HORSENS?!: You Never Can Tell

If I presented you with a map of Europe, would you be able to mark where Horsens is located?

Don’t feel bad – before Bruce announced that he and the Band would be stopping in this small yet quaintly peaceful city, I had no idea it was in the country of Denmark. In fact, I didn’t even know that it existed at all – sounds more like the type of fairy tale village that an Equestrian-loving tween would make up as the fantasy hometown of her imaginary ponies.

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Interesting note about Casa Arena: you see the curvy structure on the right side of this picture? That usually connects both sides of the stadium where the stage is currently located; it’s removable so that the venue can hold as big of crowds as they so desire.

For Bruce fans, Horsens was viewed in much more average terms: basically as nothing more than a filler show between Rome and Gothenburg 3, two major markets that were at one time considered to be the final stops of this European Tour. Though the initial portion of the setlist seemingly justified that perspective, as the show progressed Bruce once again demonstrated that there’s no such thing as a filler concert on E Street, rather deftly reading the distinctly mixed crowd – with the usual diehards overwhelmed by what seemed like a plethora of first-timers – to ensure that everyone got their fill.

E Street Nation will most probably only recall the four tour premieres – three of which were covers – when thinking back on the concert, but the majority of Danes actually in attendance will undoubtedly remember the evening as one of utter fulfillment. Though they may not have expressed their enthusiasm in conventionally noticeable ways, the time I spent in Horsens leading up to the concert allowed me to understand just how much they were indeed enjoying themselves. For those who try to determine the quality of one of his concerts based merely on a setlist or the crowd’s participation, Bruce proved the validity of the title of one of the night’s highlights: you never can tell.

One thing that was easy to tell days before the concert even began: Bruce would almost surely play “Dream Baby Dream” in honor of the recently deceased Alan Vega, about whom Bruce recently wrote a touching eulogy note on his website. What was unexpected, however, was the fact that his performance would not only open the show, but that the entire Band would accompany him on it as well for the first time in E Street history.[1] Introducing the song with a simple, “We’re doing this tonight for our good friend who just passed away,” it was an expectedly resonant performance; the full band treatment added a measure of incremental intensity lacking on Bruce’s solo renditions, largely due to the brilliant instrumental orchestration that called for everyone to start from a minimalist place and then subtly increase the level of their contributions to build to an emotionally climactic crescendo.

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The official Pit wristband and ticket stub – lame and lamer

With Nils on accordion, Jake solemnly playing his “Death to My Hometown” drum, Stevie contributing some passionate licks on a guitar that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him play,[2] Max providing the foundation of the aforementioned musical rise, and Bruce emotively wailing away on the hypnotic lyrics, they had clearly devoted a lot of time and energy to pulling off an expert performance to befit the legacy of this man and his music. Bruce summed it all up nicely upon the song’s conclusion: “God bless, Alan Vega.” Amen.[3]

Though “Dream Baby Dream” is more exclusively steeped in nothing but mood than most of Bruce’s recorded tracks – largely due to the somewhat excessively repetitive lyrics, which serve to establish and then reiterate a very specific tone – the song turned out to be an ill-fitting introduction for the predominant atmosphere of the night, defined by two significant and interrelated factors that stood in stark contrast to this opening number: a predictable greatest hits setlist to appease the quiet though appreciative Bruce-virgin crowd, and Bruce’s tangibly jovial spirits.

After “Dream Baby Dream,” Bruce launched into an almost 10-song sequence comprised entirely of this tour’s tried and true main set greatest hits; his decision to skip such deeper cuts from The River as “Jackson Cage” was immediate evidence that Bruce recognized he was dealing with a rookie crowd packed into Horsens’ relatively small Casa Arena, which included about 20,000 on the floor and only 10,000 in seats.[4] Their unconventionally tepid reaction justified his approach: for the first time in Europe, the opening chords of “Independence Day” received absolutely no ovation, and even the fan-favorite initial verse of “Hungry Heart” was greeted to such a dismal singalong that Bruce actually rated it – lightheartedly though accurately – as merely, “pretty good.”

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Bruce during “Hungry Heart”

A familiar setlist combined with a lame crowd – why am I not lambasting this show? Pretty simple: though they may not have presented their excitement in outwardly audible ways, I know that many of the locals in attendance were just as excited for the concert as any other fans in cities popularly considered to be stronger Bruce hubs. And how do I know this? Because they told me.

Though glamorous cities like Barcelona and Milan are usually the only ones discussed as the dream places to see Bruce, I’ve come to realize this summer that I almost prefer when Bruce decides to visit off-the-beaten-path locales. I of course relish the opportunity to travel to some of the most famous cities in the world, but there’s something special about spending time in areas that I know for a fact I would never even consider adding to a vacation itinerary not dictated by Bruce’s tour schedule. How could I say that I may have one day found my way to Horsens, Denmark when I literally didn’t know that it existed?! The only reason I can even find it on a map now is because of Bruce.

And contrary to popular belief, these cities are not unknown because there’s nothing worth knowing in them. Yes, Horsens may have felt more like a glorified village, but it bore a distinctly rare air of original authenticity that more commercialized bigger cities have lost due to ever-increasing globalization and gentrification. Do you know how refreshing it was to walk along their main shopping street and only recognize barely a handful of chain restaurants and shops? Whereas a lot of Europe’s larger metropolises often feel like foreign extensions of America, visiting Horsens felt like stepping into a different world, which is sort of the point of traveling. You never can tell what a city has to offer until you actually visit it.

Another advantage of smaller towns: you’re afforded more opportunities to actually spend time with and somewhat get to know the locals. When traveling to more oft-visited places, I commonly feel like I’m viewed as nothing but another tourist to be ignored so that everyone else can go about the normal bustle of their daily lives without being slowed down by my unfamiliarity with their terrain. Yet in Horsens – which feels only one step above the type of place where everyone knows each other’s names – the residents showed a genuine interest in not only sharing their culture but also educating themselves on our ways of life. They seemed legitimately excited that we’d decided to visit their home, and they apparently took great pride in ensuring that we would leave with nothing but fond things to say about it.

As such, you can imagine how THRILLED they were that Bruce had decided to grace them with his presence. More than just appreciating his flocks of fans inevitably descending upon their city, these residents all felt deep gratitude that an artist as world-famous as Bruce would actually want to visit Horsens. Though Bruce had previously played about an hour away in Herning, this was his first ever stop in Horsens, and many were overjoyed at the prospect of finally being able to see one of the greatest shows on Earth in their hometown. As such, basically every single person that I spoke to was planning to go to the concert.[5] This was by far one of the biggest events of the year for this quiet town, and it was the first subject of conversation on anyone’s lips in the days leading up to the concert.

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The official t-shirt and poster. Regarding the former, I like the general image, but why do they insist on simply printing a square picture as is?! Add some creative design elements! As for the poster, they once again re-used an image from a poster for a previous show, this time being Paris 2.

So why didn’t all of that anticipation manifest itself during the actual show? The obvious answer: it did, but not in the conventional ways that Bruce fans expect because this was by no means a conventional crowd. How often do we get to enjoy a concert surrounded by a majority of people who are popping their legendary E Street Band cherry? Sure, they may not have jumped and fist-bumped along to “Badlands” or sung a majority of the words, but it’s unfair to expect them to since they most probably had no idea they were “supposed” to. Instead, they conveyed their zest largely through quiet appreciation, with one notable exception: clapping.

Excessive, persistent, over the top clapping. Name a song – the crowd undoubtedly found an appropriate way to put their hands together to the beat as loudly as possible, especially when a member of the Band would call for it, such as Jake during “Death to My Hometown” or Bruce at the end of “I’m A Rocker” instead of the usual jumping. They clearly needed to play follow the leader when it came to knowing how to properly respond to the concert, leading to perhaps the most profound moment of the night when a large portion of the front of the Pit mimicked Jake’s “hands up, don’t shoot” posture during “American Skin (41 Shots).” Though the audience was even more pearly white than we’ve come to expect from an average Bruce concert – which is saying something – it was still a powerful visual reminder of the bridges that music can build between seemingly disparate groups of people.[6] You never can tell the quality of a crowd unless you try to understand their make-up.

Though their audibly lukewarm response all night long may have bothered me on most nights, the time that Bruce inspired me to spend bonding with the locals of Horsens allowed me to adopt a more open-minded, less self-centered perspective on the concert. Similarly, I totally understood why he was insisting on trotting out his greatest hits for this specific audience; since they mostly had never seen Bruce and the Band before, he felt the need to treat them to a sort of ‘best of’ presentation, which of course involved a plethora of greatest hits. You never can tell the quality of a setlist unless you take into account its intended audience.

Yet what absolutely never comes across on paper is the top notch level of the Band’s performances of each song, regardless of how many times they’ve been played recently. Focusing on the thought of how many around me were having their minds silently blown by witnessing the E Street Band for the first time allowed me to note aspects of the concert that I usually take for granted, particularly just how in sync the Band has become this late in the tour. They’re really firing on all cylinders, led by a front man who seems as happy as ever to still be on stage

And that was the chief emotional vibe that he projected all night long: joy. Though the dark “Dream Baby Dream” opener was followed by two Darkness on the Edge of Town tracks,[7] Bruce bore a loose and jolly disposition from the get-go, at first bounding up the steps with a beaming smile on his face before commenting on the sun that was shining directly on the stage, “It’s very, VERY bright in Horsens!”[8] Bruce imbued such brightness into his performance all night long – where appropriate – almost as if he was channeling all of the delight that his mere presence had inspired in the local citizens before even coming on stage.

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As usual, this palpable glee that sometimes bordered on goofiness resulted in a lot of shenanigans with his right hand man in the Band: Little Steven, who had a standout night. Beginning with Stevie cracking up Bruce by justifying his belatedness returning to the stage by exaggerating just how far he had to run after finishing “Sherry Darling” on one of the side platforms, they launched into a riotous “Two Hearts” that saw them needing to choke back laughter to sing a lot of the lyrics.

For their second River duet during “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” Bruce responded to Stevie’s, “Hey you!” with a LOUD squeal that so caught Stevie off guard that he chuckled his way through, “Get out the car!” In their back and forth before the song’s conclusion, Bruce kept repeating, “Don’t touch that thang! Don’t tough that thang!” much to Stevie’s delight. And once again, Bruce called out Stevie’s name before singing, “And the judge got mad and he put me straight away” during “Working on the Highway,” to which Stevie responded with a mighty, “OOOH!”

Yet it wasn’t only Stevie that got roped in to Bruce’s nonstop ebullience: during Nils’ nightly “Darlington County” solo, Bruce utilized his rare time away from the mic to chug an audience member’s beer. Since he took longer than expected to down the drink, he allowed Nils to finish the verse…except he clearly didn’t know the lyrics, forcing him instead to vamp by repeatedly chanting to the melody, “Drink up! Drink up! Drink up!” Bruce finally grabbed the mic again…but only to burp in it.

Though a part of me wondered if Bruce was partaking in these sorts of antics as an ulterior, lowest common denominator method of engaging the crowd, I have a hard time complaining when they lead to such endearingly over-the-top renditions of “Ramrod,” now a regular highlight of the encores. Bruce got so worked up during the song that he proceeded to rub his phallic guitar against his mic stand as he joined in the usual band-wide booty shaking before he and Stevie once again slowly creeped their way directly back to the rear camera, mugging it up the whole time.

By that point, Bruce just couldn’t control himself, borrowing a floppy fisherman hat from an audience member during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” introducing Garry with a silly, “Garry W. got all the Tallent,” and culminating in the too-exhausted-to-go-on fake out. Stevie once again escorted him offstage in his glittery “The Boss” robe, but this time he followed it up with the extended lines, “There will be no more Horsen around this evening! The Boss has left the building” Pause. “Wait a miunute, what’s that?!” Max drums louder until Bruce returns like a superhero shedding the chains of his robe to keep rocking. You never can tell the quality of a performance from mere setlist watching.

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The fisherman hat!

Yet honestly Stevie may have been the real superhero of the night. Though I totally respected Bruce’s attempts to rile up the crowd with his trustworthy staples, a thought occurred to me after “Out in the Street” failed to do so: “If this audience is going to respond in the same way to every song, why not throw total curveball rarities at them? They’ll probably enjoy themselves just as much, and at least his more passionate fans would be contented?” Right on cue, Bruce followed up “Out in the Street” by collecting a bunch of signs – another gesture that seemed intended to capture the audience by making them astonished at how involved in the show he was letting them be – but Stevie thankfully pointed out one that he overlooked.

Bruce explained, “Stevie tells me that I missed the best one.” On his way to retrieve it, he told Max to stop filling this prolonged interval with constant noise. “I gotta give Max a break,” he informed the crowd, “He not only plays the songs but in between the songs as well, which he doesn’t get paid extra for!”

Though he initially picked a sign for “Cover Me” – which would follow Stevie’s suggested choice, capped by a stifling guitar solo from Bruce – the Boss ended up going with a cover of a different kind; the humorous introduction served as the perfect primer for Chuck Berry’s classic “You Never Can Tell.” They spent a few seconds reminding themselves how to play the tune – “We go through this every time we cover this song,” Bruce shared before the crowd helped them into the song by, surprise surprise, CLAPPING the melody. “That’s right…” Bruce enthused, “…I need some help!” They in fact needed absolutely no help with turning in a smashing rendition, which featured Roy taking a solo after the second verse and BOTH Soozie and Nils contributing solos after the final verse, which was followed by the song ending on a reprise of the first verse.

More than just being a knockout performance, “You Never Can Tell” also once again revealed Bruce’s unparalleled skill at reading a crowd in hopes of figuring out the best way to satisfy everyone. Since none of his usual song choices seemed to be eliciting much of an audible reaction from the majority of casual concertgoers in attendance, Bruce decided to deviate from his greatest hits approach by busting out this rarely played gem – only the fourth ever E Street Band performance – that would finally appease the diehards. Yet at the same time, since almost everyone knows this hit – from the geriatric who were around during its heyday to the younger generations familiar with it thanks to Pulp FictionBruce knew the entire audience would be along for the ride.

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I’ve been meaning to include a picture of these portable urinals for a while – game changers

Bruce continued to strike this necessary balance between simultaneously satiating the primarily newbie crowd and his more dedicated fans littered amongst them, indicated by the fact that he began following up every obscure tour premiere for the remainder of the show with an always-crowd-pleasing Born in the U.S.A. track. Though such jarring shifts in tone may have resulted in the setlist feeling uneven and a little awkwardly paced due to clear demarcations in intention between the greatest hits and rarities,[9] he still successfully unified the entire crowd even though they were more dissimilar in taste than usual.

“Darlington County” was preceded by a sign request for the E Street Nation adored “Frankie.” Though no one will ever whine about hearing this rarely played outtake – only its fourth ever performance in Europe – even its biggest supporters would admit this performance was reeeeeeal rough around the edges. Bruce exclaimed that he was trying to “test the band,” and after Roy began the song in the wrong key, Bruce surmised, “So far, the Band isn’t doing so good. Are we all in F? Let’s try it again.” When the audience clapped – of course – in response, Bruce admitted, “What else can we do? You’re there, we’re here.”

And with a smile, they launched back into the song, which still included some false start hiccups around the bridge, not to mention Stevie and Nils struggling to add in their vocal harmonies because they were clearly having a hard time reading the lyrics. Even so, they could have absolutely butchered this entire version – which they didn’t – and I would still never bemoan a “Frankie” appearance. If we’re constantly begging for more impromptu outtakes – as I am – we must tolerate somewhat inferior performances without them being soundchecked.[10]

Luckily, “Follow That Dream” – the next tour premiere that preceded “I’m on Fire”[11] – was given a truly superior performance. Once more pulling out a sign from the stack he collected after “Out in the Street,” Bruce yet again tried to “test the Band.” This time, they passed with flying colors thanks to a tight, soul-stirring rendition of this Elvis masterpiece, first performed by Bruce on the original River Tour. Bruce began solo for the initial verse and then the Band slowly joined in as the song progressed, hauntingly reminiscent of the orchestration of the other cover that opened the concert. Yet unlike that one, Bruce actually had quality lyrics to work with here that his transformative version emphasized with impactful power.

Though excerpts such as, “Now every man has the right to live / The right to a chance, to give what he has to give / The right to fight for the things he believes / For the things that come to him in his dreams” couldn’t help but make me think of all the recent violence in the world – not to mention the travesty of a political party convention currently underway back in Bruce’s homeland – it was in fact a different, repeated line that especially resonated with me in Horsens: “Follow that dream wherever it may lead.”

Declaring this summer to be a dream-come-true for me is a borderline platitude, but nonetheless “Follow That Dream” of course inspired me to relate the song to my European travels. Interestingly, Bruce himself may draw the same connection; he’s played the song five times in the Reunion era, four of which were in Europe. Though he travels the same amount of distance for his American legs, the wide breadth of cultures that he – as well as his fans – experience over the course of a typical European tour trumps the differences between each American city.[12] From country to country, Bruce and his fans lucky enough to follow him achieve perhaps the ultimate goal of Bruce’s music, one that he’s been voicing since the infancy of his career when he was trying to bust out of his town and take two lanes to anywhere else: to expand horizons, both literally and socially by coming into contact with as many different places and people as possible to educate yourself as to our humble place on this big wide Earth.

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The car of a fan in the Pit

By Bruce following his dream of becoming a globally renowned rockstar that can play anywhere in the world, and by the many people who follow their dream of seeing him as many times as possible in as many different locales as possible, we are all striving closer to Bruce’s dream as to what it takes to build a better life, both for ourselves and for each other. Though a miniscule example, following Bruce from large city to small has opened my mind to understanding the differences and similarities between people of all nations. They may express their love differently during a concert, but one constant has remained true: their love for Bruce Springsteen and his music. It may not have been my personal favorite show of the tour, but following Bruce has taught me to sometimes look outside of myself to appreciate how others may perceive these concerts. And it’s clear from my interactions with those others both before and after the concert that they will absolutely not forget this night in Horsens for many years to come.

And I will now never forget where Horsens is located, both on a map and in my meaningful memories. You never can tell where you may find an unforgettable experience.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Though Bruce’s rendition originally appeared on “High Hopes,” the song first entered Bruce’s musical lexicon when he decided to end a lot of shows on The Devils and Dust Tour with it. This was actually the first time that “Dream Baby Dream” appeared during an E Street Band concert in Europe after Bruce had performed the song solo during a few such shows in America.

[2] As you can tell, I’m not an expert when it comes to instruments…

[3] A morbid aside: Bruce and the Band could now release a tragically phenomenal covers album comprised entirely of their ‘in memoriam’ performances from this tour.

[4] I would love to know the official distinction between a European stadium and a European arena. Is it simply a matter of size, or does each venue get to decide their title for themselves?

[5] Except for those committed waiters and waitresses that were needed at their establishments due to them expecting an overflow of patrons thanks to the concert.

[6] Though I must admit that this song also contained one of the few instances of inappropriate clapping – felt odd for the crowd to engage in an act usually meant to express positivity given the meaning of the song. Also inappropriate: a sign – which Bruce tried to collect earlier in the show but couldn’t because it was painted on far too heavy wood – that had the name of the song surrounded by bloody bullet holes. But you know what IS appropriate: Bruce still deciding to play it, despite all of the recent killings of police officers. Do I really need to explain why?

[7] The first being “The Promised Land,” which Bruce evidently very much wanted to follow “Dream Baby Dream” since he had soundchecked the transition from the former to the latter without playing the entirety of the second. Following up on the slight setlist gripes that I expressed in my thoughts on Rome which included “The Promised Land,” the song was invigorated here because of the purposeful new context that Bruce made the conscious decision to let the song be heard in. His insistence on playing a lot of the same songs every night would be more palatable if he simply mixed up when in a setlist they appear; changing up the predictable sequencing in favor of placing them in different parts of a concert would go a long way.

[8] All of the frontline band members donned sunglasses intermittently until the sun finally and fittingly receded for “Independence Day.”

[9] In a change of pace, the second half of the setlist felt more diverse than the first.

[10] Truthfully, I almost prefer when Bruce doesn’t soundcheck a rarity because it then feels like even more of a spontaneous surprise during the actual concert.

[11] The cellphone fireflies sporadically peppered throughout the stadium during this song was further visual proof of just how few members of the crowd were Bruce-literate in regards to normal E Street audience participation routines.

[12] Which doesn’t even include all of the people from so many different nationalities that you become friends with after spending a bevy of time with them due to the European Pit system.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Dream Baby Dream
  2. The Promised Land
  3. Badlands
  4. No Surrender
  5. The Ties That Bind
  6. Sherry Darling
  7. Two Hearts
  8. Independence Day
  9. Hungry Heart
  10. Out in the Street
  11. You Never Can Tell
  12. Cover Me
  13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  14. Death to My Hometown
  15. The River
  16. American Skin (41 Shots)
  17. Frankie
  18. Darlington County
  19. I’m A Rocker
  20. Working on the Highway
  21. Follow That Dream
  22. I’m on Fire
  23. Because the Night
  24. The Rising
  25. Land of Hope and Dreams
  26. Backstreets
  27. Born in the U.S.A.
  28. Born to Run
  29. Ramrod
  30. Dancing in the Dark
  31. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  32. Shout
  33. Thunder Road

 

 

 

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One thought on “HORSENS?!: You Never Can Tell

  1. Inger N

    Thank you for this! Horsens is not my town, but I am Danish and I’m kind of sad….that E-Street shows in Denmark is looked upon, by hard core fans…..as a “filler show” between the “real shows”….who has the right to decide what real fan behavior is? 😊
    Its so well written by someone who took the time, to try to get to know and understand both how BIG this event was to a little town in Denmark (60.000 inhabitants app.) and most important….he was able (like Bruce) to read the audience….30.000 people present….maybe 4-500 hardcore fans in the pit…and then maybe 4-5000 fans like me….. With several Bruce concerts behind us……that means that app. 25.000 people came for a good show….most of Them have known the “old big hits”…. Some may even have seen Bruce once or twice before…..but “hey, a world famous band is playing n our backyard, we are going”… We all have to get educated, we have to be taught from hardcore fans about “how we are supposed to behave during various songs”….. From the experienced fans…..that’s the only way! Bruce does not come with a manual. And another fact is, that we are different tempered in Northern Europe….we love, and enjoy the ballads too, the warmth and dedication in the lyrics and tunes impresses us deeply….but we don’t jump, we don’t whistle, we don’t make a lot of noise…..we listen and take the deep emotions in! (Eh and the sporadic clapping during The River, I didn’t get it either….but it must be because of emotions and a strong need to express them somehow) It’s different in other countries….I have watched almost every European show on Scope, and live…..and apart from the size of pit, and amount of hardcore fans….I think most audiences have appeared alike.
    I was kind of sad yesterday, reading a lot of harsh comments towards the Danish audiences…from rather arrogant or maybe ignorant foreign fans….. And then there was this…..this perfect review, which really tells the “full story”…. And I’m grateful for that! I will certainly think twice, the next time I fell like commenting about the crowds behavior, when watching Periscope shows…or Twitter….or wherever, because I DONT KNOW nothing.
    Bruce had his first show in Denmark in 1982 I think…..and he has been coming back on every tour ever since…. To this little country with only 5.6 mill inhabitants he sold out two shows in less than 30 minutes…..80.000 tickets sold, that means that more than 7% of the Danes have seen Bruce and the E-Street Band only this year, this tour…..so….like the San Siro Slogan…. “Our Love I Real Too” ❤️😀

    Like

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