April 30, 2013

Notes from the road: Oslo, Night #1

If Norway had “kidnapped” Steven Van Zandt, as Springsteen told the first crowd of the 2013 European tour, then this opening night was a return to the scene of the crime. Steve had missed ten concerts running, filming season two of his show Lilyhammer while the rest of the E Street Band plundered Down Under in March. As he rejoined the Springsteen tour here in Oslo for the start of the European leg, it was with a hilarious nod to Norway as Steven’s home-away-from home, where his popularity might even give Bruce’s a run for its money. After all, where else would Steve take the mic โ€” or as Bruce introduced him, “The song stylings of Frankie ‘The Fixer’ Tagliano!” โ€” to kick off a show with “My Kind of Town” customized for nearby Lillehammer? In character, decked out in a snazzy black hat, drink in hand, Steve sang of “majestic mountain views all around” as the E Street horn section yet again showed its versatility with a propulsive, big band swing. The warm welcome-back continued as we moved into more familiar musical terrain with “Two Hearts” in the second slot, Bruce and Stevie renewing those vows: “It takes two, baby!”

Anticipation and excitement had been high all around, and not just for Stevie’s return: dedicated Springsteen fans in Oslo began camping out for the show six nights in advance, despite the fact that the E Street Band had just played there last summer. And those early arrivals got a special treat: before the evening’s main event, Bruce took the stage for an impromptu acoustic set, strumming rarities including “All That Heaven Will Allow,” “The Fever,” and “Growin’ Up.”

That’s the only part of the show that was a warm-up. With the E Street Band literally in full-swing as of the first number, they showed no rust whatsoever despite a month off post-Australia; as soon as slots three and four, they were blitzing through “No Surrender” and “Badlands.” And as in Oz, Bruce brought some rarities to the set that truly wowed. “Better Days” was one, a rare Lucky Town song to get the E Street Band treatment, and it showed just how much power the 2013 touring unit can bring to that underplayed and often underrated ’92/’93 material. The E Street Choir, in particular, put a real shine on “Better Days,” and you’ve got to hope that other Human Touch and Lucky Town songs are in line to bubble up for similar treatment.

An even greater surprise was the tour debut of “Follow That Dream,” an Elvis Presley song from 1962 that Bruce originally reworked for the 1981 River tour; he hadn’t played the song at all in ten years when it came out last night in Oslo. The long-lost, inspirational anthem continues to resonate and finds a fitting home in the Wrecking Ball set; could it also be that Bruce was aware of the occasion, 37 years to the day since he hopped the wall at Graceland?

Of course, Bruce and the band mixed in Wrecking Ball standards and catalog classics throughout, from the power trio of “We Take Care of Our Own”/”Wrecking Ball”/”Death to My Hometown” to the majestic “Thunder Road” that closed the main set and the encore openers that followed, “For You” (featuring Bruce alone on the piano) and the blistering, full-band “Born in the U.S.A.” that often comes out overseas. And so begins a massive three-month run, Springsteen and the E Street Band having one more night in Oslo before barnstorming across Scandinavia and throughout Europe, moving from arenas to stadiums as they follow that dream into the summer.

โ€” Backstreets.com