An edited version of this piece originally appeared on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.
And THAT’s why you never underestimate a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert.
Many people had pegged their headlining gig at Rock in Rio Lisboa as a lesser stop on the European itinerary because festivals often entail Bruce-illiterate crowds, poor sound, shorter shows, and greatest hits-filled setlists. Though some of these expectations ultimately proved true, no one could have predicted that the Portuguese crowd stretching as far as the eye could see in Parque da Bela Vista would be treated to five – count them, FIVE – tour premieres. Another happy surprise: Bruce fans across the world were also able to enjoy the concert thanks to a top-notch online live stream.
Casually walking on stage a little before midnight to little fanfare and absolutely no introductory music, Bruce and the Band immediately ripped into the same opening three-pack that began Barcelona’s concert, yet the differences between the two shows were immediately apparent: not only was the festival sound system jarringly flat, but the crowd initially seemed to be one of the most tepid of the entire tour so far – American leg included – with very few even fist-pumping to “Badlands.” Further, the festival’s stage design literally separated Bruce from his audience by an uncomfortable distance, figuratively symbolizing the chasm that Bruce would have to cross to engage this more reserved crowd.
Yet instead of responding to their lack of energy by mailing it in, Bruce – as always – stepped up his game in the face of such a challenge. Forgoing the usual River songs, Bruce hit the crowd with a killer one-two punch of “Cover Me” and the tour premiere of “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” By the time Bruce began physically interacting with the crowd during “Hungry Heart” by walking down the long catwalk and all over the field – which was dwarfed by a colorful Ferris Wheel in the distance and had a zip line (yes, a zip line) literally above it which festivalgoers periodically zoomed across during the concert – he had already begun massaging the crowd into the palm of his hand. They may not have been familiar with the “wife and kids in Baltimore Jack,” but their voices were definitely heard for the chorus.
Even though it was technically another stop on The River Tour 2016, the featured album on this night was – unsurprisingly, given the greatest hits expectation – Born in the U.S.A, with nine of the album’s 12 songs being played, three times as many as from The River. Though Bruce and the Band brought out the expected heavy hitters from the 23rd best-selling record of all time globally, the crowd – and of course the few diehard Bruce fans scattered around the field – also lapped up the deeper cuts, including the unexpected tour premieres of “Downbound Train” and “I’m on Fire,” the latter of which surprisingly received the loudest singalong of the night.
Yet Bruce’s fixation on Born in the U.S.A. also stretched to the other album most closely associated with it: Nebraska, with Bruce relying on two songs to satiate his more experienced fans: “Atlantic City” – a song that really suffers from a lack of widespread crowd participation – and the tour premiere of “Johnny 99,” a rollicking rendition that highlighted the mighty power of the entire E Street Band. Sandwiched between these two relatively lesser-known-songs were the in-album-sequence of “Darlington County” and “Working on the Highway,” with Bruce really playing to the crowd on the catwalk and beyond during both.
This stretch of four songs encapsulates the subtle brilliance of the evening’s setlist construction. Bruce knew he had pander to the festival’s expected greatest hits crowd, yet he did so without disappointing his loyal fan base. For perhaps the first time all tour, these fans truly had no idea what song was coming next, and it was refreshingly thrilling.
Take the “night” two-pack in the middle of the show: for every tour staple like crowd-favorite “Because the Night,” Bruce would throw in a tour premiere that satisfied Bruce-oholics and newbies alike such as “Spirit in the Night,” a more obscure track during which Bruce made a point of physically interacting with the audience more than normal to ensure everyone was always along for the ride.
Yet the ride on this night didn’t just include those at the concert; thanks to a high-quality live stream, Bruce fans from nation to nation were able to tune in to watch Bruce and the Band musically conquer yet another country. Even though Bruce had more than won over the crowd by the end of the show – with the set-closing, acoustic “This Hard Land” eliciting tears from many locals in my vicinity – what they lacked in typical E Street Nation energy was more than made up for by E Street Nation’s participation all across the world. My phone – like yours, I’m sure – was blowing up throughout the concert with enthusiastic messages from fellow tramps following along at home who wanted nothing more than to communally share in the rock and roll spectacular.
Though the concert was definitely on the shorter side – clocking in at a little over two and a half hours, the shortest show in quite a long time but by far still the longest set of the day – it served as yet another reminder that no matter the country, no matter the venue, no matter the makeup or size of the crowd, very few people in the world are as good at what they do as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
 We’re now a “My Hometown” appearance away from the entirety of Born in the U.S.A. being played in Europe before the entirety of The River.
 “I’m on Fire” seems to be one of Bruce’s most popular songs amongst younger people, of which there were many at this rather large festival.
 We’ll forgive Jake for coming in a bit too early with his cowbell.
 Until the encores, but by then everyone was having too much of a blast to care.
- No Surrender
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- Cover Me
- Darkness on the Edge of Town
- Hungry Heart
- The Promised Land
- Out in the Street
- Downbound Train
- I’m on Fire
- Atlantic City
- Darlington County
- Working on the Highway
- Johnny 99
- The River
- Because the Night
- Spirit in the Night
- Lonesome Day
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Glory Days
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Twist and Shout
- This Hard Land