As scheduled, a few minutes after 7:30pm, Bruce and the Band casually took the stage that had been set up specifically for them at this quasi-festival within the Malieveld, which is basically a giant field in the middle of The Hague in Holland. No music accompanied their frills-less entrance, yet instead of the silence leading to another solo performance by Bruce at the piano, he and the Band simply launched into the now-standard European opening three-pack of “Badlands,” “No Surrender,” and “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Matching his new vacation tan, Bruce was as laid-back as laid-back can be, at first giving off the impression that this would basically be a warmup show with a predictable, uncreative setlist to get him and the Band back in gear after their week-long break. But if this was indeed their initial plan, three hours and twenty-four minutes and 32 songs later, the 67,500 fans packing the Malieveld to the brim had elevated the night from being just another stop on the tour to one of the best shows so far, with Bruce and the rejuvenated Band not only feeding off their energy but giving them a special setlist to boot.
When scanning through the European itinerary, The Hague – an endearingly quaint albeit unremarkable city that often feels like it could stand in as Nether Land at Disneyland – probably would’ve been one of a few cities that made people wonder why the Band had decided to stop there at all, especially since the much larger Amsterdam is less than one hour away. Yet as anyone aware of Bruce’s touring track record can attest, these more unconventional cities are often treated to the best concerts. Though part of me believes that Bruce consciously does this to ensure that none of his diehard fans can cross off any show in the world as a throwaway and thus not worth attending, the crowd at The Hague made me realize that perhaps it’s a much more organic equation than I initially believed.
Simply put, fans from these smaller cities feel overwhelmingly grateful to Bruce and the Band for agreeing to stop in their city at all. Whereas many fans in America’s larger markets seem to feel entitled to receive an exemplary show from the Boss, the lovely Dutch people in The Hague expressed a palpable appreciation for the E Street Band simply for being in their presence. If they had come out and just played “Born to Run” 32 times in a row, I sincerely believe these fans would’ve still emphatically chanted along each and every time.
Which, as it turns out, they actually did before the concert even started. My American readers may be unaware that many European countries have Springsteen fan clubs, which are basically entirely fan-run organizations whose only goal is to connect every diehard Springsteen fan from a given country. Besides just arranging tickets and communal transportation to and from Boss concerts whenever he comes to their country, these clubs also organize events throughout the year to facilitate passionate conversation between their like-minded, E Street obsessed members. Oh, and did I mention they also organize trips to America not only to see concerts, but also to check out Springsteen hotspots such as Asbury Park? These clubs are just one of many examples that convey the dedication of European Bruce fans.
The name for the club in Holland is “Tramps of The Lowlands,” and they helped set up an art installation outside the venue that asked fans to contribute little notes expressing their appreciation for all things E Street:
They also handed out this little one-sheet before the concert:
Truthfully, I basically disregarded these instructions because I thought there was absolutely no way they could pull it off – sounded like a better idea in theory than practice. And yet, shortly after 7pm, I heard a few fans across the front of the pit begin to lightly murmur, “In the day we sweat it out on the streets…” Clearly other fans shared my initial trepidation regarding the plan because it was slow-going at first. Even so, the Tramps of The Lowlands persisted, and ultimately, their ceaseless passion won over the rest of us naysayers. By the time the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive, it sounded like the entire front of the pit was singing along in full-throated glory. Needless to specify, it was a special moment, and would’ve been one of the highlights of the night if a normal show had followed.
But this turned out to be anything but, largely because of these Lowland Tramps’ relentless energy and passion. Though they still can’t hold a candle to the bedlam generated by their Spanish counterparts, they exuded a certain generosity of spirit that dominated the night. Heck, these exceedingly generous fans even enthusiastically supported the Stereophonics, a rare opening act. Expectedly, the crowd was positively giddy by the time Bruce called out “one-two” into “Badlands.” I’ve written it once and I’ll write it again and again for emphasis: there’s simply nothing like the experience of “Badlands” in Europe, and this held doubly true in The Hague. If Bruce began the song with a more relaxed, vacation vibe – which was only compounded by how criminally low the sound was – the energy from the crowd brought him and the Band to where they needed to be by the final chanting breakdown.
Yet after “No Surrender,” Bruce reminded us all just why his fans feel such a special connection to him. After the song ended, Bruce – as he’s been increasingly wont to do recently – took a few moments simply to check out all of the signs that tramps had spent time and energy to create for his benefit. Yes, many people have lamented over their justifiable grievances regarding the sign phenomenon, but these nitpickers are overlooking just how much they contribute to the special, personal connection that Bruce has consciously forged with his fans.
Bruce is a master of live performance for a plethora of reasons, but one of his most unique gifts is bridging the gap between the performer – himself – and the audience. Have you ever thought that Bruce pointed directly at you rocking out during a concert? Remember how invigorated you felt afterwards because one of the most famous people in the world had singled you out amongst tens of thousands of others, almost as if he somehow loves you just as much as you love him – even though that just can’t be possible? And it’s not just pointing – Bruce will yell “You! You! You!” at random points during a concert, he’ll straight up talk to fans during a show, and then there’s the obvious moves like the nightly “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” singer and his “Dancing in the Dark” partners. Honestly, I think these are some of the his most subtlety brilliant in-concert decisions. Such simple gestures make his fans truly believe that they have a personal connection with their Boss, which only further enhances how much his music seems to speak to their most intimate selves.
Though it may not be on the forefront of someone’s mind when they’re staring at the back of gigantic sign all night long, these signs may now be the strongest contributing factor to Bruce forging such a seemingly personal connection with his fans. Throughout his career, he’s always stated that the crowd is equally integral to an E Street concert as any member of the Band itself; Bruce picking signs from the crowd and then playing those songs is quite literally a tangible manifestation of the audience’s integral role in the powerful equation that is an E Street spectacular. The fact that he so drastically switches up his setlists from night to night is more than enough fan service for his diehards…but allowing them to actually somewhat directly dictate that setlist?! Almost unheard of in the music scene, but so important in making his fans feel that they’re not just a part of the show – they’re quite literally in the show.
And so was the case after “My Love Will Not Let You Down” – a song that once again riled up the crowd like few others can, yet another reminder that the title really does speak to the connection between Bruce and his fans – when Bruce granted a sign request for the tour premiere of The River outtake “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come),” the fifth ever performance of the song in Europe and the tenth during a proper E Street Band concert anywhere in the world. Though they slowed down the tempo a bit – as they have for most songs on this tour – the Band delivered a “Johnny 99”-esque raucous performance, with Roy – who had a GREAT night, as I’ll explain more in a bit – and even Soozie – who at first did not have her fiddle ready – turning in fabulously fun solos. Though the actual song in no way addresses this, I couldn’t help but think how aptly the title describes Bruce’s aforementioned subtle tactics to forge a personal connection with his crowds. They may be small gestures, but big love has come out of them.
Bruce followed up one surprise with another: the removal of “The Ties That Bind” from the setlist. If you had asked me to bet on which would get the axe first – “Ties” or “Sherry Darling” – I definitely would’ve lost a bit of money. In fact, Bruce seemed to be taken aback by his own decision, for he forgot to head down to the center platform to sing the first verse, failing to make it in time to sing the first few lyrics into the downstage microphone.
Yet another surprise followed: “Two Hearts” was replaced by the welcome return of the similarly tempoed “Night.” A slight digression that I still want to include because who knows if I’ll be able to write about the song again: though “Night” is probably considered a lesser song on Born to Run, I’m a firm believer that its lyrics cut to the heart of so much of Bruce’s music and the morals contained therein. Lines like, “You work all day / To blow ‘em away in the night” and, “You work nine to five and somehow you survive till the night” capture the essence not only of Bruce’s idealistic perspective on a working class life but also that of many of his fans, especially those who travel from show-to-show like many of the Europeans that I’ve befriended.
I hesitate to use such a strong negative word, but I absolutely despise when fellow fans judge others for spending their money on so many Bruce concerts. I’m sorry, but it’s nobody’s business how any of us spend our hard-earned cash. If we work all day to blow our money away on an E Street concert at night – the light at the end of the tunnel that is surviving through painstaking jobs – that’s entirely our right. I didn’t come up with this idea, but it’s too good not to mention: I have a feeling these same naysayers have no problem with other people spending money on season tickets for their favorite sports team. Is there a difference between attending multiple games and multiple concerts? The “results” similarly vary every time – thanks to Bruce’s differentiated setlists – but unlike the countless inferior sporting events that I’ve witnessed in my time, I’ve never experienced a bad Bruce concert. Digression: complete.
Actually, let’s make that digression somewhat relevant: it felt like “Night” was received especially well by this crowd – perhaps because of the above reasoning – further energizing the evening. After a spirited “Spirit in the Night” – which saw Bruce traversing the wide length of the stage to bring the spirit directly to individuals in the crowd– he slowed the pace down for “My City of Ruins.” Though the performance may have lacked the emotional heft that came with the song’s recent outings in Madrid and London – mostly because those renditions came at the tail end of his multi-stop tours around Spain and England, respectively, which really emphasized the communal message of the song – this version actually changed how I emotionally responded to the song given the city in which we were located. Much of The Hague feels like a new city because most of it was destroyed in World War Two – as such, a song about a city of ruins must have hit close to home for many locals.
Further, this thought inspired a theory as to why Bruce tends to play the song more in Europe than in the states even though it’s so closely associated with the events of September 11. Unlike the relative youth of most American cities, European cities date back centuries upon centuries, and most of them are literally built atop past iterations of these cities in the form of underground ruins. As you walk around any old European city, you’re unknowingly walking on top of layers and layers of ruins of the past. This image is a fitting symbol for the song – it’s a reminder that metaphorical, personal cities of ruins can be rebuilt just as easily as literal cities of ruins, and down and out people are often not aware of the healing power of history that’s waiting to be discovered all around them.
After Bruce concluded the song on the center platform, he once again took a few moments to read a good portion of the signs around him. Though he grabbed a few, one in particular caught his eye: a shiny silver sign that read “one dream left.” Bruce was at first a tad confused, but instead of simply ignoring it like most other artists would, he actually started a conversation with the sign-makers. Much like the meaning of the sign, a bit was lost in translation; when Bruce asked the group to explain themselves, a man with a very heavy Dutch accent responded that they went all the way to New Jersey for him…but Bruce thought he had said that they came all the way from New Jersey. “Me too!” he retorted, before grabbing the double-sided sign and bringing it onstage.
He followed up the conversation with more confusion, mistakenly stating that this would probably be the first time they played the song outside of the continental United States. Even so, I will happily tolerate these amusing mishaps – AND ignore the fact that Bruce’s own Jersey Girl was not in attendance – if they lead to such a gorgeous cover of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” which saw Bruce basically starting the song off alone before the rest of the Band slowly joined in, gradually enhancing the song’s emotional effect. And judging from the exceedingly vocal singalong that accompanied its duration, I have a feeling Bruce may be less hesitant in the near future to throw it in a setlist, especially since he first started covering the song on the original River tour.
In recent shows, Bruce’s mood during “Hungry Heart” – the next song in this setlist – has become a sort of nightly barometer for the quality of each concert; the looser, less rigid, more spontaneous he is during it, the better the show. And in The Hague, the Bruce was loose – he personally greeted almost every person sitting front row as he ran around the pit, and he added in a little falsetto “okaaaaay, alriiiiight” at the end of the song, which was matched by the pit singing the entire chorus again.
Supporting this barometer theory, a few songs later Bruce called upon another sign during the usual “Point Blank” ballad spot for the tour premiere of one of Bruce’s most cherished songs, a masterpiece both on the page and especially when performed live: with a simple introduction of, “We haven’t played this one in a while,” Bruce and the Band launched into a typically-transcendent performance of “Racing in the Street.” After his ho-down solo during “From Small Things” that ratcheted up the joy of that song, Roy was – as always – given an extended amount of time to shine on the song’s seemingly and gratefully never-ending coda, which has to rank among the most beautiful musical segments that can be heard at an E Street concert.
Bruce slyly followed up “Racing” with the now-nightly staple “The Promised Land,” adhering to the exact song sequence from Darkness on the Edge of Town. Since very few people still listen to albums from beginning to end, I love that Bruce forces his audiences to remember how precisely he sequenced each record so that one song perfectly – be it narratively, thematically, and pace-wise – leads into the next. “Racing” ends the first side of the record on an excessively somber note – it doesn’t get much darker than, “She stares off alone into the night / With the eyes of one who hates for just being born” – but the last lines of the song actually rather brilliantly lead into the hopeful opener of side 2: “The Promised Land.”
In fact, that phrase itself is included in the end of “Racing:” “For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels / Rumbling through this promised land / Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea / And wash these sins of our hands.” In a way, “The Promised Land” can almost be interpreted as a sequel to “Racing” – the ‘boy’ who loves racing cars in the street is slowly becoming a man, mister, and despite the depression of his baby, he still believes in a promised land where they can be happy together. Heck, “The Promised Land” even starts with an image of a car driving through the streets manned by what could be the same lead character as “Racing”: “On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert / I pick up my money and head back into town / Driving cross the Waynesboro county line…”
It’s these type of narrative and thematic through-lines connecting each song of a setlist that contributes to Bruce’s customary brilliant pacing, and The Hague had a near flawless pace, made all the more impressive by the increased number of slower ballads mixed in amongst the usual rockers. Even the more predictable patches down the homestretch of the main set never lagged, largely because the crowd was too committed to having a good time throughout these all-too familiar tunes. And Bruce – to his credit – broke up this stretch by throwing in “I’m on Fire.” At recent shows, I’ve always appreciated Patti’s presence because it meant he’d include “Human Touch,” “Tougher Than the Rest,” or “Brilliant Disguise” to diversify the end of the main set. Happily, Bruce finally did the same here without his red headed woman by his side.
Honestly, by the time “Because the Night” rocked the crowd as it always does, I was already prepared to declare the show one of the best of the tour, fully expecting the rest to be business as usual. Me of little faith! Instead, Bruce decided to end the main set with the always-more-than-welcome “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which I have to imagine was an ode to the passionate dedication of this particular crowd. It’s one of Bruce’s few songs that directly addresses the positive nature of his fan base, and he seems to only play it nowadays for his more energetic crowds.
And yet, the surprises weren’t even close to being over. After thanking the crowd with his usual spiel, Bruce referenced yet another sign that he had seen earlier in the night, made by a woman who shared that this would most probably be her last E Street concert due to failing health. Since Clarence’s passing, the shadow of death – but also of continued life, if through nothing else than expressive memory alone – has loomed large over “Jungleland,” and Bruce referencing this sign made the performance that much more emotionally devastating. Very few moments during an E Street concert are as soul stirring as a venue full of fans screaming the first, “DOOOOOOOOWN IN JUUUUUUUUUNGLELAAAAAAAND” in unison.
Always wanting to fill his encores with predominantly upbeat songs, he followed up the second performance of the night of “Born to Run” by quickly yelling to the Band, “Follow me boys!” and then promptly delving into a literally breathtakingly exhausting performance of “Seven Nights to Rock.” But he wasn’t done with rocking covers yet. Spotting – you guessed it – ANOTHER sign in the crowd, he simply pointed at it. The Band immediately knew to which sign he was referring, but whoever was operating the camera didn’t get the message. As such, the screen operators played a little game with Bruce where they’d have the camera point at various signs and flash them on the rear-stage screen until the Boss gave them the signal that they had found the right one. “Atlantic City?” Bruce: “No!” “Backstreets?” Bruce: “Not that one!” Finally, they landed on it: the European premiere of “Detroit Medley.” Even though it’s filled with American anthems, very few other songs can so ignite a crowd, and The Hague was no exception. This monstrous, fittingly sloppy two-pack of covers notched the show up to 11. Honestly, the rest of the setlist was just gravy.
Was the evening better than Dublin 1, my previous choice for the best show of the tour? Debatable, and I don’t think an objective argument can be made in support of either. Any preference would be based on your personal biases regarding the the specific songs played, where you were standing/sitting, the quality of the people in your immediate vicinity, even just your general mood on that day. In any case, when discussing the best shows of the tour so far, The Hague would have to be mentioned.
After Bruce ended the evening with a particularly emotive acoustic “This Hard Land,” the pit denizens – many of whom had participated in roll calls for DAYS to have the opportunity to stand so close – just looked around in daze, many with tears in their eyes basking in the physically-depleting yet spiritually-replenishing afterglow that only an exceptional night with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band can induce. Many were hugging everyone around them – friends, family, and random fellow fans alike –all feeling so lucky to be able to have experienced rock and roll nirvana for almost three-and-a-half hours. No one wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
It was just that kind of night.
 *cough* New Jersey *cough*
 Shout-out to The Stone Pony, a Spanish club that has made me an honorary member even though I’m only even remotely a Spaniard in Bruce spirit.
 Sexual pun fully intended. I asked multiple people why the country basically has two names, but I got multiple answers in response. Regardless of the real reason, the name “Tramps of The Lowlands” – The Netherlands is Dutch for Lowlands (shout-out to Anne Tjebbes for the information!) – justifies the existence of both of the country’s monikers.
 This little pre-show spectacle had already inspired more crowd participation than most American concerts elicit throughout their duration.
 And mediocre…
 Funny but completely irrelevant anecdote: “Badlands” in fact was not Bruce’s first appearance of the day. A few hours before the concert, Bruce poked his head out from the side of the stage to check out the crowd. I’m not sure if somehow thought no one would spot him, but it was hysterical to see this Peeping Tom-esque gesture from one of the most famous people in the world. Not as good as a pre-show acoustic set, but still hilarious nonetheless.
 Some more than others…
 Such as: they block people’s views, and the relentless requests for harmonicas and dances definitely make a lot of these sign-bearers seem like they’re at the concert less for the music and more for what they can bring home from it, be it an instrument or an onstage selfie.
 As he did in The Hague.
 Well…at least on better nights.
 Along with “Johnny 99,” the E Street Band’s more joyfully rocking renditions of these songs somewhat contradict their somber lyrics. Mind you, I’m not complaining here because I LOVE both songs and how they’re performed live; I’m simply noting the discrepancy.
 Not a word, but I don’t care because it should be.
 I actually don’t know who did – I just saw a meme about it on Facebook…my apologies if you don’t know what a meme is. Honestly, you’re one of the lucky ones; I wish I didn’t either.
 Sorry, I couldn’t resist…
 The actual first time was in Vienna in 2009, thanks to a girl who literally removed her shirt to convince Bruce to play it. Hey, I never said Bruce doesn’t benefit in a variety of different ways from the personal connections he forges with his fans…
 My prediction: we next see Mrs. Springsteen in Milan.
 Yet another indicator of the personal connection that fans feel towards Bruce – the group that made the sign courteously yelled, “Thank you!” after the song.
 Oddly, the sign was taped to the front of an inflatable saxophone. I’m not musical expert, but I believe the sex plays little to no role in the song. But much like the “Jersey Girl” confusion, whatever it takes to get Bruce to play these tunes!
 Two notes from friends, both noteworthy (ha) enough to include here: one believes Bruce should play the song more often because – besides the fact that it’s brilliant – the coda gives his voice a much-needed, mid-show rest. True that. The other friend has told his friends and family that he wants the coda to be played at his funeral because it’s by far the most beautiful way to end anything. TRUE THAT. Shout-out to Scott and Bart, respectively.
 He actually achieves this nightly with the two-pack of “Darlington County” and “Working on the Highway.” But the fact that he so freely mixes up the order in which he plays these two songs – as he did on this night – is a testament to their inferior storytelling compared to “Racing” and “Promised Land.”
 I think I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but do you know how hard it is to properly pace a three-and-a-half-hour rock and roll concert that’s comprised of so many different types of songs?! It’s ludicrous.
 Note: I always prefer for Patti to be in the building for a variety of reasons, the most important of which being Tunnel of Love is my favorite album and the only chance in hell I have of hearing any of those songs revolves around her.
 Another person who also wasn’t by his side during the song: Stevie, who randomly left the stage for it. Perhaps a protest – Stevie’s favorite! – of Born in the U.S.A?!
 Case in point: the only other time he’s played it on this tour was in Madrid, the last show of his Spanish run.
 Take a moment to let that sink in – he’s not just pretending to read the signs up there to make us fans believe we can make an impact (though he does sometimes choose signs for songs that were already setlisted, a harmless maneuver that deceptively makes his shows feel more spontaneous). The fact that he remembered a sign that he saw who knows how long before – in the midst of focusing on making 67,500 people rock out – is mind-boggling. The man’s long term memory may be fading – this wasn’t the first time you’ve played “Jersey Girl” in Europe, Boss! – but his short-term memory is still very much intact.
 Speaking of “Jungleland,” it was odd to see Bruce surrounded by trees on all sides during a concert given the fact that the venue was smack in the middle of a gigantic park. Also, there was a huge animal preservation area next to the field that housed a bunch of deer…could this have been the closest Bruce and the Band have ever played to a bunch of animals? At least they got to enjoy an amazing show for free…
 Sorry, Soozie…
 The cameraman must not be a dedicated Bruce fan because any of us would’ve known which song Bruce had to be referring to at this point in the show. But honestly, these false starts simply increased everyone’s excitement leading into the song, almost like an engine slowly revving up before putting pedal to the metal. Honestly, I could see Bruce adding this little organic gimmick to his bag of nightly shtick.
 Jake definitely had some difficulties, but these are the type of over the top rock-and-roll songs that benefit from looser, more wild and carefree renditions.
 I swear I’m going to finally post my thoughts about it soon…
- No Surrender
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
- Sherry Darling
- Spirit in the Night
- My City of Ruins
- Jersey Girl
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- Death to My Hometown
- The River
- Racing in the Street
- The Promised Land
- Working on the Highway
- Darlington County
- Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
- I’m on Fire
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Land of Hope and Dreams
- Born to Run
- Seven Nights to Rock
- Detroit Medley
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- This Hard Land