I'm reminded this morning of U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I don't think Bono was thinking about Bruce Springsteen fans when he wrote that song and it's not the first thing that comes to mind for me but it is today.
People at a Bruce Springsteen show all come looking for something. For some, it's a good time or a good party. For some, it's for a sense of community. For some it's escape. I suspect for some it's babysitting (more on that later). For me, it's the songs. It's the music. I find something in the songs of Bruce Springsteen I don't find anywhere else. I come to a Springsteen show to hear those songs played and experience their power in a way that can't be experienced any other way. I come for the songs. Last night in St. Louis, I didn't get them.
Last night, The E Street Band performed the Born To Run album in its entirety. We knew that going in so there were no surprises there, but we'll talk about it for a moment. In a word, incredible. Yep, they nailed it. "Backstreets" was a transcendent performance and Bruce was able to summon a lot of the intensity such a powerful song requires. Clarence Clemons was almost note-perfect on "Jungleland" and that's important because that might be the greatest sax solo in the history of rock and roll. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is always great. "Thunder Road" had some small tempo issues but was still good and "Born to Run" never disappoints. The Born To Run portion of the show was a massive success. Those are songs — some I've gotten before and some I haven't — and I got those and I treasure them.
There was, however, the show before and after and on that score this was the least imaginative setlist I've experienced in my 5 shows. Of the non-Born To Run songs, only one was a real surprise and let's go ahead and talk about that now. Someone made a beautiful sign with some fancy artwork. Its request: "Bruce Play Piano." He did. He gave us a solo acoustic "For You" and it was a wonderful reading that only made me yearn to see Bruce in a solo setting some day all the more.
"Seeds," a song that used to be played in the context of a Recession Trio, was sandwiched between a new song, "Wrecking Ball," and the venerable "Prove It All Night." Bruce peeled off an inspired guitar solo at the end of it. I liked the performance, but the #2 slot is one of the very few open slots in the set list and I was hoping he'd play something that hadn't been played at most of the shows on the tour, including the two I'd already seen. "Wrecking Ball" made a lot more sense for Philly and Jersey where Bruce was playing his final shows at venues he's played countless times. It's not a song that's going to stand tall in his catalog and just didn't have much resonance in St. Louis nor was it particularly memorable musically. "Prove It All Night" is a good one, but for some reason it didn't take flight. Nils did an abbreviated solo and it didn't have the fire Lofgren often generates. It was good, but I've heard it better.
After that, we got "Hungry Heart." I've never heard this one live and it's a big hit, so I was excited about that… until he played it. The crowd sang more of "Hungry Heart" than Bruce did. He had the audience sing the first verse and chorus. The E Street Band picked up a chorus as Bruce crowd-surfed. It was entertaining to watch him do it, but it wasn't a great presentation of the song. Some people would probably rather watch Bruce crowd-surf so they can dance and sing the songs themselves. I like hearing him sing. A little audience participation is fun. I wish he'd been more present.
After Born to Run was "Waiting On A Sunny Day." I'm not going to pile on this war crime of a song again but I'm going to point out a couple things. First, while I wish he wouldn't play it I've accepted this is the "Waiting On A Sunny Day" tour. I know it's coming. You just can't play that after "Jungleland." The transition from the one to the other is horrible and I'm not (just) referring to the stature gap. Put it somewhere else! Second, the kids are killing me. Rock and roll used to be dangerous. Parents used to not let their kids go to rock and roll shows. You know something is wrong when a rock show is a family event. Parents used to get babysitters. Now they pay $100 to bring the kids, too, and Uncle Bruce loves him some kids. Once again, he let some twerp sing "Sunny Day" and the kid had obviously been coached up by his parents to throw in the "come on's" and "hit it, Big Man." Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Aging Babyboomers, you are the coolest parents on E Street and we all hate you.
With "WOASD" out of the way, the E Street Band closed the main set with the conventional lineup of songs that have closed better than 90 percent of these shows with one exception. "The Promised Land" had more energy than it had the last two times I heard it, "Badlands" a little less. "Lonesome Day" needs to be euthanized. "The Rising" has started to wear out its welcome but I'll be damned if it doesn't keep me on my feet. I'd like him to keep playing this, but to rotate it out every once in awhile rather than making it an every-nighter. The one "surprise" in this run of songs? "Working On The Highway." The problem with that is, one, I hate it. Two, he's playing all of Born in the U.S.A. tonight and many in that crowd are going to be there then too. Why is he dipping into the tomorrow ink? Once he broke that seal, he played "No Surrender" as well. Friends, I had my white flag out. Come on, man! You're playing the whole album in less than 24 hours. You have how many albums out? You really can't think of anything else to play? Seriously?
After that, we got the signs. That was my last chance to get something big. It was all down to my fellow fans and once again I learned you can't count on anyone. 20,000 of my best friends? We're not even frenemies. I hate these people with the heat of a nova. We got the aforementioned "For You," which was outstanding. Then there was the obvious Chuck Berry cover as Berry hails from St. Louis and they do it every time. The third sign request? A 15-year old girl asked for "Surprise, Surprise" as a birthday present. I want the name, address, and social security numbers of those parents. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The final sign of the night was from someone requesting "Devil In A Blue Dress," which got us "Detroit Medley." I've gotten it before so I would have preferred something different but let's be clear: "Detroit Medley" rocks live and you better believe I was on my feet. Same with "Rosie." I got spoiled and got "Rosalita" the first two shows I saw and then didn't get it the next two. I was glad she was back last night. I was tired and I knew this was going to be the last song and the disappointment of what wasn't delivered was in the back of my mind but I pushed it out and celebrated one of my favorite Springsteen songs.
So what does that leave us? A mixed bag. The band sounded great for most of the show, with occasional snafus and lags in energy but strong overall. Clarence was on and so was Max. Bruce was in good voice. We were reminded it's no accident that Born To Run launched his career and introduced him to the world. "For You" was beautifully performed. "Rosalita" sounded as great as ever. "The Rising" can still inspire. This was also a setlist that lacked any of the goodies he showered on Philly for three of the four nights of that final run, going by the numbers through the same tired closing routine. In short (he says after 10,000 words) I got my money's worth but I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I'm not optimistic of finding it tonight in Kansas City on Born in the U.S.A. night, but it's time to load the car, check out of the hotel, and pursue it relentlessly once again.
1. Wrecking Ball
3. Prove It All Night
4. Hungry Heart (crowd surfing)
5. Working On a Dream
6. Thunder Road
7. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
10. Born To Run
11. She's The One
12. Meeting Across The River
14. Waitin' On a Sunny Day
15. Working On The Highway
16. The Promised Land
17. Lonesome Day
18. The Rising
20. No Surrender
21. For You Solo Piano
22. Roll Over, Beethoven
23. Surprise Surprise
24. Detroit Medley
25. American Land
26. Dancing In The Dark
27. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)