European prayers have finally been answered.
If Monday night’s fuse-blowing concert at Paris’ AccorHotels Arena demonstrated for the first time on this tour the magnetic energy generated from combining the intimacy of a typical American arena with the the signature passion of a typical European crowd, Wednesday night’s show at long last – after much begging, cajoling, pleading, screaming, and yes, even praying on the part of the European contingent of E Street Nation – tested what would happen when these fans were finally treated to the first ever full album performance of The River in Europe. The consensus, to which their American counterparts can attest: it was well worth the wait.
But the concert actually opened with an equally rare occurrence: the first performance in Europe (the third ever in the world, and only the second with the E Street Band) of the Darkness on the Edge of Town outtake “Iceman,” here given a tight, focused, and intense full band treatment with Bruce’s voice fittingly gruff to match the song’s main character. He kept the rarities coming with “Lucky Town,” which was once again capped with a fiery Boss guitar solo.
And then, it was time for the main event. If Bruce felt a bit restrained for the opening two-pack – a performance style the songs call for – that was only because he was clearly waiting to bust out the ace up his sleeve. Once he threw his cards on the table with a little speech IN FRENCH revealing that they would be playing The River in its entirety for Paris, the crowd legitimately ERUPTED with an ovation of sheer joy. As many fans have made clear since this European leg began, they’ve been waiting YEARS for the opportunity to see one of Bruce’s greatest albums performed in full. It felt like all of the anticipation and hoping and dreaming for this day that had finally arrived was released in a rush of expressive excitement to the opening chords of “The Ties That Bind,” and this enthusiasm was sustained through the final notes of “Wreck on the Highway.”
Though I had seen the album performed quite a few times on this tour in America, none of those shows can really compare to what it was like to experience the live majesty of The River in an arena full of fans clamoring to hear these 20 songs in the order they were intended. Their starved desire for these tracks makes even more sense considering how rarely a lot of them have been played in Europe: “Stolen Car” – never since 1981; “Wreck on the Highway” – one time (solo); “Fade Away” – three times. Ignoring performances on this tour, “I Wanna Marry You” (never performed since 1981), “The Price You Pay,” (performed once) and “Independence Day” (performed four times) are almost as rare. The crowd responded in a way that made it feel like they understood the special significance of this evening.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the diehards down front whose hopes and dreams seemed to have been answered with The River. Starting with the arena-wide roar that greeted Bruce announcing their full album performance plan, everyone from the Pit to the upper deck looked and sounded engaged from beginning to end, rarely allowing the energy to cease enough even to sit down – transforming the first two sides into a full-on singalong, jump-along, and chant-along party the likes of which were never even remotely touched during the American leg – while always remaining deadly silent for the ballads.
Clearly fans bought tickets for this River Tour 2016 to see The River, and not only its greatest hits – the whole place bellowed the lyrics to “Jackson Cage” back at Bruce; legitimate applause greeted the opening chords of “Stolen Car” (“Stolen Car!”); “The Price You Pay” elicited a decibel-busting level of crowd participation that rivaled the “Badlands” performance that followed up the album; and the entire arena respectfully applauded through the final coda of “Wreck on the Highway,” evidence of the fact that they were familiar enough with the track listing of the album to know it was coming to a close. No song was too obscure on this night.
Though Bruce brought back a lot of the same stage blocking from the American leg – including a “Hungry Heart” crowd surf that was waaaaaay slower than normal because it seemed like the inexperienced handlers in the Pit wanted to pass Bruce back and forth to give everyone a chance to touch the Boss – the evening felt different than American performances of the album because of how much being rewarded with this opportunity so evidently meant to the 16,000 fans packed into the intimate AccorHotels Arena. It meant so much to two concertgoers, in fact, that they held up a sign asking for Bruce to marry them during “I Wanna Marry You,” similar to the proposal in Baltimore. Even though he had already transitioned from “Here She Comes” into the opening notes of the actual song, Bruce stopped the proceedings to grant their wish, with the soon-to-be groom getting down on one knee and asking his girl to marry him as Bruce pronounced them “Mr. and Mrs. Rock and Roll…in the name of rock and roll.”
All together the evening felt like a sort of ecstatic catharsis, and tears/hugs/kissing/jumping/clapping/singing/chanting/smiles were plentiful throughout. Sure, most of these songs had been played before in the last two months, but the crowd was keenly aware of just how different a lot of them feel when heard in their original contexts. For instance, the opening four-pack perfectly builds up to the emotional release of “Independence Day,” during which I saw a father and son profoundly embrace each other. The crowd continued Bruce’s soul stirring humming at the end of “The River” to transition between the records, and Bruce waited until the humming had organically reached the end of the melody before having Roy seamlessly begin “Point Blank” – a hauntingly beautiful connection between these two dark gems. And the crowd stuck with the album through its perfect rollercoaster pace, from the transcendence of “Fade Away” and “Stolen Car” into the encore-level hijinks of “Ramrod” into the cacophony of bliss of “The Price You Pay.”
More than any other show on this tour, the concert actually felt the most like the first time The River was played in its entirety way back in 2009 at Madison Square Garden. Since the crowd knew this wasn’t a nightly occurrence, a uniquely special vibe of overwhelming elation was in the air, based partially not on what would be played but how the songs played would sound together. Judging from the rousing standing ovation that greeted the album’s conclusion after Bruce’s usual time-themed concluding speech, their lofty expectations were exceeded, and then some.
With the exception of a story-less performance of “Growin’ Up” – the only sign request of the night, with Bruce allowing the crowd to sing the final verse by themselves – the rest of the night felt a little predictable and rushed; the main-set ending “The Rising” literally went directly into the encore-opening “Born in the U.S.A,” with not even a second of a pause between them. Bruce literally just skipped over three different slots: the main set closing song usually occupied by “Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” or “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the encore-opening ballad slot recently occupied by “Jungleland” or “Backstreets,” and the post-“Born to Run” rocker slot recently occupied by “Ramrod” or “Seven Nights to Rock.” Even so, the concert clocked in at a healthy three hours and 23 minutes, with a total of 33 songs played, the same amount as night one.
And honestly, after The River, any other songs were just gravy for the crowd. These European fans had finally gotten what they had been waiting so long to hear, and they couldn’t have been more pleased. For me, it was so refreshing to experience the album again after some American fans had started taking it for granted near the end of the U.S. leg. The night served as yet another reminder that we should never take any of these shows for granted – what may seem uninspired to one fan can be another fan’s ultimate dream. And when the Band hangs up their guitars for good in a long, long, LONG time, we’ll be praying to witness nights like these again, predictable setlists and all.
In the end, Paris will only enhance the legendary status of the “grass-mowing, fuse-blowing, legendary E Street Band’s” full album River performances, and I’m sure all of the European fans not in attendance will be chasing them for the remainder of the tour. Gothenburg 3? Zurich for the final European stop on this River Tour? They can only pray…
 Sans Patti – oddly her tambourines were initially set up in her spot but then taken off stage shortly after the Pit was allowed into the building.
 He forsook his nightly American spiel regarding the life-sized canvass he hoped to create with the album.
 Someone in the stands must have had the GALL to say something very quietly during the beginning of “Stolen Car,” but he was QUICKLY shushed up by a nearby audience member. Gotta love the French…
 Which was introduced with a mere, “This song is about l’amour.”
 Which was given the usual introduction in English.
 Which included many mentions of fuse-blowing by Bruce and Stevie.
 Night one was only longer because of the fuse-blowing intermission.
 Two new adjectival descriptors for the Band that Bruce added to his usual litany during “Shout.”
- Lucky Town
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Jackson Cage
- Two Hearts
- Independence Day
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Crush on You
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- I Wanna Marry You
- The River
- Point Blank
- Cadillac Ranch
- I’m a Rocker
- Fade Away
- Stolen Car
- The Price You Pay
- Drive All Night
- Wreck on the Highway
- The Promised Land
- Growin’ Up
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Thunder Road