June 19, 2013

Notes from the road: Glasgow

The E Street Band took the stage under a bright summer sun matched only by the bright shiny Scottish faces. This was only the third time Bruce has played a show in Glasgow, but with as much fun as he was having on stage, he ought to come here more often. The show opened strongly with “We Take Care of Our Own,” followed by “The Ties That Bind.” Scotland was loving it, and Bruce seemed to pick up on the energy — he dove into the crowd and started pulling out signs before the second song was even over.

So the requests began early. Bruce granted “Jole Blon” first, the Cajun traditional he reworked for Gary U.S. Bonds back in ’81. Next, a sign request for “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” played with vein-popping intensity. Roy’s piano playing was stunning, but when Bruce and Stevie traded guitar licks it was truly jaw-dropping. The intense pace kept up with “Radio Nowhere,” and “Bobby Jean” rounded out the sign requests —it might have been the prettiest version of “Bobby Jean” heard in recent memory.

On this anniversary of Clarence Clemons’s passing, it was especially poignant to have “My City of Ruins” back in the set. The horn section shone on this one, with Ed Manion digging deep to hit that last note. As Jake came in, the camera panned over several signs in the audience acknowledging The Big Man. But it wasn’t sad. It wasn’t sad at all, even though tears were shed. There was a lot of love bouncing off the stage and through the audience and back as we all shared in the joy of his memory.

“My City of Ruins” seemed to wring out the fevered intensity of first part of the show; after that it got very loose and playful with “Spirit in the Night” and the second jaw-dropping moment of the night, “E Street Shuffle.” Reverend Everett Bradley really showed his stuff, his percussion instruments making this 40-year-old song sound like something brand new.

Then it was back for more song request signs. One, politely asking for a pick, received a positive reply, which made the young man asking very happy. “I’m on Fire” played next made us all happy. Bruce kept it slow with “Tougher than the Rest,” by request of a young woman in memory of her father.

Next was a trio of gangster songs, “Atlantic City,” “Murder Incorporated,” right into “Johnny 99.” It was during the last of these that vocalist Curtis King revealed the most unusual instrument ever seen on the E-Street Stage: a bell affixed by a strap to his butt that rang with the right dance move. It was so unusual that when Bruce saw it, he actually stopped singing. As the camera zoomed in on Curtis’s butt-bell contraption Bruce said, “They like to surprise me!” He was laughing so hard he had trouble getting the next line out.

“Open All Night” got everyone’s butts our of their seats, just as Bruce predicted, and the audience stayed there for Darlington County, which had some great audience interaction; Bruce took the phone away from a young woman in the audience and told the person on the other end, “She’s busy right now — really busy!” Now that the audience was up, they danced and sang through the rest of the set, culminating in “Badlands” into “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

After a fun series of encores, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” might well have been the end of a really great show… but this party was going to fast to stop now. “We ain’t goin’ home yet!” Bruce hollered, and he launched into “Twist and Shout” followed by a big hit for Scottish singer Lulu, the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”

A visibly tired Bruce — this was a three-and-a-half-hour show, after all — ushered the band off stage, and then he came back for what he called “a rock ‘n’ roll lullaby,” a closing “Thunder Road,” solo acoustic and simply beautiful.

With so many song requests played in Glasgow, you have to wonder if there will be a show in the future that is sign requests start to finish. If anybody could pull that off, it’d be Bruce and the E Street Band.

—Brenda VanHorn, Backstreets.com