Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Cardiff, Wales July 23, 2013

Prime Time First Run

ARCHIVE RELEASE: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, July 23, 2013

By Erik Flannigan

There comes a point in every Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tour when caution is thrown to the wind in terms of the setlist. While the spine of the show can remain intact, the number of changes from night to night goes up and the choices veer towards the daring.

The Wrecking Ball tour was the peak of the sign-request era, when fans in the audience asked for specific songs to be played by holding up signs that Bruce would see, collect, and from which he would typically grant wishes.

Sporadic sign requests go back decades at Springsteen concerts and have been acknowledged occasionally through the years. But on the Magic tour the practice became part of the fabric of the show, with Bruce acknowledging and de facto encouraging the practice. As soon as he threw down the gauntlet, “try to stump the E Street Band,” the audience upped its game.

The aforementioned point was in the rear view mirror when Springsteen rolled into Cardiff, Wales for a July 23, 2003 show at Millenium Stadium. This second European loop behind Wrecking Ball kept the spotlight on the album: these versions of “Death to My Hometown,” “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Pay Me My Money Down,” “Shackled and Drawn” and the title track still bristle with energy and purpose. Springsteen’s commitment to the Wrecking Ball album was undeniable every night.

But beyond set-closing and encore staples, everything else in 2013 sets was for grabs, duly illustrated by the contrast between Cardiff and the previously Archive Series-released Leeds July 24 set, just 24 hours apart.

Bruce swaps 16 tunes from Cardiff to Leeds, playing 49 different tracks across the two nights. The first 11 slots in each set share only two tracks in common, one of which is the not-exactly-ordinary “Roulette,” aired just 16 times in the Reunion era.

That sense of “anything can happen” at a Springsteen show is thrilling to experience, both for the chance to hear long-lost favorites and to witness extraordinary musicians tap their collective history and muscle memory as they rise to each sign challenge. Sure, they nail some more squarely than others, but on a night like they had in Cardiff, ragged but right prevails.

Before we get to the true chestnuts, Cardiff commences with “This Little Light of Mine ” from the Seeger Sessions (it is also reprised in the encore), lending a spiritual revival vibe to what was a warm and balmy day in the Wales capital. “Long Walk Home” keeps the rejuvenating spirit flowing and works great this early in the set. How nice would it be to see this underappreciated song return to 2024 sets?

The band (and especially the horn section) get cooking on a stomping “Adam Raised a Cain” that goes to extra time as sign requests are collated. “We’ll do an easy one first,” says Springsteen before another Darkness classic, “Prove It All Night,” performed straight down the line.

The requests then move from easy to unimaginable. “This has never been played… partly because it’s ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. It’s a very silly song,” Springsteen says as he flips a sign that says “Seaside Bar Song” on one side to reveal “TV Movie” on the other. The Born in the U.S.A. outtake had been rumored for years and was even namechecked by Max Weinberg as a memorable leftover before being released on Tracks in 1998. It’s one in a long line of sell-deprecating tales like “Local Hero” that take shots at what stardom gets reduced to.

ARCHIVE RELEASE: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, July 23, 2013

Springsteen holds a few moments to try the song out and find the key, then says, “The Professor’s very important on this” (only to say the opposite during the song) before gamely launching into the roots rocker. After a wobble or two Springsteen and the band get it to ride pretty smoothly, though he does say at the end, “You heard it first. You heard it last.”

Whether your response to “TV Movie” is “That was fun!” or “WTF?,” that Springsteen and the band are confident enough to play a song on the spur of the moment that they recorded in just a few takes 30 years prior is pretty fucking awesome in the grand scheme of things. A triple-shot of Tracks ensues with “TV Movie” followed by the charming “Cynthia,” another BIUSA outtake, and River holdover “Roulette.”

After a mid-set pass through Wrecking Ball material, “Spirit in the Night,” “Hungry Heart” and “My City of Ruins,” another surprise. “I have a friend who’s going to sit in tonight,” Springsteen says. “When I was trying to get that guitar out of Western Auto, it was because I wanted to play and sing like this guy.”

His heartfelt words were for Eric Burdon, leader of The Animals, who takes the stage to sing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” Back in 1975-77, Springsteen’s cover of The Animals’ “It’s My Life” (written by the late Carl D’Errico) was a centerpiece of his live shows. In November 1976 at the Palladium in New York City, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became another classic Animals cover in the E Street repertoire. At the special 2012 SXSW performance in Austin that helped usher in the Wrecking Ball era, Burdon joined Springsteen and the band to sing his classic. In Wales they did one more time with aplomb.

Inspired by the moment, Springsteen calls for another sixties blues banger, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” best known on E Street from its Tunnel of Love tour appearances which also featured a horn section. Energy from an excellent reading lingers and “Cadillac Ranch” keeps the engine chugging on a warm summer night, riding some especially hot guitar work from Stevie Van Zandt and solo turns from Soozie Tyrell and Jake Clemons.

Now in the zone, Springsteen moves seamlessly from “Cadillac Ranch” to “Summertime Blues,” with Stevie deputizing admirably on backing vocals for the late Clarence Clemons. There’s more good Van Zandt business on “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” which keeps up the breakneck pace for the fourth straight song before the gas pedal is eased for “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Shackled and Drawn.” The set returns to previously scheduled programming through “Badlands” to close the main set.

A compelling 10-song encore opens with a rare-for-the-tour “Tougher Than the Rest,” played only six times circa 2012-’13. With Patti Scialfa away, interestingly it’s Van Zandt who fills the essential backing vocal with support from Tyrell, creating a distinct version of the song that’s well worth a listen. The evening’s fifth and final River song (not counting “Roulette”) features another unusual switcheroo as Roy Bittan plays the customary organ solo in “I’m a Rocker” on piano.

Following a lively reprise of “This Little Light of Mine” that feels like the last song of the night, Springsteen returns to the stage to close with a solo acoustic version of yet another Born in the U.S.A. outtake, “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart,” rearranged with tender melancholy and used as a prelude to “Thunder Road” into which it melts. The Born to Run opener is performed beautifully unaffected and the result is an especially poignant and lovely cap to a night of welcome surprises.

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