I normally save the setlist junkie stuff for the end, but this time, we can learn something from examining the setlist.
Last night, Bruce played 35 songs, including the entire album The River, which has 20 tracks.
In October of 1980, my wife and I caught five shows in a week on the River tour.
Of the songs we heard last night, 18 were songs we heard at every one of those five shows. Another 5 were songs we heard four times. One we heard three times, one we heard once. So we heard 25 of last night’s 35 songs at least once on the 1980 tour, most of them all five nights.
Of the ten songs from last night we never heard in 1980, seven came from The River era or earlier (including “Shout”, which I assume Bruce and the band knew back in 1980, whether they played it or not).
Of the three remaining, one was from Born in the USA, two were from The Rising.
My point in all of this? This tour is centered on The River album. But there are 15 other songs, and 12 of them could have been played on the 1980 tour. Bruce hasn’t just revisited The River; he has revisited the 1980 tour.
Now, there are a lot of Bruce fans who didn’t catch him in 1980, for whatever reason, so I’m speaking only of my wife and I ... and all the other people from back in the day. There was very little last night that we couldn’t have experienced in 1980 ... for the most part, we did. Which makes last night’s concert arguably the least-adventurous of all the 36 Bruce shows we have attended since 1975. Ignoring for a moment the more than 35 years since The River Tour, what we saw last night was effectively our 6th River Tour show.
Of course, the above makes it sound like we had a bad time. But that River Tour was one of the most memorable times of our lives. The E Street Band probably plays “better” now than they did back then. Bruce still has remarkable energy ... not as frantic as he used to be, but there aren’t a lot of 66-year-old rockers who can still put on a 3 1/2 hour show without flagging. Amazingly, five of the people on stage were also on stage in 1980, and the “new” folks are wonderful. Soozie Tyrell isn’t given enough to do on this tour, but her violin is welcome when she gets to play it, as are her backup vocals. Same goes for Nils Lofgren, who did his trademark whirlybird solo and added his lovely backup vocals. More important for this tour are the two “replacements”. Charlie Giordano has more chops than Danny Federici ... he’ll never replace Danny as an original, but they lose nothing on keyboards with Charlie in the mix. And in one of the great twists of fate, Clarence’s nephew Jake Clemons is a great sax player in the Big Man mode, and as my son noted, he is fully integrated into the band at this point, playing Clarence’s famous solos while adding his own personality to the mix. (He’s also the baby of the group ... in fact, Jake was born the year The River was released.)
You’ve got great songs played by a great band, a crowd wired for a great time ... why ask for more?
A few extra notes:
Bruce no longer sings in his higher range. He did his falsetto once, but mostly, he rearranges songs to avoid those high notes. If you weren’t expecting them, you wouldn’t notice ... other than that, Bruce is in fine form, and hey, Tony Bennett rearranges his songs, too.
There was a couple in front of us who danced and hugged and kissed the entire show. Afterwards, I had to ask them how old they were ... it would have been too perfect if they were 27, like my wife and I in 1980. They were a couple of years older, but it was fun seeing people younger than everyone on stage having such a great time.
A friend was sick and couldn’t attend. She offered her tickets to anyone who could make the show on short notice, saying she didn’t want money, just wanted to know the tickets got into good hands. Mission accomplished ... a true Bruce Community Moment.
(On the darker side, another friend got last-minute tix and found at the door that her tickets were fake. The person who sold those fakes is not in the Bruce Community.)
I often measure Bruce shows by how often I cry. But this time, I kinda knew where that would be focused. Many fans have never seen him play “Drive All Night”, and they were guaranteed to get it on this tour. We saw him sing it almost every night in 1980, but never since. It is a favorite of mine. Even though I not only knew he would sing it, I knew when it would come (he was playing the album in track order), I lost it when the first notes came. To make matters worse, in the middle, he threw in a bit of “Dream Baby Dream”, another favorite, and quite appropriate. Was it the highlight of the evening? It was for me.
Finally, the last of the setlist junkie stuff. We heard three songs that were new to us at Bruce shows: the River outtake “Meet Me in the City” that kicks off the show, “Fade Away” (the only River song we had never seen), and “Shout”, an oldie we’d missed in the past. “Born to Run” remains the song we’ve heard the most.
Oh, and “Rosalita” is my favorite Bruce song, but I don’t need him to just walk through it. He played it at the first ten shows we saw, but it’s more rare since. The one time since those early days that I was really delighted came when he pulled it out at the Pac Bell Park concert. Last night’s version was great fun, goofy and sloppy just as it should be. I’m glad it was there.