EUROPE 2016: Tramps Like Us…

This has been the best summer of my life.

Though a vast majority of this website over the last three months has been devoted to recaps of Bruce’s concerts in Europe, what made this summer so special – and what I’ll remember most about it – revolves around the Bruce Buds that I’ve befriended along the way, a fact that I acutely felt during the final stop of the European Tour in Zurich, whose Pit was overwhelmingly populated with so many of the familiar faces with whom I had forged real friendships over the course of my travels thanks to the European Pit system.[1]

I’ve already written a more conventional recap of the concert for Backstreets.com,[2] but due to space constraints and my own belief that getting personal is not appropriate for that website, I want to delve back into the night a little and use it as a lens through which I can try to communicate everything that I’m feeling regarding this transcendent summer. Since setlist watchers at home have not pegged the concert as one of the best of the tour,[3] I’ve come to realize that Zurich was yet another example of how a signature E Street European crowd can elevate a concert so much more than their American counterparts. Let me explain:

As I briefly noted in my initial write-up of the show, the night felt like a celebration of the unique community of European fans who had followed Bruce and the Band all across the continent this summer. In addition to Bruce directly thanking such fans during the encores, he also seemed to specifically cater the setlist to both comment on and please them, starting from the very first notes:

The opening two-pack of “Prove It All Night” and “My Love Will Not Let You Down” felt like a declaration that this would be yet another evening where Bruce and the Band would prove all night why European tramps’ adoration for them has never and will never let them down. 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, it was clear from the get-go that this was the type of unified European crowd that would emphatically make their presence felt together from beginning to end.

Two songs later, “Trapped” began a stretch that would grant a grand total of five signs – is there a better way for Bruce to express his appreciation to his fans than by letting them basically dictate a portion of a setlist? Yet more than just being a meaningless sign request, the song also seemed to comment on the unique makeup of the crowd in a similar way to the first two songs: 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, and the crowd’s deafening participation in the song seemed to be convey that.

“Spirit in the Night” followed, and though it wasn’t a sign request, I think it’s telling that Bruce only decided to break it out on this tour once he arrived in Europe. The song’s focus on a communal, spiritual trip of like-minded crazies very much resonates with the crazy European fans who travel from show to show together.

The next two sign requests – “None But the Brave” and “Roll of the Dice” – felt like they were played specifically for us. Such rarities may have been received with a dud by a normal crowd, but since so much of the audience in Zurich was comprised of fans who had followed the tour across Europe all summer clamoring to hear these songs, they went over just like his typical greatest hits. The reactions basically proved an answer in themselves to Bruce’s introductory queries before “Roll of the Dice:” “Are you ready to gamble with the E Street Band? Are you ready to put it all on the line for the E Street Band?!”

After “Hungry Heart” and “Out in the Street” brought the casual fans back into the fold, Bruce treated his diehards to two more sign requests: “Jole Blon” and “Atlantic City,” both of which called for Europeans’ signature chanting to enhance their performances.

Yet the unique communality of European Bruce fans does not only improve his more party-friendly tracks. “American Skin (41 Shots)” was greeted to seemingly the entirety of the Pit raising their hands together with Jake in a tribute to “hands up, don’t shoot.” Such a powerful visual symbol reminded me of the many conversations regarding the state of America’s racial dynamics today that I’ve had with people of all different nationalities who I’ve met through the European Pit system. In the same way that many of Bruce’s songs – like this one – educate global listeners about the universally-relevant problems currently facing America, these conversations allowed me to view such problems from a more well-rounded, international perspective. Due to the many hours that the European Pit system leads all of its participants to spend waiting with each other, everyone is afforded so much more time to share their unique cultures and thus really get to know one another as people instead of just as fellow Bruce fans.

The title of the song that followed “American Skin” in fact almost describes what this European community often feels like: “The Promised Land.” In a world where we’re all trying to find the ties that bind us to each other – since doing so will prevent the type of violence rooted in alien fear depicted in “American Skin” – the bonded community of seemingly disparate yet ultimately unified individuals that comprise the European contingent of E Street Nation feels like a sort of ideal. In addition to the cultural exchange, the connections that Europeans form with each other also creates more of a party vibe at many of the concerts – isn’t the best kind of party the ones where you’re familiar with all of your fellow revelers?

Bruce seemed to pay homage to this ‘Promised Land’ of a communal atmosphere by next playing “Mary’s Place.” Rain be damned, Bruce joined the sopping masses down on the center platform when he sang his ode to the type of crowds full of familiar faces that he draws in Europe:

“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, let it rain, let it rain…”

Though Bruce and his fans have never been ones to shy away from the darker, rainier aspects of life such as the events portrayed in “American Skin,” they almost always end up feeling much easier to overcome when faced while surrounded by such a uniquely tightknit community. “Mary’s Place” is by no means my favorite song, but it really does speak to exactly what I’m addressing here, particularly how Bruce has been performing it on this tour.[4]

The community described in the quoted lines above allows all of its individuals to get through their rainy days, which is why Bruce has his gathered congregants repeatedly chant, “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain…” Much like a line from another of his favorite live modern anthems[5] – “bring on your wrecking ball” – Bruce is here shepherding his crowd to have the “guts” to call on the type of darkness that ultimately only hardens one’s resolve by getting through it. And we all know that we can get through it thanks to the persevering strength of the unified community that Bruce has created through his music. The repeated “let it rain”s lead to “Meet me at Mary’s place, we’re gonna have a party,” the type of party that’s seemingly always celebrated at such impassioned European concerts. And just to reiterate the power of such communal parties, the chorus ends with, “Tell me how do you live broken-hearted.” The answer comes in the next line: “Meet me at Mary’s place,” which in this case is a typical European Bruce concert where we’re gonna have a party.[6]

The final verse goes on to describe the intimate relationship that us fans feel to not only Bruce’s music but also his live concerts:

“I got a picture of you in my locket

I keep it close to my heart

A light shining in my breast

Leading me through the dark

Seven days, seven candles

In my window light your way

Your favorite record’s on the turntable

I drop the needle and pray

Band’s countin’ out midnight

Floor’s rumblin’ loud

Singer’s callin’ up daylight

And waitin’ for that shout from the crowd…”

Many fans attest to the fact that the Bruce Springsteen Experience – a combination of his music and concerts – feels like a very personal beacon of light leading us through the murk and mire of our daily lives. All we have to do to turn on that light is “drop the needle” on another one of his songs, and the communal “shout from the crowd” at his live concerts only strengthens the power of his songs. This verse leads into more repeated lines, but now “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain…” becomes, “Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up…” which could be referencing both the ‘record on the turntable’ and the “shout from the crowd.” In either case, the song’s repetitive structure affirms that the sad “rain” of the previous verse has been quite literally transformed into the cacophony of joyous noise that live music enjoyed communally creates.

And that’s exactly what happens at almost every concert in Europe – their infectious atmosphere allows the audience to reinterpret songs like “Mary’s Place” and the others explored above in new ways. Though the aforementioned setlist watchers at home undoubtedly criticized the predictability of Zurich’s second half, they simply cannot understand the “Mary’s Place”-esque party vibes felt in the stadium amongst all of the European revelers who knew this would be their last instance of E Street merrymaking for the foreseeable future. Having bonded with each other over the past three months, they relished one more opportunity to celebrate their wonderful summer together.

After Bruce and the Band finally left the stage for the final time in Europe in 2016, nobody in the Pit wanted to leave; instead, everyone was hugging each other and crying and just looking to bask in the communal afterglow for as long as possible. It was truly an emotional moment…and yet one question kept popping into my mind:

Why didn’t I feel this way after the second concert in Brooklyn at the end of the American leg?

I saw as many concerts in America on this tour, and I traveled just as much. Why do I feel differently right now?

In fact, why have I never felt this way at any concert in America?

What’s different?

The main culprit – in my opinion – is the European roll call system vs. the American lottery system.

In case I haven’t made this totally clear in everything that I’ve written regarding the differences in crowd responses between America and Europe, the latter is MUCH more outwardly expressive. Though Americans can be loud – specifically in such longtime Bruce hotbeds as Philadelphia – they usually opt to cheer for what’s happening at a concert instead of participating in what’s happening. Europeans can be just as loud, but they instead chant, sing, jump, clap, and just generally rock out throughout the concert. It’s also important to note that they almost always do so respectfully; Bruce’s nightly ballads are usually received with more hushed reverence on the right side of the Atlantic, and Europeans often even find quiet, beautiful ways to participate in them, such as the humming that accompanied the end of many performances of “The River.” As always, this participation only elevated the song.

With that being said, neither type of crowd is objectively better because which one you like more obviously depends on your own personal preferences. For instance, I personally prefer concerts in Europe because what I love most about E Street spectaculars is the chance to enjoy all of my favorite songs in a communal atmosphere, especially since so many of Bruce’s songs concern community. No one can argue that the relentless crowd participation of Europeans only strengthens my desired communal atmosphere. But hey, that’s just me, and you may want to attend concerts for entirely different, more individualistic reasons. Neither of us is right…

HOWEVER, I will say that Bruce and the Band seem to prefer European crowds, who appear to ignite their performances much more than your average American crowd. Anyone who has ever attended one of their concerts can attest to the fact that they – particularly Bruce – feed off the energy of the audience; it’s one of Bruce’s rare gifts that not many artists possess. He’s always been a master of reading the crowd and giving them exactly what they want – that’s why his ability to call the perfect audible has attained almost a legendary status. And for an artist who’s so clearly always taking stock of his audience, he will of course prefer to see everyone losing their minds, which will in turn even further energize him to put it all out there for them.

Before this tour, I – like many others – chalked up the differences between American and European crowds to more nationalistic, cultural arguments: Americans are more reserved, less comfortable letting their rock and roll freak flags fly, more insecure about how they’re perceived by others around them, and just generally less willing to outwardly express their enthusiasm. Though I think there may be a smidgeon of merit to these excessively Europhilic rationales – I attended two moral football[7] games in Europe, and the nonstop level of cheering dwarfed the loudest sporting event in the states – almost every single American friend that joined me for a concert overseas got caught up in the infectious European energy. By the end of the night, they were all jumping, singing, and rocking out as much as everyone else. As such, if Americans abroad are just as willing as Europeans to engage in crowd participation, nationalistic arguments simply cannot explain the continental differences.

Which leaves us with the biggest difference between the two continents: how people are allowed into the Pit.

The most obvious refutation when I propose this theory: how can only those in the Pit – a mere fraction of the total audience, especially in stadiums – affect the overall energy of a concert so much? The answer harkens back a few paragraphs to what I was saying regarding Bruce reading the crowd…

Have you ever stood in a different spot than one of your friends at a concert, and then afterwards you both disagreed on the quality of the crowd? Neither of you is objectively correct, obviously; this example simply proves that your experience with a crowd largely depends on proximity, specifically who you’re standing around and how into the concert they are.

The same goes for Bruce as well. Though he can of course see whether or not the people in seats are standing up, clapping along, dancing, etc., for the most part the members of the audience that largely affect his perception of the crowd are those standing in the front of the Pit. These are the people with whom he most interacts, the people he can most clearly observe, and those whose energy – or lack thereof – most influences his and the Band’s performances. It’s simply a matter of geography.

Yet the front of the Pit doesn’t just affect those on stage, who are by far the most important; they can also energize everyone standing behind them as well. I stood in the middle of the Pit on a few occasions in Europe, and it was remarkable to feel the infectious waves of energy coursing through the Pit from the front. Most people seem more inclined to join in on the participatory festivities if they can simply follow the visual lead of those in front of them. They see people jumping, and thus they jump.

If having the most enthusiastic members of the crowd in front results in better concerts, shouldn’t we all want that? Of course not EVERY passionate audience member ends up in the very front through the roll call system; there will of course always be imperfect exceptions to every system. However, for the most part, the European Pit system does ensure that the vast majority of Bruce’s most dedicated fans wind up in the front.

And now, we come to the American questions of fairness. The only legitimate defense I’ve heard regarding the lottery system is that it gives everyone – regardless of the flexibility of their schedule – an equal chance of getting the best spot. Except, is that really the definition of fairest? An equally valid argument could be made to support the idea that it would be fairest for those who put in the most time to get the best spot, regardless of everyone’s individual situations. Some of Bruce’s most committed fans will of course not be able to show up days in advance for the roll call system…in the same way that many fans now cannot make it to a venue by 5pm to enter the lottery. Again, no system will appease everyone. AS SUCH, shouldn’t we go with the system that results in the best concerts? Isn’t that what matters most at the end of the day? Is giving a few INDIVIDUALS an equal chance at standing in front really more important than guaranteeing that EVERYONE gets the most enjoyable concert possible? In Bruce’s own words: nobody wins unless everybody wins…

That’s a line that keeps popping into my head when I think about the lottery system. At every show, one person wins the most – the individual wearing the wristband that has the winning number on it. Everybody behind that lucky sod wins in gradually lesser degrees. Since the winner has done nothing to deserve their success except being lucky, resentment is bred – not necessarily towards the champion but rather self-resentment on everyone else’s parts. How often have you lost the lottery and then spent way too much time afterwards going through your day to determine everything that you could’ve done differently to end up with the winning number?

That’s my major problem with the lottery: it does not foster the E Street Nation community in any way whatsoever. We show up at a certain time, get a numbered wristband, leave, come back for the drawing, and then wait for a few hours until the concert begins.[8] You may acquaint yourself with those around you in line or on the floor while you wait, but that’s a paltry amount of time to forge a real friendship when compared to the European system.

And that’s by far the biggest advantage of the European roll call system: it facilitates lasting friendships that also contribute to the atmosphere at the actual concerts. If you get your number days in advance, you will spend so much time leading up to the show with the people who will end up standing around you.[9] Since most Bruce fans are eager to talk Bruce – which leads to conversations about a range of other topics, such as my aforementioned discussions regarding America’s current racial situation – you almost can’t help but strike up friendships with fellow fans. By the time the concert actually begins, you feel like you actually know the people around you, which should make you feel even more comfortable to rock out to your heart’s content in whatever way the music inspires you. Concerts are ALWAYS better when you feel a real connection to the people around you.

And when the concert ends, you will undoubtedly see a lot of the same people again at your next show. Though people like to make further nationalistic claims that Europeans simply travel more than their American counterparts, I thoroughly believe that Americans would attend more concerts if the quality of their spot was guaranteed. With the lottery system, those who attend multiple concerts can always wind up in vastly different places on the floor, and thus they have no way of bonding with each other. Since everyone who travels around Europe almost always ends up in the front of the Pit, they actually get to know each other on a personal level. And when you know that you’ll be able to dance with friends at a concert, you’ll be much more inclined to attend as many concerts as possible.

Over the course of a tour that adheres to the European system, you will become friends with so many new people, as I did this summer in Europe. Though I will never forget the actual concert in Zurich, I suspect my fondest memory of the city will be the day before the show, when I spent all day just hanging out with so many of the people that I had befriended along the way. The concerts will be great memories, but the friendships will hopefully stay with me for the rest of my life.

To everyone in Europe who were such great hosts to this American abroad, I cannot thank you enough. Some of you are in this picture, but if not, know that you helped make me as happy as all of us look here:

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As I sit here writing this back home in America while looking at that picture, I’m just astounded at how much happiness Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band can still bring to so many different people all over the world. I’m left legitimately wanting every single fan to be able to experience what I did this summer. I know it’s not possible for everyone to go to Europe, but I do know it’s possible to bring a little bit of Europe to America by forsaking the lottery system and once again adopting the roll call system. There’s still time to do so before the impending final U.S. leg of this tour…

I also want to thank everyone who for some reason have continued to read my writing over the last few months. Hopefully I brought a smidgeon of Europe to your households while you wait for Bruce and the Band to return. We only have a few more short weeks now…

In the meantime, I’ll be posting reports from all of the shows that I never got a chance to write-up for a variety of reasons…mostly because I was enjoying spending time with my new European friends too much near the end of the tour. So look for those in the coming days and weeks before we hit the road again…

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] I’ve explained this roll call system before here, but in case you never read that piece or simply forgot the relevant passage, here it is again (if you’re familiar with the system, feel free to skip this footnote):

“For those unaware of the European system to get into the pit, I’ll try to explain because it bears no similarity to the American lottery. Back in the day, the European pit system – much like its American counterpart – was simply first-come, first-served, aka you basically had to camp out to get a great spot. But for a myriad of reasons, the system has changed to one involving roll calls. Let’s say you arrive at the stadium the day before the concert. If you walk around the exterior, you’ll find a collection of fans sitting around chatting, one of whom will be holding a marker. This person will write a number on your hand after they write your name on their list of numbers – these numbers correspond to how many people have shown up at the stadium before you. If you get number 157, that means 156 other people have already checked in and gotten a number on their hand. As long as you check in at every subsequent roll call, you will be the 157th person let into the pit.

Wait, roll call? Yes, roll call. Instead of forcing you to pitch a tent and camp out overnight for days and days and days, a roll call system has been implemented. After you get a number written on your hand, you will be directed to a sheet of paper with a list of all of the times you’ll have to be back at the stadium to check-in. Each roll call – as long as it’s run well – is super quick; the amazing fans running the line simply start at number 1 and work their way down the list. Once your number is called, all you have to do is confirm to them that you’re present and then you’re free to go enjoy all of the pleasures that each European city has to offer. There are a few check-ins per day – usually pretty evenly spaced out – up until the day of the concert, at which time you basically have to join those running the system in waiting in line outside of the stadium beginning at around noon.

Though this roll call system leaves ample time to be a tourist in these foreign cities, many still complain that it’s a waste of your traveling time, arguing that you’re still choosing to wait in line instead of enjoying all that these cities have to offer. Those naysayers, however, do not understand that the local fans you meet on line will often show you a more authentic side to a city that travel books simply cannot guide you to…”

[2] You can read a longer, more detailed version of it here. I’ll be reiterating some of the same points in this piece, but I still recommend that you read my lengthier version before continuing on…

[3] My apologies for linking to BTX…

[4] Which I believe are the song’s best live renditions ever. He still gives the song more room to breathe than the original recording thanks to where he calls for crowd participation, but nonetheless prevents it from becoming the bloated time-suck of past tours.

[5] Which to me conveys that he’s very much focused on communicating these ideas to his modern audiences.

[6] My favorite interpretation of the meaning of the title “Mary’s Place” that I’m relegating to this footnote because it’s not totally relevant to what I’m exploring here: let’s say Bruce in fact did write “Mary’s Place” about the feeling that his crowds gave him at concerts on the Reunion Tour. If so, why did he name it “Mary’s Place” instead of, say, “Brucey’s Place,” a much more obvious indicator of what he’s actually addressing in the song? Well…what if “Mary’s Place” is a euphemism? Though many fans were lured to E Street by Born in the U.S.A, I’d say a good majority claim they actually fell in love with Bruce’s music when they ‘dropped the needle’ on the first song of his most acclaimed record. Born to Run starts with “Thunder Road,” a song about a journey that also launched a lot of his fans’ lifelong journeys with Bruce and the Band. And where does the song actually begin? “The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves/Like a vision she dances across the porch…” In other words, it begins at Mary’s House, or – to put it a different way – Mary’s Place. “Thunder Road” started a career-long journey that ended with Bruce and his fans still celebrating his music at concerts today. As such, these concerts can be referred to as ‘Mary’s Places’ since characters such as her – through songs like “Thunder Road” – are one of the main reasons we’re all still partying together, and thus the concerts can be seen as somewhat belonging to them. It’s a huuuuuuge stretch, buuuuuuut I still like it…

[7] Otherwise known as soccer to my American readers.

[8] Not to mention everyone who leaves if they don’t make it into the Pit and then just come back for show time.

[9] Two important asides: the roll call system does not FORCE you to spend time with fellow fans. In the days leading up to the concert, I always had plenty of time to be a tourist in these foreign cities. Actual show days afford you less free time, but I often ended up learning more about the cities from talking to locals in line. Plus, the time I put in waiting ended up only improving the concerts since I got to know everyone standing around me. BUT, by no means do you have to arrive DAYS in advance to ensure a quality spot on the floor. Americans definitely wouldn’t show up as early as Europeans for a variety of reasons (most notably: less vacation days), but even if you can only arrive the morning of a concert, you’ll still end up with a great spot. The dirty little secret of the roll call system: there’s VERY little difference between #200 and #700. At the end of the day, does 4th row vs. 6th row really matter?

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7 thoughts on “EUROPE 2016: Tramps Like Us…

  1. Martin

    Well written, as usual.
    Bruce gs tears back to my eyes.
    Not only sad tears, but happy tears knowing that Eventually it will be again like this summer…. Sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. M

    I think European system is better, but I don’t think it would make a difference here, I think we’ll still have the same problem of attitude in the crowd, except people will be more tired thus grumpy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. VibesMan

    Hi Steven. Apologies for a long comment but it’s been quite a tour; 12 shows/10 cities. Power cuts, torrential storms, sunny days, Roman sites to great stadia. Best summer ever. Talk about #bruceblues!

    Many thanks for your great reports that have accompanied us along the way and done so much to build the excitement of the shows and cities on our travels this summer. it feels like there’s a book in here somewhere.

    Huge thanks also to all the people we’ve met along the way. The camaraderie, the roll calls, the tweets which create excitement which carries into the pit and then cascades around the stadium. I completely endorse your view on the value of roll calls. Here’s hoping it’s finally introduced for the final US shows.

    My only slight point of disagreement with you is around the the mid-set repetition, highlighted most recently in your Gothenburg 3 review. Whilst agreeing with the sentiment on a bit more variety (Adam Raised A Cain maybe?) surely this depends on the songs? I would happily take a Badlands, Promised Land, Candy’s Room, She’s the One, BTN combination every night … and conversely leave the less impressive Working on the Highway, Darlington, Sunny Day, Death to My Hometown every night also. You pays your money I guess … but a small complaint across so many great shows.

    Personal highlights were many and varied but those that continue to bring huge smiles include:
    – the unbelievable stadium art in Barcelona, Milan and Gothenburg. Many many thanks to those who organised;
    – the opening three song blast in Barcelona to kick the tour off;
    – Something in the Night (Cov), Reason to Believe and Iceman (Paris), NYCS (Rome), Mary’s Place (Zurich);
    – Milan! Milan!! with The River/Racing in the Street combo (all it needed was Badlands to follow linked by the Once Upon A Time theme à la original River tour);
    – three full River shows esp indoors in Paris
    – the Crowd Choirs before, during and after The River (Milan), Independence Day (Rome ) and Price You Pay (Gothenburg);
    – the real Courtney Cox at Wembley!!
    – BTN … every night!
    – and finally, the closing party in Zurich

    Huge thanks and relief above all, that in this crazy world all shows passed without incident and that it can be remembered for the many coming together to celebrate ‘life itself’.

    Thanks to Bruce and the ESB and all who journeyed with them. This truly has been a summer to remember. Onwards to the US (just maybe roll calls) and then hopefully Oz.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Toby Davidson

    Thanks Steve. I’ve been following you and a few othe Americans as the roll called it through european tour. Again, always enjoy your detailed reviews – keeps us wanna be fans at that level engaged and heart throbbing through the details. And yes, nobody wins unless everyone wins. See you in NJ, Pittsburgh – I’m a “Spring-Nut”

    Liked by 1 person

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