BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E-STREET BAND – HELSINKI 11.7.2008

by VILLE KRANNILA, Photos © Andreychuk.narod.ru

News were received with much enthusiasm when after five years of absence Bruce Springsteen would return to Finland bringing The E-Street Band back with him. Last fall they released a new album, “Magic” which IMO was a step up from “The Rising” and that one was a pretty damn good record itself. As usual group’s tour had visited Europe in late 2007 but since the only suitable place for Springsteen in Finland is Olympic Stadium we had to wait few more months to get Boss into this country..

The two shows Springsteen played here in June 2003 were excellent if somewhat workmanlike performances. Bruce and the band naturally treaded safe ground throughout the first show and pulled all the stops on the second. Reserved Finnish audience and typically cool weather prevented it from becoming a truly classic event. Fast forward five years however, and this particular show was fun, unpredictable and filled with awesome power and musicianship!

Doors had opened at 5 PM but we ventured onto stadium area well after 7 PM as the show was scheduled to start around 7:30. We took our places roughly in the middle of the field right at the centre next to soundboard desk, from there we had mostly excellent view and two huge screens at both sides of the stage made the following of the show relatively easy. The show finally kicked off few minutes before 8 PM with The E-Street Band and Bruce walking onto stage without too much fanfare launching straight into “Night” – a solid rocker from “Born To Run” segueing right after into “Out In The Street” and the usual set opener “Radio Nowhere.” First of only three songs from Bruce’s mega selling “Born In The USA” album was next, “No Surrender” in its live arrangement main riff differing somewhat from the original studio version.

“Hungry Heart” usually reserved for encores now came surprisingly early in the set, possibly in order to wake people up. This was a successful attempt although Finns still don’t sing the chorus back the way it is supposed to be done. However, it did sound better than the somewhat embarrassing version five years earlier when Bruce seemed a bit irritated with no one participating. Bruce picked up a young girl from the audience who was completely lost on stage so the star only walked her off to the other side of the rafters, thus no dancing of any kind this night.

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After “Spirit In The Night” it was a request-time; Bruce asked drummer Max Weinberg to kick a rhythm in and during that stepped in front of the crowd and started picking up different signs for a certain songs. He picked up “This Hard Land” and marked “yep that’s possible” and “Summertime Blues” with a smile and a nod: “yeah, that’s a good one.” I was pretty sure at that point this request would be filled and it turned out I was right. Notable was the sign for “The Price You Pay” which went unnoticed. Bruce still hasn’t played that particular song live. Personally I feel it is one of “The River’s” weakest moments so don’t really understand the fuss behind it, I guess it has become more of a case of “why it’s not played” than “why it should be played.”

Anyway, first request played was indeed ”Summertime Blues” only heard once before few days earlier and before that in 1982, this song is covered by countless artists with none of them matching Eddie Cochran’s original. Bruce and the band didn’t upstage it either but gave a rocking rendition, most of the people knew the track while maybe not knowing Bruce had performed it before. It was a regular show opener during his “Darkness” tour in 1978.

Requests continued with “Sherry Darling” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” Before the latter, Bruce talked a bit about Madam Marie, a prophet who lived in Asbury Park and died just recently. Her daughter apparently took over the business and is now running it as we speak. Bruce also gave a nod to recently passed keyboard player Danny Federici, by the way his place on stage was taken by Charles Giordano from Bruce’s Seeger Sessions band and he did a fine job.

Final request for the time being was read out from a tiny piece of paper already marked by Bruce earlier, “what a tiny request.” Cameraman picked up a young kid Akseli from the crowd who apparently requested “I’ll Work For Your Love.”

After relentless “Candy’s Room” next up was ”Youngstown.” For majority of the crowd this was a time to take a short breather but for myself it has always been one of my favourite Bruce songs, the album version is razor sharp but the live arrangement really something else, Nils Lofgren’s solo at the end of this track was right up there among best guitar playing I’ve ever seen and heard. Stunning.

The three pack “Murder Incorporated,” “The Promised Land” and “She’s The One” was extremely powerful showcasing some excellent playing from all band members, especially Steven Van Zandt and Bruce himself on lead guitar. The cool sax and harmonica solos on “The Promised Land” were also thrill to hear.

“Livin’ In The Future” of course comes as close to ripping off “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” as anything I’ve heard, but since no one else does this as well as Springsteen it is okay. It is one of “Magic’s” unquestionable highlights.

On the last tour “Mary’s Place” was extended to over 15 minutes of audience and Bruce interaction and also featured lengthy band introductions. Tonight the song was cut down to about 10 minutes, the introductions were dropped and audience singing parts somewhat shortened. There was still plenty of action going on and Bruce did his usual running across the stage and sliding on his knees as five years ago.

Bruce turned to requests again and played “Point Blank” saying “this request’s been following me” – an awesome moody piece unlike anything else Bruce had ever done before or after. It was a phenomenal performance with the cameramen doing a great job capturing Springsteen’s hand movements and closed eyes. Audience was almost dead silent as they should be, this track always sends a shivers down the spine and tonight was no exception.

“Last To Die” and “Long Walk Home” from the new album were received politely, the latter along with “Livin’ In The Future” is my favourite cut off “Magic” so I enjoyed hearing it a great deal. Springsteen also was totally committed in giving both tracks a stellar read through. And main set climaxed with “Badlands” and “Born In The USA” thrown in before as an extra track, this song didn’t quite get the massive response it’s got in most other countries. It’s not a personal favourite either but was nice to hear still, “Badlands” on the other hand was a perfect way to close the show. The band left the stage with people chanting Bruce’s name for few minutes.

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Everyone returned and Bruce rewarded faithful Finnish audience with no less than eight encores! The usual “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” dedicated to all Finnish women opened the proceedings and masterful “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” followed, before anthem “Born To Run” got everyone on their feet again. Bruce mouthed “Rosie” to the band and then ran to the left side and picked up a sign which said “Rosie, Come out in Finland!” I was really happy to hear this song finally, Bruce has played it more often throughout the last couple of tours and when it appears it is usually after a special night. The audience weren’t familiar with it as much as people in the USA for example but it was an excellent rendition regardless. “Dancin’ In The Dark” on the other hand has never been a favourite of mine but got a huge response from the crowd – just like five years ago. No dancing girls on stage this time around. The usual set closer “American Land” followed, this is brilliant song lifted off from Bruce’s 2006 solo Seeger Sessions CD and given a new arrangement which really suited from stadium atmosphere.

The band took their bows and seemed ready to leave the stage, but Bruce called everyone back and asked the lighting engineer to throw a spotlight onto far left side of the stadium. A sign was again picked up, this time requesting “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”. Earlier in the show Bruce had made some remarks of Santa actually originating from Finland and now asked again if the crowd was sure? Everyone was and the whole band found the idea of playing this tune in the middle of July amusing to say the least. Clarence Clemons did his funny “Ho-Ho-Ho” bits, and overall this was a nice interlude before they launched into “Twist And Shout”. They really tore into the Beatles-classic, chorus was sung over and over again until the song finally came to an end. The band departed few minutes after 11 PM when the show was scheduled to end.

As usual the Finnish crowd took their time to warm up, and I guess by the encores the general atmosphere was closer to what it’s usually in countries like France or Italy right from the beginning. But like said I think Bruce knew this and seemed really happy to get the reception as good as it was. In every level this blew away the performance of 2003 tour, although that was an excellent concert as well. One of the main things was a constant interaction with the crowd, Bruce sang a lot more songs with just the microphone and ventured over to the edge of the stage, shaking hands, letting people sing onto his mike and generally saying hello to various people. I don’t think he did that as much five years ago.

This was also the longest concert of the “Magic” tour so far in terms of songs played and probably length too, 31 tracks clocking in at approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes – quite remarkable! The selection of songs was also perfect, “Magic” is a good album but has it’s weaker tracks, the title cut and “Devil’s Arcade” (plus “Gypsy Biker” is merely ok in my book) having been dropped from the set during the last few months made more room for older classics. Six songs were still delivered from the new record so this was hardly a heritage show. Sure they should have played “The River” and I would have requested “This Hard Land” too but you cannot have everything. When artists like Bruce Springsteen and groups like The E-Street Band aren’t around anymore, there is no one in sight who would come even close to recapturing the essence of this particular entity. One of the best concerts I’ve ever witnessed regardless!

Setlist:

Night
Out In The Street
Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Hungry Heart
Spirit In The Night
Summertime Blues
Sherry Darling
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
I’ll Work For Your Love
Candy’s Room
Youngstown
Murder Incorporated
The Promised Land
She’s The One
Livin’ In The Future
Mary’s Place
Point Blank
The Rising
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
Born In The U.S.A.
Badlands
Encores:
Girls In Their Summer Clothes
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born To Run
Rosalita
Dancing In The Dark
American Land
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Twist And Shout

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About Ville Krannila