A shorter version of this piece was originally published on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.
Five tour premieres? In Coventry?! Where the hell IS Coventry?!
Bruce and the Band clearly knew, and they showed up big time at the relatively small Ricoh Arena for yet another three-hour and ten-minute, 33-song spectacular. Though that many tour premieres would lead some to assume the setlist was one of the absolute best of the tour, unfortunately the fact that they were all clumped on either end of the show prevented it from scaling those lofty heights, especially since the stretch in between almost derailed the whole evening thanks to a series of brutally predictable setlist decisions. The night was ultimately a tale of two great, expertly paced halves, with a subpar deviation separating the two.
The tour premieres kicked off right away with Bruce yet again beginning a show solo on the piano, this time with “For You.” He walked onstage alone a little after 6:45pm to no fanfare nor music, approached the mic, gave a quick “Good evening,” and then went straight to work on Roy’s perch. Hearing the song in this unusual context fascinatingly recalibrated its customary emotional effect, scaling back the normal romanticism in place of a sadder vibe, fitting the gloomy, overcast skies.
Bruce finished his beautiful rendition with a simple smile, and after the Band (sans Patti) unceremoniously walked onstage, they built upon this introductory sadness by launching into the second tour premiere in a row: the now twice-soundchecked “Something in the Night.” If a few precocious crowd members tried to start singing along to the final lines of “For You,” this Darkness gem turned into a full blown haunting singalong, with Bruce wholly committing to the performance. The European premiere of another Darkness classic – “Prove It All Night” – perfectly built upon the slowly intensifying pace, and “My Love Will Not Let You Down” at last turned the concert into the type of rock and roll extravaganza that has become a staple of E Street openings, further enhanced in Coventry by how brilliantly Bruce led up to it.
After the expected River triumvirate was broken apart by a sign request for “No Surrender,” the most random tour premiere of the night followed: a sign for the rare Darkness outtake “Save My Love,” which received almost no ovation from the crowd when Bruce flashed it to the cameras. He noted this sad fact by joking that most were probably asking themselves, “What the fuck is that?!” before explaining the song was influenced by his youthful nights staying up late to listen to the “small squawk box transistor radio underneath my pillow.” This performance fit the characteristics of the type of songs “Save My Love” expertly channels: loose, a little sloppy, but so much fun.
Yet since the unfortunately stoic crowd received the actual song in much the same way they greeted its sign, Bruce made a point of bringing them back into the fold by following up with “Hungry Heart,” a particularly rowdy performance that included Bruce taking multiple selfies with fans lining his path to the center platforms, getting lost on his way to the second platform, forcing him to sing the final verse while running, a boy joining him on that second platform uninvited to sing a bit of the song, Jake remaining out on a center platform by the time Bruce had already returned to the stage, and finally a very old woman being shown on the big screen who was rocking out with all of her being. These antics really energized Bruce – he was practically giddy by now – and he built this energy into an absolute frenzy from “Out in the Street” into “Crush on You” into “You Can Look,” a reminder of one of the nightly highlight River stretches of the American leg.
Bruce perfectly transitioned this intense party vibe into more serious, passionate intensity with the three-pack of “Death to My Hometown,” “Youngstown” – Nils killed the solo – and “Murder Incorporated” – Bruce and Stevie similarly killed their solos. By this point the Band and especially Bruce were absolutely on fire, with the show having seamlessly built to a blistering pace from the quieter beginning. “The River” and the welcome return of a gorgeous “Drive All Night” brought the show full circle back to the soulful opening. Taken all together, it was a masterclass in how to construct a fluid, fluctuating, and flat out fantastic setlist.
And then, predictability set in. One song after another, Bruce made the same old second half setlist choices that have drawn the ire of many European fans. He of course has to play a lot of his crowd-pleasing ‘greatest hits’ for these stadium crowds, but bunching them back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back only compounds their potential negative effect on the setlist. More than just being insufficiently exciting for the many audience members who had made the easy drives to all of the U.K. stops, such familiar stretches seem to make the Band a little complacent, letting them get off their musical toes.
As such, there was almost no momentum going into the main set closing “Badlands,” which may have been what inspired Bruce to spot out of nowhere a sign for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band,” only its fifth performance in the Reunion era. Simply put, the Band crushed it, fittingly scrambling to remember how to play this absolutely raucous classic. This curveball re-animated everything – Bruce, the Band, the crowd, and the rest of the encores, easily the best of the tour – immediately restoring the level of energy sustained throughout the first half of the show. It clearly doesn’t take much to catalyze a setlist in such a way.
And yet Bruce wasn’t done with the surprise tour premiere covers. As “Born to Run” came to a close, Bruce immediately went into the opening riff of “Seven Nights to Rock.” The concert had once again gone off the rock and roll Richter scale – with Bruce literally banging his head against Roy’s keys during the song, almost humorously mocking his show-opening performance – and it would only come back down for yet another of Bruce’s transcendent acoustic performances of “Thunder Road,” closing the show in much the same soulful way as it began: with Bruce alone on stage surrounded by 50,000 of his adoring fans, only now everyone was singing along. It was a touchingly harmonious bookend.
If only every book in between had been on the same level.
- Due to the space constraints of Backstreets.com, I often cannot include in what I write for them ALL of the small performance notes that I think some of you will find interesting. As such, for my Backstreets pieces, I’m going to add these additional notes as bullet points at the bottom when I post the pieces here. Could I find a way to incorporate them in the body of the piece proper? Probably, but doing so would require a lot of work and even some structural shifts, so they shall exist down here, usually in the chronological order that they occurred during the concerts.
- Bruce drove past the pit queue on the way to soundcheck as we were being lined up! He sat in the front seat and waved. The woman in front of me “literally” pissed her pants in excitement, apparently. If the concert had been cancelled at that moment, she probably still would’ve thought she got her money’s worth simply by seeing the Boss up close and personal. Gotta love that enthusiasm.
- Though we couldn’t hear the soundcheck from where they lined us up, rumor has it that a full band “Dream Baby Dream” was played. Perhaps the final song of the night in Wembley to close the first part of this European leg?
- Still no appearance of a preshow acoustic set in Europe, which makes Steven a sad boy.
- During “For You,” Bruce repeated, “…so soft, so soft…” instead of finishing the line, “…to buy her way.” It fit his ‘soft’ performance.
- Max had a problem with his drum kit during “No Surrender,” which one of his techies tried fixing during a very brief non-drum portion of the song (seriously, there are so few times during a show when Max ISN’T playing. The dude gets a serious work out every night). The techie failed, and Max rather snippily shooed him away so he could go back to his laser focus on the Boss. Didn’t seem to give him any other problems for the rest of the night…
- Bruce spent a lot of time throughout the night checking out all of the signs, but instead of collecting a bunch like usual, he instead would only grab a sign right before he wanted to play it. I guess it was one of those nights when Bruce had a strong idea of exactly what he wanted to play.
- Can fans please stop bringing inflatable balls to Bruce concerts? He clearly hates it because they’re ALWAYS confiscated by security as soon as they make an appearance.
- Stevie kept cracking up Bruce during “Two Hearts” with some unusual vocalizations.
- “Save My Love” started with Bruce and Roy casually riffing together so they could both remember the tune. I always love seeing the E Street Band figure out these rarities on the fly.
- Bruce had Jake accompany him throughout “Out in the Street,” including over to the very side platform and even sharing the center mic with him for the call-and-response at the end of the song.
- Remember how I said Bruce was on fire during the “Hungry Heart” through “You Can Look” stretch? At the end of “Crush On You,” he literally started rocking back and forth with his hands in the air like a boxer facing the crowd, almost asking us if we had what it took to keep rocking.
- After suffering some vocal problems in Dublin, it seems like Bruce’s voice is totally fine now, especially since he seemed to add a lot of extra vocalizations throughout the night.
- Stevie delayed the start of “The River” because his long-ass earrings got caught in his guitar strap.
- Bruce picked the right colored scarf for Coventry – the show was as red-hot as the scarf.
- I liked Bruce replacing “Point Blank” with “Drive All Night.” Let’s hope he continues to use this slot as a place to bust out random River wildcards like “Fade Away,” “Stolen Car,” “The Price You Pay,” etc.
- There were TWO closing breakdowns in “Badlands” versus the typical one. Perhaps Bruce felt the audience wasn’t as engaged as normal because of the predictable stretch leading up to it, and the two breakdowns were his way of re-engaging everyone. Luckily, he also went with playing “Travelin’ Band,” which was a much better way of re-energizing the crowd.
- The Band was so hot after “Travelin’ Band,” it led to an ELECTRIC “Born in the U.S.A,” probably the best of the tour so far. Bruce ended it by just SCREAMING at Max during his drum breakdown.
- Bruce added an extra set of “Oh yeah”s at the end of “Tenth Avenue” because he was so feeling it. God these encores were goooooood.
- Bruce delayed the start of “Thunder Road” a bit with a laugh because his nose was running too much. Beautiful start to a beautiful song!
- During “Thunder Road,” Bruce changed, “There were ghosts in the eyes / Of all the boys you sent away,” to “…men you sent away.” Either he forgot the original lyric, or he likes slightly altering the lyrics to his songs to fit his current age, kind of like how he changes “…ten years burning down the road” to “…forty years…” in “Born in the U.S.A.”
 Don’t be fooled by the name – it was still a 50,000 strong stadium.
 Gotta love those 10:30pm English curfews.
 Bruce took the solo – in three songs he showed off his musical skills on “For You,” his vocal skills on “Something in the Night,” and his guitar skills here. A hat trick!
 Though perhaps he felt the need to stay on safer ground after the crowd’s reaction to “Save My Love.”
 Perhaps one of the reasons they’ve decided not to play the entirety of The River every night.
 An audience member may have even gotten too into it: Bruce had to prolong the introductory notes to “Shout” as security slowly escorted a fan out who had fainted in the front of the pit.
- For You
- Something in the Night
- Prove It All Night
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- No Surrender
- Two Hearts
- Save My Love
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Crush on You
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- Death to My Hometown
- Murder Incorporated
- The River
- Drive All Night
- The Promised Land
- Working on the Highway
- Darlington County
- Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Travelin’ Band
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Seven Nights to Rock
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Thunder Road