Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Estadio El Molinon, Gijon, Spain, 27 June 2013
I reviewed this show for brucespringsteen.net.
Springsteen in Spain is hot and loud and smoky and bouncy and pretty much everything you know about from the Barcelona DVD. The fans started the queue on the Wednesday the week before the show, and by the time we arrived on Sunday night I was just happy to be under 200. (By comparison, I arrived at the Dublin queue at 4pm the day before the show and got number 163.)
Most of the queue was Spanish. The roll calls were in Spanish. I learned my number by watching the people ahead of me and recognizing things like forty or fifty, and by the last day was an old hand at replying “Acqi!” to “ciento ochenta y seis” and could tell when the line leader was skipping numbers because of no-shows. There were some very kind Spanish twitter friends who were happy to translate the announcements that were more complicated than “Next roll call at 5pm.”
The day of the show we all showed up at 10am, were loaded into a set of barriers, and sat on the tarmac until they loaded us into the venue at 6pm. After three days of freezing and wishing I had brought more long sleeve shirts, we roasted out there. The stadium is in a residential area, and there is, miracle of miracles, a grocery store. We would go there in the morning after 10am check-in to buy breakfast and lunch, and on show day it provided a continual supply of cold water.
I love that first moment when you walk into the venue after being on line all day; El Molinon is not exactly San Siro but it was still impressive to walk through the gate and onto the pitch and carefully walk as quickly as possible on the terraplas to the front. Ticket time was 9 p.m., and everyone sat down for quite a while, until there was a mad rush for the stage, and then we stood in cramped, hot quarters until Bruce took the stage at some point around 9:20pm. He looked good and rested, and like he had a new haircut.
The main topic of conversation since I joined the queue had been whether or not Gijon would be an album show. Besides the handful of folks nursing the usual River full album show delusion — there was an enormous sign in the front corner for it, even — mostly people just didn’t want a BITUSA show. I did not think that this would be an album show and was of the opinion that since this was the only show in Spain this year, that he would treat it as a show for all of his fans, and not a show for a small town in the north of Spain that needed the greatest hits.
The reality was, probably not surprisingly, somewhere in the middle.
There’s a saying in our house about these kinds of shows: “Live by the signs, die by the signs.” If Bruce picks the right signs and plays the songs at the right time, it can be great or it can fall flat on its face. Tonight I thought he was doing a good job picking signs, and not just because, for the first time, Bruce saw my sign, specifically asked for it, and held it up saying, “We’ll play that one later.”
(It was my sign for “Rocky Ground” that I carried all over Scandinavia, with the slightly obnoxious comment at the bottom” “Such a good song, remember it? Maybe play it!” I would learn later that “Rocky Ground” had been on the printed setlist to open the encore. Still, given that my previous attempts at sign requests have been 3,497,208 to 0 [or at least it feels like it], I am still feeling fairly triumphant, although I am also feeling like I am getting out of the sign request business.)
But I digress.
I thought the opener was perfect: “My Love” for the diehards in the pit, “Out In The Street” for the fans in the stands. The “Better Days” sign came from a kid who had to be maybe 13 or 14 and at the front of the queue. I’m never going to complain about “Ain’t Good Enough For You” or a Creedence cover, but I just didn’t understand what it was doing in that part of the set. Jake’s solo in “Travelin’ Band” was fantastic and Roy played some seriously evil piano in his solo.
I was a little disappointed that he skipped “We Take Care Of Our Own” in favor of “Death To My Hometown.” Frankly, DTMH feels kind of stale right now and I can’t think of why he insists on keeping it in there except that maybe he feels like he needs a spectacle with everyone in the band down front in that point of the set.
ON THAT NOTE:
Where, I ask, is the anti-Everett Bradley movement? You don’t like Patti because she changes the dynamic – for fuck’s sake, there is way too much EVERYTHING going on in that corner of the stage. The people who like Everett probably loved Jay Weinberg because he “energized” the band but yet think it’s blasphemous for people to be excited about Tom Morello working with Bruce.
The “Jack of All Trades” into “The River” into “Atlantic City” was an absolutely magnificent thematic arc. I would have been seriously disappointed had he not played ‘Jack’ in Spain of all places, and it was a magnificent version tonight that commanded the audience. “The River” in Europe is always going to be a moment, the harmonica and 12-string echoing through the stands, the crowd singing their hearts out. And “Atlantic City” was absolutely magnificent. Bruce called for quiet, shhhing the crowd just before the last verse, which was delivered with a different phrasing, calling your attention to the actions of the song’s main character.
I also thought of James Gandofini during the “Tonight I met this guy/and I’m gonna do a little favor for him”. (There was a sign tonight requesting “Don’t Stop Believin’” for both Gandolfini and Max’s mom. There were a lot of signs tonight, so much so that even though I was in prime position for the centre mic photo, there is no way you would find me.)
I am happy to report that the horns are still dancing their hearts out. I would love to know who is the main choreographer for these little routines. I want to know when they practice. Also, Curt Ramm is sporting a fashionable new newsboy cap.
Bruce switches guitars, yells at Steve (who is still on the mandolin finishing “Atlantic City”) to get himself a guitar, and out of nowhere (well, not really, I guess, when there was a sign for PLEASE PLAY THE ENTIRE RIVER ALBUM that was quite literally as tall as Bruce) we got “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” And I know, we needed hijinks after that three song arc of despair and depression, and it was vintage Bruce-and-Stevie at the center mic. This was the start of the show for the people in the stands, your “Darlington” and your “Because the Night” and your “She’s The One”. The latter was exceptional by the machine-gun pose with which Bruce began the song and the decidedly Link Wray-esque solo at the end.
Time for more signs. This was where mine was requested and taken and commented on, along with the incredibly annoying Fender-shaped sign for “Rosie” which got in every photo I tried to take all night because its own held it up during every song. I was not sure how I would feel about “Rosalita” in this point in the set and I am still on the fence here simply because my own personal setlist muscle memory makes it mean one thing in my brain, but this was joyous and raucous and Steve went all out, donning someone’s cowboy hat and then someone’s American flag sunglasses, and Jake came down too, and there was a minor white riot at the center platform. It was everything “Rosalita” should be. I think it worked energetically, but am not 100% sure on that.
You would think that “Drive All Night” after “Sunny Day” would be the trainwreck-iest of all trainwreck segues and you would probably be right, except that it was such a magnificent version of “Drive All Night” and the audience was so happy to hear it–there were signs for it everywhere, including two huge banners hanging off the top deck of the stadium–that it worked. There was chatter and murmuring (which is much less annoying when you can’t understand what they’re saying) but then at some point it stopped and the crowd was about as silent as a crowd in a football stadium is ever going to be. Jake’s solo was magnificent, sharper, a slightly brighter tone I think, and Bruce’s vocals were rich and smoky. Steve’s harmonies were spot on; Soozie joined at one point and was not needed and actually detracted in my opinion.
“The Rising” and “Badlands” let everybody jump up and down again, the songs that they wanted to hear, even in the stands, and then Steve points at a sign and goes over to Bruce and is rather insistent. “Light of Day” was a little shaky here, for all of the signs I saw requesting it I do not think many people knew it. The kid next to me who went fucking nuts over “Sunny Day” looked totally bored during LOD. Steve requested the song and then lived up to his end of the bargain with a razor-sharp solo.
Instead of turning around and picking up the bright green sign reading ROCKY GROUND, Bruce ran out to the stage right platform and picked up a sign and ran back. “Radio Nowhere?” He must have thought that he had lost the crowd during “Light of Day” and wasn’t going to take a chance with “Rocky Ground”.
So then you have your run o’ hits, BITUSA, Born To Run, “Seven Nights To Rock,” complete with Bruce’s butt playing piano and guitar, and then “Dancing In The Dark.” Bruce pulled a girl up to dance, and then pulled a second girl up and put an acoustic guitar on her. Now, she didn’t know how to play guitar, but I was struck tonight that there is something so empowering and kind of radical that he continues to do this: it’s not just a woman dancing and looking pretty, here’s a chance for you to stand with the guys and perform. It is actually pretty feminist and I dig it a lot. (Maybe in 10 years girls won’t sing “Sunny Day” but will come up and play a solo on something instead. Or hell, rhythm guitar, even. I WOULD LIKE THAT A LOT MORE.)
and once again I dislike the lack of band introductions. This is just wrong. This is something that Bruce has always done and there is no reason to stop now except for the fact that there are too many people in the band, but that is a subject for another day, and a sign to me that he is ready to stop this tour and go do something new. (More on this later.) (CORRECTION: Bruce did introduce the band during Twist and Shout but I missed it because I was making my way away from hair-pulling children)
“Twist and Shout” is fun and it’s greatand who doesn’t love it but there is no reason the E Street Band could not play any one of a long list of other wonderful covers that the audience would know just as well and enjoy just as much.
On the other hand, to be at the back of the pit (where we had retreated after a child whose parents kept putting on their shoulders using me as a cantilever pulled my hair hard at the beginning of “Twist and Shout”) with a bunch of Spanish people when Bruce Springsteen starts playing “Shout!” is probably one of the most fun things I have ever done. Everyone, even people who had been standing still and probably thinking about beating an early retreat to the exit, were suddenly jumping and dancing and singing along.
And then, at the end, my first exposure of this acoustic “Thunder Road” to end the set. It is intimate and special and beautiful and heartbreaking and is the first moment in this show where I feel like there is a bit of goodbye and farewell in here.
Was it a perfect show? No. Was it a good show with some great moments? Yes, absolutely. Am I glad I saw a show in Spain? 100 times yes.