Last Friday, 3 June, I made my way towards the Ricoh Arena in Coventry – a venue and indeed a town that I’d never previously visited. The occasion was the four-date UK leg of Bruce Springsteen‘s “The River Tour”. I’d chosen the Coventry date ahead of the alternatives of Manchester, Glasgow and London on the basis that it was probably the closest to home to more importantly it was the smallest of the four stadiums and would therefore likely provide the best view of the show.
Traffic was heavy on the way up, meaning that once I’d managed to find some on-street parking just outside of the permits-only zone – saving £20 in parking fees – and walked the final mile or so to the stadium – the gates had already opened. I quickly found my seat in the stand and settled down in the beautiful sunny early evening to read a book whilst awaiting showtime.
Shortly after 6:40pm, with absolutely no fanfare, Springsteen walked onto the stage, sat down at the piano and started the show. Although the North American dates on this tour had all begun with a sequential performance of the entire 1980 album “The River”, the European shows were more varied and this show began with a solo rendition of “For You”, a track from Springsteen’s 1973 debut record and one that had not apparently been aired before on his tour. I have to say that the song seemed to be a rather low-key way start to proceedings, not the kind of thing to get the audience up at all.
The E Street Band joined the Boss onstage for second number “Something In The Night” (another that had not been performed on this tour prior to this show) which again was a fairly slow number so it wasn’t until third song “Prove It All Night” that I felt the gig really came to life and the pace was kept going through the likes of “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “The Ties That Bind”.
I have to admit that I was surprised by Springsteen’s guitar prowess, blazing through the solos on some of the songs early in the set. I had assumed, clearly wrongly, that with two guitarists in his band – Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren – the man himself would merely provide rhythm guitar.
The rest of the E Street Band on this tour is made up of long serving members Roy Bittan (keyboards), Max Weinberg (drums) and Garry Tallent (bass) together with Jake Clemons – nephew of the late Clarence Clemons (saxophone / percussion), Charlie Giordano (keyboards) and Soozie Tyrell (violin / guitar / percussion).
Springsteen’s wife and regular E Street Band member Pattie Scialfa is not present at all shows as she also helps the couple’s daughter Jessica with her equestrian career and unfortunately this was one of the shows that she missed.
There was not much in the way of between-song banter from Springsteen, songs being extended in the live setting and the count of “1, 2, 3, 4” for the next song coming as the last chord rang out more often than not. Bearing that in mind, the fact that 66-year-old Springsteen performed flat-out for approaching three and a half hours with barely a pause for breath is really quite remarkable.
Three numbers were performed as a result of sign requests from those near the front of the stage. These were “No Surrender”, “Save My Love” and “Travelin’ Band” – the latter two were again making their debut on this tour.
The Boss had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand and it’s no exaggeration to say that I cannot recall ever witnessing a concert audience signing along so loudly throughout the show. The thought struck me that it seemed to be almost like a religious experience for many in attendance.
There were some lovely moments of audience participation. As with the songs performed as a result of sign requests I honestly don’t know if these are genuine spur-of-the-moment things or not, but the end result is that it makes the connection between the artist and his audience feel that much stronger and warmer.
During “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” Springsteen plucked a sign out from the crowd which said something like “Hey Boss Do You Need A Singer?”. Having held the sign up to the on-stage camera so that everyone could see it beamed via the video screens he then got the original bearer of the sign up on to the stage with him – a young boy – and got him to sing the chorus acappella, to huge cheers from the audience.
Later in the show the usual practice of getting someone out of the audience to dance with Springsteen during “Dancing In The Dark” saw three such dancers. A lady who wanted to dance with Clemons, a chap who wanted to do likewise with Bittan and a young lady whose sign said it was her 21st birthday who got to dance with the main man and also mime playing guitar along with the band too before all three chipped in with backing vocals on the final choruses. Surely these are small moments in a show that will last long in the memory of those concerned.
Before I knew it we were on the home straight of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and a raucous rendition of “Shout” before the E Street Band left the stage, leaving Springsteen to perform “Thunder Road” solo with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. And then it was all over.
Personal highlights for me included “Two Hearts” which included a snippet of “It Takes Two” from Springsteen and Van Zandt, the atmospheric “Death To My Hometown”, classic hit “Born To Run” and the brilliant storytelling of “The River”. Definite value for money and simply spellbinding stuff from a legendary artist…
1 originally from “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” (1973) / 2, 3, 19 and 25 originally from “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” (1978) / 4 originally from “Born In The U.S.A.” sessions, released on “Tracks” (1998) / 5, 6, 8, 10-13, 17 and 18 originally from “The River” (1980) / 7, 20-21, 27 and 30 originally from “Born In The U.S.A.” (1984) / 9 and 23 originally from “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” sessions, released on “The Promise” (2010) / 14 originally from “Wrecking Ball” (2012) / 15 originally from “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (1995) / 16 originally from “Greatest Hits” (1995) / 22 and 24 originally from “The Rising” (2002) / 26 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival single (1970) / 28, 31 and 33 originally from “Born To Run” (1975) / 29 cover of Moon Mullican single (1956) / 32 cover of The Isley Brothers single (1959)