Bruce Springsteen shows are always something akin to going to church for religious fans. A sermon delivered right creates a transcending experience for those watching. Springsteen live in Arnhem last night was a very well performed R&R sermon. Springsteen likes to use R&R to exorcise personal demons but with Magic he's been going after real live demons as well. Springsteen is angry about the state his country is in, that anger in reflected in the current tour. Springsteen comes at you with high energy, hard rocking, vicious sets that leave you gasping for air.
The Arnhem shows were marred with a few problems. The legendary E-Street Band was set to play the Gelredome, a large soccer stadium. At first an "intimate" setting of 19.000 people people was chosen. When tickets went faster than Roadrunner crashing over the coyote a decision was made to expand the capacity to 33.000, leaving people in bad seats who had great ones at first. Then on the day of the show Springsteen was caught with a nasty virus, needing to postpone to the next day. Being an artist that attacks fans from all over the globe this meant some off them were stranded. Springsteen had something he needed to make up for, he did so in spades.
The Gelredome isn't a real intimate arena, seats are up high, no where near the stage, the floor a wide concrete spread. The pit was huge and held some thousand people. The stage itself was higher than it usually is, fans couldn't lean on the catwalk like is customary these days with Springsteen shows. Not an ideal setting to see the Boss. In effect this was his first stadium show in what's supposed to be a barn storming tour. But still, when the first notes of "Radio Nowhere" hit the crowd exploded in a feverish release, hardly relenting throughout the shows. European crowds are different from the American crowds in that way. They seem more fanatic when an artist like Springsteen hits Europe. We've got fewer possibilities to see the real thing and when we do we dive into it full force. It also means European fans are ruder when it comes to getting into the pit and cutting in line. I found the American crowds to be more relaxed, easier to hang around with. "I'm Alive" Springsteen joked before crashing into "Radio", as the show would proof the Boss being alive spoke for itself.
After "Radio Nowhere" Springsteen drove that train straight into "No Surrender", maybe the song that reflects his commitment to R&R best, "We learned more from a three minute record man, than we ever learned in school". With the base pounding in your ears and chest, those are the lines that make you feel like your heart is about to explode. It was the material from Magic again that allowed for some rest points in the frantic set. By the time he hit "Gypsy Biker" I felt like I had already witnessed a complete show. We weren't even 15 minutes in. With the material on "Magic" Springsteen tries to reflect the times were living in, the challenges we face as we experience the fall out from the so called "War On Terror". Reflecting the disoriented times where "The truth feels like a lie and a lie appears to be the truth" Springsteen said as he explained to us that the title song of his album was about tricks, not about Magic. Springsteen commentary isn't up front, never really direct, but the emotional layers of the show tell you where he's coming from. Springsteen is angry and tears into that anger with a sweaty fervor. His determined to be optimistic anthem "Promised Land" follows the somewhat ironic "Living In The Future", a song both about the denial of these times as their impending shadow hanging over us. Springsteen wouldn't be the Boss is he didn't signal us to take control of our own destiny again. To take our lives back from those "tyrants and kings".
That same anger is reflected in the relentlessly rocking version of "Reason to Believe", with Bruce belting over John Lee Hookers brand of road house blues. That anger comes back in "Last to Die", it is there again as "we spit in the face off these bad lands". If this would have been the complete picture Bruce would've have painted with his Magic show, his message would've been impressive enough. But the Boss never stops there. He wouldn't stop without offering promise and release. And there was release in abundance last night. There was the sexual release in "She's The One" with hip grinding Bod Diddley beats. There was the release in "Darlington County", an infectious R&R rave up compelling you in silly dance moves somewhere between the Monkey and the Penguin. There was the ultimate release in "Born To Run", that ultimate E-Street song which throws the audience in to R&R camaraderie.
The band seemed in prime shape last night. Clarence was slinging his tambourines looking like he was ready to kill, hardly missing a note on his saxophone. Little Steven was belting out his Soulful not so honey sweet moans on "Long Walk Home" as the band's guardian of R&R. Though Danny was sorely missed Charles did a great job replacing him. Springsteen himself was stirring up a storm, going in his trademark Gospel belting at one point, slinging his guitar, shooting raucous erratic R&R chords, leaving the audience drained yet screaming for more.
The show's high point this time came from an unexpected "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". A song he regularly pulls out in the States during the Holiday season but had never reached our side of the pond. He rechristened it to "Sinterklaas Is Coming To Town" after our version of the Holiday. An unlikely stadium breaker, but it did the trick.
"Living In The Future"