Springsteen Concert Reviews from the 1999 Tour

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London, May 21, 1999
Set List Available
Posted on June 10, 1999 @ 11:00AM GMT

The weather was mostly sunny and breezy, with some clouds and light rain thrown in at some point in the afternoon. At times it was even humid. The fish and chips are hot, the curries are spicy, and all is well. London in May.

This was my first trip to London. I had left Boston at about 8:30PM the previous night, spent hours on a flight in the World Traveler section of a British Airways flight between 2 guys that each though they owned the armrests, and cat-napped my way across the Atlantic to arrive in London around 8AM. Took the unspeakably clean London Underground, called the "Tube" by the locals, from Heathrow directly to the Earls Court stop and disambarked. While at the airport I had picked up a London map, so I proceeded to make my way down the streets to the hotel. It was the Paragon Hotel, a nice place where, as the person who made the arrangements for me said, "if I stood on top of the place and pissed I'd hit Earls Court." It was too windy to try, and I needed to sack out for a while.

I know now why the monetary denominations are called pounds. You would too if you ended the day with a pocketfull of those heavy little things. I spend some time walking all around the Earls Court area, as well as Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and a few other places. On the off day, after some shopping I took about a 3 hour bus tour to just about everyplace you'd ever want to go within London. This was a quick visit but I was gonna absorb as much as I could.

Late Friday afternoon, with a fresh bag of fish and chips, I sat on the steps of Earls Court to let the moment soak in. This was my first Bruce show on this tour, a special occasion. At around 4PM there were only about 30 people in what I assumed to be the drop line, and later it had swelled to about 50 but that's about it. There were plenty of scalpers outside the venue or across the street at the Earls Court "tube" stop looking to sell or buy tickets. I didn't check around, but I heard that prices, even for seats all the way in the back, were not cheap and going for anywhere from 4 to 8 times face value. Around 5PM, venue staff had brought out about 100 pieces of cardboard, each of which had 2 16" X 24" posters mounted on them and proped them up in several stacks for anyone to take. Larger versions of this same poster was mounted on the outside of Earls Court, with the Bruce/Clarence outline and the London dates. I was tempted, but they were mounted on what looked to be 1/16th inch cardboard which could bend or crease easily. There was no way I could curl it up enough to mail back to myself, and it would never have lasted the plane trip home. After finally seeing some familiar faces I was lead to the area where the soundcheck could be heard.

A few thoughts on the soundchecks. I missed "Racing In The Streets" and others on Friday, and I thought that the tempo attempted for "Loose Ends" was a bit slow. "You Can Look" was fine, but was even better at the show with Bruce and Steven sharing the mic and trading vocals for the vamp near the end. I caught nearly all of the Sunday soundcheck, and "Blinded" was fine. "Ramrod" and "Give The Girl A Kiss" were dead-on perfect. "Roulette" was fine too. I was surprised none of these made it to the show, and it's NOT because the band doesn't know them. I had to leave the soundcheck early on Sunday since I had brought some tickets with me and had to meet up with the folks at the Earls Court "Tube" stop.

I've heard it described this way, and it's true -- Earls Court is like an airport hangar. The venue itself is housed in a much larger building, big enough fit 2 Earls Court's. The ceiling is very high, with plenty of missing tiles at the top. There were many large drapes hanging down, I suppose to help with the sound. Where I was at both nights, the sound was clear. I'd have to give the edge to Sunday night, the sound was absolutely perfect from the side of the stage right behind the handicapped section (I believe Bobby Mueller was there, as Bruce dedicated "Born In The U.S.A" to him that night. I didn't see any tapers there in the first few rows, but this whole area was a prime tapers section. On Friday I was in the 12th row about 5 seats away from dead center. I also knew more folks around me at the Friday show, sitting with the Jump's (of Badlands fame) in front on one side and people I knew from online (SAL & Gloria) but had just met to the other side. I heard that Elvis Costello was in attendance for Friday's show, and I shook hands with Kelsey Grammar at Sunday's show (he's been in the U.K. doing some interviews or talk shows). Before I go on, kudos to Badlands for the accomondation arrangements and especially the seats to the shows.

I'll just touch upon a few things that I haven't seen mentioned. "I Wanna Be With You" really rocked live, a great opening song. "Prove It All Night" rocked so hard that something (about 3"-4" square) flaked from the ceiling and floated down behind Patti on stage. "Mansion On The Hill" sparkled both nights, with Bruce and Patti harmonizing at the end being the highlight. The new arrangement of "The River" really works, with the long sax intro (similar in ways to the beginning of the one that use to preface "All That Heaven Will Allow" on the Tunnel tour) and the different harmonica intro from Bruce. I'm not a fan of the electronic keyboard sound from Roy, but when Bruce does the old familiar harmonica part in the middle of the song, and that falsetto part at the end, this song is even more powerful live than at any other time. Bruce's spiel during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was infinitely better on Sunday than it was on Friday. He keeps changing it, it was pretty much totally different both nights -- and Patti's bit was a highlight. "Light Of Day" is fine, one of the best I've heard (sans horns), but I still feel that this part of the show could benefit from some shaking up -- alternating with "Rosalita" or even "Thundercrack."

Still, nothing could compare to seeing Bruce alone on stage with minimal lighting and hearing Roy's opening piano notes to "Meeting Across The River." I don't know if I grabbed Sal, or Sal grabbed me, or if maybe we and everyone around us felt some collective "grab," but it was a magical moment. There's a slew of longtime fans that have never seen "Meeting Across The River" live, now you can take me off that list. To follow that with "Jungleland" was, without question, one of the most unforgettable moments I've had at a Bruce show. I think the English term is "gobsmacked."

There are several songs in Bruce's canon that for me, when played live with the E Street Band, causes me to lose my sense of time and space. "Incident On 57th Street," "Point Blank," "Racing In The Street," "4th Of July (Sandy)," "Backstreets," etc. But to me, none have as complete an affect more than "Jungleland." I've read various accounts equating fan call-and-response at concerts as if a religious ceremony, and if this is true then "Jungleland" is like a communion of sorts. Roy's piano intro and Bruce's openning vocal leads the faithful slowly down a processional line, barely breathing but finding just enough for the audience response "Down in Jungleland." Steven's guitar gets everyone running down this line, the heart racing as if for take-off. The centerpiece is Clarence's sax solo, which rips the souls from everybody and sends them soaring high above the crowd. The presentation after Clarence's solo on this tour, with Roy's elegant piano playing while Clarence at center stage, backlit, slowly lowers the saxophone to his side and just as slowly backs up a few steps and finally turns around to see and touch Bruce's hand is most effective. In between the piano notes is the gentle sound of a thousand tears hitting the floor, you'll need to listen hard to hear them on the tapes but they ARE there. And at the end of the song, Bruce's wail calls all those souls back home. And then it's over. You look at your watch and 10 or so minutes have gone by. Your face is wet and you feel a bit dazed. You turn around and everyone around you feels the same. And damn, those were quite possibly some of the most perfect minutes in your life, when it felt as if everything was right in the world. The years have not diminushed the impact of Jungleland one bit. The tears have washed the years away from this song, and it's as if it was new again. Absolutely remarkable.

Neither have "Born To Run" nor "Thunder Road" lost much intensity. The 3 guitar crunch on "Born To Run" has it sounding the best ever. "If I Should Fall Behind" was sublime, with Clarence's vocals on Sunday being the best I've heard from the Big Man. Little Steven needs to take a step back from the mic though, his voice seems much louder than the rest. "Land Of Hopes And Dreams" is, as someone mentioned, a perfect ending. I just wish that the endings weren't designed to be perfect.

My impressions of these shows are that they are designed to celebrate the past as well as look forward to the future. The new arrangments for some of the older songs shows the direction Bruce may be taking the band (if rumours of a new studio album being recorded in the fall are true). To paraphrase the famous quote, I've seen the future of Bruce, and there's some country mixed in with the rock and roll.

But enough of the shows, there were plenty of parties and/or get-togethers to attend. The Badlands crew held one in a downstairs bar at a Holiday Inn from around 1PM to 5PM before every show. Lots of beer, plenty of fans, mucho bootlegs, magazines and pictures to peruse, and plenty of videos to watch on the big screen TV -- including what seemed to be a great one from one of the Manchester shows. I didn't stick around to watch it, as I didn't want to spoil the show by seeing it first on video. After the show on Friday night, about 20 or so folks commandeered an Italian restaurant called Bistro Benito on Earls Court Road for a fine meal and talk. Saturday night was the scheduled get-together at Maxwell's in Covent Garden with well over 30 folks attending. After the Sunday show we convened in an apartment rented by some Bruce fans. I was great meeting so many folks, I just can't remember all of the names (Helen, Michael(s), Pearse, Dave, Holly, Andrea, Lowell, Hild and her father, Bernie, Karsten, Dan, Arlen, David & Christy, Rob, Sasha, Richard, Jon, Chris, Sal & Gloria) -- and there are still a lot more names to remember. The food and beer was always great, but the company was even greater.

There's just so much that went on during my stay that it's hard to write it all down. The variety of street musicians busking around London in various areas. David and Christy calling the US and getting tickets from a pay phone at the Covent Garden "Tube" stop. What looked to be a close relative to "Tillie" painted on the wall outside of the bathrooms at Maxwell's. How small Big Ben appears in real life. My late night drunken calls to Mary-Ellen. The mile walk each morning for a "good' cup of coffee. Finding a condom in the suitcase and realizing that the only person I can share this news with is Lowell. How many different daily papers there are in London. The owner at the Indian restaurant that, when I had finished what I had ordered, kept giving me more different foods to try (including a relish that will remove paint from metal, hell it might just dissolve the metal too). How good cold beer tastes after singing along with Bruce on "Born To Run." Seeing these poor devils driving on the wrong side of the road on streets far too narrow with corners far too sharp to take at any speed. Getting copies of Arlen's drawings, some used by Bruce during the '78 tour (for the famous Capitol Center shows). Late night German satellite TV movies, or even better the channel that just showed a burning fireplace for an hour or so, along with "mood" music. Walking the streets in London around Earls Court around 1:30AM. Here's a surreal moment: on Sunday, Bernie received a call from Arlen's wife before the show with news to give Arlen. After the show everyone meets up in front of Earls Court and Bernie springs the news on Arlen -- his wife is pregnant. Arlen, in his joy, spends about 50 pounds on around 10 pints of Haagen Daaz and Ben & Jerry's ice cream to bring to the apartment get-together. Sorry I missed the impromptu outtake version of "Thunder Road," as sung by Arlen, that same night -- but I had to get packed for the next day. I heard it was... ahhh... interesting.

I hated to leave, or else I just hated to fly home. But the flight was much better. Heathrow airport has just about everything you'd need. And I'll give British Airways one thing, they've made me re-think what it is they call airline food. I'm finally back to normal, well as normal as I can be after all this. And while the picture I took didn't come out well, I can still see in my mind the outside of Earls Court at night -- with "Earls" and "Court" on opposite side lit up in red, while the rest of the outside including the 2 Bruce billboards mounted high up illuminated in blue. It was a beautiful site.

Written by Rich Breton