OSLO 1: Lost in the Flood of The River

Bruce has gotten the message.

After weeks upon weeks of European fans begging to hear more River tracks, Bruce has finally started to give them what they want. But at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium on Wednesday night, Bruce also had a message for his fans in return, one that has already been proven true countless times on this tour:

Never underestimate the setlist a seemingly minor market may receive.

Shoved between two night stints in both Gothenburg and Milan, Oslo was expected to be treated as a pit stop of a show, nothing more than an afterthought as the Band made its way from one Mecca of Bruce to another. In fact, Bruce Inc. even underestimated the city themselves way back when they initially planned the tour, which was originally only supposed to stop in Oslo once at this relatively tiny stadium – whose structure is externally hidden inside of a shopping complex built around it – with a mere capacity of 28,000, by far the smallest venue of the tour thus far. Yet due to surprisingly high demand,[1] Bruce Inc. added a second show at a different venue near the end of the European leg.

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A new, BRANDED drum-kit 

Though the dismal crowd – probably the worst of the tour[2] – may not deserve another E Street outing, their quietness[3] did not deter the Band from turning in a fast and furious, 34-song, three hour and 23-minute concert, one that once again featured a plethora of River songs perhaps due to the more intimate nature of the stadium. A total of 13 songs were played from the album, tied for the most of any European show thus far.[4] Though still probably the highlight of the show for most European fans, these River songs were surrounded by equally quality setlist choices – minus the typical main set homestretch that failed to build off of Gothenburg 2’s wise mix-up – all of which were mostly intensely dark, hard rocking tracks that matched the gloomy, overcast skies above.

This vibe was actually established before the concert even began due to the Band soundchecking “Meet Me in the City” (long overdue to rear its head in Europe), “Roulette,” and “Prove It All Night,”[5] the last of which opened the show with a passionately heavy-hitting bang and featured Little Stevie taking the guitar solo.[6] After the equally up-tempo yet familiar two-pack of “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “No Surrender,” Bruce brought us back to Darkness on the Edge of Town territory with an apparent audible of the album’s title track. One of my Bruce buds has a theory that almost every great show includes “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and though I’m not sure if that hypothesis checks out, I wholeheartedly agree that the raw intensity of the song always elevates the energy of the crowd, the Band, and especially a wailing Bruce.  With two of the best gems from Darkness played in the first four songs, the show immediately created an all-consuming atmosphere of grimness that was the perfect fit for the dark and stormy weather descending upon a stadium that was literally on the edge of the town of Oslo.

Yet Bruce quickly changed the tone without affecting the relentlessly kinetic pace of the opening four-pack; corresponding with the rain that had bathed the crowd shortly before the concert began, Bruce launched into the longest, in-sequence stretch from The River so far heard on this European leg, from “The Ties That Bind” straight through to “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” Even though I saw many full album performances in America, it was truly special to experience the rock-and-roll rollercoaster that is The River surrounded by Europeans who had only dreamed of being able to see the full record performed live.[7] I really feel like some of the more diehard fans who attended multiple shows on the U.S. leg began to take the breathtaking nature of the album performances for granted; after a short hiatus, seeing once again what the first nine songs in sequence can do to a crowd – even one as lackluster as Oslo’s – was truly a sight to behold. Bruce always claimed that he structured The River to mirror his live shows, and this stretch served as a reminder that he totally and completely succeeded in that endeavor.

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The official t-shirt

Even though a certain level of spontaneity was created by many of us wondering how many songs off The River would be played in a row, Bruce imbued a real dose of that signature E Street Band spontaneity into the setlist by replacing the light “I Wanna Marry You” with the much more tonally-appropriate – given how the concert opened – pitch-black “Death to My Hometown.” And then, a real treat: “Lost in the Flood,” a heart-stopping surprise made even more more surprising because its initial heavy guitar drone sounded so much like the first notes of “Youngstown” – which has been played quite a few times in this slot. Once Roy fell into the piano melody after this prolonged introduction, the front of the Pit[8] immediately realized what they were about to witness and lost their damn minds. Restoring the brooding atmosphere of the opening, the performance was as passionately fiery as could be expected for this Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. early masterpiece, capped by a rip-roaring guitar solo by Bruce.[9] The bleak tone continued with “Trapped,” always a crowd – and personal – favorite.

An interesting note on this cover: its first performance occurred during the original River tour. And right on cue, Bruce followed up the song by returning to exactly where he had left off on the album: “The River”[10] into “Point Blank.” “I’m a Rocker”[11] made its second straight appearance next, bringing the tally to 12 of the first 14 songs off The River being played in order.[12] With both Gothenburg 2 and now Oslo, Bruce seems to have finally figured out the best way to honor the name of this River Tour 2016 without losing the live spontaneity that has kept fans repeatedly returning to E Street for the past 40 years.

Unfortunately, the familiar homestretch of the main set once again bore none of this cherished unpredictability, not to mention forsaking the mostly dour vibe of the first half of the concert in favor of stadium crowd-pleasers. I don’t want to sound like a broken record about this because I’ve already addressed it a few times,[13] but I still cannot understand why he refuses to switch up the songs from “The Promised Land” through “The Rising.”[14] Since so many people have refuted my complaints by arguing that these songs are intended not for me but for all of the casual concertgoers sitting in seats, I made a point in Oslo of noting their reaction. And guess what – they didn’t really react! In fact, Bruce even felt the need to shout out, “Everyone in the stands” during “Working on the Highway” in the hopes that directly addressing them would get some more asses out of seats.

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The official poster

I’m by no means suggesting that Bruce should totally abandon all of these songs, but he could very easily switch up A FEW of them every night. If he wants to fill this stadium-friendly stretch with songs from Born in the U.S.A. – understandable given the fact that the album is by far his most popular amongst a majority of Europeans – why not bust out “Cover Me,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” or “Downbound Train” once in a while? Further, how about swapping “Because the Night” with “Prove It All Night” – they achieve the same effect, and I’m sure both songs are just as conducive to Nils’ solo-swing. Though I appreciate “I’m A Rocker mixing up the stretch a little recently, I hope Bruce will sometimes replace it with “Cadillac Ranch” as well, just to keep the Band fresh and to satisfy his most dedicated fans who somewhat evaluate shows based on the differences in their setlists from night to night.

My biggest gripe, however, has to do with how Bruce handles Patti’s absence. Unless he’s forcing his more critical diehard fans to appreciate Patti’s presence,[15] I see no reason why he simply skips the slower song slot – usually filled with a Tunnel of Love track or “Human Touch” – when Mrs. Springsteen is not in the building. The man has one of the biggest collections of quality songs of any musician in the history of rock and roll – so many of them would be perfect fits for this slot, and they would sufficiently diversify the homestretch to keep the diehards engaged. Heck, why not kill two birds with one stone and always play at least one of the slower songs from the second record of The River in this slot – “Fade Away” or “Stolen Car” or “The Price You Pay” or “Drive All Night” or “Wreck on the Highway” would not lose a crowd if performed individually.

My problem with this stretch has less to do with predictability and more to do with song selection, as evidenced by the fact that I adore the equally unspontaneous encore. Though Bruce relies on most of the same songs every night, they’re a masterclass in how to properly work a crowd into a climactic frenzy, aided in Oslo by the addition of “Backstreets” and the second appearance in a row of “Ramrod,” which has already grown in length from its American mid-album performances thanks to some classic shtick; in addition to the usual, “Is it quitting time? Is it sexy time?! Well then what time is it?!” Boss time call and response with the crowd – not to mention the return of the full band booty shaking time – Bruce and Stevie spent one full minute staring directly at the rear stage camera as they slowly worked their way within inches of the lens. Here’s a flipbook-esque slideshow recreation of this awesomeness:

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It’s ludicrously impressive that the encores almost never fail to successfully rile up the crowd, and in Oslo Bruce egged on everyone even further during “Shout” by taking his recent antics one step further; Stevie once again put a towel over Bruce and pretended to start to escort a seemingly excessively exhausted Boss backstage. This time, Bruce literally slumped down the steps and actually walked off the stage, prompting Stevie to declare, “The Boss has left the building.” But a few seconds later, Stevie followed up with, “Wait a minute…” as Bruce charged back on stage and launched into the song again.

Yet even after all this encore madness[16] – which included the crowd actually wholeheartedly participating in a song once “Dancing in the Dark” came around[17]  – Bruce ended the show on yet another brilliantly somber note with the second acoustic performance of “For You.” Though I obviously love “This Hard Land” and “Thunder Road,” it was simply fantastic to hear another song given Bruce’s emotionally devastating solo treatment; the man is clearly ready for his long-gestating solo tour.

But this current tour still has a long way to go, and for all of you Europeans who may be hoping to enjoy plenty of River songs when you attend an E Street Band spectacular in the coming weeks, it must be nice to see that Bruce is increasingly and finally crafting setlists intended, well, for you.

P.S. Look whose dumb face showed up on a local Norwegian news website.

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Official ticket and Pit wristband

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] It was one of the hardest tickets to score in Europe, made more difficult by the fact that there were separate tickets for the Pit than the rest of the floor. Some have suggested that Little Steven’s television show Lilyhammer – both set and filmed in the real Norwegian town of Lillehammer – contributed to the impressive sales. I had a really hard time believing that…until I literally just found out that the first episode of the series was watched by 998,000 people in Norway, AKA 20% of the country’s population. If the show really did result in Norwegians being more interested in seeing the Band, then Bruce made a mistake by not name-checking the series at any point during the concert.

[2] Some of the stops in the United Kingdom give it a run for its money, but those crowds’ fluency with the English language – thus allowing them to better understand the songs – prevents them from taking this unfortunate title.

[3] The most embarrassing example to back up this assertion: Bruce literally had to hold out his ear to elicit the “Badlands” chant from the crowd so that it seemed like the Band didn’t just go back into the reprise of the end of the song for no reason.

[4] Though it may not hold this distinction for very long; either Bruce is choosing to play more River songs because he’s heeding his fans’ criticisms of the setlists – which doesn’t particularly sound like him – or he’s preparing the Band to play the full album at their impending shows in Paris for their only stop in an indoor arena, which is far smaller and more intimate – and thus more conducive to ALL of the songs on The River – than Ullevaal. In fact, Paris’ AccorHotels Arena – popularly known by its previous name of Bercy – holds less people than most of the American arenas they played on the U.S. leg.

[5] Bruce seemed especially fixated on Roy playing the right keys for the beginning of the song.

[6] Sadly, it was the regular version without the beloved ’78 introduction. Bruce may have been saving himself for another loooong solo later in the show…

[7] There were some fairly funny shenanigans during this stretch. Bruce handed a guitar pick to a little kid on his Dad’s shoulders in the middle of “Out in the Street,” and the kid proceeded to hold up the pick in total awe, as if it was his own personal holy grail. During “Crush On You,” Bruce engaged in yet more classic old guy dance moves by doing the wave with his arms periodically throughout the song.

[8] Which was mostly filled with fellow travelling Pit denizens who constantly display manic energy despite the quality of the rest of the crowd.

[9] As I hinted at previously, perhaps Bruce opted against going with the ’78 version of “Prove It” because he wanted to save his guitar muscles for this behemoth.

[10] A rare moment of crowd participation from the seats: they started a pretty neat clap-along during Bruce’s falsetto portion of the song. One of the cool aspects of stadium shows is that you can easily place from what section crowd participation moments originate.

[11] After messing up the first few key notes of “Prove It All Night” during the soundcheck, Roy completely botched the opening of “I’m A Rocker,” straight up just playing the wrong piano. Bruce’s succinct reaction: “What the FUCK, Professor?!”

[12] Since Bruce has been skipping “I Wanna Marry You” and avoiding most of the second record of The River, he clearly believes that the slower songs on the album simply won’t adequately resonate in a stadium setting.

[13] Like here and here.

[14] The star of this stretch was a little girl on her Dad’s shoulders near the side platform. During “The Promised Land,” Bruce played the entirety of his harmonica solo in front of her on the platform because he knew she was getting that harmonica. When he returned for “Darlington County,” she pretended to accompany him on the song with her new instrument! Finally, she turned in one of the cutest renditions of “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” yet, inspiring Bruce to ask the crowd to give her an extra round of applause. “Let’s hear it for Hope,” he exclaimed, “Oslo has talent!” Even so, I don’t know if I can forgive her for bringing a sign for the song, which was apparently not setlisted and only played because Bruce spotted her sign.

[15] Which I do, mind you.

[16] Another crazy moment: Bruce signed someone’s arm during “10th Avenue,” which I’m sure has already become a permanent tattoo. Speaking of “10th,” Bruce seemed to watch the entirety of the onscreen tribute tonight, which he rarely does. He even sang the “Say! Say! Say!” call and response portion with his back to the crowd because he was too busy looking at the video screens.

[17] This was clearly a GREATEST-of-the-greatest hits crowd.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Prove It All Night
  2. My Love Will Not Let You Down
  3. No Surrender
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  5. The Ties That Bind
  6. Sherry Darling
  7. Jackson Cage
  8. Two Hearts
  9. Independence Day
  10. Hungry Heart
  11. Out in the Street
  12. Crush on You
  13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  14. Death to My Hometown
  15. Lost in the Flood
  16. Trapped
  17. The River
  18. Point Blank
  19. The Promised Land
  20. I’m a Rocker
  21. Working on the Highway
  22. Darlington County
  23. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  24. Because the Night
  25. The Rising
  26. Badlands
  27. Backstreets
  28. Born in the U.S.A.
  29. Born to Run
  30. Ramrod
  31. Dancing in the Dark
  32. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  33. Shout
  34. Thunder Road
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