Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band Sportpaleis, Antwerp, 12 December 2007

Merely one year after 'Bruce and The (Seeger) Sessions Band' visited our cultural capital (sorry Brussels), his royal Jerseyness was back with the band that started it all : The E-Street Band! The troupe of legends, the one theses were written about and around, the legendary combo that includes larger than life saxophone player Clarence Clemons (namechecked in The Commitments), the 'more riffs would be illegal' guitar man Nils Lofgren, the heartstopping smashfest drummer Max Weinberg and the straight-on guitar approach of Little Steven Van Zandt.

My first E-Street Band concert ever. I had seen the DVDs. I had heard good things about 'em. But I had never seen them with my own eyes. And here they were : older, balder but as energetic as the tales promised them to be.

Just like last year, Springsteen enters the stage and shouts out some words in our language. "Ik ben blij hier te zijn" in Dutch ("I'm glad to be here") or "Je suis content d'ętre ici" in French.

The setlist

1. Radio Nowhere / 2. No Surrender / 3. Lonesome Day / 4. Gypsy Biker / 5. Magic / 6. Reason To Believe / 7. Because The Night / 8. She's The One / 9. Livin' In The Future / 10. The Promised Land / 11. Waitin' On A Sunny Day / 12. The River / 13. Working On The Highway / 14. Devil's Arcade / 15. The Rising / 16. Last To Die / 17. Long Walk Home / 18. Badlands // Encore I : 19. Girls In Their Summer Clothes / 20. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town / 21. Born To Run / 22. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out / 23. Dancing In The Dark // Encore II : 24. American Land
[source : Belgian daily TheTomorrow]

Radio Nowhere from the new album Magic : I'd give an arm and a leg to create/have an opening song like that! Loud and hard without being too loud or too hard. No real 'story' in the lyrics (unusual for Bruce), just a lonesome man searching for a living soul out there. Essential legal download for those who don't feel like buying the whole album.

No Surrender immediately followed and no one complained. Lonesome Day, the first track from the extremely excellent album The Rising, rounded off the first threesome of rockers. Well, the introspective Gypsy Biker is a rocker too, but the song starts out slow (comparable to Thunder Road). The depressing context is the same, though : Lonesome Day dealing with 11 September 2001, Gypsy Biker with the war in Iraq.

Magic, one of my favourite songs from the eponymous album, was a super highlight. The sparse musical arrangements from the studio version are even sparser : no E-Streeters, save for his violist Soozie Tyrell. Almost acoustic. Hauntingly great. Springsteen alluded to the War in Iraq and announced the song as being 'not about magic, but about tricks'.

Reason To Believe was unknown to me. It's a song from his 1982 album Nebraska, which I still have to acquire. Because The Night was a huge suprise : the song, penned by Springsteen and Patti Smith, is quite rare on the setlists. No studio version exists : the song is only legally available on Springsteen's 1986 boxset Live 1975/1985. Lovely song, lovely performance.

She's The One, The Promised Land and Waitin' On A Sunny Day : nicely done without further ado. Especially Waitin' On A Sunny Day had the whole crowd chanting its chorus. Everybody picked up on it, even my mother [who is not a major Springsteen fan].

In between She's The One and The Promised Land, the band played a partly acoustic Livin' In The Future, one of the hot songs from the last album.

The River, dubbed 'The best Springsteen song ever' by Dutch music magazine "OOR", was incredible : Springsteen sang one sentence ... the audience continued. Whether you're French, Arab, German, Flemish, Polish or Italian (all possible in Belgium) : we knew the lyrics by heart!

Working On The Highway!! What a treat! It's one of my favourite Bruce songs (from 1984's Born In The U.S.A.), but it was never released as a single. I had never expected to hear it live.

Devil's Arcade, one of the newbies from Magic, was plain genius. As was The Rising, the title track from, well, you guessed it. Last To Die and Long Walk Home, a new duo as well, were far better live than on disc/tape/whatever. So, I have to retract my comments from my Magic album review : the mediocre songs are improved beyond believe in a live rendition. Oh, and Badlands is vintage Springsteen goodness.

Bruce dug out some more Dutch to introduce the first encore. "Dit is voor alle Vlaamse meisjes et toutes les filles francophones" ("This is a song for all Flemish and Walloon girls") : Girls In Their Summer Clothes. Thematically well chosen Santa Claus Is Coming To Town was next. Clarence Clemons with a Santa bonnet, you have to see it to believe it.

The roof went off [I don't think that's a proper English expression, but I'm sure all of you know what it means] with the trio Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out [one of my favourite Springsteen songs] and Dancing In The Dark, his biggest hit stateside.

Had enough? The last explosion ensued, disguised as American Land. The only song played from last year's "The Seeger Sessions", American Land tells the tale of people emigrating to America in search of fortune and happiness. The lyrics were projected on the screen above the stage. That way, everybody could understand everything. They should have done this with every song. On second thought, it would have distracted from the show.

What's left to say? Two hours and 15 minutes of utter brilliance for - ouch - €80/ticket. Worth every penny, nickel and dime in my opinion, although others will disagree. It's an event to witness the pure craftsmanship and firepower of one 58 year old man and his fantastic band. It comes down to this : if you're a fan, you simply have to see them at least once. If you're not a fan, I won't blame you. We can't argue about colour or taste (well, we can, but why?). If you do take the plunge and discover Springsteen's impressive oeuvre, I wish you a happy time. Rest assured, this concert was marvellous & terrific.

Julian De Backer, 27 December 2007