Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden, 3 May 2013
As I walked into the pit in Friends Arena, I noticed a group sitting in the first row off the floor with a large sheet emblazoned BOOM BOOM. You can’t think Stockholm without thinking of the Hello World broadcast and I can’t think of that broadcast without thinking of that John Lee Hooker cover. An ambitious request, perhaps, but we are in Sweden. Even my father (whose tastes run as far as 1010 WINS) knows about Springsteen in Sweden and the broken stadium. There are Reasons you would go to Sweden to see Bruce, and now I am here to see it for myself.
Friends Arena is a shiny new behemoth of a football (soccer) stadium with a retractable roof, holding 50,000 for sporting events and 65,000 for concerts. It is shiny new and has no ghosts to invoke during “Wrecking Ball” and could have been empty and hollow except for the fact it was full to capacity with Swedish fans. Even the guys next to us who were assholes up until the minute Bruce came onstage turned out to know every word of “Death To My Hometown” and the Italian homeboys wearing their Yankees and Atlanta Braves hats jumped up and down along with the rest of us OH-OH-OHing during “Out In The Street”. The audience was nuts, and engaged, from the first note.
Which was why, when Bruce began “Spirit in The Night” with a lengthy monologue about how we need to go somewhere and we can’t get there by ourselves and I was thinking that we were about to start building houses or going to see the gypsy woman, he then starts talking about how we’re going to make some magic, that we were going to MANIFEST something tonight. And I stood there thinking, what are you doing, you idiot, you don’t have to manifest anything, it is already magic in this room right now, just shut up and play, please. And I hate to say it but I wish he would find another place to do shtick that wasn’t “Spirit In The Night” so it could go back to being this naughty story of the past that was a special treat and for the old timers. It is nearing Reunion-era 10th Avenue territory right now. That was not a good thing for “Tenth,” it is not a good thing for “Spirit,” and it was completely unnecessary tonight.
But then, after “Spirit” and now that I had resigned myself that tonight was not going to be the night that Bruce was going to open with a rarity or another track from the 92/93 era or some special request that some crazy Italian fan had given him at the hotel, he steps to the mic and starts a speech that at first reminds me of the introduction he gave at Hyde Park, “this was the first song we played when we touched down on English soil,” and just when I was thinking, “Hey, no fair, you already DID this somewhere else” he instead begins to offer loving and heartfelt thanks on a level that made me emotional, and I’m not even Swedish: “thank you and all of your relatives for making us a part of your life, your country, your culture.” and then announces that they’re going to play the album that started it all, they’re going to play “Born To Run” start to finish — and the audience erupts in a mixture of gasps and glee and little yelps of excitement. They sang along to “Thunder Road” like nothing else I have been in for a while, I was getting emotional and I am not Swedish and I can see Bruce pretty much whenever I want to and I am standing there saying, not that I want to be an alarmist or anything, but this whole speech, touching and heartfelt as it was, sure sounded like ‘goodbye’ on some level, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not ever hearing that song played live again, not standing there in the crowd as people yell the lines that mean the most to them.
As soon as they started “Tenth” I realized why they had been soundchecking it earlier (I had chalked it up to, hey, good for Bruce, keeping the band in line there) and then wondered what would happen with the tribute – and he shortened it back to album-size but managed to keep the video in the background and the pause at the right moment and it was still a memorial and a remembrance and “the story about the band”. It was good. It could take on a second life in this very form without having to be abandoned like “My City of Ruins”.
Bruce had to shout “Night” at everyone a few times, causing my companion to grumble about people in the band not knowing the sequence of the album, causing me to point out that most of the band didn’t play on the album so how would they know? And while Jake had a few clams (more than a few), it should be pointed out that his uncle could not execute that one perfectly either most of the time. It is still such a wonderful song and a moment locked in time, at least for me.
I picked up my camera at the end of “Backstreets” and managed to hit the “Record” button and was rewarded (as we all were) with a real, true “Sad Eyes,” and the whole place went silent. I mean, seriously, no yelps, no BROOOCE, no jackass with the wolf whistle from up in the 300 level. I wasn’t in the very front of the pit with the diehards, I was about 3/4 of the way back with the guys who show up late with the girlfriends who have no idea what’s going on, and these people were still into it on every level. Folks, they’re not that into it in New Jersey half of the time.
“Meeting” started to try some people’s patience, there were some whispers and talking and out loud cursing in Italian by a very short woman directed at the World’s Tallest Man and his cousin, who happened to be standing very near each other, and I kind of agreed with her but wished she had better timing. And then, “Jungleland.” I was ready to let it go. I was ready to not hear it again. I was not ready to hear it in Philly. Tonight, it was “Jungleland”. It was the end of the song cycle, it was the end of the day, it was the next step, it was the needle coming to the end of the groove. And the audience played their part magnificently, they shouted and they growled and they raised their fists and they also went stone dead silent on cue in this wonderful, beautiful, stunning moment in the last verse.
And then it was over, and while I can’t fault him a “Darlington County” in that spot, this was an audience who was there and paying attention, so he didn’t need to take the easy way out — but to go from there into “Pay Me My Money Down” was completely unnecessary. I love the horn arrangements on this song. I love the dancing in this song. There are, however, about 50 other songs that would accomplish an intricate swinging horn arrangement that you could get down to without resorting to “Pay Me My Money Down”. (I started making a list in my head of 30 songs that I would rather hear than “Pay Me My Money Down” and stopped when I was about to put “Call Me Maybe” on it, realizing that perhaps I had taken things a little too far at that moment.)
Of course he then took us into “Shackled and Drawn” which I used to love, until he totally cut Cindy’s exhortation short for reasons I cannot understand, and then was the moment that I turn into a pumpkin every night, and my feet hurt and I want a place to sit down and I am suddenly feeling how tired or hungry or thirsty I am. I wonder why the setlist suddenly became so disjointed when we started off so well. I remember the other full album shows and how sometimes Bruce was successful at crafting the set that followed, and other times it was a bit of an E Street rummage sale up there.
He grabbed a few signs that we never got to see, but then, out of nowhere grabs the “Mountain of Love” sign — only to cause the scrambling to set up the piano to be reset (can’t wait to see what was on the setlist for that spot). And “Mountain of Love” made up for a veritable warehouse of sins. I never thought I’d see him play that song once, let alone twice, and this time it was just him and a guitar I was going to tape it and then decided I was not actually capable of doing that and just wanted to dance around and sing and have fun. He actually managed to pull of a whistling solo in the middle without being a total goofball, too.
But otherwise, you know, it was a stadium encore, even though it was not your typical stadium, and somehow Elliott Murphy is on that stage even though we are not in Paris (and I like Elliott Murphy) and I still sing along to “Glory Days” and wave my arms in the air with everyone else during ‘Bobby Jean’ and try to enjoy some of the hijinks during “Dancing In The Dark” – tonight, he brought up a woman to play guitar (instead of the three guys from Belgium who had a sign right down front), and I saw her say, “What chord?” and was rooting for her, big time.
And “Twist and Shout” goes on and on and on, and I don’t know how he is doing it, he is still as jumpy and laughing and happy, and cannot believe sometimes how much he can bring it up until the very last minute, even at the end, as we edge to the exit and watch the stage out of one eye just to make sure he does not change his mind at the last minute, as he glad hands every member of his band off the stage and then turns for one more goodbye to all of us. “We’ll be back tomorrow night!” Yes, yes. We will.