A condensed version of this post originally appeared on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.
What the hell do they put in the water in Seattle?!
From the moment Bruce literally sprinted up the stairs and onto the Key Arena stage to begin Thursday night’s rip-roaring concert in the Emerald City, it was clear he was in rare form. Yes, Bruce almost always looks like a man on a mission, but after skipping the E Street-deprived city on the last three tours, this stop felt like a release of over eight years of pent up energy from both the Boss and the Boss-ravenous crowd. And for one of the first times all tour, this show featured a bevy of something that Bruce’s more passionate fans have been clamoring for since Pittsburgh: surprises.
Though most have been asking for such surprises in the latter half of the sets – which were plentiful – Bruce’s manic disposition throughout the concert both began with and “entertainingly transformed” The River portion of the show as well. Starting with a loud, elongated “MAAAAAAAAAAAX” to cue up “Meet Me in the City,” Bruce was very evidently in ludicrously high spirits from the get-go, perhaps because it finally seemed like he has gotten over the cold that has somewhat strained his voice recently. His pipes sounded exceedingly strong, and he really found ways to add some nice vocal flourishes throughout the album performance, including:
- a more stretched out ‘It Takes Two’ coda at the end of “Two Hearts”
- a beautiful insertion of a new line in the “I Wanna Marry You” intro where he repeatedly sang “I’m in a sweeeeeeet mooooood toniiiiiight”
- a goofy introduction to “Cadillac Ranch” which involved him slowly yelling at the crowd “BUUUURY MEEEE DOOOOOOWN IN THE CA-CA-CA-CADILLAC RANCH”
- an equally goofy introduction to “Ramrod” imploring the audience to “get down and dirty at the roadhouse.”
Yet these welcome flourishes weren’t only reserved for his vocals; he even had the Band changing up their now customary renditions of a lot of The River songs on the fly. By the time they reached the always rocking and rolling nightly four-pack of “Hungry Heart” through “You Can Look,” Bruce had worked himself into a total frenzy, so much so that it actually resulted in a few endearing musical miscues. Beginning “Crush on You” by showering the audience with “SEATTLE – I GOT A CRUSH ON YOUUUU,” he launched into an absolutely raucous performance of the ditty, leading to him calling for an extended breakdown at the end that caught the Band completely off guard. Bruce of course took it in stride, saying, “We just fucked up that ending so bad – but that’s alright, because the E Street Band knows how to save the day!”
Proving this statement oh so very true, the mistake further ignited Bruce, as evidenced by him mixing up the very next song; instead of he and Little Steven’s usual call-and-response building right into the musical climax of “You Can Look” like normal, he had the band completely cut out in the middle of it before looking right at the crowd and yelping, “BUT YOU CAAAAAAN’T HAVE HER” then bringing the band back in for a heightened seismic culmination to the song.
Bruce also doubled the length of the call-and-response portion of “Cadillac Ranch” a few songs later. Suzie didn’t get the message, leading to yet another amusing mishap where she started playing her violin-part of the last bit of the song while everyone else was still calling-and-responding. Bruce maniacally laughed, as he did when instead of just having Stevie casually introduce Boss Time in his normal fashion during the middle of “Ramrod,” he had the band once again go totally silent before asking Stevie, “What’s the word?!,” to which Stevie gave his nightly, “It’s Booooooooss time” response, the cue for Bruce’s guitar solo that ended with him screeching, “And I’m the Boss!”
Oh yeah, the Bruce was fucking loose.
Happily, it wasn’t only the rockers that got these flourishes. Bruce’s energy nearly blew the roof off of those, but he was so engaged with the music that he easily converted his off-the-wall energy into intense focus for the ballads, including some fittingly eerie whispers of the track name over the instrumental denouement of a raw “Point Blank.”
He also deviated from his usual scripts for a lot of the song introductions, beginning with calling his nightly stated intentions behind recording The River “a mighty quest.” He adopted a much more conversational tone throughout the night, most memorably before “I Wanna Marry You.” After posing his usual, “Any lovers out there?” query, he labeled the audience’s cheers as, “Pretty good. In some cities, everyone hates each other. But not Seattle! All that rain makes you wanna cozy up by the fire and get comfortable with your baby.” But he wasn’t done adlibbing, revealing – most probably jokingly – that the original title for the youthfully-written “I Wanna Marry You” was “Baby Steps of Love.” After cracking up – as always – at his own joke, he told Stevie that he was going to use that title for a new song on the next record. Bruce changing up these introductions is a clear sign that he’s still mulling over a lot of the thematic ideas that he’s exploring through revisiting The River every night. As he always states before “The Ties That Bind,” “Let’s go down to The River to see what we find…”.
And the latter, non-River half of Seattle’s concert demonstrated that he’s also still mulling over how to find the best way to construct a dynamic setlist for these shows that appeals to fans of all kinds, from newbies to diehards alike. For those who feared that his insane mood wouldn’t translate into some insane surprises, that concern was quickly nullified when he immediately went into the pit and grabbed a bushel of signs upon the conclusion of “Wreck on the Highway.” First up: Bruce exclaiming “Oh yeah, we know that one goddammit” before diving into a rollicking “I’m Goin’ Down,” only the second performance of the Born in the U.S.A. song on this tour.
“Badlands” followed, and right at the point in the end of the song where Bruce calls for the legendary chant from the audience to lead the Band back into the final breakdown, he all of a sudden sprinted to the center platform to collect EVEN MORE signs from behind the pit as the Band kept vamping. After running back to the main stage and guiding the Band through the final breakdown, he picked out “She’s the One” from the now large pile of signs behind him. Though a somewhat uninspired request given how often the song has appeared on this tour, Bruce still found a way to change it up during his harmonica solo by bringing Jake down to the main microphone to play his “I Wanna Marry You” maracas, a reminder that Bruce had already written a song before The River that could’ve also been called “Baby Steps of Love.”
And then, the highlight of the night: a sign for the tour premiere of “Adam Raised a Cain.” With a typically heated build to start and a cataclysmically fiery and lengthy guitar solo from Bruce, it was a heart-pounding performance that matched the lyrical intensity of this all-too-rare, Darkness on the Edge of Town gem. Another scorching guitar solo followed – this time from Nils – during “Because the Night” before Bruce went back to his pile of signs for a passionate “Tougher Than the Rest,” surely thanks to Patti’s welcome presence. Bruce still wasn’t done with the signs, though picking out one for the tour staple “The Rising” felt hardly necessary.
Yet the biggest surprise of all was still to come, and it was one that no one would have even dreamed of requesting on a sign: the encores began with Seattle-native Eddie Vedder popping over to the arena from his nearby home to lend his soaring vocal talents to “Bobby Jean,” and he was greeted with such a warm welcome that Bruce joked, “Damn good reception for the hometown boy – I’d get booed in my hometown!” They each sang half of every verse, and even though Eddie messed up the order of some of the lyrics, it was a soulful version of the song with the Pearl Jam frontman dancing back to back with Jake center stage during the latter’s song-ending sax solo.
Though the rest of the encores featured Bruce in his same ecstatic mood adding new flourishes to the usual songs – including a hysterical bit in between “Rosy” and “Shout” where he would ask Kevin for his guitar, almost take it, but refuse over and over again until he heard a sufficiently deafening ovation from the crowd – Bruce and Eddie’s performance of “Bobby Jean” really epitomized where this show may stand in relation to the rest of the tour. It was undeniably an incredibly special, memorable night – easily among the best of the tour – with Bruce in awesome crazy-man mode, but I can’t help but hope that when this tour reaches its final stop, Seattle will be looked back upon as merely the start of a new phase of the tour.
Building off last week’s phenomenal run of shows to tear down the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Seattle’s concert definitely brought back a lot of that cherished feeling of spontaneity amongst E Street Nation that any song could be played next. With all of the signs, Bruce and the Band were flying by the seat of their pants – a signature trademark of an E Street Band show that this tour has largely lacked – but “Adam Raised a Cain” was the only sign truly out of left field; all of the others have already been played a few times on this tour. And though it’s always a privilege to see Eddie Vedder perform with Bruce, and even though “Bobby Jean” is a classic, a much more creative song could have been chosen, one that better showcased how great their voices sound together. Monday’s rescheduled show at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden will be a good indicator as to whether or not the shows in LA and now Seattle are the first signs that this River tour has rounded a new bend in regards to thrillingly surprising setlists.
But even if the rest of the tour only includes shows like Seattle, there will hundreds upon thousands of happy rockers dancing out of arenas and stadiums in the coming months. Everyone should be lucky enough to see Bruce joyously lose his mind for a little more than three hours and forty minutes like he did at Key Arena. It’s nights like these that make it so clear how much Bruce utterly and completely loves what he does, and we’re just lucky he not only shares that love with us, but we’re an integral part of that love; he was feeding off the neglected-in-recent-years crowd’s rapturous response all night long.
I still don’t know what they put in the water here, but The River Tour was flowing stronger than ever in Seattle, and the water tasted like pure, unadulterated, unpredictable rock and roll.
 See what I did there?
 No mention of Little Steven’s American Idol appearance at any point in the evening.
 Guitar tech Kevin even had to bring out a new Fender during “Out in the Street” because Bruce had somehow broken his usual one.
 Which has become a nightly highlight.
 A creative fan had already made a sign requesting “Baby Steps of Love,” which elicited more laughter from Bruce.
 Because he was taking absolutely no shortcuts around rocking on this night.
 A necessary aside to note: big ups to Pearl Jam for agreeing to match all donations made to the West Seattle Food Bank.
 “My Hometown” would have been the obvious choice given their history of playing it together and the song’s significance to Eddie on this particular night, but I’d posit that “My City of Ruins” – which Mr. Vedder gorgeously played at Bruce’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony – could have been transcendent, especially given its resonance with the events that transpired in Brussels this week.
 By my count, it was the second longest show of the tour, a smidgen behind LA3.
- 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
- I’m Goin’ Down
- She’s the One
- Adam Raised a Cain
- Because the Night
- Tougher Than the Rest
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Bobby Jean
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out