Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna, Austria, 12 July 2012
Believe it or not, I avoided Springsteen in the stadiums during the Born In The USA era. I saw some arena shows, and then waved goodbye for a little while as people who never paid attention to Bruce Springsteen before (and in many cases actively ridiculed me for my interest) ran off to buy tickets to Giants Stadium. On the other hand, I was always so entranced with that iconic Neal Preston photo from July 4, 1985 at Wembley Stadium, crowd alive in the extreme, and while I had seen other artists in Europe, I had never seen Bruce on this side of the pond until this tour.
After Prague, I was looking forward to Vienna. Vienna has had some great moments and some great shows in the past. A guaranteed front-of-stage pit scenario meant we could leave Prague at 8:30 this morning (unlike the 1:50am and 4:45am trains some fans were getting), walk into the pit around 6 p.m. and secure a decent spot about 10 or 12 people back from the stage. I realized we would not necessarily be surrounded by diehards but the front-of-stage tickets were more expensive than the regular tickets and in Paris we definitely had great fans all around us even at the back of the pit, so I certainly expected the same in Vienna.
This, however, was not the case. In Vienna, we were surrounded by people who did not seem to know the songs, but yet clapped in 4-4 time along to everything; it wasn’t an enthusiastic kind of clapping, but rather a bored, automatic response. (My esteemed colleague Sal Trepat of Point Blank warned me about this a few months ago.) Any kind of dancing or singing or enthusiastic response that wasn’t clapping in 4-4 time (e.g., how we act at every single Bruce show) got us the strangest looks, even odder than what I get in the States. But even further up towards the front of the stage, there didn’t seem to be the kind of audience reaction you have heard about in Europe, and that we have seen the past three shows. Maybe people were tired? Maybe there were less diehard fans, given that Prague was a lot of people’s last show for this tour (so far)?
(When we finally moved to another location towards the end of the set, I then had a drunk woman continually berating me because I wasn’t moving around enough. This included her grabbing my ass enthusiastically at one point.)
The crowd was dead, and Bruce didn’t know what to do. It’s still a mystery why this show got the standard WTCOO/WB intro, when every other show got something special to kick it off (and I had been singing “Take It As They Come” for the 50 or so minutes past the THE SHOW WILL START PROMPTLY AT 7:30 email sent out by the promoter). Tonight’s setlist is kind of what I feared Prague would be, given how slowly the show sold and how the audience just sat there for the first few songs. But unlike Prague, where Bruce constructed a powerful setlist and worked that setlist to engage the audience, in Vienna he veered all over the place and the setlist just fell apart. He couldn’t get a response in “Badlands” and instead of just going into something like “Prove It,” that people would know, he went into “Death To My Hometown” which people simply did not. “My City Of Ruins” did not connect, at all, and neither did “Spirit,” although every song was played just as well as they’ve played the songs on any other show, if not better, given how far along they are.
I know the setlist seemed amazing on paper, but it was not amazing being there and experiencing it. Sure, I loved hearing “Rendezvous” and could hear “Loose Ends” any night of the week. But what possessed him to pull out “Empty Sky” and then play “Jack of All Trades” one song later and not think he was going to lose the crowd? He could have gone to BITUSA material. He could have gone to River-era material. He could have gone to “Because the Night” into “She’s the One”. He could have done a million things, but instead discarded whatever setlist he had pulled together because the crowd was far away and distant and the result was a train wreck. This was not Bercy, where Bruce was constructing a setlist based on a thought or a thread or a theme, and nothing felt disjointed, you didn’t feel like you were being energetically jerked around from song to song. That may have been his intent here, but this time things just didn’t fall together.
I saw the “Trapped” sign go up and thought, “Oh, good, that will get them going for sure” and thought I was going to get my first Euro big stadium “Trapped” and got my camera ready and everything, only for a big – nothing – to happen. No arms in the air, no crowd roar, no nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
“Jack of All Trades” coming next did not help things, so next, okay, “Because The Night,” that always works, right? Well, sort of – so let’s go to “Johnny 99” – except that the guitar was tuned wrong, so Bruce throws away the capo and instead heads into “Darlington County,” which was the first thing he did that I actually agreed with. (Lost opportunity on this day of the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones to not toss in “Honky Tonk Women” at the start.)
“Sunny Day” was “Sunny Day”….except for the girl taking off her shirt. This was an unfortunate trend tonight (happening later during “Hungry Heart,” and probably more that I just stopped trying to pay attention to), but it didn’t help that Bruce actively encouraged it. I’m not sure who I’m more disappointed in, him or my sister Bruce fans from Vienna.
“Raise Your Hand” was lovely and wonderful except…. no one felt capable of actually raising their hand until the end of the song when Bruce stood there and practically begged for it. “Tougher Than The Rest” was absolutely lovely – phenomenal – but goes under “encouraging bad behavior” because of all of the signs.
Vienna fails miserably on the subject of SIGN ETIQUETTE. I was going to say that I have never seen so many signs in a pit, but then I remembered the US arena shows last tour. The difference was that there was one time for people to put up the signs, instead of the free-for-all that exists now, and the escalating attempts to get Bruce’s attention resulting in larger and larger and larger signs. Tonight there were ENORMOUS signs that were held up for entire songs, blocking views wholesale. The people with the FIRE sign that had BROWN EYED GIRL scrawled badly and illegibly at that distance on the back, you would suck the most, except you are tied with the 15-foot “Tougher than the Rest” banner that the owners tried to pass up, effectively blocking the view of the entire stage for the hundred or so people behind it. This is followed by the guy who held up his “Atlantic City” sign THE ENTIRE NIGHT, the plethora of CAN I DANCE WITH (BAND MEMBER WHO IS NOT BRUCE) gimmicky signs, and concludes with the huge POINT BLANK banner which, while certainly a valid cause, WAS NOT GOING TO BE PLAYED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ENCORE AFTER DANCING IN THE DARK, SO PUT IT DOWN ALREADY.
(I’m done now.)
“Racing In The Street” was surprising but how can it fail to command a crowd, right? How could you not be compelled to shut up and pay attention and get lost in the music. When my eyes were closed, everything was perfect. When I opened my eyes, the couple to my left started making out and the couple to my right (the woman wearing a Bruce shirt who kept going up on her boyfriend’s shoulders during any remotely lively song) had a vigorous and loud conversation before starting to make out. Then everyone else around us lit a cigarette during Roy’s solo (which was anything but tedious or boring, full of color and shading), resulting to our hasty retreat to the back side of the pit during “The Rising.”
NOTE TO ALL OF EUROPE: YOU DO NOT NEED TO WAVE AMERICAN FLAGS AT BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SHOWS BUT IF YOU DO FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE PLEASE DO NOT DRAG THEM ALONG THE GROUND OR WE WILL HAVE TO START HAVING LITTLE CHATS ABOUT PROPER FLAG ETIQUETTE (says the former Girl Scout).
The encore was great, and was everything the show should have been, with the exception of several dozen people getting themselves onstage and causing havoc (causing Springsteen security to have to insert themselves front and center to remove anyone who wasn’t in the E Street Band) and the girls taking their shirts off and the other stuff that has nothing to do with an actual concert and everything to do with stupid people going to a concert so they can be stupid in public. “Twist and Shout” in a European soccer stadium when everyone is happy and dancing and singing is fucking incredible. So are “Born In The USA” and “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart” and “Dancing In The Dark” and “Seven Nights To Rock” and all of it flowed, worked, moved, did everything the main set didn’t, even with the audibles and obvious additions to give the audience what they actually wanted.
The front-of-stage pit in Vienna smoked more than the entire city of Paris did during the two Bercy shows combined. (I know no one smoked in the arena. I mean the actual city.) There is no reason I should come home from an outdoor stadium show smelling of smoke so bad that I can’t wear my clothes again. Europeans may not go on beer runs during songs that they’re bored with, they just light up cigarettes instead. At one point the two couples in front of us all lit up cigarettes at the same time. That was when we moved to the back side of the pit. We were still surrounded by smokers, but at least could move away from them.
The original ticket time for this show was 8pm. Then the promoter sent out an email to everyone who bought tickets online saying that the show was now going to start PROMPTLY at 7:30pm (“Punktlish” is the German, and no I don’t know how to do an umlaut in HTML at 2:11am). We thought it would be more like 7:45, because of an 11pm curfew and the fact that the Ubahn (public transportation) stopped at midnight. Going on after 8pm is just, frankly, rude. Before you start on the anarchic revolutionary power of rock and roll, this is a major artist signed to Sony Music who is playing a 50,000 seat soccer stadium, and not a straight-edge house party on the outskirts of Dubuque. If you want to play three and a half hours then start on time so people can get home without having to incur expenses in cab fare or having to choose to leave early so they don’t miss their train. This is just unacceptable behavior in my opinion.
ADDENDUM NUMBER TWO
If you are from Vienna or were at this show and think I’m an idiot and it was the greatest thing you have ever seen, you know what? If you think it was, then it was.
More on Backstreets later, without editorial commentary.
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