Expectations were ludicrously high for Gothenburg 3. After two great concerts at the end of June – with night one being the second longest of all time, and night two being among the best evenings of this tour – many were anticipating Bruce and the Band’s final stop at Ullevi Stadium to be nothing short of an all-timer.
Unfortunately, besides perhaps the best performance of The River on this tour, that faith was not entirely rewarded.
Though by normal standards it was a typically great spectacular, ‘typical’ felt a little like a letdown in the face of the unreasonably though justifiably legendary predictions, only compounded by the fact that a stupendously atypically passionate crowd turned up in droves to share in what they were expecting to be another landmark entry in Bruce’s storied history in Gothenburg. Yet in the end, the audience turned out to be more special than the overall concert.
The crowd made their presence felt from the second Bruce and the Band walked on stage. Taking a cue from the fans in Barcelona and Milan – the two other Boss-centric Holy Grail cities – the intensely dedicated Swedish contingent of E Street Nation presented their own take on large-scale stadium art that actually may have surpassed their competitive predecessors. Bathing the upper AND lower decks of the stadium in nationalistic yellow and blue spelling, “Welcome home” on one side and “Bruce / E Street” on the other, it was a magnificent sight to behold. Bruce was visibly taken aback, with his first words of the concert being, “Wow! I’m impressed. Thank you…”
The wonderfully committed people who arranged this show of appreciation couldn’t have picked a more fitting sentiment to express. As I wrote regarding my first experience in Gothenburg last month, Bruce and the Swedes have an intensely personal connection that feels almost familial; even though no part of Bruce’s ancestry is related to the country whatsoever, these fans feel like his people. As such, Gothenburg does in a way represent a certain type of European home for Bruce, especially since it was one of the first cities that he ever played in Europe way back on the Born to Run Tour. Though Spanish and Italian crowds may display their love in louder ways, the Swedes’ relationship to Bruce seems deeply heartfelt, almost as if it just means more to them than others. When their cool rocking daddy comes home, it’s an event worth celebrating.
And celebrate they do, beginning a full week before the concert in what I described in detail as Bruce Camp here. In addition to raising excitement for the spectacle ahead, this phenomenon also creates even more of a communal, familial atmosphere amongst the crowd, embodying how much everyone going to the show – even those who do not stop by Camp – looks forward to it. There is simply no better set-up for a concert, binding the audience together with harmonious ties before even a single note is played. In Bruce’s own introductory words, these shows feel like “Swedish house parties,” and the best parties are always those where you know all of the attendees.
Unsurprisingly, ‘a party’ may be the best way to describe the general vibe of Bruce Camp. For example, the brave souls overseeing the line pick a song to be the official anthem of the week. This time, it was “Sherry Darling.” In addition to playing this River track more often than anyone could possibly want, one person would periodically start a cappella singing the line, “Well I got some beer and the highway’s free,” and EVERYONE in their general proximity would join in before they all finished by screaming, “And I got you, and baby you’ve got me. Hey, hey, hey what you say Sherry Darling!!!” Cue melodic chanting.
Though I’m sure the subtle reference to the copious amounts of adult beverages consumed at Bruce Camp was a factor behind devising this seemingly incessant ritual, the lines in fact perfectly established the tone for the evening, capturing the joyously carefree yet powerfully meaningful bond sustained between the fans and Bruce throughout the night. Another reason it was an appropriate introduction: the predominant focus of the evening would indeed be The River.
Bruce clearly recognizes the unique nature of his Swedish fans, and he paid them perhaps the ultimate compliment after a rollicking “Meet Me in the City” by revealing that they would be treated to the first full album performance of The River in a stadium. Many have opined that Bruce opted against doing so for every night of this European leg because he feared most of the casual fans that comprise a majority of a typically massive stadium crowd would become disinterested with the more challenging tunes of the record’s second half, specifically the numerous lengthy ballads that would test the resolve of any of his greatest hits lovers. As such, his decision to play The River in Gothenburg was a huge sign of trust on Bruce’s part that the 65,000 people packed into Ullevi Stadium would be willing to travel along through all of the twists and turns of The River’s flow.
And boy was his faith ever rewarded. If Paris exuberantly demonstrated the incredible results of unleashing the full album upon a European crowd in a familiar arena setting, Gothenburg may have proven to be the absolute pinnacle performance of The River. Read what I wrote about the Parisian audience here – now multiply all of my effusive descriptions by about four times for Gothenburg. Though a bit of the intimacy was lost, it was more than made up for by the sheer magnitude of communal ecstasy. For a record that Bruce wanted to sound as big as life, a manageably ginormous stadium felt like almost a more appropriate backdrop for a full album performance.
Though the Band was of course at the top of their game, the night will be remembered mostly due to the overwhelming fellowship not only between Bruce and the fans but also from fan to fan. Beginning hours before the concert with the people standing on the floor and the people sitting in seats yelling Swedish chants back and forth to each other, the entire audience felt like a poignantly united mass of like-minded revelers – the palpable euphoria was all-consuming. Though a writer hates to admit to this adjective, the atmosphere was truly indescribable; my fellow concert companions standing around me kept relying on one of Bruce’s most iconic lines to summarize the proceedings: there was truly “magic in the night.” Those 20 songs were yet another reminder that seeing Bruce in Sweden isn’t just an event; it’s an experience.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the night was the widely shared belief that the slower songs were actually received better than the more festive tunes commonly labeled as stadium-pleasers, further proof that this was anything but a common crowd. The latter were of course all-out jamborees – with “Cadillac Ranch” being a particular highlight, inspiring Bruce to yuck it up with Jake before tacking on an extra coda of the melody because he didn’t want the relentless chanting and jumping to cease – but the ballads achieved true transcendence, which of course wouldn’t have happened without the spark provided by the up-tempo numbers. Bruce was so feeling the initial vivacity of the crowd that he added new vocal coloring to the “Here She Comes” introduction before randomly exclaiming, “Let’s dance!” and breaking out in a maraca-led dance during Jake’s solo in “I Wanna Marry You.” A few songs later, much like the crowd’s melodic post-song falsetto chanting of “The River” leading into “Point Blank” at recent shows – including this one – the same occurred here for “The Price You Pay” into “Drive All Night,” the latter of which may have featured the most cellphone fireflies ever. The entire stadium was clearly feeling the magic.
And yet the absolute peak of the album performance was undoubtedly “Fade Away,” with many exclaiming it may have been the best live version of the song of Bruce’s career. He turned in a stunningly impassioned vocal rendition, as if he was feeling every single word down to the very essence of his core from being soul-stirringly possessed by the music. After the jubilation of “Cadillac Ranch” into “I’m a Rocker,” the song’s lyrics almost seemed to comment on how much both Bruce and his adoring fans don’t want this rocker that can still cause such widespread jovial raucousness to fade away.
Though I won’t belabor this point too much because I’ve already done so ad nauseam, the song couldn’t help but make me consider again just how much the general awareness of the finiteness of time – which Bruce says after “Wreck on the Highway” was one of the major themes of The River – contributed to the unique tone of the night. Ever since Bruce broke up the Band and then got them back together, their trepidatious fans have long debated whether this would be the end of the E Street Band for damn near 20 years now. Even so, each subsequent tour becomes more likely to be the last, and that subconscious knowledge seems not only to be fueling the Band on recent tours – especially after the deaths of Danny and Clarence – but also influenced the crowd’s downright spiritual participation on this night. If this were somehow to end up being the last ever E Street Band show in Gothenburg, the crowd wanted to send off the Band in style. Their mission was more than accomplished; though they may not have been the loudest, for my money they were the most involving, endearing, and flat out best crowd of the entire tour.
Unfortunately, Bruce failed to give them the concert that they deserved after the conclusion of The River. I know I’ve endlessly harangued about the static second half setlists, but it was especially egregious here given the monumental audience. I know that he probably feels beholden to play his usual greatest hits for the casual fans, but that logic made even less sense in Gothenburg. Since Bruce clearly trusted the makeup of the crowd to remain engaged through the quieter stretches of The River that he feared other stadiums couldn’t – a trust that was clearly well placed due to their superior reception to the album’s deeper tracks – why did he all of a sudden lose that trust as soon as the album ended?! They clearly could’ve handled anything that he decided to throw at them…
I’m sure that some of you will simply chalk up my complaints to having seen too many shows, but I’m really not thinking of myself here. Overall, Gothenburg probably has the most Bruce-literate fans of any city in the world; not only are they excessively familiar with all of Bruce’s rarities, but they also tend to setlist-watch more than your average fan base. As such, even if they haven’t attended that many concerts, they’re still aware and want to see a distinctive setlist because it would convey that Bruce cares enough about them to ensure they’re treated to a special night. Many Gothenburgians still talk – A LOT – about all of the rare songs with which Bruce has graced the city over the years; that’s one of the major components in how they ultimately determine the quality and memorability of a concert.
Perhaps Bruce believes that playing The River in a stadium setting for the first time was sufficiently special. Even though it undoubtedly was, that still doesn’t justify why he didn’t bother to include barely any other special moments for the rest of the night. It was a textbook River Tour 2016 setlist from start to finish, without any of the surprising additions that sets apart the likes of Brooklyn 2 and Paris 2. This was an all-time crowd, and they deserved an all-time concert from beginning to end catered to them. I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of the audience had attended one of, if not both of the shows in June. If they had, the 13 straight songs that followed The River all made appearances on one of those two nights.
The performance of the 14th song, however, almost forgave all of the preceding setlist blunders, even though it was as predictable as the sequencing of The River. After a customarily frenzied performance of “Shout,” Bruce spotted a large sign in the front row: “It’s time for the stadium breaker,” a reference to how the stadium broke soon after it was built by the commotion caused when they played what would end up being the final song of this concert: “Twist and Shout.”
Though the crowd’s luster didn’t wane one iota as Bruce and the Band followed the same setlist framework on which they’ve relied for almost all of the full album performances this tour, the electricity of the stadium notched way up when Bruce finally played a song specifically for them. Undoubtedly aware of the unique history that it holds in their relationship with Bruce, the crowd absolutely ignited, determined to break the stadium again. The entire performance was met with nothing short of bedlam, with Bruce repeatedly shouting, “Are you ready to test this stadium?!” For the final, epically long build, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – from the front row to the last was jumping in unison to the beat shouting, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” over and over and over again. In all my years of concert-going, I cannot recall another moment of such raw, communal kinetic energy; it was the single most memorable minute of the tour thus far.
Even though I will never forget those few seconds that felt like an eternity, I couldn’t help but feel that the exceptional crowd deserved a plethora of such rare moments courtesy of Bruce and the Band. “Twist and Shout” was a lasting reminder of how powerful a show can be when Bruce constructs a setlist that speaks to his specific crowd instead of relying on the same old routines. The three hour and 34-minute, 35 song night will undoubtedly be remembered for the phenomenal River performance; if it turns out to be the last one ever – as it probably should be since it’d be almost impossible to top – no one could have asked for a better send-off. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the concert if this ends up being the last time Bruce, the Band, and Gothenburg rendezvous. Bruce got one of the best crowds in recent memory who – in his words – welcomed him home, but they unfortunately did not get the best of Bruce.
 Sans Patti.
 And it did literally serve as an introduction, with the front of the Pit repeatedly engaging in the ritual leading right up to when the concert started.
 Basically, the floor would yell in unison, “PEOPLE IN THE SEATS – ARE YOU READY?!” And then the seats would collectively respond, “YES SIR – WE ARE READY!!!” A few minutes later, the seats would start with, “PEOPLE ON THE FLOOR – ARE YOU READY?!” And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
 I attended the concert with an American popping his European Bruce cherry – he couldn’t believe what he was witnessing.
 Were they trying to recreate the cover of Born to Run?
 It helped that the sun set during the second half of the record.
 It’s always worth remembering that Bruce’s Dad died the year before the Reunion Tour, which can’t be a coincidence. Apparently feeling his own mortality has been a fire under Bruce’s ass for a while now.
 Which should never be the case for a Springsteen tour anyways…
 Bruce didn’t grant a single sign request.
 Perhaps Bruce felt like ending with “Twist and Shout” was the perfect cap to their career-long run of shows if they indeed never play Ullevi again.
- Meet Me in the City
- 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
- Candy’s Room
- She’s the One
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Land of Hope and Dreams
- Born in the U.S.A.
- Born to Run
- Seven Nights to Rock
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Twist and Shout