Tour Finale: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland: 28 July 2013
part 1. the waiting.
It is hot inside of Nowlan Park, and then it rains. And then it is hot again. If you are close you are standing on metal plating, which has no give. You sit, you stand, you sit again. People with wristbands but no magic marker tattoo on their hands try to encroach upon your territory; it creates your ‘tribe,’ it bonds you to people from the Netherlands and Greece and Switzerland and up the road in Belfast. At this point you are having conversations like “We sat next to each other in Stockholm…”
That last interminable time span, after the stage is prepared–and you know when the stage is prepared, the Fiji water and the peanut sponge and the line checks and the spotlight operators are up in position – then the last thing is to wait for the setlists. You try to not look but then you look and try to guess from the grouping of songs whether or not there is an album or how many are there – and then you wait for the video operators.
There is a lot of waiting, which is why everyone on stage left cheers when Kim comes out and takes her position at the camera. Because at that point we are ready to go.
The pre-show tape cuts out suddenly and then there they are.
part 2. the hope
After night 1 we are all trying hard to not hope too much. Because we are here from every corner of Europe, from Italy and Spain and Croatia and Germany and Finland and Norway, and us, two kids from Brooklyn. We still danced and sang on Saturday night no matter what–even after that initial mention of “1985,” watching fallen faces and shaking heads and helpless laugher and shrugs all around and entreaties to leave early to get a good number for the Sunday show, we still waved our arms in the air and sang along, because this was Bruce Springsteen and this was Saturday night after all.
But now it is Sunday and after tonight there are no more shows, there are no more chances, there are no more queues and no more travel and no more sleepless nights. This is it, at least for a while.
That plonky-plonky dance hall piano from the Professor and it is time for church. I will sing the lines about Jesus with no problem, me the girl who used to hmm-hmm out the religious lines in Christmas carols back in school. And then we hold our breath to see what is next, what is the first step in the direction we will be traveling tonight.
“My Love Will Not Let You Down” and that is it, that is the statement of intent, that is the message from him to us. Bruce comes to the front of the stage not to urge us onward, but to be there with us, to hear it. His eyes are searching and he is making eye contact all over the place. He closes his eyes and we sing the refrain back to him. We jump up and down, up and down, singing and waving our arms in the air. I had put a moratorium on jumping to save my knees but tonight I am jumping, metal plate and all. Small jumps, but I am jumping up and down because it is the last night and I want to be able to do it all. The energy and the heat and the voices swirl around you.
There is one moment, one utterly perfect moment, that moment at the end when Bruce and Steve and Nils come together with the guitars at the front of the stage and play the melody over and over. It was picture perfect and note for note perfect and one continual flow of energy. I thought, if this is as good as it gets tonight, I have had that moment at least.
“Badlands” and more jumping, more singing, louder, stronger. This one might get the attention of the people in the stands but it is for us too, about the hope and the faith. This is not accidental. As I said to one of the stewards earlier in the morning, who told us that he had gone to mass before coming to work but had almost fallen asleep during the sermon, this is our church.
“We Take Care of Our Own” and I am glad he has not forgotten Wrecking Ball, he has not abandoned it entirely, and I am even more glad that he has put this up front for us. Even today, in the heat and the crowding and the interminable wait, everyone was kind and generous and good-spirited, they made room for you to sit down and helped you stand up and held a hand up to steady you as you gingerly made your way out of the front pit to get food or make a bathroom run. I know it was not like that everywhere, and that we were lucky, but we were lucky. We were all lucky.
“Adam.” The initial solo does not quite flow at first but then Bruce finds what he is trying to say and says it, blistering notes off the guitar frets. It is “Adam,” it is my first favorite and still favorite. Darkness was the album that opened up everything for me. I shout the HEY!‘s after the refrain, old-school style. Sometimes I am the only one. I do it anyway, so that we will remember. There are notes scrawled about punctuating and guzzling and I cannot possibly reconstruct it now. It was fierce. It was “Adam” at full throttle.
“Death To My Hometown” throws one to the rest of the crowd and lets us catch our breath. And then, it looks like Bruce is signalling ’7′ to the band but that is the signal for DTMH – it was 4 and 1, for “41 Shots.” At first I wonder if something else had happened in the States since I had been disconnected from the real world since Thursday.
“Did something happen that we don’t know about?”
“Just the same thing that happened before.”
“And before that.”
And before that.
To say that this rendition of “41 Shots” was monumental and breathtaking would not come close to accurately describing it. It was nothing short of magnificent. The saxophone was haunting, cutting; Roy and Garry holding down the rest in air tight formation. It would have filled a stadium twice the size of Nowlan Park. It filled the world, it filled your heart and your head and I could not stop the tears at that moment, tears for right now and what happened before and what will happen again until we get it right. I feel hands on my shoulders and the Irish folks behind me are making sure I am all right.
He picked up the harmonica and I knew it was “Promised Land” and was yelling, GOOD FOR YOU, BRUCE, with a vehemence that surprised the people around me and that I didn’t realize I had until the words came out of my mouth. He did this segue previously after the Zimmerman verdict and my reaction was the same, but I was not standing a few feet from it happening, feeling the notes vibrate through my bones.
I am breathless. I feel like my heart has grown three sizes since the show started.
“This is what the tour is all about,” Bruce says, introducing “Wrecking Ball.” And it is funny to remember my reaction to this song initially, and then when it made the album, and then when it supplanted “Rocky Ground” as the title of the album. But “tonight all the dead are here” was such a theme for the tour and it will always remind me of my beloved Shea Stadium, with the line about the parking lots.
Charlie plays a particularly Danny Federici-type organ riff and it is feeling a little more gypsy, a little more old-school, and “Spirit” is going to make the appearance again, this time with a new intro, talking about the fans coming to all the shows, that “there is a cumulative weight every night that we play at the end of the tour,” that “there is a cumulative weight from watching this motherucker so many times!…I want to thank you for carrying us so many nights.” And tells us that they will be back…and back…and back…and back, before swinging into “Spirit.”
part 3. the faith.
A harmonica and a 12-string guitar and I say “The River” without being able to stop myself at this point (and I yell at Glenn all the time because he can tell what song is next based on guitar changes). The power and depth of this number in Europe is always awesome and tonight is no different.
When Bruce finishes, he says something about paying debts and gives a dedication. And then he keeps talking about settling debts tonight. But no one had any idea what was going to happen next.
We met Tero and Paivi in Finland because I saw their sign and liked it so much I talked about it and wrote about it and took a picture that was still on my phone when we got to Spain, where they were in our queue group of 100. We learned that the Finns share the same sarcastic sense of humor that New Yorkers do, and as you do over four days of roll calls, we became friends. We saw them in Paris and again in London, and thought that was it–until we decided to come to Kilkenny.
And it was one of those moments when Bruce says, “This guy has been bringing the same sign to show after show after show – and I have taken this man’s sign before and not played his song.” And Tero and Paivi are standing just to our right with a contingent of Finns and they start jumping up and down and there are Finnish flags waving and they are screaming and hugging and high-fiving. And Bruce comes down to the runway to collect the sign from Tero, and out comes Clark with the tuba and Roy on the accordion and Steve on the mandolin. I had taken a photo of Tero with the reverse of the sign earlier in the day, on which he had listed every show he had taken a version of the sign to: there were THIRTY NINE cities, all of which Bruce proceeded to then hold up and read to the crowd.
It wasn’t even my sign and I am still so dazed I don’t remember it all because it was such an amazing moment. Somehow, again, this wonderful crowd pushed Tero and Paivi up to the front and the people who were #1 and #2 gave up their spots so they could be on the rail in front of Bruce for this moment. Everyone was cheering for them.
During the many discussions I have had about Wild Billy since having become friends with the Finns, is realizing that I can make a spirited defense for this particular track. That it represents a particular moment in Bruce’s childhood and that he captures it all in tight, film-like scenes. The compression of the story is masterful, and the last two lines say it all:
Hey son, you want to try the big top?
All aboard, Nebraska’s our next stop.
The first time I sang that line out loud was on Cookman Street, just up the road from where the circus used to set up in Asbury Park. I thought that was an fantastic moment when it happened. But I think singing it tonight, watching my friends get their song played, beat that just a little. And you wonder about how that song means so much to someone from Finland and someone from Spain and someone from, well, anywhere else.
The next debt was a ratty sign from the front row, the same sign that has been in, oh, the last 15 center mic pictures. It has been taped and folded and taped again, but it was that sign Bruce went to just right of center to pick up and hold up on stage in front of everybody, as the singers come down to stage left and the horns come down sans horns stage right. And Bruce holds up the sign and we are jumping up and down and yelling ‘YEAH!” like it was our sign, and then we are just as instantly quiet because this is a soft, careful arrangement of “Man At The Top” with the harmonies from each side, Curtis and Cyndi and Michelle taking one part and the horns leaning in as one to take the other, Barry rubbing his hands together for percussion. The guy standing behind me has no idea what is going on but manages to understand that some part of it is magic because everyone around us shut the fuck up.
And then, one more debt to settle (and then one more after that, Bruce warns us). This time, a shot of other friends down at the end, women who I know have seen every show Bruce has ever played in the UK (that’s *ever*). And the guitars come out and the opening chords hit and I have an out-of-body experience because HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE THAT HE IS PLAYING ‘WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM’. Last night I tweeted that this song completed a trilogy for me, with “And Then She Kissed Me” and “Mountain of Love” and I wasn’t sure that wasn’t some kind of random grouping, except that it wasn’t; these are the great covers of the ’75 era, crackling in my brain out of some bootleg picked up at a record fair at days gone by.
part 4. the love.
Bruce then talks about how, in 1975, he walked into a recording studio and there was a skinny little Italian kid sitting there – “Jimmy Iovine!” I whisper loudly, wondering where this was going to go. There was definitely a slight lull in the crowd’s energy with the announcement of the full Born To Run album, but given that we had spent the day talking with these two kids from Belfast in front of us for whom this was their 9th show, had missed Limerick, and were sure they’d never see “Jungleland,” I was actually pretty stoked. And it could have been flat, it could have been rote, but the band kept the energy high and the performance above-average and kept plowing through from song to song, which elevated the album performance several notches. “Thunder Road” was accompanied by a deep, genuine swell of emotion rolling off of the crowd up to the stage and back again. Straight into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and all I can think about is how I used to dream about being able to hear the intro to this song, with horns, live. (The only thing still lacking for me is being able to hear Steve’s chicken scratch guitar high enough in the mix.) The horns! That moment where he cues them in and you hear the melody for the first time! There are few things more glorious than that. The first time I heard them on the album and wondering if this was an old Stax cover I didn’t know about, except the credits told me otherwise. My all-time favorite E Street legend is Steve in the studio, singing the parts to the horn players. I love how it is and always will be the story of the band. The tribute to the Big Man in its current version bringing the tears again at the level that they were at the start of this tour. Bruce is on the center platform looking backwards and I think they are still there for him too.
“Night,” and the clarion call of the saxophone, those opening moments you all know so well. “Backstreets” and the excitement level elevates again. It was broad and epic and intense, the vocals strong, the guitar rich and deep. You got lost in it.
I love “Born To Run” outside of the encore spot, the change of pace, the different focus makes it feel different, crisper, tighter and more compact. I love that Bruce just kept going and didn’t stretch it out like an encore version. He played it, he finished it, and he took it into “She’s The One.” And then Curt steps down and the trumpet is shining in the spotlight and people are chatting excitedly and you are waiting for them to realize where we are so they will shut up, and they do.
I think about how far we have come with “Jungleland,” how I was not only ready for it to retire, I was adamant that it should retire. Then it came back selectively and I was ambivalent. I heard it in Philadelphia and I was not ready. I was shocked by its power at Hard Rock Calling, and happy to hear it. Tonight, with the lead up into it, it felt right and proper and like order had been restored somehow. It started to rain at the end of the song and while there was the distraction of everyone around pulling on rain coats there was part of me that felt like the sky was crying in honor. At the start of the song, the two lads from Belfast threw their arms around each other’s shoulders for a moment or two, and I felt lucky to share that instant with them. I was glad they got to hear it. I was glad I was there when they got to hear it.
The next stretch was, honestly, a mix of catching your breath and thinking “Is that it?” and wondering what else could happen, or wondering if at least we would get some more of “Wrecking Ball” given the previous statement that that was why we were all there. I am always glad to hear “Land of Hope and Dreams” in the current arrangement, the horns soaring, the arrangement carrying the song and elevating it, the pogoing one last time, somehow finding the energy, ignoring the aching back and the sore knees. One more time, leaping into the air, trying to catch a little bit of the night and the notes and the magic.
After “Bobby Jean,” there was a huddle at the front of the stage and we expected something grand to erupt, but it was just “Seven Nights To Rock.” He has to play “Dancing In The Dark,” it is the song everyone comes to hear (although, having walked around the venue earlier in the day, there were plenty of normal local folk who were wearing the orange wristband that signified they had been at the previous night’s show as well). What made the song for me was the fact that the horns, who had come down front for “Seven Nights,” were told by Bruce to stay (even after some of them started heading back) so they were doing their DITD dance routine right up front, along with the singers, who Bruce also called down front and they started doing their specific dance choreography for those numbers. (When we ran into Clark Gayton out at Matt the Miller’s the night before–we tried to buy him drinks!–I asked him my burning horn section questions: who was responsible for the dance routines? did they practice them?) You can see the horns pretty well (well, you can if you pick your spot in the crowd so you can see them like we do, but I admit that that is a pathology and not a given behavior) but it’s harder to see the singers because they’re blocked by Roy’s piano. The dance routines are the outer evidence of how these factions have gelled and coalesced and become part of E Street, which was yet another element of joy at their up front presence for “Man At The Top”.
part 5. the prayer.
“American Land” was to be expected and while i was honestly wishing for another cover once “Shout” started, it is so fun and silly and goofy. You sing “shooby dooby, bop bop” and wave your arms in the air and it is contagious and joyful and the horns kick in, loud and brazen. It is truly fabulous how the entire front of pit gets down on the floor as Bruce sings “A little bit softer now.” There is no one standing up, folding their arms sternly, refusing to do it, everyone is going lower and lower and leaning on each other until your legs ache — and then leaping back up to our feet when he switches to “A little bit louder now.” I have photos but they are happy blurry messes of hands and heads and bodies. And we are ready for the recitation of the superlatives, the ones we could do in our sleep, “YOU’VE JUST SEEN…” and we shout it out loud, as loud as we can, as affirmation, as benediction, as plain old FUCK YEAH.
But then he continues: “And we want to salute…” and proceeds to read the fan-centric version of that list, a shirt that you have seen if you have traveled through Europe at all this summer or last, and if you have travelled through Europe you could not possibly disagree with any of it. (Apparently Amy Lofgren saw a photo of the shirt and passed it on.) Bruce recites all of it, and then the band all step up to the microphone en masse to yell, “LEGENDARY E STREET FANS” back at us.
If you didn’t have a lump in your throat I am not sure you are human.
The Professor on the piano and the coda of “This Little Light of Mine” to close the show out, one more time, the gospel element that could be leftover from the direction Bruce was heading before “Rocky Ground” or a clue to whatever happens next, or it really could just be, “I did this on the Dublin DVD so let’s do it in Ireland because it’s a nice nod to them.”
It was during this song that Bruce definitely hurt a finger, but we didn’t realize how much he had hurt it until he came back after showing the band offstage with the acoustic guitar and harmonica rack, and we could clearly see blood streaming down his fingers. (The guess is that he lost a nail.) “I’ve been doing this – next July – for 50 years. Feel like I just started, man! I got another 50 in me,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed this tour – we’ve been losing so many people that were so close to it, this tour has been – you’ve been really wonderful to us.” A pause. “The older you get, the more it means,” he says once, and then again.
Just when you were wondering where the theme of the tour was going to come in, the harmonica for “This Hard Land” points the way. But we were not prepared for the obvious show of emotion on Bruce’s part, the hoarseness as he choked up repeatedly, singing to us one last time on this tour, singing to this crowd that followed him and supported them and sold out stadiums all over the continent, that stood in rain and cold and slept in tents in parking lots. These are the things that Bruce remembers from the early days, it is that one part of his performing life that can still happen the way he remembered it, the obvious sign of devotion.
We wait and listen and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and sing quietly, moved by the show of emotion on Bruce’s part. And then, and then, the reward: IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT! STAY HARD! STAY HUNGRY! STAY ALIVE! we yell at the top of our lungs with every bit of emotion we can muster. He holds the guitar aloft and we wave and cheer and shout until the spotlight is off and he has gone down the stairs and the music comes back over the PA.
And then it is hugs and tears and promises and thank you and goodbyes. We launch ourselves over to the Finnish contingent to say goodbye to our friends. We stomp across crushed bottles underfoot to look for friends from all over the Continent, from the Netherlands and Norway and Spain, we shake hands and make promises and say we will see each other soon, we hope.
Now, in fairness, the things that this show was lacking: the playing was not as consistently strong across the whole show as it should be at this point in the tour. “The Rising” was one big out-of-sync mess almost from start to finish which was unfortunate after such an otherwise mostly solid album performance. That said, the intro to “Jungleland” was very much in danger of heading that way but was fortunately rescued in time.
Born To Run should not have been the album you play on the last night of a tour in a country that got five shows, one of which already got that album, because most of which were attended by not just the tour kids but plenty of normal Irish Bruce Springsteen fans, simply because they could – the amount of arms wearing the complete set Aiken Productions wristbands wasn’t limited to the pit queue. The fact that some of the most important songs from the album that this tour was based on were nowhere near the setlist, like “We Are Alive” and “Rocky Ground,” is a disgrace. (I am convinced I will never hear “Rocky Ground” again unless the gospel project ever gets revived.) If you could play “Born In The USA” two nights in a row then you could play “Jack of All Trades” two nights in a row as well. So much thought went into the front end of the show, the requests were carefully chosen and clearly rehearsed in advance. I would have given anything to just have Bruce put together a set without signs and without worrying about the punters in the top row. They would have been fine with anything.
It was not a legendary last show, but it was a great last show, and it was still not a show I would have missed for anything.
See you soon.
I would be amiss if I did not point out what was NOT played tonight, especially since I kept getting tapped on the shoulder during the show as friends pointed it out and I kept telling them to stop because they would jinx it: No “Sunny Day”! I would love to see the printed setlist to see if this was a deliberate omission or if he thought there was enough child representation from the young boy who came up to play guitar and was gifted with the acoustic at the end of the song.
Don’t miss Mr. Radecki’s final post on the tour as well