusion.
 Speaking of which, three more BITUSA songs would be played before the night ended, bringing the grand total to seven. For a tour billed as supporting The River, 60% of both albums were played: 7/12 for BITUSA and 12/20 for The River. Thanks to Peter Lindberg for noting this statistical breakdown!
 This one, however, didn’t include any sort of explicit reference to Prince.
 Shout out to Matthias Wagner and co. for the elegant tribute.
 They had rehearsed a horn section-less “High Hopes” the previous night.
 With that being said, fans would have BEGGED and PLEADED for this setlist on any other tour.
- No Surrender
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Jackson Cage
- Two Hearts
- I’m Goin’ Down
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- I Wanna Marry You
- The River
- Point Blank
- Atlantic City
- Darlington County
- Glory Days
- I Wanna Be With You
- The Price You Pay
- Drive All Night
- Lonesome Day
- Prove It All Night
- The Promised Land
- Because the Night
- She’s the One
- Brilliant Disguise
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Purple Rain
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Bobby Jean
- Twist and Shout
Thanks to the BRUCEfanatic app for assistance with all of the song-related statistics. If you’re a Boss fan who doesn’t own the app yet, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a treasure trove of information regarding everything you could ever possibly want to know about Bruce’s tour history.