ZURICH: Prisoners in Their Houses of Rock of Roll Love

Similar to the American leg, Bruce saved the best for last in Europe.

Much like how Brooklyn 2 was filled with a bevy of rarities, Bruce once again thrillingly strayed from his familiar setlist structure for the final stop of the European tour. Yet in Zurich’s beautiful Stadion Letzigrund, Bruce largely deviated from The River to construct a fresh, special setlist that would appeal to this night’s very specific intended audience: the hordes of familiar faces of all nationalities packed into the Pit who had travelled across thousands of miles to follow the Band from country to country this summer, all meeting here for one more triumphant, celebratory, and wholly memorable three and a half hour, 30-song hurrah that finally featured the type of “I don’t know what he’s going to play next” spontaneity that they had been chasing.

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The official poster

Bruce made his nightlong message clear from the get-go with the rip-roaring opening two-pack of “Prove It All Night”[1] and “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” It was immediately apparent that this would be yet another show where Bruce and the Band – sans Patti – would prove all night why European tramps’ adoration for them has never and will never let them down. And based on the stadium wide clap, clap-clap during the former and Bruce inserting an extended coda in the latter due to the relentless chanting and jumping, this was very evidently a signature European crowd that would be participating nonstop in the E Street proceedings from beginning to end.

Seemingly wanting to thank them for all of their support both on this night and over the past few months, Bruce turned in a fast and loose performance, allowing the crowd to somewhat dictate the flow of the night by calling upon no less than five quality signs. First was a rousing “Trapped,” a creative request written on top of a cardboard jail with little cutout figures of Bruce and Stevie trapped behind bars.  Much like the songs that began the night, this too seemed to comment on the crowd; fans that travel all over to see Bruce and the Band often joke that it sometimes feels like an addiction, as if they’re trapped by their love in a similar way to the lead character of this beloved outtake. Yet nights like these remind us why we happily remain trapped.

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The sign request for “Trapped”

After we all went down to greasy lake together for “Spirit in the Night,”[2] Bruce took a few minutes to collect a plethora of “explosive requests,” ultimately choosing two true rarities that he joked the Band may have forgotten. For only its second ever performance in Europe – and fourth ever during a proper E Street Band concert – the tour premiere of “None But the Brave” was a real shocker. Though Bruce and Jake joked in the introduction that the latter may not be ready, they turned in a soft, near-flawless performance, with Jake in particular once again coming through in such a big, unexpected moment.[3]

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Bruce plopped on a speaker during “Spirit in the Night”

And then, it was time for the highlight of the night. Many Europeans crave to hear tracks from the Human Touch/Lucky Town era given the full E Street Band treatment – thus allowing fans who dismiss these gems to realize that their initial negative opinion may have been due more to their resentment of Bruce breaking up the Band than the actual music – and Bruce finally answered their prayers with the tour premiere of “Roll of the Dice,” only the second performance in Europe since the original HT/LT Tour. It began with a long buildup that saw Bruce repeatedly bellowing, “Are you ready to gamble with the E Street Band?! Are you ready to put it all on the line with the E Street Band?! Am I just stalling because I’m afraid to start the song?!”

He shouldn’t have been scared; the crowd was clearly ready, greeting the song to the same level of jumping and chanting as his more familiar stadium anthems. With Bruce partaking in some “I Wanna Marry You”-esque dance moves with his maracas and the performance ending with Bruce and Stevie going back and forth ala “Two Hearts” and “You Can Look,” it was the type of unexpectedly rambunctious moment that can only occur when the Band and the crowd are so in sync.

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The official t-shirt. Not only is the design a retread, but it also cost over $50 because Switzerland is the most expensive country in the universe.

Though impassioned versions of “Jole Blon” – which featured Soozie and Charlie taking long violin and accordion solos, respectively – and “Atlantic City” closed out the sign request portion,[4] another transcendent rendition of “American Skin” most emotionally demonstrated that palpable connection between Bruce and his European audiences. Performances of this song have only increased in power over the course of the tour – fueled by tragic real-world events depressingly conveying the timely relevance of this nearly 20-year-old track – culminating here with the entire crowd mimicking Jake’s tribute to “hands up, don’t shoot.” It was a soul stirring symbol of the power of music to cross all borders, with thousands of hands of different nationalities and genders and races showing their solidarity with this American problem thanks to Bruce’s deft musical insight.[5]

Thanks to the increased time that the European Pit system allows fans to spend with each other, the European contingent of E Street Nation feels like a real united community. Those who travel from show to show – as many did in the Zurich Pit – form profound friendships with one another, facilitating a true exchange of cultures. No one will question the best concerts are those shared with friends, and that’s exactly what happens at almost every stop in Europe. A majority – not all, of course – of the most passionate fans-turned-friends end up in the front of the Pit, and both they AND Bruce feed off each other’s communally enhanced energy all night long. This was perhaps never truer than in Zurich.

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Posters advertising the concert around Zurich

Bruce’s decision to play “Mary’s Place” in the latter half of the main set after it had started to rain[6] felt almost like an ode to these dedicated fans – who must be familiar faces to him at this point – standing in the Pit. Sharing in the rain, Bruce sung the second verse on the center platform, quite literally surrounded by the people that this part of the song seems to depict: “Familiar faces around me/Laughter fills the air/Your loving grace surrounds me/Everybody’s here/Furniture’s out on the front porch/Music’s up loud/I dream of you in my arms/I lose myself in the crowd/Let it rain…”

Though Bruce’s music can of course help us through the dark, rainy days as those portrayed in “American Skin,” this tour has been more about the type of partying through the rain as presented in “Mary’s Place.”[7] Crowds have turned up to revel in the continued opportunity to party with the unparalleled magnitude of the E Street Band. As such, this night felt less like an emotional farewell and more like a triumphant celebration of not only the last few months but also the enduring love between Bruce, the Band, and their fans over the last 40 years.[8]

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Official ticket and Pit wristband. Note the crud around the former from me getting wrecked by the pre-show downpour. Also, to my fellow theatre fans, does the latter not look like a HAMILTON-themed wristband?!

After a predictable yet overwhelmingly enjoyable encores,[9] the night ended with the post-ovation closer of “Twist and Shout,” with Bruce loose enough to bust out some of his classic old man dance moves along with Jake’s much more youthful moves during the “La Bamba” portion. Instead of saying goodbye with a small, resonant solo performance, Bruce instead wanted to communally rock out with EVERYONE for as long as possible, rather aptly repeatedly singing, “I want to make you mine.”

Before leaving, he made sure to thank the focus of the night: all of his traveling fans who allow him to “always get an incredible welcome over here. It’s been a great adventure.” And perhaps this didn’t feel like a farewell because it’s not; before the final buildup in “Twist and Shout,” Bruce riled the crowd up by specifying this would be the last one FOR 2016.

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Zurich public transportation ticket machine feeling the E Street vibe, yet another indicator of how these concerts basically take over most European cities when tours come to town…

But before Bruce hopefully returns to Europe in the near future, he first needs to finish up this tour back in his home country. If Zurich turns out to be a taste of what Bruce and the Band will be treating Americans to, the upcoming stadium leg will be 10 more nights of truly great adventures when this train picks back up in three weeks. Until then…

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Stevie took the guitar solo.

[2] During which Bruce literally plopped himself onto the center platform speaker and over the crowd, allowing anyone and everyone to touch him as he sang.

[3] Bruce’s guitar solo bridge was also a high point of the performance.

[4] The sign for the former recommended the Band play the song in b-flat. Gotta love helpful E Street fans…

[5] Let’s hope this song makes the trip back to America with the Band. “Murder Incorporated” also served as a fittingly impactful lead-in to it, especially with Bruce taking a majority of the guitar solo instead of his usual back-and-forth with Stevie, though there was still some of that here.

[6] Which was light compared to the preshow torrential downpour that nevertheless failed to dampen the mood. Even so, Bruce consciously deciding to get wet with the crowd always seems to strengthen their connection.

[7] Going along with this more lighthearted approach, Bruce beckoned midway through the song, “Let me hear the girls screeeeeeam.” The female members of the audience obviously followed suit, and then Bruce humorously replied with, “That had nothing to do with the song,” before finishing it up.

[8] One fan – the kid who was asked to come up for “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” – was so eager that he first jumped on stage too early, and then after his vocal performance was through, he randomly ran all the way up to Max’s kit to get a pair of drumsticks. Bruce just stood there and asked, “What am I – chopped liver?!”

[9] If Bruce intends to work up the crowd into a climactic frenzy with this stretch, he has no real reason to mix it up; the encores have become a perfectly-tuned machine of kinetic energy. Even so, he did add in some new yelping noises during “Ramrod,” and harkened back to tours of old in the Boss time lead-up by asking, “Is it time to go back to the hotel, put on our PJs, get a cheeseburger, and watch some pornographic films?!” Another change-up: “Dancing in the Dark” saw one woman dancing on top of Roy’s piano and another dancing with…Kevin Buell! Bruce’s infamous guitar tech refused to walk onstage for the dance, sadly.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Prove It All Night
  2. My Love Will Not Let You Down
  3. The Ties That Bind
  4. Sherry Darling
  5. Trapped
  6. Spirit in the Night
  7. None But the Brave
  8. Roll of the Dice
  9. Hungry Heart
  10. Out in the Street
  11. Jole Blon
  12. Atlantic City
  13. The River
  14. Murder Incorporated
  15. American Skin (41 Shots)
  16. The Promised Land
  17. Mary’s Place
  18. Waitin’ on a Sunny
  19. Because the Night
  20. The Rising
  21. Badlands
  22. Jungleland
  23. Born in the U.S.A.
  24. Born to Run
  25. Ramrod
  26. Dancing in the Dark
  27. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
  28. Shout
  29. Bobby Jean
  30. Twist and Shout
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