Friday, 27 May 2016

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Manchester Etihad Stadium, 25/5/16

Well, another year, another opportunity to see Bruce I couldn't pass up. His "quick jaunt" around the US at the start of the year to get the band together before he finishes a solo record turned into a pretty extensive tour that has now reached Europe (and beyond that will hit the US stadium circuit at the end of the Summer).

Originally the tour was to feature The River in full, but by the time the band came to Europe Bruce had had enough of playing the same songs in the same order for so long and dropped that aspect of the show. Which is fair enough, but you have to question why they made the initial US leg of the tour so extensive, even adding extra dates in some cities. While I was a bit sad to miss out on hearing one of Bruce's albums live in full, I knew the show would be great even without this quirk. In fact there were plenty of other quirks to come...

Manchester had been lovely and sunny these for weeks, so of course come the day of the show it just had to be bloody raining! This was my third Springsteen show and I've been rained on at them all - even in Australia (albeit very briefly). "Wouldn't have it any other way" claimed Bruce upon arrival. I dunno mate, if you'd have seen what it was like before...

The show started a bit late due to chaos on the trams, apparently including some idiot driving onto the tracks in Droylsden (more time waiting in the rain, yay!). There was no playing about in the ball pin when the band came out, however. The opening stretch of songs proved a great reminder of how blistering they are in their stride; the first seven songs were literally non-stop, each carrying on into the next. This stamina and fortitude never ceases to amaze me.

After sandwiching a terrific rendition of rarity "Murder Incorporated" between the more familiar "Atlantic City" and "Badlands" (naturally met with rousing "WO-OAH-OAH-OAH"s), the first half of the show saw a strong focus on chronologically showcasing most songs from the first disc of  The River. "The Ties That Bind"/"Sherry Darling" and "Hungry Heart"/"Out In The Street" were both excellent, sprightly one-two punches just like on the record. "Hungry Heart" of course saw the crowd sing the entire first verse solo, but it also saw Bruce walk RIGHT BY ME! Look how close he got!

Look! Bruce!
In fact, a fan request for "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" aside, the songs running from "Hungry Heart" to "Point Blank" were all played in the exact sequence featured on The River. This captured a large portion of the "party" element of the album while also covering the point where things begin to hit a starker note. The pairing of "I Wanna Marry You" with the title track is a particular bit of genius; the former being "a daydream of a love song" in Bruce's words, an attempt to find "a love without consequence... that's why it's a song of youth"; the latter bringing that daydream crashing down with a tale of love purely through consequence (family legacy, pregnancy, redundancy).

This was hands down my favourite part of the set. Even the lightweight "Crush On You" sounded gritty and great, right at home with many of the headstrong sing alongs also featured. "Point Blank" was augmented with an intro that added a great sense of drama and gave it the feel of something from The Wild, The Innocent... For me, though, the highlight  was definitely "I Wanna Marry You", in large part thanks to the wonderful "Here She Comes Walking" intro that has been reprised for this tour. Roy Bittain's gentle keys are enough to send hearts a-flutter, while the vocal interplay between Bruce and Steven Van Zandt is simply phenomenal, soulful and touching. This is probably my favourite vocal performance from Stevie - it's exactly this kind of material where he is in his element.

It felt kind of odd to cut the overarching feel of The River off at "Point Black" when there were plenty of moments like "Fade Away", "The Price You Pay" or "Wreck On The Highway" that would have brought the poignancy of the tail end of the album to a more natural close. But then again, the weather was miserable, so I think the motivation was to keep the cheerier stuff coming to keep our spirits up. It was definitely "mission accomplished" as far as that was concerned, especially when it came to the whole host of knock about Born In The U.S.A. era anthems littered through the set, such as the crowd pleasing "Working On The Highway" and "Glory Days".

And make no mistake about it, Bruce was in a sure fire crowd pleasing mood here, constantly getting in amongst the audience, making frequent use of the little walkways and platforms they'd set up for him, and seeking out signs in the crowd. He was spoilt for choice too, there were loads. I have to give props to the people with ones for "Tougher Than The Rest" and "Racing In The Street (78)", you guys have taste! Then, when it came to picking a youngster to join in on "Waiting On A Sunny Day", he had to pick the most wonderfully shy little girl with a sign proclaiming it was here "first Brucie concert".

It wasn't as if the set was lacking in poignancy or deftness once the material from The River ran dry either (I know, I'll get my coat...). As a huge Darkness... fan I was delighted that "The Promised Land" made an appearance, as well as a rendition of "Because The Night" where Nils Lofgren played like a man possessed, including undertaking a huge 360 degree spinning solo a man with his hips really shouldn't be able to pull off. Meanwhile, images of dearly missed saxophonist Clarence Clemons and organist Dan Federici during "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" drew a truly touching groundswell of affection from the audience, and a fan requested performance of "Backstreets" was absolutely spellbinding.

The ultimate piece of fan interaction, however, came much earlier on in the set. In a real Springsteen & I moment, some dude dressed as Santa Claus was spotted in the crowd. I suppose they got the day of the month right at least. "Is it like a perverted attempt at a request of some sort? Damn." quipped Bruce. So, as you do, Bruce invited him on stage ("He can't be shy, he's got the Santa suit on") for the band's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Santa himself would hilariously fluff Clarence's "better be good for goodness sake" lines (he got the pitch right, he just couldn't keep time to save his life). This really did happen! I have video evidence and everything.

Anyway, as has become a tradition of sorts at Bruce's shows, after seemingly closing the show with a cracking cover of The Isley Brothers' "Shout" and a joyous performance of "Bobby Jean", Bruce lingered on stage for one last acoustic number to properly wind things down for the night after nearly 3 hours 20 minutes of hard rocking, pants dropping, booty shaking, history making and (allegedly) Viagra taking. With the rueful, reflective "This Hard Land" rounding the show off, it was time to join the near 50 minute queue for the tram home (get this, if you were lucky, they'd even find a DOUBLE CARRIAGE service to cope with the thousands leaving the show, how revolutionary). The long wait for the journey home couldn't dull the feeling I get having spent another truly wonderful night in the company of a once in a lifetime artist.
You might say it was like all my Christmas' came at once...


1. Atlantic City
2. Murder Incorporated
3. Badlands
4. The Ties That Bind
5. Sherry Darling
6. Two Hearts
7. No Surrender
8. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
9. Hungry Heart
10. Out in the Street
11. Darkness on the Edge of Town
12. Crush on You
13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
14. I Wanna Marry You
15. The River
16. Point Blank
17. Johnny 99
18. Darlington County
19. Working on the Highway
20. The Promised Land
21. Waitin' on a Sunny Day
22. Because the Night
23. The Rising
24. Thunder Road


25. Backstreets
26. Born to Run
27. Glory Days
28. Dancing in the Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
30. Shout
31. Bobby Jean

Encore 2:

32. This Hard Land