Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, 5 July 2012
Around 8:55pm, when there was still no sign of the E Street Band, one hour after ticket time, I said something like, “This had better be the best setlist in the world tonight.” It was hot, crowded, it had started to pour unexpectedly right around 5pm, and it was time for the show to start.
Who could have known what the second night in Paris was going to be like? There was a setlist, apparently, which got tossed to the wayside rapidly, as Bruce called audible after audible, hitting the right notes, putting together a collection of songs that worked, that wasn’t just a jukebox or a greatest hits machine, that wasn’t pandering to the crowd (a crowd which, by the way, did not need pandering to. They were eating out of his hand from the first note). There was amazing energy on the floor, in the pit, in the very top rows of the venue, people standing up with their arms up in the air for almost every song. I was standing about 8 rows back from the barrier between Stevie and Patti (closer to Stevie) and was surrounded by Germans, Parisians, and a whole host of Scandinavians. The dude who looked like trouble, wearing the faux biker colors and Las Vegas baseball cap, turned out to be the dude jumping up and down excited for “Easy Money” and who knew “Seven Nights To Rock” by heart. You were happy for the 20-something German girls who had a “Glory Days” sign. You held a water bottle for the guy from Norway trying to take a picture of Bruce at the piano with his iphone.
After years of standing in apathetic American crowds, where on more than one occasion I have been mocked for my enthusiasm, it was like homecoming to stand among unabashed Bruce geeks of every nationality who didn’t care what you looked like or what you sang or how loud you sang it or how badly you danced. Parisians had zero trouble jumping around like crazy fools, waving their arms in the air, or clapping along on cue. There was the need for a couple of looks of death tonight at conversations in various languages during quieter songs, and there were some questionable signs (and questionable sign etiquette – “Racing” is not the time to hold up your sign for a minute and a half), but this crowd was, once again, in it every second of every song.
This crowd sang everything. This crowd sang every refrain, every line, every possible thing they could sing back to Bruce, they did. We started the “whoa-oh-oh” thing during ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and were the only people doing it for about a minute until everyone around us picked it up (and I’m pretty sure that originated in Europe). They sang back the whoa’s on “Downbound Train” and “Something In The Night” and “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Death To My Hometown,” they sang it back in the right places, not trying to prolong the song like they did the night before. It lifted the energy, instead of interfering with the pace and flow of the show.
“Candy’s Room” into “Something In The Night” was the first clue that this night would be off the charts. The Europeans sing “Candy’s Room” with as much heart and soul as we do, they stop dead still and let “Something” sink into their bones. It was the best “Something” I have ever heard, because I did not have to pray that no one would talk or ask someone to shut up. It was the best “Something” I have ever heard because this was a night it seemed like Bruce felt like he had something to prove.
I dislike the need to attempt to engage the crowd at the start of “Spirit In The Night” by adding a gospel-tinged dramatic intro — the crowd doesn’t need it, they know and love “Spirit” and will be fine once you actually start singing it, Bruce — is what I want to tell him, but it was an off-the-charts version, watching him crawl down the front runway like something out of the Creature of the Black Lagoon, inserting himself into the sea of hands and cameraphones at the end of things, before heading to the back of the stage, and then grabbing Jake Clemons to go on a little adventure at one of the other runways. I am one of those people who really did not (and do not) like Jake having any of Clarence’s stage business besides his saxophone playing (and he truly has improved greatly, playing stronger and with more confidence), but tonight it was fine and even great because it wasn’t something Bruce would have done with Clarence, it was this crazy free jazz exploration with just him and the sax at the end of that platform, and it was true to the song and it was something new and it fit and it was great, it was fun, it was perfect.
“Incident” was the first point at which I lost it, just lost it, too much emotion and energy and heat and hurting feet and who would have expected this now, at this show, at this moment? But these were all songs that there had been signs for, repeatedly. (There were a lot of signs. There are a lot of good signs. Okay, there are also signs requesting to dance with Bruce for Dancing In The Dark and there were signs for “Glory Days’ and “No surrender” but there were also signs for “Chimes of Freedom” and “Ain’t Good Enough For You” and “Backstreets”.) “Incident” was brilliant and beautiful and raw. Standing in Paris, listening to a song about Spanish Harlem, you realize that it doesn’t matter who the characters are or where they are, all that matters is the story and the melody and it’s no wonder that anyone, anywhere wouldn’t be transported by it.
“Because the Night” into “She’s The One” was a steamroller, a powerhouse, it was dark and sexy and hard and strong and yes, all of that, all of that was there. The solos were sinewy, lithe, powerful. Nils was off the charts. Bruce was playing in a different, other space, a less safe space, a good space. They were what they were supposed to be, how they should feel like — not that it was 1978 because it’s not 1978, but the emotions still exist, you know? They are still there, just different.
And aside from the rarities, everything else was great. Everything. “Glory Days” was the best version I have ever heard, the most fun I have ever had singing it. It was not dull, it was not stale, it was not boring. “Working On The Highway” had Bruce in full Louisiana Hayride Elvis mode, enhanced when someone handed up a glittery cowboy hat, which Bruce gleefully donned and vamped his way through the rest of the song. When he was done, he shook his ass just like Elvis, all the way back to the main mic.
There was a lot of ass shaking tonight. There was a lot of Bruce & Patti moments. There was a lot of Stevie and Bruce love. There was a lot of E Street tonight, you know? They played hard, they played solid, they played strong. I think they probably try to do all of those things but it sometimes just doesn’t work that way. Tonight it did.
I thought “I’m Goin’ Down” was going to be “Rockin All Over The World” because he stood there hitting the same guitar chord five or six times until the band regrouped and knew what they were playing next. This was better than any full-album USA show “I’m Goin’ Down,” but then again this was better than almost any show you have seen recently. The band was pumped. The audience was on fire. The two of them fed each other back and forth and back and forth and just when you thought things were going to stop, they would heat up again. “For You” solo piano Bruce going into “Racing In The Street”? You didn’t see that coming. No one saw that coming. I’m not even sure Bruce knew what he was going to play next until he finished one song and decided what the next one was going to be.
“Sunny Day” (or “Waiting,” as the Europeans call it), was still “Sunny Day.” The parent who hoisted their child up in the air so they were in effect standing up on that parents’ shoulders should be ashamed of themselves (and Bruce deliberately ignored him, and for good reason – security had to come in and tell the parent to put the child down already). There is just no reason for this song. The poor child who did get pulled onstage to sing didn’t know more than the three lines, didn’t want to go running around the stage with Bruce, and didn’t even know what to do when it came time for the knee slide. But tonight, at least, this was a tiny blip on the existence of the planet that didn’t even matter.
Who expects to get choked up during “Thunder Road”? It was, again, watching the universality of it all, the Scandinavian fellow with his arm in the air during “It’s a town full of losers” line, the four women in the seats swaying back and forth arm in arm, the energy and the emotion rushing behind you and up onto the stage and out back again. It is “Born To Run” making perfect sense thousands of miles away from the New Jersey Turnpike.
“Seven Nights To Rock” was a great surprise, and even more surprising was how everyone knew it — American audiences are flummoxed by this one more often than not. Maybe they couldn’t list Jane and Lorraine and Nancy Lee and Betty Lou, but hell, I get them mixed up too, but that didn’t stop them from dancing and waving their arms and smiling as big as you could possibly smile. And then, and then, Bruce goes over to the keyboard, and starts playing the keyboard WITH HIS HEAD (when this happened at another show, I jokingly accused Sal Trepat from Point Blank in Spain of making things up) and then he went over to the mic stand, flipped the guitar around, and started playing the guitar against the mic stand with his butt. Patti had looks of disbelief and amusement. Stevie couldn’t stop laughing. Garry and Roy were also smiling more than usual tonight – hell, everyone was smiling. The horn section were up there doing their little dances.
And at the end – at the very end, the end of Tenth Avenue, when we wanted one more (we kept checking the time, wondering if Bruce was going to try to break his own record), but knew there was no way anyone up there could give us one more, and it was already 12:30, he stood there, hitting his fist to his heart and pointing at the crowd. (At one point at the end of the set – this is hard to explain, but it was as though the crowd were applauding each other, looking up and down and around and applauding something that was not the band, but rather the energy in the venue, applauding their part in the show. )
It was the biggest, loudest party ever, it was E Street past and E Street present, it was as authentically Bruce Springsteen as you could ever get, even if it was thousands of miles away from the homeland. I am still not sure that I have done any of it justice.
Companion Backstreets report also up.
If you are new to the blog, I’ve been writing for Backstreets for the last 10 years, am reporting on this leg of the European tour, and am working on an upcoming ebook about the European shows. You can sign up for my mailing list at this link if you’d like to get very occasional notices about my new Bruce writing.