July 25, 2013

Notes from the road: Leeds

As an enchanted full moon week in the British Isles and end of tour madness continues to thoroughly infuse Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, tonight they opened the brand new, cozily intimate (13,500) Leeds Arena – their first time in Leeds since the 1985 show at Roundhay Park. Personally I haven’t seen them in a venue this small for a very long time. With the audience incredibly close up after many nights in stadiums and fields, this Yorkshire night was extra special. “Hello Leeds!” Bruce shouted as he took the stage and opened the show with the relentless “Roulette.”

“My Love Will Not Let You Down” was next, hitting us in the solar plexus like a high-energy one-two punch. The crowd took up the refrain of the song and chanted it along with the band. Nils, Steven, and Bruce formed a three-pronged fearsome guitar attack as the song roared to its finish.

The energy continued to mount as “No Surrender” followed, again warmly welcomed by the ecstatic audience. Then proceedings then slowed down for a surprise, magnificent “Something in the Night.” This was followed by the haunting “American Skin (41 Shots)” unfortunately sadly still very relevant back at home.

For “Hungry Heart” Bruce went to the back of the pit and greeted those in the theater-style seats, who were standing and cheering enthusiastically. He took the opportunity of being in such a small, intimate setting to crowd surf to the stage, delighting people even further. “Alright! Let me see what we got,” he announced as he set about collecting signs for song requests and also asked that people not hold them up during the show so people behind them could see.

He chose a sign for “Local Hero” and the band kicked into a Stones-y, bluesy new arrangement of this song, which had not been played onstage for almost ten years and only once before with the E Street Band. It was absolutely terrific, the horns and choir adding an extra glorifying blast to this number from 1992’s ‘Lucky Town.’

Bruce talked about what a great hall the venue was, especially noting how the quality of the sound. It was such a treat actually to see a small indoor show like this both for the band’s obvious thrill at playing a place this size, but also to experience the phenomenal lighting and enjoy the perfect sound mix. Next, Bruce announced they were going to do a Darkness outtake “for Steve Van Zandt!” and launched into the British Invasion-flavored “Gotta Get That Feeling.” This was a sign request which had also been rehearsed at that day’s soundcheck. It has only been performed once before, at the Asbury Park Carousel taping in 2010 before a very small audience, and never before at an official show.

“These guys have been carrying this sign for a long time!” Bruce commented as he chose the next song request. “Where are you from? Spain?!” It was the Creedence Clearwater hit “Bad Moon Rising,” which obviously was unexpected and unrehearsed, but for all that, perfectly nailed as only this extraordinary musical ensemble can do. This one had last been played on the ‘Vote for Change’ Tour in 2004, backing up John Fogerty.

“We’re gonna try one more crazy request here,” Bruce said and showed the audience a sign for “Thundercrack.” The crowd went wild. “This was written to be our first showstopper,” he commented. “We used to open for Black Oak Arkansas, Sha Na Na, Mountain, The Who…Cheech & Chong! This was our show closer.” For an early Springsteen classic that clearly hadn’t been anticipated, they executed it brilliantly. Jake and Soozie framed Bruce on the stage to bring it to its raucous close.

A three-pack from ‘Wrecking Ball’ was next:  the title song, “Death to My Hometown,” and a truly gorgeous rendition of the rarely played, achingly soulful “This Depression” with a glorious solo by Nils. “Because The Night” and “Darlington County” came up next, Bruce once again skipping to the back of the pit and inciting the crowd further into ecstasy back there, Nils joining him to sing their duet verse.

“Shackled and Drawn” further whipped up the crowd, with Cindy stunning as always with her answer vocals and the front line soul shuffle at the end looking incredibly amazing in such a small venue. For “Waiting for a Sunny Day” Bruce chose a small blond boy to be the guest vocalist. “The Rising” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” finished out the main set and the band took their bows. The frenzied audience responded with the “Badlands” chant.

The encores began with not only a tour premiere, but a song so rare it had only been played live once before in concert (13 years ago at New York’s Madison Square Garden), “Secret Garden.” Bruce dedicated it to those fans who had been following the three month long European tour. Lush, gorgeous, sensual, it was absolutely perfect. Soozie shone on backing vocals.

Another treat, “Atlantic City,” was next, followed by “Badlands,” “Born to Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark.” This time, Bruce pulled an entire family of seven onstage to dance with him from different places in the pit. It totally brought the house down. “10th Avenue Freezeout” and “Shout” superseded this, and the band left the stage to a multitude of screams.

A rare solo acoustic treat from Bruce left Leeds with a night to remember for the ages: “If I Should Fall Behind” and then the beautiful aching promise of “Thunder Road.”  “We’ll be seeing you!” he said as he left the stage.

– Holly Cara Price