GLASGOW: A ‘River’ That Don’t Know Where It’s Flowing

 

After the high that was Bruce and the Band’s concerts in Dublin – most probably the consensus picks as the best shows of the entire tour, America included – Glasgow could have gone in one of two directions:

  • 1) Bruce could have built upon the momentum from these two shows and continued to throw nonstop, energetic curveballs into his setlists, turning the concerts into the sort of game-changers commonly used as benchmarks when tracing the development of past tours.

The result? A bit of both, honestly.

‘Letdown’ is far too strong of a negative adjective to describe the show; ‘comedown’ feels more accurate, especially if you – like me – prefer when Bruce attempts to communicate a clear thematic through-line that connects the entirety of a given setlist. In Dublin – and in many of the shows in Spain[1] – it looked like Bruce felt committed, almost possessed to tell an emotional, expansive story spanning the whole length of his concerts. Though these are personally my favorite type of shows, they clearly take a lot out of Bruce for obvious reasons, both physically and – probably even more so – mentally. Perfectly pacing a 210-minute rock and roll concert is almost impossible – concerning himself with the specific content of those concerts on top of that pace is a herculean endeavor. Yet that’s exactly what he tasked himself with, AND achieved in Dublin.[2]

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Glasgow, on the other hand, contained no such narrative of ideas. Instead, it was more of a random grab-bag of songs that freely – and seamlessly in regards to the pace – fluctuated between out-and-out party songs and more intense, darker songs. Yet the show didn’t even come close to being a letdown because it was a real, unstructured grab-bag. For the first time all tour, it finally feels like any song could potentially be played next because Bruce – for the most part[3] – doesn’t seem to be adhering to a clear setlist structure. Yet since it did not feature the substantive heft of the Dublin shows, Glasgow ended up feeling not so much an afterthought but a concert more marked by reserved relaxation, with Bruce in a way resting on his exponentially satisfactory laurels, not to mention resting his body and his temporarily weakening voice.

He was in great, laid-back spirits all night, and the rest of the Band followed suit, with Patti taking off the concert altogether and recently re-energized members like Little Steven losing the level of constant, passionate engagement – at least at first – that have been welcome hallmarks of this tour. Though a relaxed and restrained E Street Band may not be the best E Street Band, it’s still a fascinating and eminently watchable E Street Band. In fact, one of the most interesting virtues of seeing so many shows on a specific tour is being able to experience not off-nights but different types of nights, which always serve as reminders not only of the impressive range of the E Street Band but also how much any concert is truly a subjective experience based on an untold number of individual factors related to Bruce, the Band, and each member of the crowd.[4]

One such factor: the weather in Glasgow. It was a beautiful albeit scorching day in Scotland, one that probably served as the main superficial cue behind Bruce’s decision to begin the show with EVERYONE’S FAVORITE! song: “Waitin’ On a Sunny Day,” which saw Bruce wandering around the stage more than usual, clearly enjoying the rays of sunlight still streaming through the relatively small Hampden Park[5] since the show started a good 15 minutes before 7pm thanks to a sharp 10:30pm curfew. Looking past my frustration that he easily could’ve gone with the soundchecked and similarly themed “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” here instead, it actually was a surprisingly effective opener.

More than just the appearance of combustible firebrand of a young girl dressed head to toe in Born in the U.S.A.-spangled garb who yelped her way through her solo before screeeeeeching, “TAKE IT AWAY E STREEEEEEEEEEEET” – much to the bemused pleasure of Bruce – the song also immediately engaged the hesitant Scottish fans. Perhaps remembering crowds of yesteryear, Bruce seemed to know that he would need to – as he did with his ‘Sunny Day’ singer – constantly hold out his hand to the audience to ensure they would continue to participate in the proceedings. Fittingly, the participation-heavy songs “Spirit in the Night” and “My Love Will Not Let You Down” followed.

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The official poster. I’ve liked most of them, but this one is TERRIBLE. Seriously, what is that picture?! They should stick to performance shots.

Before I go on, I want to share a thought that I had in Glasgow about the latter song, which is the type of observation that restrained shows such as these are more likely to inspire; when I’m not fully engaged, I tend to be more conscious of what exactly makes me so engaged most of the time – that distance provides me with a sort of clarity of insight.  As I believe I’ve said before, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” is one of Bruce’s most exciting live songs, capable of turning an entire stadium into a leaping and fist-pumping bacchanalia in a matter of minutes. Though I do think the fact that the song can so easily be interpreted to comment on Bruce’s reciprocal relationship with his fans plays a factor, the lyrical structure of the song also inherently brings out this level of manic energy from the crowd.

The song is broken up into three verses, each ending with the repeated refrain of the title of the song, basically serving as the song’s chorus. Yet in Glasgow I noticed that Bruce and the Band exponentially increase the number of times they repeat this refrain after every subsequent verse. At the end of the first verse, they sing it twice. At the end of the second: four times. And though the guitar solos somewhat obscure the exact bounds of the third verse, the title is repeated at least eight times before the song finishes.

The result: as the song progresses, there’s a literal build-up from chorus to chorus that either consciously or subconsciously builds up the energy of the crowd. In a song that has lines like, “I’m gonna tear all your walls down,” this exponential increase of these refrains makes the crowd feel the overwhelmingly expanding drive of the lead character, and musically it almost serves as proof that Bruce’s musical love will not let us down, for he’s going to keep playing harder and longer and more passionately more and more and more. Though the easiest way to detect pace is through the speed at which the Band is playing, often a song’s lyrical structure subtly – and perhaps unknowingly for some – adds to that pace in substantial ways.

And yet, the song still didn’t really get these old Scots moving. The crowd was as tepid as tepid can be – rivaling even the quietest of their American counterparts – and the fact that the seats may not have even been three-quarters full definitely didn’t help matters.[6] Unlike other, more reserved fans such as in Manchester, this timidity seemed to be less a difference in how they show their appreciation and more simply a lack of recognition on their parts of a lot of the songs, even the now-nightly opening River triumvirate. Though Bruce may not have been using his mind to craft a setlist narrative, he was by no means not thinking at all; evidently noting the crowd’s subpar engagement, Bruce picked out a “Rosy” sign for a rare, early­­ set appearance for its European tour premiere. Refreshed from the multi-show break, she was a welcome presence back in the show, and it was the type of free-flowing, rollicking performance that has made the song such an encore staple for so long.[7]

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The equally atrocious – less funny, more boring – official t-shirt.

In the first of what would become many self-contained mini-packs of songs – Bruce opted for telling a couple of shorter, multi-song stories that didn’t connect to each other instead of one long show-length story through the evening’s entire collection of songs – Bruce followed up one The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle tune with another:[8] the random tour premiere of “Sandy” from a sign request advertising it was the creator’s wedding song. Though I always appreciate hearing this rarity, it was a rough performance, due in large part to the echo-y, flat and diluted sound that plagued the whole show. Even so, the band gave it their all, and it’s always nice when Roy is given the rare opportunity to come out from behind his piano perch.[9]

After the usual River crowd-favorite singalong two-pack, Bruce granted a sign request for “Lonesome Day.” Look, I actually like the song, but I still can’t find a justifiable reason as to why Bruce plays it so often over the near infinite number of other choices that he has in his deeeeeeeep catalogue. Honestly, I’d normally just skip over writing about the song entirely, but the fact that it was even included in the soundcheck allows me to use it as a way to talk about the OTHER soundchecked songs that I believe he should’ve played instead, if not in Glasgow then SOMETIME SOON (please): “Roll of the Dice” and “Lucky Town.”

Even though Bruce didn’t record Human Touch and Lucky Town with the E Street Band, their songs deserve to receive the unique E Street Band live treatment, especially since it would probably allow a lot of fans to re-evaluate them. Since I was a mere wee tot when they were released, I was saved from the resentment that fans felt towards the rather deridingly-named “Other Band,” not to mention the unfair comparisons to the E Street Band. Without these non-musical elements biasing my ears, I immediately fell in love with the albums, and they really feature some of Bruce’s best songwriting.[10] As such, now that the E Street Band is obviously back together and will remain that way until the ultimate disruptor comes along,[11] fans should be able to hear these songs with fresh ears – an adjective that simply can’t be used for songs such as “Lonesome Day.” “Roll of the Dice” and “Lucky Town” would be a GREAT start.[12]

After an always jovial “You Can Look,” Bruce quickly redirected the show down a darker path, launching into perhaps the most thematically and musically riveting portion of the evening. “Death to My Hometown” made its way outside of Ireland for another rousing performance – it’s really one of Bruce’s better modern-day stadium anthems – and the song perfectly introduced the theme of death by oppressive persecution that would run through the next two songs.

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The ticket and paper wristband. I miss Dublin’s classy plastic wristbands with the date and venue listed on them.

Up first, undoubtedly the highlight of the night: the tour premiere of the soundchecked “American Skin (41 Shots).” Considering how much the song comments on the seemingly endless occurrences in America recently of unarmed, innocent black people being shot by armed white people – think Travyon Martin, Ernest Satterwhite, Dontre Hamilton, Erin Garner, John Crawford, Levar Jones, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Charly Leundeu Keunang, Naeschylus Vinzant, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and the subsequent disaster in Ferguson, just to name a few – it’s almost unfathomable that the song was never played during the U.S. leg. It’s a heart and soul-crushing tribute to the lives of these victims, one of Bruce’s finest examples of capturing the experiences of others that he himself has no way of personally accessing, made that much sadder because the song was inspired and written shortly after the death of Amadou Diallo in 1999 (that’s fucking 17 years ago). The second verse alone brings tears to my eyes simply reading it:

“Lena gets her son ready for school

She says, ‘On these streets, Charles

You’ve got to understand the rules

If an officer stops you,

Promise you’ll always be polite

And that you’ll never ever run away

Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

There is perhaps no song in the entirety of Bruce’s canon that American ears need to hear more right now, and the power Bruce and the Band injected into the song with their performance implicitly spoke to this relevance. In a silent moment of profound emotional sadness, Jake –the only black man in the Band, and one of only a few people of color amongst Bruce’s notoriously pearly white audience[13] – raised his arms in the exact manner of the “hands up, don’t shoot” protests in Ferguson.

Unexpectedly, the performance actually reminded me of my aforementioned observation regarding “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Whereas that song builds up its positive momentum through increased lyrical repetition, “American Skin” builds up its furious passion through the increasingly intense musical interludes between verses, until finally it feels like the anger expressed in the song can no longer be contained within its artistic bounds.[14] I would say I was left speechless, but that’s only mostly true; I was left with one thing to say: Bruce, bring this damn song back to the States for the Fall leg.

Yet Bruce wasn’t done making the crowd mull over musical violence: “Murder Incorporated” followed. Though it was a thematically resonant three-pack – and definitely the best stretch of the whole show – the somewhat subdued performance of this final song brought the show back down. Whereas previous performances on this tour were capped by Bruce and Stevie’s fiery dueling guitar solos, the finale here lacked that extra oomph to put it over the top, which was true for a lot of the performances in Glasgow. Still great, but not AS great.

That’s actually a fitting way to describe the entire show, the rest of which was mostly a collection of multi-song packs: the Born in the U.S.A.-era pack of “I’m Goin’ Down” – a sign request, during which Bruce said something to the crowd along the lines of, “Dear god, please help me out,” referring either to their previously described silence, OR, and probably the more likely rationale, to his own hoarsening voice, a scary trend that started in Ireland – and “Johnny 99;” the River ballad two-pack of “The River” and “Point Blank,” the Darkness two-pack of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – not a sign request, and an intriguingly more relaxed performance of the song than his usual, pointedly angry delivery – and “The Promised Land;” and yet another BITUSA two-pack of “Working on the Highway” and “Darlington County.”

Though the rest of the setlist featured all of the usual suspects – including “Badlands” closing the main set, further proof that it’s such a phenomenal live song that it really works in any freaking context – the crowd seemed to finally become engaged with these ‘greatest hits.’ As always, Bruce and the Band had won them over by the time the three hour and twenty-eight-minute concert came to a close. Though it wasn’t the type of night that will be talked about as being one of the best of the tour when all is said and done, sometimes resonant profundity isn’t necessary to win over a crowd. Sometimes, perhaps giving an audience a great night out – with moments of realistic sadness sprinkled throughout to make the highs feel that much higher – is enough.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] As I’ve written about on these pages.

[2] I can only personally speak to the quality of night 1 since an exceedingly nasty travel bug completely knocked me on my ass (pun fully intended) for night 2, forcing me to miss it (though it did allow me to answer the age-old question of what would be the worst way to experience a Bruce Springsteen concert: listening to it while deliriously lying in bed across the street from the stadium. When I woke up to the opening piano chords of “Incident,” I prayed it was only a nightmare…).

[3] Looking at you: end of the main set.

[4] A personal factor for myself: since Glasgow was my first show back after my illness, I definitely didn’t have the same energy as I normally do since I hadn’t enjoyed a real meal in days, and that may have affected my personal experience of the night. I also wanted to mention this to explain why Write All Nite has been so dormant recently!

[5] Though the capacity is over 50,000, it felt like a majority of that number came from the floor especially since the stadium only has one tier of seats (unlike the three – 3! – tiers in stadiums such as Camp Nou in Barcelona).

[6] The stage was actually set up for the first time this tour on the long side of the stadium versus the short end where the goalie nets are usually located on a soccer pitch.

[7] It definitely brought Stevie back into the fold.

[8] Bruce even noted it! I only bring up this seemingly unnecessary anecdote because I was legitimately surprised; the man very clearly needed his teleprompter in Glasgow to remember a lot of the lyrics to “Thunder Road” – a song he’s sung EVERY NIGHT of this, and most other tours since 1975 – yet he recalled off the top of his head that both of these songs were on an album recorded even before “Thunder Road” that only contains seven tracks. In the words of Tennessee Williams, “Isn’t it funny what tricks memory plays?” By the way, I have absolutely no problem with Bruce using a teleprompter – better than the alternative…

[9] I really do love Charlie, which is why I’ve relegated this point to a mere footnote: Danny may be most missed musically on this song. It’s probably impossible to recreate that unique phantom sound.

[10] Bruce has always been best at his artistic best when unhappy, and he was going through a self-admitted mid-life crisis during this time.

[11] For those whose minds do not always remain in the morbid gutter, I’m talking about death.

[12] Not to disrupt the temporality of this piece, but I’m writing this in Coventry, where the stadium is literally connected to a casino. Given both song’s connections to gambling dens, Glasgow’s soundcheck may have been a classic example of Bruce looking ahead one show, needlessly raising the hopes of those actually in attendance.

[13] I don’t blame Bruce for not attracting a more diverse crowd – his music has always been very conscious of race, and much of it heavily leans upon a lot of musical styles developed by black artists. He’s also always been sensitive to race in his personal life – many forget how radical it was for a happy black man and a happy white man to equally share an album cover when Born to Run was released, and let’s not forget that the aforementioned “Other Band” was predominantly black.

[14] And it shouldn’t be – this is the type of fictional art that’s supposed to illicit lasting real-world anger because it depicts a far-too-real phenomenon.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  2. Spirit in the Night
  3. My Love Will Not Let You Down
  4. The Ties That Bind
  5. Sherry Darling
  6. Two Hearts
  7. Rosalita
  8. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
  9. Hungry Heart
  10. Out in the Street
  11. Lonesome Day
  12. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  13. Death to My Hometown
  14. American Skin (41 Shots)
  15. Murder Incorporated
  16. I’m Goin’ Down
  17. Johnny 99
  18. The River
  19. Point Blank
  20. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  21. The Promised Land
  22. Working on the Highway
  23. Darlington County
  24. Because the Night
  25. The Rising
  26. Badlands
  27. Thunder Road
  28. Born in the U.S.A.
  29. Born to Run
  30. Glory Days
  31. Dancing in the Dark
  32. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  33. Shout
  34. This Hard Land
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3 thoughts on “GLASGOW: A ‘River’ That Don’t Know Where It’s Flowing

  1. Toby - Toronto

    Thank you CSG…Always enjoy the journey of your reviews. So we’ll written and you bring the show to life through the use of your words …even this review pairs up with the pace of the show you just described. Can’t wait till your next wonderfully worded wrap up!

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  2. Trudie

    Steven, I also enjoy reading your reviews and your unique point of view. I’m 66 and have been a Springsteen fan since I first heard Spirit in the Night in 1973. But, you have probably been to more live shows during The River Tour than I have in the past 40 plus years. When The Boss is on tour, I follow the set lists and read the reviews – that way I can enjoy the experience from the first rumors of a tour to the very last show! We get an E Street Band show here in Portland, Oregon about every four years and this year was my first time in the pit. I was literally elbows on stage at the feet of Stevie VanZandt! Talk about a dream… Looking forward to reading more from you soon. Carry on!

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  3. Blair

    Being a Scotsman I have attended all three Shows at Hampden Park. Bruce always slots these shows in midweek after big highly anticipated weekend shows in Dublin or London. As a result I’ve always thought that he has been particularly relaxed at this venue knowing that there are not vast amounts of uber fans coming in from all over expecting an all time great show. The shows are usually quite long and have a pretty good setlist with good sign requests being taken. I agree that Bruce was not “on fire” but the performance was solid. I thought the setlist was great despite I’m Going Down being the only song I haven’t caught before. Enjoyed it so much I made my mind to travel to Paris for the two shows there.

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