Beneath A Peaceful Sky (Godfatherecords G.R. 795/796/797)
Valle Hovin Stadion, Oslo, Norway – 21 July, 2012
Disc 1: The Promised Land, No Surrender, Two Hearts[/It Takes Two], We Take Care Of Our Own, Badlands, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Spirit In The Night, Ain’t Good Enough For You, Hungry Heart
Disc 2: Streets Of Fire, Prove It All Night, Johnny 99, Working On The Highway, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Raise Your Hand, Rocky Ground, The River, The Promise, The Rising, Lonesome Day, Land Of Hope And Dreams [/People Get Ready]
Disc 3: We Are Alive, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Glory Days, Seven Nights To Rock, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Twist And Shout, Night
Bonus track: Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway – 22 July, 2012: We Shall Overcome
This, the first of three Norwegian shows, was played the day before the first anniversary of the notorious shootings and bombing perpetrated by far-right extremist Anders Breivik. Magnus Lauglo, on the Backstreets website, points out that these terrible events did, at least partially, overshadow this concert:
“The Norwegian crowd is known for taking a while to really get going, and tonight was no exception. Perhaps that’s understandable, considering that the show took place the day before the first anniversary of the 2011 terrorist attacks that shook Norway to its core and have continued to dominate news for the past year. Bruce didn’t mention this directly, but the show was built around several respectful and appropriate nods to the dark occasion that was on everyone’s minds, from the solo acoustic ‘Promised Land’ opening through an intense trio of ballads that began with ‘Rocky Ground.’ He put some extra power into the third verse of a rousing ‘No Surrender’: ‘I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lovers [sic] bed.’ Most of all, when he called out to the audience asking if they were ‘missing anybody’ during ‘My City of Ruins,’ he just wasn’t talking about band members who had passed on.”
It is therefore unsurprising that Springsteen and the band had to make an atypically strenuous effort to galvanize the audience. “Magnus” (who is clearly Lauglo) goes so far as to mention on the forum of the Greasy Lake website that, “even in the pit people were pretty nonresponsive to treats like Streets of Fire.” However, as Lauglo continues on Backstreets, they were ultimately successful:
“That notwithstanding, the mood of the show was primarily joyous, with Bruce in high spirits and unexpectedly nice weather. Bruce did have to work hard to bring much of the crowd up to fifth gear, breaking out the singalong ‘Hungry Heart’ mid-set, but there were plenty of treats for the indoctrinated as well, including the scorching debut of ‘Streets of Fire and a solo piano ‘The Promise.'”
The show begins, as Lauglo notes, with a solo acoustic rendition of The Promised Land, with Springsteen accompanying himself on harmonica and guitar. Dagbladet reviewer Sven Ove Bakke notes that Springsteen played it, “as an old folk song…The Spartan arrangement managing not to hide the fact that this is one of Springsteen’s best pop melodies.” Several commentators have noted that this version is more straightforward that that performed on the Devils & Dust Tour. The E Street Band then emerges for what I found (unlike Lauglo) to be a slightly sluggish rendition of No Surrender, which is followed by a rather more vibrant Two Hearts, which Bakke finds noteworthy for the band’s “speed and power.” The song ends with a snippet of It Takes Two.
We Take Care Of Our Own introduces a note of urgency into the evening’s performance and this is maintained with a tight and muscular Badlands. Springsteen then introduces a little levity into the start of a very fine performance of Wrecking Ball by singing, “I was raised out of steel in the swamps of Lillehammer…I mean, Jersey.” This is one of several references to Steve Van Zandt’s starring role in the TV show Lilyhammer, in which, as described by the IMDb website, “a New York mobster goes into hiding in rural Lillehammer in Norway after testifying against his former associates.” Death To My Hometown, with its martial air, is followed by a poignant My City Of Ruins. Reflecting Lauglo’s point that reference to the “missing” was on this occasion not limited to deceased band members, Bakke argues that the song provided a “pause for breath…[and]…a big, comforting hug…without mentioning 22 July directly a single time.”
Despite the inappropriate intro, Spirit In The Night is another splendid performance with a tremendous contribution from the horn section. Springsteen inserts a jocular reference to Jake Clemons’ bad back onto the quiet section of the song. The first tour premiere then arrives in the shape of Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake Ain’t Good Enough For You. Lauglo points out that of the several sign requests, “‘Ain’t Good Enough For You’ was by far the most unexpected, a very welcome tour premiere from The Promise. After spending a few moments figuring out the song onstage and a few false starts, the band delivered a loose but convincing rendition, complete with the absolutely infective call and response that would make this a true show highlight if it were tightened up just a notch and played again a few times.” KleWdSide, on the Greasy Lake website, reckons this performance of the song to be “sublime,” though the description of the song by Morten Ståle Nilsen and Kristine Hellem Aanstad, on the www.vg.no website, as a “charming spontaneous effort,” is perhaps more accurate. Certainly, this performance is great fun to listen to. Disc one then concludes with Hungry Heart, which features the customary audience singalong and, reflecting Lauglo’s comments, Nilsen and Aanstad, detect “signs of softening in the always reserved Norwegian audience” at this point.
The second disc opens with the second and final tour premiere, a blistering Streets Of Fire, featuring what Nilsen and Aanstad call Springsteen’s, “icy primal roar and fiery guitar work.” Graeme Johannessen, writes on blogs.wickedlocal.com, that, “I’ve never heard the [song] as good as this.” Prove It All Night is a worthy successor, with its tremendous guitar solo from Nils Lofgren and Johnny 99 features the now-customary horns and train whistle backing vocals, which Bakke reckons makes the song “Creedence-esque.” The upbeat mood is maintained by an effervescent Working On The Highway (though of course, lyrically there is nothing upbeat about either song). An excellent rendition of Shackled And Drawn, which begins with some call-and-response with the audience and features a terrific vocal performance from Cindy Mizelle, is followed by Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, with its customary vocal slot for a child from the audience.
A joyous Raise Your Hand, with vocals, is succeeded by Rocky Ground, which gives Michelle Moore a chance to shine, and then comes The River, with Springsteen providing what Bakke calls an “unusually sensitive and inspired performance.” “Tonight’s most compelling singing so far,” is the verdict of Nilsen and Aanstad. The River is followed by a solo performance of The Promise, before which Springsteen tells the audience that it will hear, “piano playing much worse than Roy Bittan’s.” Fortunately, his self-confessed limitations as a pianist do not stand in the way of a wonderfully affecting performance. “‘The Promise’ with Springsteen alone behind a piano…stood out as a definite highlight,” writes Bjørnar Kristiansen 0n www.side2.no, “and goose bumps were inevitable.” Bakke similarly states, “amazing…goosebumps from start to finish.” Then come The Rising, described by Bakke as, “by far the best version I have heard,” and a fine Lonesome Day before a superb Land Of Hope And Dreams finishes the main set.
The lengthy and exuberant encore, which takes up the third and final disc, is summed up effectively by Lauglo:
“The show really lifted off with the encores. ‘We Are Alive’ kicked things off, this time with a very special introduction. Bruce seemed amused by the fact that at this time of the year it hardly gets dark at all in Norway, so he made up a whole verse on the spot (to the melody of ‘We Are Alive’) referring both to the sun that never goes down and the lack of curfews (‘Live Nation can kiss our behinds…’). After that, starting with a monstrous ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’ we got another hour or so of non-stop rock ‘n’ roll energy that simply didn’t let up for a second. Bruce had finally gotten the Norwegians exactly where he wanted them, arms in the air and moving as one, and they were rewarded with a slew of familiar hits and crowd pleasers.”
As with the Florentine show just reviewed, Springsteen does not stop with Tenth Avenue Freeze-out but plays Twist And Shout and another number, this time Night (having previously told the audience that the band would play, “until the night time”).
This is yet another terrific show from the Wrecking Ball Tour, clocking in at three hours and forty-seven minutes, only a minute less than the marathon show on Madrid. As Lauglo argues, “What started out as a solid, long show with a pretty respectable setlist ended with perhaps the most entertaining encore sets [sic] I remember…Oslo got the real deal.” Despite the length of the show, Godfather manages to squeeze a solitary bonus track, an acoustic performance of We Shall Overcome by Springsteen and Van Zandt, on to disc three. This was performed the next day at a memorial concert for Breivik’s victims. Lauglo gives the following details:
“Musicians, authors, and other notables gathered today to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya with a memorial concert in Oslo, in the harbor area just outside the Town Hall. Interspersed between performances by major local musicians were short spoken-word segments by authors, survivors of the attack, and a speech by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The 90-minute performance was broadcast nationwide and free and open to the public. An estimated crowd of 50,000 was in attendance, defying gray and rainy skies.”
Springsteen speaks the following words prior to the song: “Good evening, Steve and I are honoured to be included here tonight and for all of us who love democracy and tolerance this was an international tragedy. I want to send this out as a prayer for a peaceful future for Norway and dedicate it to the families that lost their loved ones.”
The performance has come in for some criticism on the Stone Pony London message board, particularly for the guitar playing. Hazardfronharvard comments: “Admittedly a moving performance, but in honesty what kind of guitar playing is that? Did Kevin [Buell] forget to tune the Takamine? Not sure if it was Bruce or Stevie screwing things up like that.” Mathias responds with: “That’s what I thought. Never heard such an awful guitar from him. To me it looked like he looked to Steve after 20 or so seconds like ‘come on, play! I can’t…'” Hazardfromharvard was also unimpressed by Springsteen’s vocals, writing, “and, again, why o why does he find the need to dial up that annoying twangy fake accent?” Whatever individual listeners make of the performance (which is, despite its faults, a poignant one), the song obviously makes for an entirely appropriate bonus to this set.
The sound quality of the show is most impressive overall. The sound of the first five songs is very good, though not top drawer. There is a marked improvement from Wrecking Ball onwards and for much of the rest of the show it is absolutely outstanding, beautifully enhancing the experience of listening to this show. The audience noise is not at all intrusive. However, there is a discernable echo to Springsteen’s voice during The Promise and The Rising. The source for the bonus track is the broadcast footage.
The three discs which constitute Beneath A Peaceful Sky are housed in Godfather’s trademark tri-fold sleeve with numerous onstage shots, list of band personnel, track listing and customary “Joe Roberts” notes on the sleeve itself. There is no booklet.
Godfather’s releases from the Wrecking Ball Tour continue to demonstrate that, nearly forty years after the release of his first album, Springsteen is a relevant artist who continues to make valid musical statements and is, moreover, a superb live act. This splendid new set is no exception.