|Springsteen Concert Reviews from the 1999 Tour|
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Manchester, May 1, 1999
Set List Available
Posted on May 20, 1999 @ 2:00PM GMT
Bruce means so much to us all, but a different something to each of us. At times in my life his music has been the soundtrack to every important event or experience I have been through and at other times he has just been the best way to unwind or get excited or get happy.
But right now it has all become much more important than that. Forty three years old, with eighteen years of marriage and twenty five years of Bruce memories to fall back on. Looking for a reason to believe, a sign that there is a "Promised Land" or a "Land of Hope and Dreams" somewhere in the valley ahead. Heck, it's standard mid-life crisis stuff! Nothing to cry about, just buckle down and get on with it.
And then, in the middle of it all the world starts to shift on it's axis. Right when you think your life is falling apart something comes along to remind you that it is possible to leave all the crap behind, it is possible to transcend the daily grind and get in touch with the power and the glory and the passion that you vaguely remember feeling once in the dim and distant.
When this tour was announced I went apeshit. I had given up any hope of seeing Bruce with the E St Band again and with it the chance to take part in that great and joyous ceremony of rebirth and re-energising. But now it was gonna happen. It helped to balance the bad things that were going on to think that there was to be another tour. But as the dates got closer the anxiety and expectation mounted. I mean, just how much emotional capital can you invest in one performer and one concert? And can it ever live up to those demands?
Happily the answer is YES!!
I have heard it said by many Bruce fans - and as the band came on stage and rocked straight into My Love Will Not Let You Down you knew it was true. Here was a shot at redemption, salvation and the strong arms of brotherly love in a dynamite package of excitement and energy! Right from the start you could see that everything changes and yet everything stays the same. The band looked great - older but great - and Max was like a human generator. He was playing so hard and sharp they should have wired him up to power the lighting. The guitar line up lays down rock dreams behind Bruce's vocals, the keyboard in the two corners fill out the canvas, Gary rumbles below it all and and everyone smiles all the time. Take me home, Bruce!
Within thirty seconds everything else is forgotten, life, work, the long journey to Manchester, the empty stomach and the long delay before the start. Within thirty seconds Bruce had hung out an aural sign that said him and the boys were here to party (Patti too). They just looked so damn pleased to be there and to be with each other.
Prove it all Night follows without pause and offers the first chance of the night for the crowd to roar their approval of Clarence as he settles into that famous break. Bruce takes the guitar solos in both numbers and looks more comfortable with the Esquire in his hands than I can remember since '81. The voice is a little ragged but there is no holding back as he yells "Come on Steve" and they launch into Two Hearts. If anything, Steve's voice is even more hoarse but the chemistry and the love between them is there for all to see.
Still not a word said to introduce the songs as Darlington County takes off in monster rock 'n' roll fashion. More roars for Clarence and then Bruce brings Nils in to share the mic before the song rolls out to yet another extended ending. It has been non-stop so far but now there is a momentary lull as instruments are changed and Bruce swigs some water to give his throat some moisture for Darkness. For the first time Danny's organ really comes through the mix to hold the song aloft and Bruce sings like he wrote the song only yesterday screaming the final "town" at the top of his lungs and storming the guitar solo to finish.
The first we know of Factory is Nils on pedal steel. Again Bruce is as present with the lyrics as I have ever seen him and when Patti joins him to add the harmony it is a really emotional sound. They are so intense it looks like they are gonna kiss while singing. The final vocal harmony ad libs between Bruce and Patti (almost a yodel at one point) are truly wonderful. Roy inserts a beautiful piano part too, his first big moment of the night. And that is one of the things you quietly begin to notice - this is really fine ensemble playing by all concerned. The whole band are there for each other, no one is looking for the spotlight or scoring points. They all really dig what each other is doing, enjoy each others company and the shared talent. It really comes across that they love each other, big time.
And then! The Big Man steps forward and begins to play one of the finest and most evocative parts I've ever heard from him. We don't know it yet but this is The River and will be a highlight of the night. The sax is haunting and sad and is then superseded by an equally sad and plaintive harmonica part from Bruce before the vocal. It was always a great song but this arrangement is a masterpiece with Danny's accordion drifting magically in before more sighing harmonica. The final falsetto wails from Bruce and the sax outro bring a lump to the throat. If only the audience would let him sing it his way instead of trying to clap along to the old version while he sings the new. Believe me, this song alone is worth the price of admission!
Youngstown starts out soft and subtle but it is only a trick of the light. Suddenly the whole band roar into life driving pure anthemic power chords rock over an underpinning of bass drums and organ. Bruce snarls the lyrics with real feeling and it is quite a suprise when you notice that the fury has subsided momentarily to allow Steve's Mandolin to come in to great effect. Following the screamed final verse Nils scorches a stunning extended solo that carries the song to a mighty finish. At which moment Max kicks straight into a blistering Murder Incorporated, featuring a great little solo from Steve. This then leads straight into Badlands - taken full on with Bruce ripping the solo before Clarence's famous licks. The energy is incredible (only about an hour in) as Bruce 1234s into Out in The Street with nice swapping of vocal lines by the front line at the end. This is a rock 'n' roll rollercoaster that grabs you by the guts and pulls you along.
Bruce is having fun with the front few rows and really works them during the intro to 10th Avenue Freeze Out. We all have a laugh with Bruce during the band introductions and there is a lot of call and response - especially when Bruce sings out "It's alright to have a good time" which gets support all around the arena. And then it is back to the business in hand with rocking versions of Where the Bands Are and Working On The Highway before the first real slow down of the night. An ethereal Ghost of Tom Joad (more pedal steel from Nils and Gary on Double Bass) is followed by Bruce's solo acoustic performance of Born In The USA on the twelve string Takamine. Very earthy and heartfelt. No confusion, no surrender.
I guess the band needed a fag/beer break but they were obviously refreshed as they hurtled into Promised Land. By now I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll and I've stopped keeping track of who plays which solo or which guitar. Backstreets is unbelievable - I never thought I'd hear it again and it brings back so much to me. But once again it sounds as fresh as if Bruce wrote it last week. And the Crescendo buils to Light of Day. There are many who bemoan it's place in the set but it really rocks and gives Bruce plenty of room to play with the crowd. He gives us the mission statement and ordains the sacred ministry of rock - and he is preaching to the faithful converted. Rock 'n' Roll CAN save your soul if you let it!
It has been a great show already but you know that they will be back for more. Sure enough, to an enormous cheer they reascend the stage and the first bars of Streets of Philadelphia sound out. It was a true reading of the song but it was the only time in the night that I felt something was lacking - maybe it's just not a song you can sing if you are bathed in the warmth of loving friends? Not a factor in Hungry Heart. This is one for the crowd and we take the chance to enjoy it, really belting out the opening verse and singing all the choruses before Bruce leads us all into Born to Run. Time and age cannot damage this song. It shines as brightly now as ever and we all reaffirm that we are tramps together.
The band retire again before the coup de gras. They return for a fired up and emotional (well for me anyway) Bobby Jean and an absolutely heart-stopping take of Thunder Road. I think I cried somewhere in there but it was just the right way to prepare for If I Should Fall Behind. All the vocals get cheered as first Stevie then Nils, Patti and Clarence sing their lines and all sing the final lines in a group hug that extends spiritually around the arena to include us all.
Bruce said very little all night - the music did all the talking that was required - so it was poignant when he introduced The Land Of Hope And Dreams. This train carries losers and winners, saints and sinners, whores and gamblers. So whoever you are, there is room for you on board! And whatever may be happening in your life, however much pain or despair you might feel - there truly is redemption in the Promised Land and I know a preacher who can show you the way.