Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 25, 2004)
Bruce Springsteen doesn’t indulge in change easily. It takes him a while to embrace new ideas and concepts. Bruce filmed full live performances for potential video release as far back as 1985 when he had some stadium concerts shot. However, those never saw the light of day other than in the form of some music videos; 18 years after the fact, we’re still waiting to get the full concerts.
Bruce didn’t even release a proper live album until 1986, and any form of filmed performance would have to wait until 1992. He appeared on MTV’s Unplugged that year, though he cheated and played with his band. This came from a pre-fab situation, though, and didn’t represent a regular concert. Performed in front of a small, invited audience, Plugged demonstrated some elements of a Bruce show circa 1992, but it definitely didn’t offer anything that approached a regular and complete concert.
He came closer to that with the release of Live in New York City at the end of 2001. Shot during a series of Madison Square Garden shows in the summer of 2000, these presented a reasonable approximation of a Bruce concert but still didn’t give us a full performance. Most of the DVD showed the edited HBO broadcast, while other numbers were tossed in as bonus tracks. The amount of material was great, but it still didn’t let us sit back and watch a complete Bruce show from start to finish.
With the DVD release of Live In Barcelona, we can finally do that. Shot in Spain on October 16, 2002, Barcelona indeed represents a full show from that stage of his Rising tour. Named after the album of that name, Barcelona includes 10 songs from that record: the title track plus “Lonesome Day”, “Empty Sky”, “You’re Missing”, “Waitin’ On a Sunny Day”, “Worlds Apart”, “Mary’s Place”, “Countin’ On a Miracle”, “Into the Fire” and “My City of Ruins”. “Land of Hope and Dreams” came from the Live in New York City album.
After that, we have to leap all the way back to 1984 to find the next-newest material. That year’s career-defining smash Born in the USA offers its title track plus “Dancing in the Dark”. Bruce skips 1982’s Nebraska and includes only “Ramrod” from 1980’s The River. 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town gets stronger representation via the title tune, “Badlands”, “Prove It All Night” and “The Promised Land”.
From 1975’s seminal Born to Run we get yet another title track as well as “Thunder Road”, “She’s the One” and “Night”. 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle gives us “Incident on 57th Street”, while 1973’s debut Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey contributes “Spirit in the Night”.
I hate to offer semi-holier-than-thou statements like this, but here goes nonetheless: I think I have a pretty good sense of Bruce’s stage performances, and of this tour in particular. I’ve seen Bruce live 55 times, with 30 of those shows coming from the 2002-2003 Rising tour. I went to the first official show at the Meadowlands in August 2002 and attended the final concert at Shea Stadium in October 2003. That means I feel very comfortable with the show and can comment on how Barcelona fits in with the rest of the tour.
Pretty well, I’d have to say. The Rising show always remained a fluid thing, as Bruce varied the setlist considerably from performance to performance. In fact, we continued to get tour premiers all the way through that final Shea concert.
Nonetheless, things seemed pretty well established by the end of 2002, whereas the European shows in the fall found the show in a looser state. The Rising tour started as a surprisingly static piece given Bruce’s general tendency to play around with the set. During the first leg in August 2002, the songs barely changed from night to night, as most of those shows presented virtually identical sets.
That started to change during the second leg in the US in September and early October, and those variations continued into Europe. Bruce was still working through what he wanted to do, so Barcelona doesn’t find the show as firmly established as it would become, but it comes a lot closer than those early concerts did.
By the way, it may sound contradictory to refer to the early static setlist shows as being on shaky ground while I call those that changed from night to night as “established”. That’s because an unchanging set is so unusual for Bruce. Usually he does this due to some lack of comfort. The biggest example was the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express tour, which enjoyed very few changes from start to finish. Bruce was in a weird frame of mind for that year due to marital woes and his burgeoning affair with Patti Scialfa. The static set seemed like a reaction to the other turbulence and his general unhappiness.
The consistent early Rising sets feel like the same thing. Among the Bruce community, people discussed how they felt he kept the shows so similar because of the “message” he wanted to communicate, and that’s partially true. Clearly the early concerts included an overriding theme, one that went somewhat by the wayside as the tour progressed. (Some self-proclaimed Bruce experts declared that this wasn’t a show to see more than a couple of times since they “knew” it’d never change. Whoops!)
Personally, I think the static nature of the earlier shows connects more to Bruce’s attitude. For the first time in a decade, he hit the road with a band behind a new album, and he wanted to make it work above all else. That meant he needed to get a level of comfort with that material, which in turn meant that those moments dominated. Once things settled, he loosened up.
And he loosened up considerably. On the 1999-2000 tour, Bruce played with no particular album to tout. That meant a level of flexibility he wouldn’t normally have. A new album usually fills about 10 slots in the set, so that doesn’t leave tons of room for old chestnuts. Without those constraints during the Reunion tour, he played 114 songs over 134 concerts. That’s a pretty remarkable number. In comparison, the Stones did 117 shows during their 2002-03 tour and managed 78 different songs, which was a record for them; by comparison, on their 1989-90 tour, the Stones played 115 shows but only offered 37 unique tunes!
No one expected Bruce to do concerts with remotely as much variety during the Rising tour, and given the static nature of that first leg, there seemed to be little reason to change those feelings. However, once Bruce started to spice things up, he really went nuts. As a result, across the 120 Rising concerts – not counting rehearsals that were open to the public – Bruce played 148 different tunes. 14 fewer shows but 34 more songs – that’s quite an accomplishment.
Barcelona offers a good idea of the variations that began to occur. If we compare its setlist to that of opening night on August 7, we find it lost only four songs and added seven.
Friends sometimes ask me which Bruce show was my favorite, but I really can’t say. I saw so many of them on this tour that it’s very difficult to compare and contrast. I know that opening night was the worst of the bunch, and I know that my favorite moment came from the Miami show. Bono guested on “Because the Night” and made it an absolutely amazing performance that I’ll remember fondly forever. I think guest stars at shows usually suck, but Bono lived up to expectations; he and Bruce really worked well together and made the song amazing.
Viewing Barcelona against my many memories of the Rising tour, I’d put it down as an above-average show but not a real classic. To be sure, the band plays with a lot of fire, especially in the early moments. The crowd seems very exuberant and intense, which acts as a positive and a negative. On the one hand, they add real energy to the proceedings, and they clearly egg on Bruce at times. He seems obviously delighted by their spark.
However, the crowd acts as a negative during the quieter moments. They were so amped up that they rarely backed down and acted in a more subdued manner. For gentler songs like “You’re Missing”, this created distractions as they clapped loudly; that song doesn’t work with audience participation and suffers as a result.
Nonetheless, the crowd mostly aids the performance, and Bruce and company make it a good one. I can’t point to any particular standout moments, but I also can’t find any that follow below par. Bruce goofs the lyrics badly during the solo piano “Spirit In the Night”, but he makes this a fun moment.
In a good choice, the first disc ends with the conclusion of the main set. DVD Two captures the encores in their entirety. Some editing occurs to eliminate pauses while the band leaves the stage, and you’ll see an odd and short fade to black on disc one in an attempt to hide the layer change. (It actually makes the switch more distracting than it otherwise would have been.)
Most of the editing seems fine. I’ve seen some complaints about “MTV-style editing”, and I’ll agree that the program does include a few too many quick cuts. However, these don’t seem extreme or especially distracting to me. For the most part, the direction keeps things focused well and stays with the appropriate action long enough for us to appreciate it. It’s not the best-directed concert program I’ve seen, but it’s more than adequate.
Ultimately Live in Barcelona offers a solid look at a full Bruce Springsteen concert experience. No DVD will ever fully capture what it’s like to see Bruce live, and I won’t pretend that the video comes close. Nonetheless, it brings the on-stage action across well and presents an above-average show.
Purse-strings note: of Barcelona’s 24 songs, eight of them offer repeats from NYC’s 25 tunes. Both DVDs include “Prove It All Night”, “Darkness On the Edge of Town”, “Badlands”, “Ramrod”, “Born to Run”, “Born In the USA”, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, and “Thunder Road”. Note that the versions of “Born in the USA” differ radically, however; the NYC program offers an acoustic, solo rendition, while Barcelona gives us the full band take most familiar to fans.