Before Saturday night, seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing literally atop Circus Maximus in Rome could not have been considered a bucket list event because most never would’ve even dreamed of such a ludicrously stunning idea. And yet, tens upon thousands of Bruce’s ravenously enthusiastic Italian fans packed into this legendary site – which is now basically a giant dirt field with slightly elevated grassy hills on either side surrounded by ruins in the heart of one of the “most beautiful” cities in the world – as far as the eye could see for the third and final E Street spectacular in Italy. Palpably aware of the significance of this landmark locale, Bruce, the Band, and the seemingly never-ending crowd seemed to share one predominant goal: to celebrate nonstop this momentous occasion. Though the setlist may not have been sufficiently monumental from beginning to end to make the show match its all-timer of a venue, he included song choices of all kinds – from truly mind-blowing moments to rollicking covers to his usual greatest hits befitting the large festival setting – to satisfy every member of the Circus, whose unparalleled, unwavering energy never failed to convey the awe-inspiring circumstances of the extra-long night.
Fittingly, Bruce opened the evening with a song that many of his European fans would consider a true Boss bucket list item. In a rare occurrence, neither Bruce nor the E Street Band were the first people on stage; instead, a full orchestral string section casually made their way to a row of chairs set up behind Roy’s piano when the show started. Though some expected them simply to play an introductory excerpt from Ennio Morricone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” score that usually accompanies Bruce and the Band’s entrances for Italian concerts, these expectations were quickly proven incorrect as a partial recording of this composition greeted their eventual arrival. A full strings section unleashed upon Bruce’s music usually can only mean one song, and oh boy what a doozy: the tour premiere – and only second performance ever in Europe – of “New York City Serenade,” a sort of reprisal of the first ever performance in this same city with this same orchestra back in 2013.
Though the performance may not have been as much of a surprise given the song’s recent history here, that didn’t take away from the always-transcendent, extended near FIFTEEN MINUTE performance. Properly capturing the subtle majesty of this early-career underrated opus, Bruce and the Band took their sweet musical time throughout, clearly relishing in being temporarily joined by such expert musicians of a different yet wholly compatible breed. I could never do this indescribable performance justice with mere words, so I highly recommend that you watch it for yourself here.
What I CAN describe, however, is the transfixed crowd’s essential contributions to the song. Though their Milanese counterparts sometimes became restless during such slow, long ballads in San Siro a few weeks ago, this Roman audience clearly understood from the first note the sheer awesomeness of what they were witnessing, with an all-encompassing hush falling over the entirety of Circus Maximus…until it was time for everyone to vocally not “take the train” boisterously together. By the time we were all “singin’, singin’, singin’,” everyone in the Pit was holding up the red paper hearts that Italy’s fantastic fan club “Our Love is Real” – those responsible for the “stadium art” at all of the Band’s recent concerts in Milan – had handed out pre-show. When the highly emotional journey of the performance reached its resplendent conclusion after a clap-along, Bruce took the time to shake hands with the conductor of the strings section, blow them a kiss, and beckon the audience to give them the stirring ovation that they so richly deserved before departing the stage.
And then, it was time to ROCK. If “New York City Serenade” serenaded the crowd’s souls with overflowing musical divinity, “Badlands” allowed them to release all that fulfillment with a level of bedlam that only an Italian crowd can stir up. Bruce felt the desire to end the song down on the center platform to immerse himself in their widespread jubilation, which proved infectious enough to alter Bruce’s initial plans for the setlist. As he made his way back to his microphone, he stopped about halfway up, perhaps belatedly registering a perfect sign request that he had just seen. Turning around, he summoned the cardboard sign to the stage before showing it to the band for what would be the first of THREE non-nightly covers, all of which were prime examples of what happens when signs go right.
On this gorgeous summer evening in one of the most ceaselessly energetic cities in the world, not many of Bruce’s songs could embody the atmosphere of the night as much as the tour premiere of Eddie Cochran’s emblematic “Summertime Blues.” Though it was undeniably a ROUGH performance by the Band during which they were clearly flying by the seat of their pants, how could anyone complain about such an inspired setlist choice, especially since the wild nature of this classic almost calls for a ragged rendition. It’s impossible to say who was having more fun: the crowd or the Band. But one thing was clear from the get-go – we were all gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler all night long.
Though there may not have been a cure for our summertime blues, Dr. Boss and his E Street nurses were about to prescribe an overwhelming dose of pure rock and roll, at first courtesy of The River. Once again playing the entirety of Side One of the record and then some, they allowed the album to work its customary magic. And once again, the boundless enthusiasm of the Italians elevated the performance to another stratosphere. Their relentless, deafening chanting enveloped the entire crowd in a communal bacchanal, reinforcing how much The River focuses on the ties that bind. The most notable example occurred during “Independence Day,” when they surprised Bruce by chanting the melody at the top of their lungs leading both into and out of the performance. Bruce was noticeably touched by the stark beauty of this participation, allowing our voices to fill the storied air while cellphone fireflies illuminated the hallowed grounds.
To be honest, some of my most cherished memories of the concert for years to come will probably relate to seeing the perceptible awe in Bruce’s face as he took periodic moments throughout the night to drink in what we were all experiencing. You could quite easily detect in Bruce’s face that he not only recognized but so appreciated just how special the evening was shaping up to be, thanks to both the Italians’ signature commitment to having the time of their lives and to his brilliant orchestration of the night, all set against what has to be one of the most unique backdrops of his entire career.
All of these factors resulted in Bruce seeming to make a point of honoring that Italian commitment by treating them to rip-roaring performance after rip-roaring performance, perhaps best showcased after The River sequence. Near the end of “Out in the Street,” Bruce grabbed a sign in the shape of a guitar and proceeded to have some air guitar fun with it. But he wasn’t through with the sign after his air solo; once the song was finished, he flashed the request that was on it: the second cover of the night, the European premiere of “Boom Boom.” Though previously performed on the last night of the American leg in Brooklyn, this raucous rendition blew that one out of the water. Building off the perfectly paced flow of The River tracks, Bruce imbued “Boom Boom” with unbridled rock and rollness, with extra performative vocalizing to make sure the crowd felt the playfully ecstatic intensity of the song.
Yet Bruce had another blistering cover up his sleeve, or should I say by his feet: retrieving a white hat that he had thrown near his mic after plucking it from a member of the crowd, he pointed to the handwritten sign request on it. Above a colored-in skyline of an average American city were the words “Detroit Medley,” making an uber-rare but uber-rad main set appearance with Bruce donning the hat throughout. Typically an encore stalwart that Bruce always seems to bust out when he and the crowd are in a particularly energetic mood, his decision to break it out here reveals just how high-octane this stretch had become; he had worked the crowd into a level of absolute frenzy usually reserved for the end of a night.
As such, after a further tempo-pushing “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” and a particularly impassioned “Death to My Hometown” fueled by the crowd’s unabashed chanting, Bruce breathtakingly gave both himself, the Band, and the crowd a perfectly timed breather from this kinetic stretch for yet another mid-set solo performance of one of the darker selections from his massive oeuvre: the tour premiere of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” requested by an Italian social worker. Though it’s hard to forget the full band, Tom Morello-led version, this gorgeous performance with Bruce bathed in somber green and blue lighting under the now-visible almost-full moon appeared to resonate with the crowd on a very deep and intimate level. Yes, the song very much concerns the Steinbeck-ian American Heartland, but its universal lyrics related to this crowd in more ways than just the dust bowl setting of The Grapes of Wrath connecting to the dusty field on which they were standing.
Considering Italy’s recent economic hardships, lines like “Wherever somebody’s fightin’ for a place to stand / Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand…” must have spoken right to the heart of a lot of the crowd. Bruce also seemed to place extra emphasis on, “Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free, / Look in their eyes ma you’ll…see…ME,” perhaps a subtle ode to the far too excessive amount of violence that the world has been subjected to this past week. The beginning of this verse sounds like it could’ve been inspired by current headlines:
“wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry new born baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I’ll be there.”
All of Bruce’s recent mid-show solo performances of his more depressing fare have worked like gangbusters, brilliantly varying the pace in such a way that seems to result in the audience re-focusing the specificity of their attention.
I know this recap may sound hyperbolic, but how else should I describe the hyperbolic vibe of the first half of the show? And now, to explain those italics: after haunting performances of “The River” and “Point Blank,” Bruce yet again left behind the diversity of the early setlist in favor of playing the same old greatest hits. Given the fact that the concert setup felt a lot like a festival – with some posters for the show even bearing the festival-esque name “Rock in Roma,” probably due to the two openers that weren’t good enough to mention in any detail – I do not in any way begrudge Bruce for spending a bit of time trying to appease the more casual fans in the crowd. But…but…but…does he REALLY need to play the same fucking songs every night?!
Since I’ve complained enough about the sometimes boring predictability of the latter half of his main sets, I’ve decided to give your voices the floor on this one by posing a question to y’all. As someone who tries to understand a decision in every way possible before reaching any sort of negative judgement on it, I’m desperately trying to find a valid reason as to why Bruce insists on relying on basically the exact same collection of songs every night. Again, I know he has to devote a few songs to “normal people” – AKA those who don’t read excessively long reports of all of his concerts like you loonies – but explain to me why he can’t periodically replace just some of the following songs with those I list after the hyphens below. I’ve tried choosing songs from the same albums and/or those I feel would achieve Bruce’s desired, stadium-pleasing effect:
“The Promised Land” – “Prove It All Night” / “Candy’s Room”
“Working on the Highway” – “Cover Me”
“Darlington County” – “Downbound Train”
“Bobby Jean” – “Glory Days”
“Tougher than the Rest” – “Tunnel of Love” / “Brilliant Disguise” / “Human Touch”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying he should permanently replace all of these; instead, he could simply widen the well of songs from which he chooses on any given night. Perhaps I’m letting my own tiredness with these tracks overly affect my perception of how the rest of the crowd is reacting, but it really felt like the energy waned during this stretch. Even if I’m just being negatively biased and the songs actually did go over well, do we really think that any of the suggested alternatives above would play any worse?? I simply cannot figure out why he’s totally fine switching up the first half of the setlist every night yet rarely does the same for the second half.
I know he’s the Boss and as such will continue to make whatever setlist decisions he so desires regardless of what we think, but I’d still like to try to understand his perspective. And yes, I’ve heard the argument that his most beloved tours of old also featured fairly static setlists, but it’s tough to compare those to now because he has sooooo many more songs at his disposal at the moment, not even including the endless possibilities that covers provide. Since we’re nearing the end of this tour, it’s fair to look at the end of other recent tours to see how they stack up…and the wide ranges of those setlists is just astounding.
I’m really at a loss here. If anyone has a good theory to explain his rationale, I’d LOVE to hear it.
I’ve only encountered one good explanation thus far, but I understand it more than actually agree with it: someone suggested to me that Bruce believes playing the same songs takes less out of the Band. Since they’re getting up there in age, Bruce would prefer to keep them a little more shrink-wrapped in the short term so that they’ll be able to keep rocking for more of the long term. I guess that makes sense, but doesn’t it sort of go against Bruce’s lifelong belief that we should always give 110% at whatever venture we pursue? I feel like most fans would rather see a full-force ahead E Street Band…
Mind you, I am in no way criticizing their performances of these songs. Though I do think these similar setlists can sometimes lead to more complacency on their parts, all of their renditions in Rome were top-notch, probably because they wanted to honor the lunacy of the crowd. And in any case, once the setlist neared and went into the encores, all of my personal gripes were washed away in the flood of joyous sweat dripping off the increasingly manic audience. I am continually astounded at how Bruce’s encores are almost always well-oiled machines, and the recent iterations on this tour have been some of my favorites.
Starting with the full-throated singalongs of “Drive All Night” and “Because the Night,” followed by “Land of Hope and Dreams” – a rabble-rousing ode to his fans that always excites the crowd, which here took on added emotional layers because Bruce dedicated it to Nice – Bruce built the concert to a breakneck frenetic pace that sustained a full encores-length climax, with the raw power of his music consuming everyone and everything in its path. Though the setlist was mostly business as usual, the inexhaustible crowd inspired Bruce to add a few small flourishes:
During the spirit hands portion of the “Born to Run” breakdown, Bruce and the audience partook in some early “Romaaaaa / Bruuuuuuuuce / Romaaaaaa / Bruuuuuuuce” call-and-response; during a particularly vivacious “Ramrod,” Bruce inexplicably changed one of the lines to, “Everybody’s heard about the bird?” before engaging in a slightly less jarring alteration with “look over yonder see them Colosseum lights”; Bruce pointed to the seemingly infinite masses of people sitting on the small hills that ran the entire length of both sides of the field when he sang, “Meet me tonight up on top of the hill(s)”; the crowd forced Bruce to slightly switch up his “Can I get a witness?” build-up during “Shout” by loudly chanting the melody of the song over his series of rhetorical questions; and when he once again pretended to be too tired to go on – clad in his new shiny robe inscribed with “The Boss” on the back – he actually walked all the way down the stairs and off the stage until Stevie declared, “The Boss has left the building…” followed by a new question, “Or has he?!” which was Bruce’s cue to run back on stage and launch into the song’s conclusion.
Yet even some of the old shtick felt new thanks to the crowd’s responses to them: they ignited when Bruce drench himself with water from his trusty sponge during “Shout,” and they roared when he introduced Roy with the moniker, “88 keys just won’t do!” Yet the moment that perhaps best revealed the unique mutual gratitude between Bruce and his fans on this night occurred during “Dancing in the Dark.” Faced with perhaps the most sign requests ever asking for dances of various kinds, Bruce went out of his way to grant as many of them as possible, finding dancing companions for Stevie, Garry, Max, Jake, Soozie, and two for himself. He clearly wanted to reward as many of the fans as possible who helped make the night one to remember…
…as I’m sure was also true for almost all of the other nights that Bruce and his Italian fans have spent together over the course of his career. After voluminous – both in loudness and number – “E Street Band! E Street Band! E Street Band!” chants rang through Circus Maximus as they left the stage, Bruce made sure to preface his final solo performance with a sincerely heartfelt speech thanking Italy for their support for so many years. Though I may have initially preferred for Bruce to play a different acoustic song, “Thunder Road” proved the perfect cap to this sublime evening – no other choice would have elicited as loud of a mass singalong, the culmination of all the singalongs and chant-alongs and clap-alongs and jump-alongs and dance-alongs shared during almost every song.
With so much appreciable bliss in the air, the communal performance was yet another testament to the perseverance of the Gospel of Springsteen; thinking about all of the violence that occurred on this ground thousands of years ago, and the excessive amount of tragic violence that took place all over the world this week, and Italy’s recent debilitating financial woes, “Thunder Road” – and really the entire concert – was one giant beacon of hope that life will continue to go on, and the darkness will eventually fade into the sort of exulted light provided by a chorus of voices singing one of the greatest stories rock and roll has ever told. Instead of directly commenting too much on these points of despair, Bruce instead offered his adoring Italian fans a rare euphoric escape.
Ending with a song about the start of a long journey currently being sung near the conclusion of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s long relationship with Italy, this triumphant performance of “Thunder Road” to finish this consummate concert would be a suitable final chapter to their story. Nobody wants it to come to a close, but if this was the last time that Italy got to see Bruce and this incarnation of the Band walk off stage to the orchestral sounds of Ennio Morricone after 34 songs and three hours and 53 minutes, you couldn’t ask for a much better goodbye. Mythic icons of rock and roll completing their decades-long epic Italian run in an equally mythic and iconic monument built for warriors – sounds like a proper climax. But let’s hope it turns out merely to be yet another chapter in their extraordinary narrative…
 Which included Patti.
 Given the album’s obvious focus on matters of the heart, the crowd had a field day with their paper hearts throughout this River stretch, ultimately leading to Bruce asking to see them during, surprise surprise, “Two Hearts” AND “Hungry Heart.” During the latter, the Italians fans surrounding the walkway that Bruce uses to get to the platform behind the Pit so voraciously tried to touch him that he had to good-naturedly put up his hands like a boxer to fend them off. He did, however, find the time to pose for a selfie with a girl standing next to the barricade.
 He even cut out the band at the end to shine the vocal spotlight on the crowd.
 Which was fairy humorous since he had a real guitar strapped to his back.
 And soundchecked both in Copenhagen and briefly in Gothenburg.
 Since those wanting to gain access to the Pit had to wait in the sunny line basically all day, the enterprising company COOP handed out the white hats below to everyone for free to shield them from the sun (free advertising yay!). Most people moved the sticker and proceeded to personalize their hats, mostly with song requests.
 Combined with “New York City Serenade,” it’s pretty odd that two different songs with America-themed titles were played in this most un-American of cities, not to mention the highly American subject of the song that would be performed solo a few minutes after “Detroit Medley.”
 Which featured melodic chanting and singing galore from the crowd.
 Note: labeling the tour as an uninspired money grab is NOT a valid reason.
 One funny moment during this performance: the microphone temporarily conked out during Nils’ now nightly solo.
 Though technically a sign request, you have to assume that he was going to play it anyways since he’s been dusting it off so frequently of late. One of my biggest Bruce-related pet peeves is when he pretends to grant a request for a song most probably already setlisted. Though it does serve to remind me that Bruce has perfected the art of making the staged look spontaneous.
 Thankfully, it looks like he may have removed “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” from the well. An eight-year-old kid in the very front row had an immaculately constructed wooden sign asking for it, yet Bruce still refused. Progress!
 I believe it was a reference to a sign that I quickly glimpsed mentioning some sort of bird?
 They erected multiple screens along the edges of the field for those who were literally too far away from the stage to see anything but E Street ants.
 Who didn’t seem too keen to participate in the goofy moves of the man chosen.
 Though the person never made it to the stage to dance with her even though Bruce held up their sign.
 The second longest show of the tour.
- New York City Serenade
- Summertime Blues
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Jackson Cage
- Two Hearts
- Independence Day
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Boom Boom
- Detroit Medley
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- Death to My Hometown
- The Ghost of Tom Joad
- The River
- Point Blank
- The Promised Land
- Working on the Highway
- Darlington County
- Bobby Jean
- Tougher Than the Rest
- Drive All Night
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Land of Hope and Dreams
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Thunder Road