MANCHESTER: Brucey Claus Came to Manchester Town

This piece was written for and originally published within the space constraints of Backstreets.com.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band knew exactly where they were from the get-go at their first of six stops in the United Kingdom. Walking on stage – without Patti – inside Etihad Stadium shortly before 7pm, Bruce immediately addressed the slight yet persistent rain that plagued the crowd for most of the day and night: “Hello rainy Manchester…again!” referencing the downpour that accompanied their last show here. Yet Bruce followed up that joke by promising yet again the poor weather would only bolster their performance: “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

A new country with a new crowd and a new climate called for a new opener, and as such Bruce replaced the frenzy-inducing “Badlands” with a much more fitting “Atlantic City,” an unexpected and unexpectedly impactful opener whose beautifully somber tone was only enhanced by the overcast skies and light raindrops. Though the song almost always goes over swimmingly, it seemed to particularly resonate with this predominantly blue collar city.

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Perfectly building off the power, pace and even themes of this stunning opener, the subtle references to violent organized crime at the end of “Atlantic City” led directly into the overt references to such violence in “Murder Incorporated,” yet another song that implicitly connected to the culture of Manchester given its important role in the history of the Industrial Revolution.[1] It was a killer[2] one-two punch to open the show – perhaps the best opening of the entire tour – and one that energetically fed into “Badlands” by ending with another fiery guitar duel between Bruce and Stevie, only Bruce took more of the spotlight this time than he did in Donostia.

Even so, his vocal harmonies in “Atlantic City” and guitar work in “Murder Incorporated” immediately engaged Stevie, and his performance tenacity never waned throughout the concert, one of his best of the tour. Yet it was another of Bruce’s brothers-in-guitars that was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of the night; right after Bruce and Nils finished up their guitar duet standing in front of the former’s mic at the end of the song, the latter turned around, tripped over a part of the stage, and took a pretty hard tumble. After making sure he was alright – which Nils confirmed with a sheepish grin – Bruce cracked up, announcing to the crowd that, “The raw excitement had put Nils right on his ass.”

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Though the first few songs of the night were consistently intense, this little mishap transitioned Bruce into more jovial spirits, the first of many mood-shifts throughout the concert that impressively never negatively altered its seamless pace.[3] Yet few could have predicted where Bruce would take the show next; still laughing from Nils’ fall, Bruce called out a surprising member of the crowd:

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“What’s the deal with the guy in the Santa Claus suit?” Bruce asked, addressing an older gentleman in the middle of the pit. “Is there some connection to Manchester I don’t know about? Or is it a perverted attempt at a sign request?” Bruce hit the nail on the reindeer’s head with his final guess, calling up the man and his “Santa Claus is Coming to Manchester” sign. Even though – as Bruce noted – there were still 270 days until Christmas, the band launched into a joyous performance of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that Bruce allowed Santa himself to accompany by singing – hysterically off-key, off-pitch, off-melody, off-everything – Clarence’s old “You better be good for goodness sake” part. “Let’s hear it for Santa…nobody knew that Manchester was where Santa lives in the offseason. Now we know!” Bruce concluded at the song’s close, but not before stating, “Only in Manchester! This the the only place where that’s going to happen…”

Sadly, the same could not be said for the rest of the setlist. Though two other sign requests brought only the second tour performance of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and the European premiere of “Backstreets,” the remainder of the show featured a lot of the same stadium crowd-pleasers that have already become staples of this European leg – and since the crowd’s energy paled in comparison to their Spanish counterparts, most of these songs didn’t play nearly as well.

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Yes, Bruce happily re-inserted “Crush on You,” “You Can Look” and “I Wanna Marry You” to appease those clamoring for more River songs on this River tour, but he yet again skipped most of the album’s second record in favor of songs that could be considered some of his ‘greatest hits.’ Though Bruce and the Band still turned in phenomenal performances of these songs, perhaps European fans would be less upset by the lack of River songs if Bruce adhered to his own reasoning he gave during the final show of the American leg as to why they were going to stop playing the album in full: “We’re gonna open up our setlists over in Europe.” Much like with his American shows, the post-River portion of the setlist proved the most disappointingly static, which was a shame considering how the first few songs of the night felt so specifically directed at this Manchester crowd.

Yet for the tens of thousands of audience members in attendance who don’t obsessively setlist watch from home, the concert must have played like gangbusters for its entire three hours and ten-minute duration, largely thanks to Bruce’s incredibly high spirits all night long. As usual, the rain brought out the best in the Boss and the Band. During “Glory Days,” Bruce felt inspired to go off script in his back-and-forth with his musical consigliere: “Let’s keep this thing rocking now – who cares about the rain! Are you with me Stevie? Is the Band with me?! ARE THE MANCHERIANS WITH ME?!”

The deafening response from the crowd said it all.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] It’s often credited as being the first industrialized city in the world.

[2] Pun intended.

[3] An example bi-polar stretch that still totally worked: “Out in the Street” into “Darkness on the Edge of Town” into “Crush on You.”

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Atlantic City
  2. Murder Incorporated
  3. Badlands
  4. The Ties That Bind
  5. Sherry Darling
  6. Two Hearts
  7. No Surrender
  8. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
  9. Hungry Heart
  10. Out in the Street
  11. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  12. Crush on You
  13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  14. I Wanna Marry You
  15. The River
  16. Point Blank
  17. Johnny 99
  18. Darlington County
  19. Working on the Highway
  20. The Promised Land
  21. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  22. Because the Night
  23. The Rising
  24. Thunder Road
  25. Backstreets
  26. Born to Run
  27. Glory Days
  28. Dancing in the Dark
  29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  30. Shout
  31. Bobby Jean
  32. This Hard Land
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