May 9, 2013

Notes from the road: Turku Night #2

The second night in Turku, Finland featured an insanely eclectic setlist, with material from the entire span of Bruce Springsteen’s catalog: mega hits and mega rarities, top ten singles and diehard fan favorites. The evening began with Bruce walking out onstage alone in a darkened arena, carrying an acoustic guitar and, after a brief greeting, launching into “I’ll Work For Your Love” from 2007’s Magic.  The E Street Band joined him onstage quickly and went into “Long Walk Home,” also from the same record. They went through “The Ties That Bind,” “Out in the Street,” and a quick sign request for “Atlantic City” before getting to some of the usual Wrecking Ball material.

“Hungry Heart” sent Springsteen back to the mid-floor platform for the traditional arena crowdsurf, the audience having taken direction from Nils Lofgren’s tweet earlier in the day: “Pit People, when you body surf Bruce to stage, suggest depositing him feet first! Head first not in our collective, best interest!” Bruce was delivered in the correct orientation and appeared pleased with the Finns’ newly acquired skills, nodding approval and saluting various sections of the crowd.

A sign collection interval followed as Bruce made his way around the stage, gesturing for certain signs and plucking others out of the crowd. The first request he grabbed out of the pile was “Blinded by the Light,” noting, “This is the first song from my first album. I’m always reminded that Clarence was only on two songs because we couldn’t find him — but he was on this one.” The Greetings theme continued with a lively rendition of “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” Next was a song that Bruce said had been requested a couple of times: a rare appearance of “Ain’t Good Enough For You” from The Promise. For a song that has only been performed once in concert (three times total, if you count the filming of the 2010 Carousel House performance in Asbury Park, where Bruce ran through the song twice), the audience responded as though it were a familiar and dearly loved favorite. Fans in the pit were dancing and singing every word, and all the way to the back of the venue, arms waved in approval.

Not satisfied with the pile already onstage, Bruce went back out onto the center platform to grab another sign — a very particular one. He noted that the song in question had been requested “over many years, every place we go,” before leading the band into the first performance ever of “Wages of Sin,” the legendary Born in the U.S.A. outtake finally released on the Tracks box set in 1998. “Wages of Sin” is a dark, complex composition that showcases the E Street Band at their best: careful phrasing and tone on Bruce’s vocals, suiting the lyrics perfectly; delicate piano work from Roy Bittan; precise, muted percussion from Max Weinberg, breaking out the mallets on the cymbals; a haunting horn refrain in the background. Steve and Garry moved closer and faced in toward Bruce. Well rehearsed, the band’s performance of this song absolutely did its live debut justice.

The trio of “The River,””Youngstown,” and “Murder Incorporated” brought a little bit of the Reunion tour to Finland, threatening to melt the ice underneath the floorboards with the different levels of intensity present in all three. “The River” brought the arena to rapt attention, while “Youngstown” turned up the temperature with Lofgren’s blistering guitar work. Bruce kept encouraging Nils to continue, urging him on further as he changed guitars and then, as Nils hit the last few notes, rhythmically hitting the body of his own guitar to take the band straight into “Murder Inc.” The ensuing guitar battle between Steve and Bruce was the two of them at their very best, facing off, nodding and shouting approval and encouragement as they each took their turn in a shredding, incendiary pile of glorious guitar noise.

Still, many in the crowd remained seated; Bruce looked around the arena and recalled a friend informing him the night before that Finns were shy people — “you’ve got to encourage them,” he said, they don’t want to get up and move their asses around. Once again, Bruce predicted that within 90 seconds exactly that would be happening, as Roy’s swinging piano led into the jump blues version of “Open All Night.” Clearly, the Finnish members of the audience were very, very encouraged, judging by the dancing figures all over every level of the HK Areena.

The second night in a city is often notable for its intensity, or its energy, or its different setlist; tonight managed to be notable for all of these. Although Bruce didn’t make it to Finland until 2003, and though this venue was one of the smallest on the tour, the dedication and enthusiasm of the Finnish fans is demonstrably comparable to any group of fans anywhere else in the world, and tonight’s show definitely paid tribute to that.

—Caryn Rose,