31st July 2012 Olympiastadion Helsinki 2012 (no label BF-112)
Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland – 31 July, 2012
Disc 1: Rockin’ All Over The World, Night, Out In The Street, Loose Ends, Prove It All Night, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Be True
Disc 2: Jack Of All Trades, Downbound Train, Because The Night, Lonesome Day, Darlington County, Light Of Day[/Land Of 1000 Dances], Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Back In Your Arms
Disc 3: The Rising, Badlands, Land Of Hope And Dreams, We Are Alive, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Detroit Medley, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Disc 4: I Don’t Want To Go Home, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, Twist And Shout/La Bamba
Bonus Tracks: Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ, USA – 27 May, 2017: It’s Been A Long Time, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, I Don’t Want To Go Home, Can I Get A Witness
“Just how could Bruce follow up two wonderful nights in Gothenburg?” asks the Brucebase website, “with the longest show in his performing history, of course. 33 songs over four hours, 4 minutes and 47 seconds, and that doesn’t include the five song acoustic pre-set played to the fans that made it into the stadium early, just [to] thank them for following him around Europe. Following the mini-set he spent ten minutes collecting signs and shaking hands before returning to the microphone to say, ‘Thanks to all you regulars and thanks for making it a lovely summer for us, and we’ll see you in a little while!‘”
And therein lies the obvious shortcoming of this set: the absence of the five acoustic pre-set songs (I’ll Work For Your Love, Leap Of Faith, No Surrender, For You and Blinded By The Light, the first, fourth and fifth of which were tour premieres), performed by Springsteen alone, starting at 6:15pm. The first disc therefore opens with the tour premiere of John Fogerty’s Rockin’ All Over The World, last played on 22 November 2009 at the final show of the Working On A Dream Tour in Buffalo. It was the first of nineteen songs (if one includes two in the acoustic pre-set) receiving their first Finnish performances, two of which were also European premieres. “The full band came out at 7:54pm and powered right into ‘Rockin’ All Over The World,” writes Backstreets reviewer Desiree Koh, “without skipping a beat for the next eight songs, the band surged from song to song, including a epic ‘Prove It All Night’ with the 1978 intro during which Bruce soloed ferociously with the usual classy support from the Professor’s keys.” Of this song, played by sign request, attendee redbossfan, writing on passioncolorseverything.com, enthuses: “I was already happy as can be when Bruce pointed to yet another sign and asked Steve if he thought they could do it, just to treat us to ‘Prove It All Night’ (’78 intro). The song as such is amazing, but to hear it like it was done back then? Heaven!”
In between those two songs we are treated to three numbers beginning with a vigorous, energetic Night, always good to hear in live performance. A buoyant, jubilant Out In The Street follows, of which redbossfan writes: “‘Out in the Street’ got the party started…Things only got better after that with a mixed up setlist and many requests.” The first of these requests, and an early highlight of the show, Loose Ends, was played in response to an audience member whose sign stated that he had gone ten years and thirty-two shows without hearing the song. The song is a favourite of mine and also, as stated in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, of Dave Marsh; Clinton Heylin, in E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, calls it “terrific.”
Vibrant renditions of We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball and Death To My Hometown keep the momentum going before a poignant My City Of Ruins slows things down. Springsteen tells the audience that, “this is a song that I originally wrote about my hometown trying to get back on its feet and it became about a lot of other things along the way…It’s…a tour where we knew we had to come out after losing some big things and somehow find a way to make us and you feel all right about it, so this is a song about what you lose, what you hold on to, the spirits that remain forever and the things that you have to let go.” “‘My city of ruins’ brought the nightly rollcall and thought of absent friends,” writes redbossfan, “it still gets me every time to see everyone in the pit bowing in tribute to Clarence and Danny.”
Contrastingly, sign request Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, featuring an impressive contribution from the horn section, is wonderfully upbeat and joyous and it is another highlight of this concert. Redbossfan writes that,”‘Does this bus stop on 82nd Street’ was one more song I didn’t expect, very much fun with great solos from Eddie, Charlie, Jake and Everett.” There were also solos from Roy Bittan, Ed Manion and Soozie Tyrell and the “solo” from Everett Bradley is, in fact, the usual percussion/drums “duel” with Max Weinberg, which is preceded by a spot for the whole horn section. Springsteen momentarily hesitates during the first verse, seemingly due to the realization that he had botched the lyrics, singing “dress your children” instead of “bless your children.”
The first disc ends with another of my favourite Springsteen songs and another highlight of the night, Be True. Charles Landau, writing on Springsteen’s official website, argues that, “Ed Manion does a great job with the sax solo at the end of ‘Be True.'” Springsteen can be heard to say, “well done, Ed Manion, well done.” Heylin notes that the song was “a centrepiece” of The Ties That Bind, the single album that ,with numerous omissions and changes, was transformed into the double LP The River (and which also would have featured Loose Ends). Quoting Springsteen’s dissatisfaction with The River thirty years after its release, Heylin suggests that the song is likely to be one of those which he most regretted leaving off the album: “It didn’t take him too long to realize that the likes of ‘Be true’ and ‘Roulette,’ ‘would have been better than a couple other things that we threw on there.'” Introducing the song at the show at Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT on 19 August 2009, Springsteen said that, “when you look back at the choices you’ve made, some of them are hard to understand. This one should have gone on – it came down to this or ‘Crush on You.’ Over seventy live performances between 1984 and 2017, a very respectable total for an outtake/b-side, would also seem to point to a belated realization of the song’s merits.
Disc two opens with two numbers which, in their different ways are melancholic in character. The performance of Jack Of All Trades is appropriately forlorn, and when you hear the song’s protagonist, a victim of economic downturn and consequent unemployment, stoically reassure his partner that, “I’m a Jack of all trades, honey, we’ll be alright,” it is hard to believe that they will be. Downbound Train’s melancholy tone, by contrast, comes from the fact that the song is a lament for a lost love, in which, as Debby Miller writes in her Rolling Stone review of Born In The U.S.A., “a man who’s lost everything pours his story.” The performance here underlines her contention (with which, however, I would disagree) that it is, “the saddest song [Springsteen’s] ever written.” Koh writes that the next song, a superb performance of Because The Night, ” soared with that Lofgren slashing guitar aria you never tire of,’ and Landau, in similar vein, contends that, “Nils’ powerhouse guitar solo on ‘Because The Night’ remains a show highlight.” Liisa Sarakontu, writing on www.kolumbus.fi, concurs, arguing that, “that solo by Nils was again extraordinary.”
The melancholy tone returns lyrically, though less so musically, with Lonesome Day, another song about loss and loneliness, with the bereaved narrator trying to reassure himself that, “it’s gonna be okay/If I can just get through this lonesome day.” Koh writes of the next number that, “‘Darlington County’ was that firecracker of a hootenanny you can’t get enough of,” and it is followed by Light Of Day, which receives its second performance of the tour. Redbossfan writes that, “Bruce picked up a sign with a blinking star that read ‘Light of Day,’ marveled at the sign, wondered if anyone even knew the song, announced it had not been played on the tour before and jumped right into it. It may not be one of my favorites, but it sure was fun.” The song is, however, one of my favourites and I thought that this dynamic performance was effectively enhanced by the horns. The song contains the Na-Na-Na hook from Cannibal & The Headhunters’ version of Land Of 1000 Dances and Landau notes that it also, “featured a quick Charlie keyboard solo, by the end of which he was playing with his elbow.”
Redbossfan contends that, “‘Shackled and drawn’ was still great.” The song is prefaced by a spoken section with Springsteen repeatedly intoning, “gotta keep digging…I ain’t quitting…Boss Man walking; Boss Man talking,” while the audience chants rhythmically and this is briefly returned to at the end of the song. Sarakontu writes that, “before starting the song itself, he makes us all grunt and shovel so that the stadium really echoes…this sounds like an old American chain gang or slave chant.” The transition into the song itself is sudden and awkward, though the performance, with the usual splendid vocal contribution from Cindy Mizelle and prominent role for the horn section, is most enjoyable. Landau notes that, “wonderful vocal interplay with Cindy Mizelle and some great Bruce-style choreography at the end of the tune that never fails to uplift.”
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day contains the usual vocal slot for a youngster brought onto the stage. Before this the audience as a whole gets the chance to sing along and at this point there is also a solo contribution from an adult member of the audience. Landau notes that the young boy, “managed to sing a perfect chorus (twice!).” Sarakontu argues, with some justification, that, “the first audience member who got to sing is by far the worst singer ever,” while agreeing that, “the chosen kid luckily did his part very well.” A giggling Springsteen’s comment on the first singer is a diplomatic, “good try.”
Back In Your Arms, which ends the second disc, was a tour premiere, played by sign request, Springsteen giving it the nod over Secret Garden. The performance, described by essexboy on the Stone Pony London message board as “intense,” includes the customary lengthy preamble about having “blown a good thing…a good woman or a good man, fucked it all up.” Koh writes: “The soulful rendition drove straight to that part of the heart where the sun doesn’t usually reach, verses interspersed with monologues about hopes, dreams, and that special someone, but ending on that high note that you often get to when Bruce is in the driver’s seat.”
The Rising, characterized by Jeffrey Symynkywicz in The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption, from Asbury Park to Magic, as “an Easterlike anthem arising out of the darkness and despair of September 11, a national Good Friday experience if ever there was one,” kicks off disc three with its usual strong performance. Then come a spirited rendition of Badlands, with which the audience sings along enthusiastically, and a rousing Land Of Hope And Dreams, complete with a snippet of People Get Ready, which ends the main set.
We Are Alive kicks off a nine-song encore which contains three tour premieres: Detroit Medley, I Don’t Want To Go Home and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. Redbossfan states of We Are Alive, which is prefaced by Springsteen’s thoughts on the relationship between the living and the dead and a version of the story where Springsteen and his sister Ginny are taken by their mother to visit their aunt’s grave, that, “this is one of the songs I didn’t pay so much attention to on the album, but I love hearing live. Great use of the choir here, they did a marvelous job,” and continues by noting that, “the encores continued in much the usual way: ‘Born in the USA’ and ‘Born to run’ to sing along, ‘Detroit Medley’ for the fans and ‘Glory Days’ for the casual crowd.” “Much the same” is apposite as Detroit Medley was, in fact, a tour premiere, which, in Koh’s words, “made its grand appearance like a knee slide across the stage.” Then, concluding disc three, comes Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, in a scintillating performance complete with the by-now established mid-song tribute to Clarence Clemons and splendid contributions from the horns and the backing singers. Redbossfan notes that, “the tribute to Clarence is still beautiful and makes for a great show closer, but it would have been somewhat anti-climatic as the last song on a night like this.”
And, of course, it proved not to be the last song, being followed by sign request I Don’t Want To Go Home, last played at an E Street Band show in 1981. Written by Steve Van Zandt for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, it was the title track of their debut LP in 1976, which Van Zandt also produced. Koh describes this first European performance as, “a stripped-down, duet rendition.” The song is performed in a slow version with Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt sharing vocals, accompanied only by their own guitars . I thought that the performance lacked momentum and soon began to sag. Though a full-band version would have been considerably more effective, especially with the presence of the horns, the style of the performance is perhaps explained by Springsteen’s contention (heard at the end of the third disc) that, “we don’t know it, but we can sing it, God damn it.” Redbossfan, however, was more impressed, writing that, “Bruce and Steve sure had fun sharing the mic and the verses on this one. I would not call it beautiful, but it was a great rendition nonetheless. Just perfect!”
An ebullient, though somewhat improvisatory, rendition of (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher was a European premiere and another sign request and once again the horns and the backing singers feature to great effect. Landau remains on stage for a rowby, boisterous, eleven-minute, show-closing Twist And Shout, which features a trumpet solo from Curt Ramm, a part for the horn section as a whole, and a snippet of La Bamba. During the song a member of the crew comes onto the stage to impart some information to Springsteen which he then relays to the audience: ” Somebody just told me we’re two minutes away from four hours.” A little later, having gone beyond four hours, he adds, “ladies and gentlemen we have hit the mark…I don’t fucking believe it.” The song was affected by microphone problems, resulting in Springsteen’s vocals suddenly cutting out at one point in the song and shortly afterwards he is heard to say, “somebody pulled the plug.” Riverdude3, posting on Stone Pony London, explains: “Crew were talking about this before they left the hotel this morning. One mic died, replacement had dead battery, 3rd was ok but had feedback probs. It was a problem but it did get fixed quickly.”
The performance has garnered numerous plaudits and several comparisons with the previous and much acclaimed show in Gothenburg. Redbossfan writes of this “special” show:
“While the second night in Gothenburg had been all about being emotional, this one was just pure joy. It was a party alright, but a party for the fans, not the casual concert-goer. Bruce pulled out so many rare songs, that it might not have been so great for those who only know the hits. For us, however, who have seen many shows, this was a special treat. The pit was clapping, jumping and dancing for much of the show. I also think Bruce still included enough crowd pleasers in the set…What a day! What a night! Once again Bruce has proven that he is one of the best live performers out there!”
“Can what many now considered the best show of the tour so far – or of the decade – be topped?
The answer is yes, and no, which is the beauty of these legendary tours: you never get what you anticipate, and I mean that in a good way…Bruce’s feat of endurance Tuesday night never once flagged in passion, dedication, and undying commitment to send everyone home delirious with rock ‘n’ roll salvation in their spirits. It was all that Helsinki – no, Heavensinki – would allow.”
Commentators have also placed the show in the context of the quality of the tour as a whole. On Backstreets’ BTX forum, ArcadeDevil states, “This European leg kicks the crap out of virtually every leg of every tour since the Reunion, with honourable exceptions,” and jcrjohnny99 writes:
There’s no question at all that we are in Bruce’s second golden era;
This tour already blows away the Reunion & Rising tours and has its sights set on the Magic tour.
These are special times, make the most of em!”
Fellow poster BigShotTony adds that, “it’s certainly blown away the Dream tour as well.”
The sound source here, as with other recent no label/Wonderland releases, is the official recording available via Springsteen’s official website, with the high quality of sound one would expect. The official recording does not contain the acoustic pre-set songs, which were not professionally recorded, hence their absence both here and on the officially released download/CD-Rs. An audience recording does exist, however, as Brucebase makes clear: “Audience tapes by Corenol (inc. pre-set), Queengrooves and Tootai also circulate. The Tootai tape is released as ‘The Finnish Finish’ (Ev2), which also includes the acoustic pre-set from Corenol’s recording. However, the Queengrooves tape is probably the best of the three.” Clearly, therefore, it would have been possible to include the pre-set songs in this set. There is a CD-R Release, Wrecking Ball In Helsinki (Uxbridge), which includes the pre-set songs.
Instead, we get four bonus tracks taken from an entirely unrelated show – a concert from 2017 by Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul. As Brucebase relates: “Van Zandt and his Disciples of Souls were headlining at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre (for which Van Zandt and his wife Maureen serve on the board of trustees). Stevie invited Bruce, as a friend without work, to join him as a surprise guest for the four last songs.”
First up is It’s Been A Long Time, written by Van Zandt and recorded by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes for their album Better Days. Van Zandt and Springsteen share lead vocals with Southside Johnny on the album version (both being credited as “Second Lead Vocal”); here it is, of course, just the two of them and their shared vocals work extremely well. Then comes an effervescent Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. “Steven Van Zandt famously wrote the horn arrangement for ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,’ notes Brucebase, “but the song has never been performed as it was tonight: As a Springsteen/Van Zandt duet.” This is followed by I Don’t Want To Go Home, this time in a full band version. The final song, clearly an encore and heard after lengthy cheering and applause from the audience, is the Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned Marvin Gaye hit from 1963, Can I Get A Witness, which Van Zandt dedicates to his wife. I thought It’s Been A Long Time was the highlight of the quartet, though the performances are all most enjoyable.
Brucebase notes of the four songs: “Broadcast live on SiriusXM satellite radio. An audio rip of the broadcast circulates.” This is presumably the source utilized for this release. The sound, while eminently listenable, is lacking a little in dynamics and is not perfectly balanced; it therefore does not match the high quality of the main show.
The discs are housed in the longbox common to the three or four disc sets from this source. The front bears a sticker indicating that this is a numbered edition of three hundred. As usual, there is a black inner sleeve and this contains an eight page booklet, reproducing Charles Landau’s account of the show. There are some typographical errors in the track list, such as “Dtroit Medley” and “Steve Van Zant.” The box, booklet and discs are adorned with several onstage and a couple of posed photographs, mostly of Springsteen himself. Ironically, the majority of the photos of Springsteen, including the one which appears on the front of the box, the booklet cover and the discs, show him during the pre-show acoustic set.
Overall, this is a very desirable yet simultaneously somewhat frustrating release. It features an acclaimed and historic show but the omission of the pre-show solo acoustic numbers means that it lacks completeness. The inclusion of those songs would have made this release indispensable; instead, I cannot help but feel that it constitutes something of a missed opportunity.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)