What did I just experience?
WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST EXPERIENCE?!
After Bruce bestowed his near-mythic Milanese fans with the title of “best crowd in the world” at his first of two concerts in the equally mythic San Siro Stadium on Sunday night, Tuesday night’s audience felt determined to prove the validity of such an honored sentiment. Milan – and specifically San Siro – may be the closest locale that E Street Nation has to being the Mecca of Bruce. Americans have long heard the stories about the legendary evenings of the past that transpired within these four walls, and they’ve read about the indescribable connection between Bruce and his ravenously vocal Italian fans, whose nonstop participation always brings out the best in Bruce and the Band. Understandably, I may have been more excited for this particular stop than any other on the tour. How in the world was the night going to live up to such lofty expectations?
Well San Siro is a magical place on E Street, and it seems to be in the business of producing nothing but magical nights. Though I wouldn’t classify the concert as perfect due to a variety of generally insignificant factors – from needing to withstand firsthand the negative side of the Italian fans’ relentless passion, to a somewhat oddly paced setlist stemming from Bruce allowing the crowd and their signs to dictate a bit too much of the flow because he couldn’t figure out exactly how to convey the desired magnitude of the evening – it was nonetheless an experience in EVERY sense of the word that I will never forget, largely because of the contributions of the general contagious communal atmosphere and the unique personal conditions that set the night apart for me specifically.
Despite the excruciating heat and excessively long wait time leading up to the concert – after Bruce and the Band (sans Patti) walked onstage to fittingly epic orchestral music – the firebrand Italian fans were all too ready to chant and dance their vocal chords/fannies off from the very first note of the far-too-delayed European premiere of “Meet Me in the City.” Though this energy-igniting opener began almost every single concert of the American leg, the audience response at all of these shows paled paled PALED in comparison to the deafening roar that the song was greeted to in San Siro, which infectiously bounced off the imposingly high walls of the unique square-ish configuration of the stadium. The crowd followed up each verse with loud chants of the melody back at the Band, reinforcing the community gathering focus of the lyrics and highlighting how aptly the song introduced – in its message, tone, and reception – the evening.
“Prove It All Night” brought the crowd back to more familiar territory, accompanied by even louder chanting due to the what sounded like almost a primal recognition of the song. Yet as “Meet in the City” and “Roulette” – the third song – proved, this was by no means a greatest hits crowd; they screamed “Roulette” along with Bruce during every chorus with the intensity that this masterful River outtake deserves. This hard-rocking opening three-pack made it abundantly clear that we were in for a long night of high volume – both in its consistency and loudness – chanting. The vibe could best be described as manic bedlam, and you just couldn’t help but be consumed by it and go along for the wild and crazy – in the best way possible – ride.
Though some American fans have expressed grievances regarding how such persistent crowd participation could distract from their enjoyment of the music, it in fact only elevates almost every song; since one of the most unique aspects of an E Street concert is how we can all palpably feel each other reacting in a similarly meaningful way to songs that have proven life-changing for many of us, the Italian fans’ commitment to letting everyone know just how much they’re enjoying themselves only enhances this joyous communal atmosphere. Plus, the tsunami of noise bathing the stage clearly serves as fuel for Bruce and the Band, who in turn show their appreciation by taking their performances to another level, such as Stevie’s heightened guitar solo during “Prove It All Night.” Oddly, you become so used to the crowd audibly losing their minds throughout the night that a distinct void is felt during songs not as conducive to such vocal appreciation.
But since this wasn’t Bruce’s first rodeo in Milan, he knew to gear the setlist towards songs that would consistently engage the crowd. After the raucous reaction to the same old River two-pack of “The Ties That Bind” and “Sherry Darling” made them feel as fresh as they did on the first night of the tour, Bruce kept the communal energy flowing with sign requests for “Spirit in the Night,” “Rosalita,” and “Fire.” Though these are three fantastic songs, this was the first instance of Bruce letting the crowd dictate the setlist almost to a fault. They clearly wanted party anthems, so that’s exactly what Bruce gave them without much thought to how these anthems would not only flow together but affect the general pace of the concert. Even though the crowd didn’t seem as familiar with “Rosalita” as one would expect from one of the greatest fanbases in the world, as they did with almost every song, they quickly picked up on the best places to interject their special brand of vocal lunacy, serving as yet another reminder that almost no other song in Bruce’s entire arsenal sets such fire to a setlist.
Speaking of “Fire,” though given a less drawn out and theatrical treatment here than its tour premiere in Donostia, this widely adored outtake never fails to work over a crowd. Yet following “Rosalita,” it jarringly altered the pace, and the tone was just as jarringly altered with the subsequent “Something in the Night.” Though all of these performances were top-notch in themselves, they didn’t seamlessly flow together, detrimentally affecting the impressively fluid pace established in the first few songs.
“Something in the Night” also brought with it one of the few downsides of Italian fandom; though they had a field day accompanying Bruce on his bloodcurdling wails, the crowd seemed to get a bit restless during the slower parts when they couldn’t figure out a way to expressively participate in the song. This was even more so felt a bit later in the setlist with “Racing in the Street” – though usually a highlight of any night, here it felt more like an afterthought for many members of the audience as they waited for the next participatory rocker, even though the Band’s performance of the song was up to their customarily brilliant standard. The crowd’s borderline dismissive reactions to these more subdued ballads felt like it stemmed less from a lack of awareness of the songs and was more due to the simple fact that they just prefer Bruce’s up-tempo tracks.
And you know what – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. One of the best parts about being able to attend Bruce concerts in so many cities is seeing firsthand just how much the makeup of a crowd affects the overall experience, and how skillfully Bruce adapts his setlists to match. Each of us may prefer a certain type of crowd, but expecting every audience to share Gothenburg’s transcendent reverence for what are commonly referred to as Bruce’s epic songs is flat-out unfair and naïve. We all have our own preferences, none of which can be considered objectively better than anyone else’s. Since the Italian fans were never anything less than silently respectful, their musical tastes deserve absolutely no criticism whatsoever.
Speaking of respectful and criticisms, however, I must point out the biggest downside of the rabid nature of Bruce’s Italian followers; they’re so obsessed with Bruce himself – as evidenced by the sporadic “Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!” chants heard throughout the evening – they seem to make it their personal mission to get as physically close to the man as possible, with no regard for the personal space nor comfort of others. This may not have been as apparent or cumbersome to those who didn’t happen to be standing near the center platform like I was, but from my conversations with others after the show, apparently most sections of the pit experienced a similar phenomenon of audience members recklessly charging towards the stage, often pushing past people who had put in much more time over the course of a few days to earn their prime spot. The front of the pit became excessively packed as the evening progressed, with the overly confined space sometimes limiting one’s ability to dance. Though this decreasing energy was probably also due to heat exhaustion since most of us had endured the burning temperature for over 12 hours, a little more respect for one’s fellow fans would have made the night that much greater.
An incident during “The River” perfectly encapsulated these overwhelming pros and minor cons. The Italian fan group “Our Love is Real – a grand bunch of people who have organized past stadium-wide signs seen at various concerts in Italy, first popularized with “Our Love is Real” in 2013 before their recent “Dreams are Alive Tonight” incarnation on Night 1 – handed out blue glow sticks before the concert to everyone in the Pit with instructions to hold them up once “The River” started. Everyone obliged, and this beautiful spectacle was accompanied by a gorgeous collective cell phone display of a heart next to “ESB” (for E Street Band) in the upper deck of the stadium. The effort that these fans put into showing Bruce and the Band their appreciation dwarf the conventional cellular fireflies, serving to much more profoundly convey the power of the communal experience.
And yet, the gesture ended on a somewhat sour note. At the close of the song, many Italian fans decided to throw their glow sticks on stage. For anyone who’s ever seen Bruce’s notorious reaction to inflatable balls – or any objects, for that matter – landing anywhere near him, they know how much the Boss visibly despises such antics. And yet, he seemed largely apathetic about how this ordeal concluded, perhaps understanding that the insanity of the Italian fans that he clearly loves so much will almost inherently come with a few drawbacks. As a mere audience member, I unsurprisingly have to agree with Bruce on this one – these are all small prices well worth paying in exchange for being able to experience the near unprecedented frenzy when Bruce and the Italian crowd are totally in sync. Rare passion almost always comes at a cost, but that cost is pretty cheap in relation to the unparalleled wealth of enthusiasm that comes with them.
Would I have personally preferred for Bruce not to feel the need to rely on his lesser tried-and-true stadium pleasers as the sign request for “Mary’s Place” and “Lonesome Day?” Of course, but I totally understand why he decided to play them, and it’s hard to fault an agenda that also brought us some of the highlights of the night: rollicking renditions of BOTH “Cadillac Ranch” and “I’m a Rocker,” Bruce’s brilliant decision to bust out “The Price You Pay” – a song that appeases the diehards while also giving the participation-crazy Italians an easy melody to chant along to – and finally perhaps the most scorching moment of all, the tour premiere of “Streets of Fire,” which included a blistering solo from Bruce to match Nils’ during “Because the Night” the song before. It was a clear audible, with Bruce taking a moment to think of what he wanted to play next before calling out the song. Though the setlist was mostly full of songs for the masses, how can anyone possibly complain about a night that included six (6!) songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town?
Actually, I don’t know how anyone can complain about the whole concert in general. I’ve already touched on a few unfortunate factors, but by the time sheer ecstasy was coursing through the stadium during the encores, all of the evening’s more negative attributes simply faded away. Ultimately, Bruce seemed to have one goal and one goal only – to quote the words that he hauntingly whispered during the portion of the encore-opening “Backstreets” usually reserved for “Sad Eyes:” “I just wanna see you smile.” Bruce clearly wanted to reward his beloved Milanese crowd with nothing but a good time, and that’s exactly what he gave each and every one; he even went out of his way to grant as many “Dancing in the Dark” sign requests as possible, with a total of four people joining him onstage. The incessant energy of the encore was so exhausting, in fact, that Bruce took his usual mid-“Shout,” too-tired-to-keep-going-shtick to another stratosphere by calling on two men costumed in hospital scrubs who literally stretchered him halfway off the stage before he abruptly shot upright out of the stretcher and launched back into the song.
By the time the evening came to a close with a more celebratory solo rendition of “This Hard Land,” all this amazing crowd could do was sing their hearts out to convey their gratitude to the Boss for putting everything that he had into such a phenomenal performance. Yet Bruce clearly understood their integral role in making the night so special, taking a few extra moments before leaving the stage to turn to seemingly every single nook and cranny of the stadium to thank everyone. His physically-depleted yet spiritually-replenished beaming smile was shared by all of us sweat-drenched loonies who had just been transfixed for 33 songs over three hours and 32 minutes by the momentous spell that is the E Street Band in Italy.
There’s only one question left to answer: since I’ve now experienced Bruce and the Band in all of the countries that usually vie for the title of the best place to see them in the world, where does Milan’s crowd rank in comparison to the others? Though it would be satisfactory to refer to the relevant competitors as a holy trinity, I’m going to turn it into a Mount Rushmore because A) I’m American, B) I’m not Christian, and C) I want to give the Irish a shout-out, but know that Ireland is the Thomas Jefferson of this analogy. Here’s how I’d describe Mount Bruce:
The Italians are by far the loudest, craziest, and most outwardly expressive.
The Swedes are the most Bruce-literate, and his music seems to mean more to them…though they sometimes express their appreciation quietly and internally.
The Spanish incorporate a mixture of these traits, bearing both – but in lesser degrees – the enthusiasm of Italians and the Boss knowledge of the Swedes.
The Irish profoundly connect to Bruce’s career-long allegiance to the working man, and he in turn loves to get swept away in the everyday mysticism of the country and its people.
So how would I rank them? Cop out answer: I can’t. As I wrote earlier, none of these fans are objectively better than the others; any individual’s ranking would convey nothing more than their personal preferences regarding an ideal concert. Traveling to so many cities this year to see Bruce has taught me to appreciate the differences of each, which is probably why I also find it impossible to pick a “best show of the tour.” I of course have a group of shows I consider to be candidates for that title, but I simply cannot choose between Barcelona vs. Dublin vs. Gothenburg vs. Milan. I honestly just feel so lucky to have been able to share such unforgettable experiences with all of these wonderful people.
Yet for Milan, my most lasting memory will not be of the mass of 80,000 concertgoers all giving themselves over to the power of rock and roll. Instead, I will always associate the concert in Milan above anything else with the opportunity to enjoy the concert with just one of those 80,000 people, and she’s not even Italian.
For those who don’t know me personally, you’ll probably be shocked to hear that I actually have a girlfriend who has somehow put up with me being on the road with Bruce for such a large majority of this year. Another mind-blowing revelation: she’s not even a Boss fan. Though she at first felt merely indifferent about him because his music never really spoke to her, she’s come to fully resent the man because she blames him for taking me away from her so much. As such, she’s been hesitant to come with me to a concert.
Yet all that changed when I suggested she join me for a week in Europe. When I showed her the tour’s itinerary, Milan and Paris unsurprisingly jumped out at her. The catch: she would only agree to attend one concert while she was here. Since she’s such a catch, I begrudgingly obliged and chose Milan 2. Though I somewhat expected her to cancel the trip and I’d instead just come home to find all of my belongings burned down in a pile of ashes outside of our apartment upon the tour’s conclusion, her smiling face joined me in Milan as expected.
In no way was I anticipating her to be an immediate convert to the Gospel of Bruce – his music failing to speak to her is a tough but understandable hurdle to overcome – but I really just wanted her to experience for herself how I’ve been spending my summer. Deep down, I secretly hoped that she would walk away with a newfound understanding of just why I not only love but feel a deep necessity to attend as many of these concerts as possible, because who knows how much time the E Street Band has left.
I’m overjoyed to report that she got it – as I somewhat expected she would since she’s a smart cookie – almost instantaneously after the concert started thanks to the irresistible euphoria of all the Italians around her. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much her presence would affect my reaction to the concert.
I became a lifelong fan of Bruce and his music years before I met her. In fact, I’ve always credited my very first heartbreak to why I became such a devoted follower of his. Suffering through one of the darkest stretches of my young life, I took solace in Bruce’s music because I found in his songs the type of everyday, casual wisdom that sounds so obvious when he conveys it but is in actuality so hard to realize on your own. And thus began my tendency to view my life through the framework that his music provides.
Over the years, his songs have of course changed meaning for me, and my initial associations to them have evolved in relation to how my life has progressed. One of my favorite pastimes as a Bruce fan is listening to an old favorite that for some reason I haven’t played in a while, and realizing how the song now speaks to me in such a different way than before.
Listening to some of these songs standing next to the love of my life – the woman with whom I want to share the rest of my life – had almost the same effect, but it was such a more emotional experience. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the long-ago heartbreak that first inspired me to find comfort in Bruce’s music and the lasting community of his concerts, but such reminders also made me realize how much I’ve grown since then. As Bruce constantly expresses, the heartbreaks of the past always become worth it because they turn us into the people we are today. Yet without the guiding light of the lessons and ideals contained within his music, I honestly do not believe that I would be the same person that I am as I sit here writing this.
I of course would have made it through the hard times, but who knows if they would have led me to my girlfriend. Bruce taught me that you simply cannot let one heartbreak prevent you from putting yourself in a situation that can lead to another; pain only means that you cared, and finding something or someone in life that you legitimately care about is always worth it. If not for the confidence that Bruce instilled in me, I may have never pursued this girl who seemed happy not only to be spending time with me at the concert doing something that I loved, but appeared so happy BECAUSE of how much I was clearly enjoying myself. It’s rare to find someone in life with whom you can truly share joy, as Bruce does with his Italian fans. But partially thanks to him, I have found that someone.
As we danced together to song after song, my mind kept returning to a line from the most underrated song on The River – played on the first night in Milan – that always makes me think of her: “You’re a walking, talking reason to live.”
Though you may never get the chance to experience Bruce in Milan for a myriad of reasons, I wholeheartedly recommend sharing as many concerts as possible with the loves of your lives, be it your significant other, your parents, your children, your friends – anyone that means something to you. Doing so is a whole lot easier than travelling to Milan, and dare I say, it’s even better. I may never forget the insatiable ebullience of the crowd, but I will always cherish the memory of sharing the night with Lindsay Hoffman.
This one’s for you, babes. Our love is real.
 For some reason, they opened the doors at 3pm – and this evening’s Pit denizens were escorted in EARLIER THAN THAT – even though the show wasn’t scheduled to start until 8pm (ended up being closer to 8:25pm). Most of the day for these denizens was spent waiting out in the hot sun, yet potential heat stroke – and a lack of a preshow acoustic set by Bruce like the one he treated the equally long-waiting fans to hours before the first concert in Milan (yet again I missed it! They depressingly keep eluding me…) – didn’t subdue their unwavering energy. Personally, I was embarrassingly entertained by the fact that a few songs have been added to the usual preshow music playlist…does anyone else care? Didn’t think so.
 I’ve long wondered why crowds in San Siro are apparently so much better than at other venues in Italy. Since Italians seem very willing to traverse the relatively small distances between this country’s cities to see Bruce multiple times, you’d think that all of these crowds would be created equal. My admittedly abstract theory: the square-ish structure of the stadium emphasizes the communal vibe of the audience because everyone feels like they’re equally close to the stage. When a crowd feels more united by a greater sense of togetherness, they seem to feed off each other’s energy. Maybe?
 I find it a bit too interesting that all three of these songs were soundchecked in Oslo two shows prior. “Prove It All Night” ended up being the opener, but the other two weren’t played until now. Since neither of the Milan concerts were preceded by a proper soundcheck, is there any chance that Bruce actually thinks about the setlist that he’s going to treat a city to so far in advance?! Or is it more likely that Bruce recently realized that these three songs would work exceedingly well together – which they did – and merely decided to test the theory in Milan? I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by this query…
 Which featured an extended soulful sax solo by Jake and Bruce repeating the line, “We closed our eyes and said goodbye” until the crowd yelled, “Goodbye!” sufficiently loudly with him.
 Even when the Band was transitioning between songs, they would often fill these short periods of no music by chanting the melody of the previous song.
 Jon Landau has often speculated that Bruce refused to include the song on Darkness on the Edge of Town – the album for which it was originally recorded – because he was convinced the studio would choose it as the first single due to its mass appeal, which wouldn’t have accurately represented the rest of the record. Completely unrelated, but this request easily won sign of the night, which was attached to a shockingly accurate cardboard recreation of San Siro.
 Happily, they smartly shared the love during the final bow by repeatedly cheering, “E Street Band! E Street Band!”
 The Spaniards somewhat copied their idea for the first concert of this European leg in Barcelona. Though I’d prefer to show you an example from the originators, I’ve only been able to snap a picture of the one in Barcelona, which you can see here to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.
 Though the performance of the former was a tad longer than the one that opened Gothenburg 2, it thankfully didn’t come anywhere close to the bloated renditions that were a pace-halting staple of the Magic Tour. As for “Lonesome Day,” I questioned whether to even call it a stadium pleaser; though Bruce clearly views it as one and back in the day that may have been true, the song was one of the worst received of the whole night.
 Half the number of River songs were played on Night 2 than Night 1. Makes sense though – Bruce probably rightly assumed that most of the audience were repeat customers, and they were a crowd that really wouldn’t have gone for the only four songs off the record that weren’t played: “I Wanna Marry You,” “Fade Away,” “Stolen Car,” and “Wreck on the Highway.”
 Since the homestretch of the main set was much more varied than usual, I thought I’d relegate this sentiment to being of the mere foot variety: “Streets of Fire” was the type of audible that Bruce can easily pull off in this slot every night. A little surprising diversity goes a looooong way. How many people really missed “Working on the Highway” and “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day?”
 We’re now one “Factory” performance away from the album joining Born to Run, The River, and Born in the U.S.A. as the only ones whose songs have all been played at some point on this tour. In addition, both “Fire” and “Because the Night” are outtakes from its recording sessions. That’s a lot of Darkness, and ain’t nobody grumbling about that.
 Received a little better than “Racing in the Street,” but still a disappointing reaction considering the fact that Bruce blessed us with not one but two of the greatest epics in his canon.
 Including a cute little boy who who was invited up only to play a guitar, a young woman with an afro-type hairdo in the front row who had a clever sign for Jake asking him to dance with his “hair sister,” and another young woman with an even more clever sign for Max that read, “Drum(stick) it to me” – though I think she was merely asking for his drumsticks at the end of the night, Bruce asked her to come onstage to aid Max with the drumbeat, which she successfully pulled off with surprising aplomb.
 For those who may not understand this reference, you can look up Jefferson’s questionable modern legacy, particularly regarding his views on slavery.
 I swear I’m going to get around to writing about his Dublin concerts one of these days…
 …actually, even people who do know me personally will also probably be surprised that I found a girl who would date such an oddball.
 Thus the reason I skipped Milan 1 and will be missing Belgium.
 I’ve obviously gone through much more significant rough patches in my more mature years, but I’ve always believed that you tend to feel sadness to a much larger degree when you’re younger – specifically in high school – because it’s the first time you’re dealing with any sort of trials and tribulations outside of the guiding safety net provided by your parents. There’s a reason people say that you always remember your first time…
- Meet Me in the City
- Prove It All Night
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Spirit in the Night
- Something in the Night
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Mary’s Place
- Death to My Hometown
- The River
- Racing in the Street
- Cadillac Ranch
- The Promised Land
- I’m a Rocker
- Lonesome Day
- Darlington County
- The Price You Pay
- Because the Night
- Streets of Fire
- The Rising
- Born to Run
- Seven Nights to Rock
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Bobby Jean
- This Hard Land