Paris 13/7/2016 Lisbon Rock In Rio 19/5/2016 (no label, BF-17)
Accorhotels Arena, Paris, France – 17 July, 2016 (discs 1-3); Parque da Bela Vista , Lisbon, Portugal – 19 May, 2016 (disc 4)
Disc 1: Iceman, Lucky Town, The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Jackson Cage, Two Hearts/It Takes Two, Independence Day, Hungry Heart, Out In The Street, Crush On You, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Here She Comes [Walkin’]/I Wanna Marry You, The River
Disc 2: Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, I’m A Rocker, Fade Away, Stolen Car, Ramrod, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, Wreck On The Highway
Disc 3: Badlands, The Promised Land, Growin’ Up, Because The Night, The Rising, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Shout, Thunder Road
Disc 4 (DVD): Badlands, No Surrender, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Cover Me, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Hungry Heart, The Promised Land, Out In The Street, Downbound Train, I’m On Fire, Atlantic City, Darlington County, Working On The Highway, Johnny 99, The River, Because, Spirit In The Night, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Thunder Road, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Twist And Shout/La Bamba, This Hard Land
The three CDs from this set bring us the second of two shows that Springsteen played at the indoor sports arena and concert hall the AccorHotels Arena (originally known as Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy and then briefly as Bercy Arena), the first having been played two nights before. The concert is significant as being the first in Europe during which Springsteen played The River complete. Springsteen had begun the 2016 tour, which celebrates the album’s thirty-fifth anniversary, in the USA and he initially played the whole album at every show, though the complete performance was seemingly abandoned after the first American leg of the tour. After the surprise reappearance of the complete album performance at this show, Springsteen only played it twice more during the tour, in Gothenberg (23 July) and Oslo (28 July).
The show opens with a very rare performance of Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake Iceman which has only been played twice before, once solo in Philadelphia in 2005 and once with the E Street Band in Charlotte in 2014. Steven Strauss, writing on the Backstreets website, states that the song, “was given a tight, focused, and intense full band treatment (sans Patti) with Bruce’s voice fittingly gruff to match the song’s subject,” and then notes that Springsteen, “kept the rarities coming with ‘Lucky Town,’ which was once again capped with a fiery Boss guitar solo.” The latter song had appeared only twice before during the tour, in Gothenberg (27 June) and Milan (7 July).
Springsteen then announces, in French, that there will be a complete performance of The River and we hear exuberant versions of The Ties That Bind and Sherry Darling. The somewhat harder-edged Jackson Cage is followed by an energetic Two Hearts which, as usual, concludes with a brief snippet of It Takes Two.
Things slow down briefly with a beautifully executed and most affecting Independence Day. Springsteen prefaces the song with a brief but moving spoken introduction:
“This is the first song I wrote about fathers and sons. It’s the kind of song you write when you’re young and you’re first shocked by the fact that your parents might have had their own dreams and their hopes that did or didn’t pan out so well for them. I set the song just around the kitchen table and a late night conversation. It’s about two people who love each other but are struggling to understand one another.”
Hungry Heart then gives the audience a chance to make the usual vocal contribution and ends with an extended sax part from Jake Clemons. A splendidly boisterous Out In The Street is succeeded by the fast-paced and energetic Crush On You and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch). I Wanna Marry You is prefaced by the Here She Comes Walkin’ intro and also saw (as did the show in Baltimore) an onstage marriage proposal, followed by a mock wedding ceremony with Springsteen announcing that, “I now pronounce you in the name of rock ‘n’ roll as husband and wife.”
The performances of The River and Point Blank are both excellent. BTX poster fabrice writes that, “the end of The River gave me goosebumps…and the PB intro is great.” Strauss describes how, “the crowd continued Bruce’s soul-stirring humming at the end of ‘The River’ all the way through the silence while Bruce and the Band cued up ‘Point Blank.’ Bruce waited until this humming had organically reached the melody’s end before having Roy seamlessly begin the song – a hauntingly beautiful transition between the two records.” Unfortunately, this transition is undermined here by the disc break, which also results in a sudden, jarring start to the piano and cymbals introduction to Point Blank.
The up-tempo duo of Cadillac Ranch and I’m A Rocker give way to appropriately subdued and atmospheric renditions of Fade Away and Stolen Car. Ramrod livens things up again and begins with Springsteen making the first of several references to the previous show’s power outage. Then comes a splendid The Price You Pay and a gorgeous Drive All Night, with Jake Clemons’ solos coming off extremely well. The melancholic Wreck On The Highway then brings the complete-album section of the show to a close. It ends with Springsteen telling the audience that:
“What The River was really about was time, time slipping away, and how once you entered the adult world the clock starts ticking and you realize you have a limited amount of time to do your work, to love your family and to try and do something good.”
Strauss notes that the fans’ enthusiasm was heightened by the fact that some songs from The River have been played very rarely in Europe in the three-and-a-half-decades since the original The River Tour:
“‘Stolen Car,’ never since 1981; ‘Wreck on the Highway,’ one time (solo); ‘Fade Away,’ three times. Ignoring performances on this tour, ‘I Wanna Marry You’ (never performed since 1981), ‘The Price You Pay,’ (performed once) and ‘Independence Day’ (performed four times) are almost as rare. The entire crowd responded in a way that made it feel like they understood the special significance of this evening.
Everyone…looked and sounded engaged from beginning to end, rarely allowing the energy to wane enough even to sit down – the first two sides of the record were basically a non-stop sing-along, jump-along, and chant-along party – while always remaining deadly silent for the ballads.”
At the end of Wreck On The Highway, writes Backstreets/BTX poster pgmgwg, “I am standing in complete awe. That performance of the entire River was perfect.” Not everyone was impressed, however, with some posters being disappointed with a complete album performance, particularly after the promise of the opening two rarities. NoSurrender81, for example, writes that, “I mean a show starts with Iceman goes into lucky town [sic], you think its going to be special. Why cant[sic] Bruce continue in that direction rather than something boring and predictable,” while the rather more blunt Catlong_sighs writes, “boring as fuck…TERRIBLE idea.” Some posters are also unhappy with the predictability of the numbers from the post-album portion of the show, Brightlightscitybossfan, for example, arguing that, “Bruce did Iceman, Lucky Town then apart from Growing up you could have predicted the whole show!”
The post-album section of the show begins with Badlands. In my review of the Philadelphia 7/9/2016 release from the same source, I noted some reservations concerning the quality of Jake Clemons’ saxophone playing. Several posters on BTX have been much more critical, rather harshly in my view, with his performance on Badlands causing particular ire. Julius writes: “Listening to Badlands now. Honestly, why bother. Did you hear that sax solo. I might as well be listening to [tribute band] the B-street band. Sigh.” Asgmsg agrees, contending that, “yeah that was bad…He’s been rough all tour at all points of the show.” One_Step_Up argues that, “Jake was playing way better during the Wrecking Ball tour. I don’t really know what happened.” MJGel15, conversely, argues that during that tour, “the other horns covered up Jake.”
The Promised Land is not the most inspiring version I have heard but Growin’ Up is much more vibrant and enjoyable and leads into Because The Night, with its customary guitar solo from Nils Lofgren. An effective performance of The Rising, which always comes off well live, is followed by thunderous set closer Born In The U.S.A.
The encore is an high-spirited though rather conventional one consisting of Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Shout, the latter containing the band introductions. (There was no break and both Strauss and some BTX posters have taken Born In The U.S.A. to be the first encore song, though Springsteen’s official website gives the encore as starting with Born To Run.) That is it from the band but, Springsteen treats the audience and the CD listener to an utterly delightful solo acoustic performance of Thunder Road.
Strauss sums up the show by writing that:
“All together the evening felt like one long ecstatic catharsis. Tears, hugs, kissing, jumping, clapping, singing, chanting, smiles, all plentiful throughout. More than any other show on this tour, the concert actually felt the most like the first time The River was played in its entirety way back in 2009 at Madison Square Garden.”
As with the previous release from Wonderland in this “no label” guise, this release is sourced (in common with the now discontinued large boxed sets from the 4Shure label) from Springsteen’s own website, from where all of his concerts since 2014, as well as selected older ones, can be acquired as downloads or CD-Rs. Again, although generally excellent (and, to my ears, slightly superior to the Philadelphia show), there are some balance issues and, once again, Lofgren’s recessed guitar solo during Because the Night is the obvious example, causing BTX poster Julius to comment sarcastically: “Awesome. Another inaudible guitar solo by Nils! Love it!”
The fourth disc in this set is a DVD featuring Springsteen’s third appearance at the Rock in Rio Festival in Lisbon, following his performances in 2012 and 2014. Springsteen took to the Paco Mundo (World Stage) just before midnight, after performances by Stereophonics and Portuguese rock band Xutos & Pontapés, and played until 2:30 AM. As Strauss notes, Springsteen walked “casually” on to the stage “to little fanfare and no introductory music.”
The show starts with the same three songs as the Barcelona show which kicked off the European leg of the tour five days before, Badlands, No Surrender and My Love Will Not Let You Down. The band plays energetically, though according to Strauss, with considerably less effect, due to the nature of the occasion:
“The differences between the two shows were immediately apparent: not only was the festival sound system jarringly flat, the crowd, despite its size, initially seemed to be one of the most tepid of the entire tour so far…with very few even fist-pumping to ‘Badlands.’ Further, the festival’s stage design literally separated Bruce from his audience by an uncomfortable distance, figuratively symbolizing the chasm that he would have to cross to engage this more reserved crowd.”
The set is heavy with Born In The U.S.A. material, with No Surrender being one of nine songs (plus outtake My Love Will Not Let You Down) played at this show from the album. The second soon emerges in the form of a spirited Cover Me. An appropriately sombre Darkness On The Edge Of Town is the show’s first tour premiere an the camera then follows Springsteen into the audience for an upbeat Hungry Heart, at the end of which he collects a few signs including one for the next song, The Promised Land.
A suitably joyous Out In The Street is followed by two further tour premieres, Downbound Train and I’m On Fire, both from Born In The U.S.A. and Springsteen stayed with the early 1980’s for the next few songs, as Strauss relates:
“Bruce’s focus on Born in the U.S.A. also stretched to the other album from the era, Nebraska, with two songs to satiate fans: ‘Atlantic City’ – unfortunately, a song that really suffers from a lack of widespread crowd involvement – and the tour premiere of ‘Johnny 99,’ a rollicking rendition that highlighted the mighty power of the entire E Street Band (we’ll forgive Jake for coming in a bit too early with his cowbell). Sandwiched between these two relatively lesser-known-songs were the often-inseparable Born in the U.S.A. twins, ‘Darlington County’ and ‘Working on the Highway,’ both of which had Bruce really playing to the crowd on the catwalk and beyond.”
The wonderfully poignant performance of The River, which sees the audience holding lighters aloft, is characterized by the focus on Springsteen on the catwalk that extends from the front of the stage. With Springsteen alone and spotlit and the band providing restrained backing, it is a band performance that has the feel of a solo performance, and an intimate one at that. Things move up-tempo again with Because The Night and its splendid guitar solo from Nils Lofgren. Final tour premiere Spirit In The Light retains its now-customary “can you feel the spirit” intro, with some call-and-response with the audience. Later, we see Springsteen move through the audience, donning a hat thrown to him, and the whole performance is tremendous fun. After this, solid performances of Lonesome Day and The Rising precede set closer Thunder Road, played in its full-band incarnation, with the audience singing along.
The encore is tremendous fun, featuring a thunderous Born In The U.S.A., an energetic Born To Run, hugely enjoyable performances of Glory Days and Dancing In The Dark, a vibrant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and a riotous Twist And Shout, featuring the band introductions followed by a brief excerpt from La Bamba. After all this energetic mayhem Springsteen alone performs a final number, a solo acoustic rendition of This Hard Land.
Strauss sums up the performance thus:
“And that’s why you never underestimate a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. Many people had pegged their headlining gig at Rock in Rio Lisboa as a lesser stop on the European itinerary since festivals often entail Bruce-illiterate crowds, poor sound, shorter shows, and greatest hits-filled setlists. Though some of these expectations ultimately proved true, no one could have predicted that the Portuguese crowd stretching as far as the eye could see in Parque da Bela Vista would be treated to five – count ’em, five- tour premieres.”
Brucebase notes that, “the entire concert was broadcast over the internet in excellent quality,” and Strauss additionally refers to the broadcast as “top-notch” and “high-quality.” This broadcast is presumably the source for this release. The quality of sound and picture is entirely as one would expect from a DVD sourced from an officially filmed concert, though at times I did feel that the sound could have been a little sharper. The sound is also transferred at an extremely low level, so that I found it necessary to turn up the volume to an absurd degree. I also found that there were numerous glitches throughout the DVD, causing a brief pause/skip with the sound and picture resuming a second or two later (and on a couple of occasions the pause/skip was rather longer).
As with the Philadelphia release, the discs in this set are housed in a tall digipak featuring, here featuring a couple of onstage shots on the front, together with the track listing for the Paris show on the rear alongside a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Inside is a black sleeve containing an eight page booklet with further onstage photos and the track listings for both shows, though there are no notes. The discs each bear a stylized version of a familiar River-era photo with a lurid orange colour scheme. The sticker on the packaging states that this release is a limited edition of 350 sets.
Overall, this is a very worthwhile release, which will particularly appeal to those who hold The River in higher regard than I do. Although the complete performance of The River is very good, for me, the highlights of the show were the opening and closing numbers, Iceman and Thunder Road. I also consider the label’s previous release of the Philadelphia show, with its superb run of very early songs, to be superior to this release of the Paris concert and I concluded my review by stating that I found it to be “a stunning show.” The Lisbon show is a very enjoyable performance, which I will happily revisit, but not quite, in my view, as special as Strauss seems to consider it to be. Moreover, the faults with the DVD (assuming they are on all copies) make this a problematic release. This is particularly unfortunate following the problems with CD2 of the Philadelphia set. Finally, of course, at least in the case of the Paris show, I should mention that, although many collectors will appreciate the opportunity to obtain it on silver discs, some may prefer the legitimacy of acquiring the official download or CD-Rs.