Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Paris, 4 July 2012

Cherche place. That’s what the Parisian scalpers write on the signs they walk around holding, so they don’t have to expend energy with the French version of “Who’s got tickets?” or “Anyone selling?” The GA line is the same, the fans are the same, the homemade t-shirts are the same, the couples wearing matching shirts are the same, the one guy wearing his flag bandanna so proudly you can’t even bring yourself to make fun of him is there too. It could have been any Springsteen show anywhere.

It could have been, but it was in Paris on the 4th of July, the last arena show the Europeans get on this tour (so far), and expectations were running high. Expectations started running high the minute the show was booked for July 4th and the minute that the city was Paris. There is endless precedent. I didn’t expect them to come out and play “Independence Day” or open the show with “Born In The USA”. I didn’t even have any specific wishes or wants, aside from hoping that Bruce had shifted the show thematically or rearranged some of the songs, and that “Rocky Ground” would return.

It was not a particularly hot day, but there had been three power outages at Bercy (one of which we were inside for), and they were so worried about a fourth that they sent out someone to explain this and ask that, if for some reason the power should go out again, that we all stay calmly in our seats. This probably explains why there was no sign of any air conditioning for the entire show, causing the entire band to become drenched in sweat, for Stevie to be continually gesturing for water for the band, and towards the end of the set, for Bruce to be hand-carrying cups of his water and blue Gatorade to the fans around the front platform. This is the kind of adversity the E Street Band could potentially thrive on. I fear, instead, that it gave us an uneven mix of strong performances with lackluster ones. This also could have just been a symptom of the first show after a break, or the fact that the show has reached the point where the setlist needs a serious re-thinking.

The good: “Spirit In The Night,” “E Street Shuffle” (audible in for a sign), “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” even “Darlington County” was enjoyable, not least for the date-appropriate lyric. The crowd especially loved “Because The Night” even if it was one of the weaker versions I’ve seen, but I will, again, attribute that to heat. It was probably just because it was the 4th of July, but “Born In The USA” sounded muscular and fantastic, the complete opposite of the album version, Garry’s bass rippling through the arena.

The outstanding: “The River,” which had the loudest crowd singalong I’ve ever, ever heard – Bruce stopped and let the audience sing the next two lines, before taking the song back, and then the crowd picked up the instrumental refrain again once the song had ended. It was powerful and haunting and the best kind of Springsteen moment. And, of course, solo piano “Independence Day,” Bruce at the piano in the blue spotlight, singing with power and pathos. It was magnificent, and alone worth the price of admission. Part of Springsteen’s mastery is how he can embody the material each and every time and make it utterly believable and compelling.

The surprising: I will confess that I generally find “Sandy” overrated and at times, overwrought with significance. It was expected tonight, of course, but watching it thousands of miles away from home, in front of people who have never been to Asbury Park or New Jersey made it seem different, seem special, feel magic. “Land of Hope and Dreams” felt tight and sharp without too many “People Get Ready” refrains. “Tenth Avenue” still breaks my heart, and probably always will from now on.

What needs some help: “My City of Ruins” is feeling bloated. Bruce gave some of the speech he gave in the US, and translated some of it into French after the English. But then that segued into a call-and-response of “Are you ready for a houseparty?”– after telling us that this was “a song for the things that leave us and that will always stay with us.” He then tried to bring it around by saying “When you throw a party, you know who’s there and who’s not.” I think that probably happened because he was worried that the crowd didn’t understand him, and was trying to get a vocal response, but I also think that it would be okay at this point to either drop MCOR from the set, or not use it for the “roll call” and remembrance of Danny and Clarence. “Rocky Ground” needs to come back, it is just as important (if not more so) than “Jack of All Trades” or “Easy Money” (back in the set tonight since Patti was back). The Apollo Medley could be traded in for “Sweet Soul Music” or “Shake” or something, anything else that could easily accomplish the same purpose. “The Promised Land” suffers from the same placement post “Sunny Day” that it has all tour; it could use a rest or a new home. Finally, the sad lack of songs from “The Promise” will continue to be bothersome, and there are two signs in my suitcase (which we just plain forgot tonight) that will try to make our case on this front from now until Dublin. The encore still feels bloated, and the reappearance of the utterly unnecessary “American Land” does not help.

The crowd was wonderful, loud and boisterous and dancing and jumping all over the arena. There were signs everywhere, there were flags from a dozen different countries. They were loud and when they weren’t, they stood still and listened. (The only people near us that had continual conversations during the show were from, you guessed it, Philadelphia. Of course, they ended up right behind us.) Adele and Pamela Springsteen were present, sitting in the front row stage left, on their feet for almost every song. (Some Italians near us started cheering her with the “Badlands” refrain as she walked onto the floor and was escorted to her seat.) People were reasonably polite and considerate in the pit, and there was reasonable space and room. The heat, I fear, was the worst culprit tonight, sapping the crowd’s energy towards the end (despite Bruce saying that the Paris crowd had “a lot of heart” despite the heat) and undoubtedly sapping the band’s as well. But it was still wonderful to stand in that crowd tonight, and I look forward to night two tomorrow.

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.

Hotel wifi is not cooperating so I apologize for the utter lack of images!