Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, HK Areena, Turku, Finland, 7 May 2013


It was sunny when the GA line was walked into the building a little before 6pm, and the sun was still setting in the distance when we came back out around 11pm. HK Areena holds 11k and was, admittedly, the catalyst for my Scandinavian journey. When the show was announced and we learned the size of the venue, once I figured out where Turku was, exactly, my interest was piqued and it wasn’t long before we’d worked out the trip that would include all of the Stockholm shows and get us over to Finland for these two indoor arena shows. Indoor arena? In Europe? I’d sell everything I owned if Bruce did an arena tour of Europe.

We travelled by boat from Stockholm directly to Turku on Monday, a journey of about 11 hours. The rental car office was steps from the ferry terminal, and we had our numbers inked on our hands well before 8pm. It is cold in Finland; the Finns we met today all complained of their unseasonably cold spring, just like everywhere it seems this year, and I was glad for the down jacket and extra layers last night and this morning.

The queue and the check-ins were civilized and it was probably the most painless wait I have ever had for a lineup process that put me four people from the center mic platform. Not at all what I expected, but I’m also not complaining one bit.

After Stockholm, half the people were sure he was going to walk out and play Born To Run and the other half were positive it was going to be The River and some moron in front of us would insist it was going to be disc 2 of Tracks (no, really, someone said that). Things kicked off with a not-unexpected “We Take Care of Our Own” and as it ended, Bruce is pounding his chest with his fist and making the “2” sign and it is Bruce and Stevie at their best at the center mic, singing “Two Hearts”. Steve was particularly inspired tonight and I hoped that that boded well for the setlist and for the show’s overall energy. The crowd was excited and Bruce was feeling it hard, taking the band into “No Surrender.” That’s good for the jumping lunatics in the pit, it’s also good for the people sitting in the stands.

I was going to say, “I can’t tell you when I last heard ‘My Lucky Day'” but given that I happen to have an in-house statistician, I can tell you exactly when I heard it, which was at the Working On A Dream tour rehearsal show in Asbury Park. It was a decent sign, I thought, that Bruce wasn’t going to head down the path of finding some pretext to break out an album, and was going to try to mix up material. My notes say, “He is in a good mood” but you don’t need to be a genius to figure that out; he’s been in Stockholm, he hasn’t had to travel much, he’s got to be feeling happy and comfortable now. And you had your one, two, three Bruce and Stevie moments right in a row. That had to mean something, right?

Things were fairly standard from there, at least for an arena show as I know them: “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown,” and when “Hungry Heart” started, the ‘is he going to crowdsurf tonight’ question was answered with the first note. I tried telling people around me he was going to do it and I had my camera out and clicked into the movie setting as Bruce jumped into the very full pit and started being propelled forward. The Finns did fairly well, although progress was slow and Bruce seemed to cue Jake from further back than he usually does. “You knew he was going to do that,” said an older gentleman next to me. I nodded. “But it’s great!” he said. “Of course it’s great; I just knew it was going to happen.” I remember the surprise and I revel in the ritual and the element of the unexpected that is still present.

It was a fun and diverse crowd. English speakers were at a minimum and if there were 10 Americans in the queue, that would be a lot. Finland has a great fan group called “This Hard Land” and I met a bunch of them in Prague last year. They ran the queue, they negotiated the rules with the promoter and the arena, and if you believe what people say, were responsible in pestering JLM to get Bruce to Turku because the hockey finals are taking place at the arena in Helsinki. Go find Turku on a map; it’s Finland’s third largest city but it feels an awful lot like being in Boise. (The Finns around me made fun of Turku all day, so I feel like I can do it a little.) There was this biker dude next to me, leather vest and everything, but he was the nicest guy and sang “Brilliant Disguise” at the top of his lungs with obvious excitement.

“Spirit” was a little brisker tonight, which helped, and then Bruce came out with the harmonica rack and everyone is going “It’s Born To Run” but it wasn’t; he finally played “This Hard Land” and dedicated it to the fans in the group, and mentioned a book they had made for him – it’s this amazing hardcover book with each page or two pages stories and photos by all of the fans about how they came to Bruce’s music. It was a lovely and much-deserved dedication. (He would later take the harmonica and harp rack down to the people who started the line days ago.)

I was happy to finally hear “The River,” which is usually one of Bruce’s staples in Europe, but hadn’t appeared in Stockholm. But I was totally surprised for him to say, ‘Let’s see what you’ve all got out there” and come down to the front platform for a true and proper sign collection. He stood down at the center platform for a long time, and took a lot of signs. Then he went left and right and grabbed signs from both sides. He took some great signs; he took some terrible signs; he ignored the light-up “New York City Serenade” and “Ain’t Good Enough For You” and I had no expectation he would take my “ROCKY GROUND remember it? what a great song” sign, but just wanted to be obnoxious about it because I could. (I am pretty sure he saw it, given my position and the bright green sign.)

“From Small Things” went down well, and I was happy for “Pink Cadillac” because the woman who made the sign had been talking about how she had brought that sign to every show in Finland and he had never played the song. “Pink Cadillac” is a song that I feel like I’ve seen more than I actually have. According to the stats, this is only the second time I have seen it played live. (I skipped BITUSA in the stadiums; it’s a long story, covered previously many times.) There were two parents with a pre-teen daughter adjacent to my position who picked up the daughter every time Bruce came to the center mic. Bruce acknowledged the girl multiple times but yet they still kept picking her up. They weren’t in front of me so I didn’t really care but they did kind of smash into the people around me when they picked up the daughter so I was secretly pleased they picked her up during “Pink Cadillac” because, really, it is an incredibly dirty song and if you want to wave your pre-teen daughter around while he’s singing those lyrics, well, you go for it, then. (It’s just second to parents picking up their daughters during “Red Headed Woman.”) It was a great, hot, “Pink Cadillac,” the horns were loud and swinging and with just a touch of raunch, and it was a pretty fun moment.

Just when we were grumbling silently that Bruce was picking the easy signs (and not, say, “Long Walk Home,” which DID come out of the audience) he picks up “Brilliant Disguise” and proceeds to execute a clean, well-played version of this song, which I have not seen the E Street Band play since the Tunnel of Love tour. (Seriously, I was racking up the points tonight.) I would say that I would love to see this album revisited more in depth but I would just be stating the obvious and futile.

“Because The Night” and “She’s The One” are the obvious, get-the-energy up pairing, but they seemed to lack heat or oomph. And then we had to adjourn to the “in 90 seconds you will be out of your seats and dancing” interlude of our set which tonight featured “Pay Me My Money Down”. It’s not that I hate this song particularly, I just find it banal and a complete throwaway. However, the horns just transform it. They play; they dance, they sing. Tonight, Clark Gayton completely cracked Bruce up when he came down the front and started copying Bruce’s side-step moves with aplomb; then Curt Ramm came down and started doing likewise. Then you had all the horns down front, playing and dancing, and before you know it, Bruce is lining up the entire E Street Band (with the exception of Max and Roy) along the front of the stage, and bringing a handful of fans along to bring up the rear, and there is a second line marching down the stage, through the mid-floor barrier, and then back down the side and onto the stage again. (If my hotel didn’t have internet powered by reindeer or something, I’d upload that video for you. part 1 | part 2 ) The great horn arrangement and riff turns it into a great party and I have made my peace with this number; it is what it is, and the horns redeem it thousandfold.

“Darlington” was fun; but “Darlington” is always fun. We sang the lines about being from New York City like a couple of kids and had a great time. “Shackled and Drawn” was the obvious next number, and then the set closed like the set closes with no surprises or additions. I wonder when he thinks he can stop playing “The Rising”. I wonder when he will ever stop playing “Sunny Day.” I am glad “Land of Hope And Dreams” is still in the set and that moment when the horns come in is still one of the most glorious moments onstage.

There is much discussion with the musicians onstage, and Kevin came out with two guitars, both of which were rejected. I am hopeful. I am optimistic. I am excited.

I am not expecting him to play “Queen of the Supermarket” solo acoustic.

Bruce asks – again – if the requestor worked in a supermarket, because no one ever requests this song and when they do, they usually work in a supermarket. The solo acoustic performance did at least remove the horrible syrupy arrangement of the record but it was still Queen of the Fucking Supermarket and really, this was not the tour premiere I was hoping for (even though I know now it wasn’t a tour premiere. REALLY. ROCKY GROUND HAS LEFT THE SET BUT YOU PLAY QOTS TWICE. TWO WORKING ON A DREAM SONGS BUT NOTHING FROM MAGIC. okay I’m done now)

The harmonica notes on “Thunder Road” are always a thing of astonishing beauty and purity and I never get tired of hearing them, and I have this moment of instant happiness with them every time they are played. Except tonight I had a moment with about a dozen people shoving themselves into me and everyone else as they ran out of the venue DURING THUNDER ROAD to go get their numbers for the line for the second show. Seriously, one guy hip checked me so hard I almost fell over and then shoved me again when I shoved him back. This combined with one of the lowest line scams I have ever seen (and no I am not going to go into more detail than saying that I have seen a lot of things and this one takes the cake) really kind of put a bad taste into my mouth, at least for a few minutes. Seriously, a big New York City FUCK YOU to all of you assholes.

The band intros tonight were during the intro to “Tenth Avenue” and the video montage has changed and shortened so they can cut to footage of Bruce out at the center platform in the middle of the floor. I am starting to feel like this particular part is not quite working, but it is early still, and they are hopefully going to find the right length and tone for this number.

And then it is over, and “We’ll be back tomorrow night with another spectacular!” Bruce promises, waving goodbye, as we stumble out into a sky still tinged with yellow. Waiting until the end of the show without trampling my fellow concertgoers in the process gets me number 79 inked on my left hand; given that I was 190 tonight and still 4 people from the center platform, I am feeling good about things.

It was a good show with some great moments, oddly and unexpectedly tentative and uneven in others. While that’s partially a casualty of the sign requests, the responsibility still essentially lies in the construction of the setlist, which feels like a thing Bruce is having trouble with at this point in the tour. Will we get an album tomorrow night? Will we get a traditional night two barn burner? Is Bruce also feeling the Boise-ness of this place and feeling like he has to go with the hits? I would just like a good, solid “Wrecking Ball” show with a strong thematic arc. I am pretty sure he can still do that.

But you know, in my mind I am still doing a Bourbon Street shuffle along with the horns during “Pay Me My Money Down”. I am going to find those guys before the tour is over and buy them a bottle of whiskey.

review forthcoming on