Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, USA – 7 September, 2016
Disc 1: New York City Serenade, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Growin’ Up, Spirit In The Night, Lost In the Flood, Kitty’s Back, The E Street Shuffle
Disc 2: Incident On 57th Street, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The Fever, Thundercrack, Night, No Surrender, The Ties That Bind, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Death To My Hometown, Jack Of All Trades
Disc 3: American Skin (41 Shots), The Promised Land, Hungry Heart, Darlington County, Working On The Highway, Downbound Train, Because The Night, The Rising, Badlands
Disc 4: Streets Of Philadelphia, Jungleland, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Shout, Bobby Jean
Springsteen’s 2016 tour (which has now continued into 2017), together with the previous year’s multi-disc boxed set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of the album The River. The tour featured a smaller band of nine or ten members, without the horn section and the “E Street Choir,” with Springsteen saying, “I knew the basis of the show was going to be The River, and that was a small rock group. The tighter lineup feels much more like the old days.” Patti Scialfa was present at some, but not all, shows (she does not participate in this show) and the Sam Bardfield String Section also appeared at some performances, including this one. All of the shows from the first American leg of the tour featured The River played in full, but this was virtually abandoned thereafter, with only three further performances in Paris, Gothenburg and Oslo. The show presented here, the first of two nights in Philadelphia, is from the second American leg of the tour and Shawn Poole, in a well-written and insightful review on the Backstreets website, notes the change of direction:
“At this point, The River Tour 2016 has morphed into something very different, at least in terms of Bruce’s choice of material. In that sense, it’s now pretty much The River Tour 2016 in name only, with only two songs from The River being performed last night, as was also the case with the preceding Virginia Beach show. The spirit behind this tour, however, remains very much intact. Each night, Bruce and the band continue to present much of his classic material from various phases of his career. None of these songs are new, of course, but many new shades of meaning, connections and musical approaches continue to be found. And most important of all, Springsteen and the E Streeters are still firing on all cylinders, delivering some of their best performances ever.”
Moreover, Springsteen was playing some very long shows at this time with this performance being the second longest concert of his career. Wikipedia gives the following details:
“The show on August 23, 2016 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey lasted 3 hours and 52 minutes, at the time his longest show ever in the United States and the third longest show of his career. Two nights later, the second show at MetLife Stadium lasted 3 hours and 59 minutes surpassing the previous show. At his third and final MetLife Stadium show Springsteen performed for 4 hours and 1 minute. Springsteen’s concert on September 7, 2016 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, topped the previous three shows, clocking in at 4 hours and 4 minutes, which now stands as his longest show in the United States and second longest ever just two minutes shy of his 2012 show in Helsinki.”
The early part of the concert, showcasing the era of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle,begins with a gorgeous rendition of New York City Serenade, beautifully enhanced by the addition of the string section. The performance has a surprisingly intimate feel give the venue, Poole rightly contending that, “on a beautiful late-summer Philly night, a ballpark filled with thousands of concert-goers immediately felt as if it were transformed into the legendary Main Point, the long-gone Philly-area club that served as one of Springsteen’s earliest venues for his many legendary local shows.” It makes for a stunning opening to the show and it is followed by a further nine songs taken from those first two albums and then by two outtakes (both tour premieres) from the recording sessions from the second album.
This is followed by a splendid trio of up-tempo numbers from the first album, beginning with what Poole calls a “hard-driving version” of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? and followed by equally vibrant renditions It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City and Growin’ Up. Springsteen introduces the former by stating that it was the first song he performed during his audition for John Hammond; the latter begins with the contention that, “before my biography, this was my biography,” and also contains a mid-song story concerning the significance of Springsteen’s first guitar (paid for by doing odd jobs after which he, “quit honest work forever”). After this wonderfully lively trio comes another song from the debut album, in the shape of what Dan DeLuca, the Inquirer music critic writing on philly.com calls, “a delightfully soulful ‘Spirit In The Night,’ with surprising upper vocal range.” A fifth straight song from Greetings follows – an intense, powerful Lost In the Flood with (in Poole’s words) its “moralistic railing against religious hypocrisy, war and violence.”
A splendid sixteen-minute Kitty’s Back features, amongst various soloing (which includes snippets of the James Bond Theme), an extended acoustic guitar solo from Nils Lofgren for the only time on this tour, though Jeremy3162, on the Backstreets/BTX setlist thread, states that, “Nils has played an acoustic on Kitty at least once before. Years and years ago.” Robo, posting on the Greasy Lake website, states that, “Nils was awesome during Kitty!” I very much enjoy extended live renditions of the song, though an unimpressed Poole denigrates the solos as “noodling.” Next up is an enjoyably vivacious The E Street Shuffle, played in the fast album version, and this is succeeded by Incident On 57th Street. Deluca writes that, “‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘Kitty’s Back’ were extended guitar showcases – the former for Springsteen himself, the looser, jazzier latter for both him and ace sideman Nils Lofgren.” As on the album, Incident On 57th Street leads straight into a barnstorming Rosalita.
Following these four consecutive songs from The Wild, The Innocent And the E Street Shuffle are, as stated above, the two outtakes from that album’s recording sessions. DeLuca notes that, “there were two just-for-Philly throwbacks: The moody, minor-key ‘Fever,’ a non-album-cut radio hit locally in the mid-’70s which was delivered with subtle, smoldering vocal coda, and the goofy crowd pleasing ‘Thundercrack,’” the latter featuring, “the long instrumental section,” that BTX poster aahhh contends, “is always so good.” Similarly, Poole writes that Springsteen and the band, “capped off this lengthy stretch with two tour debut Philly specials, ‘Thundercrack’ and the sign-requested ‘The Fever.’ DeLuca goes on to explain Springsteen’s connection to Philadelphia: “Philadelphia’s Springsteen fans love to claim bragging rights. Going back to the 1970s days when the scruffy, then-verbose wordsmith played the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, the not-without-merit claim is that we fell for the hardworking Jersey guy first, and that the appreciative superstar still saves his best shows for his visits across the Delaware.” Posting on BTX, dpb23 reckons that, “Philly is clearly special to Bruce. From the Ed Sciaky connections to current day as evidenced by the setlist rarities. He knows he has a seasoned fan base that get it.” Greasy Lake poster Skin2Skin also argues that, “It seems to me he is more serious, deeper, when he plays Philly. NJ gets more light-hearted Bruce, but Philly gets something different, something unique to our town.” Interestingly, given these comments, several posters on BTX and, particularly, Greasy Lake rue the annoying chatter of numerous “casual” rather than “seasoned” fans, particularly during the splendid rendition of The Fever.
The set’s opening dozen songs have caused quite a stir among Springsteen followers. Posting on the Stone Pony London message board, SEASIDEBARGIRL argues that, “the first 12 songs were probably the best stretch of music that I have ever seen them play. It really was pure brilliance.” On BTX, Brucefan3 contends that, “songs 6 through 12 are the best run of songs I’ve seen in person. Fantastic…I think Flood through Thundercrack might be the best run of songs he’s ever done,” and AntfNJ notes that, “it really is amazing that in 2016 he started a concert with 12 songs that could have comprised an entire show in 1974.” However, this was not the first occasion on which Springsteen had opened a show in this manner. Although the two “Philly specials” The Fever and Thundercrack were absent, the previous shows in Virginia Beach, VA, and East Rutherford, NJ, had opened in strikingly similar fashion.
The run of very early songs is broken by what Poole calls a “hard-rocking” Night. “It wasn’t all fun and games,” notes DeLuca, “when he finally got past his first two albums, Springsteen turned to the tighter, tougher middle period songs that convey the intense pressure of a world closing in, and the need to break free: ‘Night,’ ‘The Ties That Bind’ (actually from The River!) and ‘No Surrender.'” Another up-tempo song, Born In The U.S.A. outtake My Love Will Not Let You Down, effectively maintains the energy and excitement.
Springsteen then introduces more recent material with Death To My Hometown (a song, as Poole puts it, full of “righteous indignation”) and Jack Of All Trades from the Wrecking Ball album. The latter song is performed in a beautiful arrangement featuring harmonica and the string section. DeLuca refers to the strings, “giving the songs a new elegiac power.” “Like the arrangement of Jack a lot more with the strings,” contends gumbyandpokey on BTX, and Greasy Lake poster 1651997 and BTX poster samwilbur both concur, respectively writing that, “I absolutely love this arrangement,” and, “it DEFINITELY sounds much better with strings.”
An emotionally affecting American Skin (41 Shots) features a beautifully restrained sax solo from Jake Clemons and this is followed by an angry, defiant The Promised Land, marred only by a rather under-powered sax solo. Then comes what DeLuca calls a “playful” Hungry Heart, followed by the “loosey-goosey goofiness” of Darlington County, featuring a verse sung by Lofgren, which saw Springsteen don a cowboy hat, which remained in place during a sprightly Working On The Highway. The sombre Downbound Train is followed by a splendid version of Because The Night, complete with what DeLuca calls, “an epic guitar workout with Van Zandt and Lofgren.” The Rising, which always comes across strongly in live performance, is succeeded by the final song of the main set, a stirring performance of Badlands.
The third and final tour premiere is the first number of the encore, the poignant Streets Of Philadelphia, which Brucebase notes is the 140th song to be played on the tour. Next comes what DeLuca calls a, “majestic” Jungleland. BTX poster Young Scott notes that Springsteen’s “vocals still sound great on the end of Jungle Land [sic]. For almost 67, he’s doing a great job,” though Jake Clemons’ sax solo lacks the required intensity. After this comes more familiar encore material with Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and the Isley Brothers’ Shout, which contains the band introductions and some clowning around near the end with Steve Van Zandt announcing that, “the Boss has left the building,” before telling the audience that he is “hiding in the stairwell.” The show then ends with Bobby Jean, omitted from the track listing on the rear of the packaging but thankfully present here.
Poole sums up this marvellous performance by arguing that, “all in all,” it is, “one of the best shows I’ve ever seen by anyone, let alone Bruce.” Numerous BTX posters concur: “Insane, incredible show…Another dream setlist tonight.” (Jason); “I’ll go out on the wire and say this is the best show of the 2016 tour.” (sims89); “The show was fantastic…the first part is the one that matters to me.” (bonkhead); “The performance, the setlist and the sound were incredible.” (PhillyGuy115); “An absolute stunner of a show…The opener was stunning. Beautiful…What a night. May have been my best show ever, and man I’ve seen some scorchers.” (dpb23); BruceFan3 “Great show….He was in real good voice and the band sounded great.” (BruceFan3); “Another absolutely incredible show last night in Philadelphia.” (Jason); “The show was AMAZING.” (MyBrotherFrankie). On SPL SEASIDEBARGIRL states that, “that was one of the best shows that I have seen.”
The sound, stated on the packaging as being a “soundboard recording,” is also most impressive, despite occasional balance issues, being 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.
The discs are housed in a tall digipak featuring an onstage shot of Springsteen and drummer Max Weinberg, with the track listing on the rear. Inside is a black sleeve containing an eight page booklet with further onstage photos, also featuring the track listing on the back. There are no notes, other than a brief reference to the length of the show above the track listing. The discs each bear a double portrait of a grinning Springsteen in brown and blue. I have categorized this as a no label release due to the fact that no label name appears anywhere on the packaging, though many collectors will notice that it bears all the stylistic hallmarks of the established Wonderland label. Issued in a numbered edition of 300, this set has a faulty second disc; I understand disc 2 is being re-pressed but replacements have yet to appear.
This is a stunning show and, although some may prefer the legitimacy of acquiring the official download or CD-Rs, I imagine that many collectors will appreciate the opportunity to obtain it on silver discs.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)