Two nights earlier Bruce Springsteen stood onstage in the Barclays Center, reciting a conversation he had with Steven Van Zandt the night before his own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1999, a conversation that ended with Steve saying the now immortal line, “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, that’s the legend“. After easing themselves back into the United States with steady shows in Dallas and Cincinnati, Springsteen and the E Street Band get back into Oceanic flow in Virginia Beach with a tremendous free flowing show, one that won’t go down as legend, but one that will certainly add to the legend rather than detract from it.
On a night filled with beach music, we kick off with some as the unique show opening covers return. Tonight it’s a one-off of Bill Deal and The Rhondels’ 1969 hit, “May I”, getting us going. Driven on by Horns galore and a relatively broken Bruce vocal, this starts off solidly, as a respectful cover of the song before it turns into an absolute banger. Despite the roughness in Bruce’s voice, he still manages to soulfully sing lines such as “bring you joy” (1:02) and “thrill devine” (1:28), and for any fault he’s backed up strongly by a bop of a chorus (1:43) and delightful “shooby doo-wah” harmonies. And for as good as all that is the finale (3:16) is even better, a culmination of everything that’s come before and the perfect tease for what kind of show is ahead.
“We’ve got a little beach music of our own! We’re gonna take ya from Virginia Beach to the Jersey Shore!“
“Mary’s Place” follows, and if “May I” didn’t set the mood, it only takes two seconds of this one to stamp the exclamation mark – “oh yeah!” indeed! As I wrote back in 2019, Bruce’s vocals aren’t particularly good here (with some exceptions such as 4:48) but he’s giving it all he’s got and likewise with the opening cover preceding it, any problems on his part are contrasted by good instrumentation, and standing out most in this one is that Ed Manion sax solo from 6:53, which is remarkably smooth.
Of course, while Bruce’s worn vocals can be problematic for several song performances, in others this is a nicely contributing factor. “High Hopes” is one of those instances and it’s even more so the case with the acoustic guitar and percussion driven instrumentals behind him for the first ninety seconds until the Horns kick in. In another impressive effort highlighted by Tom’s sensational guitar playing (2:50), it struck me that the ‘definitive’ version from Sunrise is only seven shows away, and based on the last two shows we can definitely sense it coming as Springsteen and the E Street Band are really starting to perfect the tour’s titular track.
While it’s been three decades at this point since the essential “Badlands”, tonight’s offering is undeniably good too, with the stand out aspects being a vehement Nils Lofgren (3:44 – is this what Stevie’s side of the stage does to a man?) and some lovely, crisp, drumming by Max from 5:24 for the finale. Typically for the tour, it’s not a version to go out of your way for, but not one you’ll regret giving six minutes to.
Speaking of songs that are worth making an effort to check out, though, this night’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is definitely in that category. It’s a good version, spurred on by Roy’s marvellous melody and more importantly by Bruce’s unique, laidback reciting of the lyrics. The first ninety seconds see him perform with an interesting vocal where he isn’t fully singing, but isn’t exactly talking either, before he moves into a prominently spoken recitation at 1:40 that I find very fascinating. In contrast to usual, there’s a real sense of positivity to his tone reciting the “Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny” verse, a comforting tone that suggests – from his experience – it’s okay for people to be feeling fiery in the same way the protagonist is from 2:00. This ties into the resilience he sings with from 3:31 (listen to the drawn out intensity of “I. CAN’T. STOP!“) and I think it connects with the following song as well.
Once again opening the song with a ratio check (“New Jersians! Virginians! That’s awful close, man!“), Springsteen leads the E Street Band in a relatively lighter and very sentimental version of “Wrecking Ball”. Yes, there are some fiery declarations of lines such as “blood and the cheers“, “guuuuuts mister” and “best shot“, but they’re overshadowed at 3:42 when Soozie transitions us into an interlude – you read that right! Noting, “I’ve been coming to Virginia since 1968-69, that’s a lot of stories! But now listen…“, Bruce starts singing in a hushed and delicate way about the eventual day his stories “drift away to rust“, and the youth and beauty of the people onstage “has been given to the dust“. It’s here where the odd comfort in “Darkness” and this sentimentality in “Wrecking Ball” combine, we remember the Hall of Fame induction forty-eight hours earlier, and realise that the significance of the occasion was not lost on Bruce. A superb, special performance.
Following a solid “Death to My Hometown”, a “little beach music” in “Hungry Heart” then gets the most engrossing half hour of the night off and running. Comprised of a class Charlie riff (1:36), a surprisingly strong Bruce vocal, and the twelfth crowd surf of the tour (not including audience efforts) at 4:51, this is a vigorous start to the sequence. Afterwards is an equally energetic “Sherry Darling”, opening with a damn good opening sax riff from Jake and another at 2:16. “Sherry” isn’t his strongest song, so we have to appreciate these moments when we get them! In addition to this Bruce is singing well, although he wears himself out towards the finish line, but only after marking the first ‘Bruce-burp’ I’ve ever heard on an audio release (4:34 – if you want to hear it…). “Where’s the beer?!”.
Now we come to my favourite moment of the show, and if we’re talking about ‘definitive’ live performances, this “Talk to Me” is an absolute gem in the Live Downloads – Archive Series’ crown. Immediately, the opening guitar riff and audience singing along is the chef’s kiss – they’re definitely ready, “crazy ass ready” in-fact – and then at 0:40 drums, horns, guitar and bass unite for the whole shebang! Wow! While there have been strong points on an otherwise weak night for vocals, there is no stronger effort from Bruce than this one, and I love how fluid he sounds alongside the rapid pace led by Max (listen his beats at 2:13). Bruce is complemented nicely by stellar Choir harmonies and a lovely Eddie solo, but it comes as no surprise that his best moment of chemistry comes with the 3:35 interlude after he starts riffing:
“Please baby! Just… just… just… say something! That’s when it’s the worst! I’d rather be dodgin’ blowdryers! Than the silent treatment! Just! Say something! Tell me, how I, what I, why I didn’t, why I should’ve, why if I’d only, just don’t… say… just… say… I would rather dodge! Copies of Town and Country! I’d rather dodge! Cosmopolitan magazines! But if you just, say… something!“
Nils and Charlie thrill with their guitar and organ licks in the background to complement Bruce’s ranting, however the biggest thrill for us (and Bruce too based on his instant reaction) is at 5:38 when Patti joins in. The “Thunder Road” duet in Dallas was good, Broadway was better, this is outstanding. I love how Patti simply recites the title and chorus and it drives Bruce insane – “I’m talking! I promise! This is talking! This is what I sound like when I talk!” – and that “I don’t think so” from her in response gets everyone laughing. It’s very rare that we get to experience Bruce and Patti interacting like this, and maybe if we got it more often this wouldn’t be as enjoyable. All I know for sure is that in 2021 this is an unsung live Springsteen essential – “I’d rather dodge Us magazine!” / “I don’t read Us!“. It doesn’t end there either, as Max has to rumble us back into the song yet at 7:27 for a rightfully stunning finale. What an absolute delicacy!
The delights don’t stop there, as we take another trip to the early days of E Street next with “Seaside Bar Song”. It takes a moment to get going, as Bruce has to test his Mighty drummer and make sure the tempo is right. Then, with a quick intro – “I’m in Manasquan, New Jersey! I’m at the Osprey! And Bo Diddley’s playing! Inspired, I write a song about it! Professor…” – the E Street Band continue to show us why they’re a Hall of Fame band with an impeccable performance. It’s filled with vibrancy from the Horns, Charlie and the Choir (3:28), and while Bruce’s vocal isn’t as fluid on account of being a little throaty (2:08) I’m happy to overlook that based on one of my favourite Bruceisms being shouted: “gimme some of that ooooooooollllld soul clappin’!” (4:22), and of course the finale that follows is immense too.
Ending this trio of tour debuts is “Jersey Girl”, and it’s honestly not great. Mind you, it’s miles better than New Jersey ’93, and when this is the weak link of your show stopping sequence you know it’s a pretty good sequence! Played loosely, this just lacks the right vocal tone for me when compared to the ultimate July 9th, 1981 version, but it isn’t without its moments. Bruce sings a couple of strong notes, such as “take that riiide” (0:52), “don’t bother me maaaaan” (2:14), “’cause down the shore…” (4:01), and finally, “little brat of yours” (3:45) feels very soulful. He’s also backed up by lovely accordion playing, hearty shouts of “sha la la” from the audience and a powerful finale solo by Eddie, so while it’s not quite an all-timer version of the cover, it’s a fine way to conclude a highlight moment of the tour. Somewhere in Norway, Little Steven will have been following a setlist watch, and I’m sure he’ll have been thrilled Bruce waited until he was absent to pull this sequence out!
While the next portion of the show begins with us hearing an audience member shout “Freebird!” (I wonder if they know the woman at the start of “Adam” at The Roxy ’78?), we aren’t that lucky, and it’s back to normalcy for the time being with a fine, somewhat uneventful version of “Heaven’s Wall” – I do really like the riffs from 2:06 though. There’s no “American Skin” following it, and instead we get “Because the Night”, which despite being nearly seven minutes long, feels awfully quick. That’s likely because there’s a lot to enjoy within it. Spurred on initially by a mystic combination of piano and organ – Charlie’s riff from 0:33 is mint – and later by a fiery Nils solo (3:50) there’s no extended intro with Bruce repeating “take me now” tonight, and for the majority Bruce actually struggles with a fragile vocal that continues to break. Covering most notably for his imperfections is Patti, who really goes for it when on the mic (3:08), and if tonight is any indication of her contributions moving forward on this leg, Bruce, the E Street Band and the audiences are going to be happy to have her.
Another surprise follows, albeit a brief one, as a tremendous “She’s the One” is preceded by the always welcome “Not Fade Away” intro, and Bruce really sets the mood for the incoming Born to Run track performance with his lustful and forceful, “you’re gonna give your love… to meeeee.” The first outing since Auckland #2, this is one more track where Nils’ backing vocals bring something different to the song in Stevie’s absence. While the roughness of Steve’s voice adds to the desire of the protagonist, Nils’ clearer and sterner vocal adds a purity the protagonist’s intentions – even with Bruce’s aforementioned “to meeeee.” Nils shines again in “Darlington County”, which is brimming with good guitar playing, when he’s given the spotlight during his and Bruce’s usual duet section on account of Bruce forgetting the words – Bruce’s misstep leads to some audience participation, which doesn’t go entirely smoothly, so once again, be prepared.
The highlight of this forty minute sequence is undoubtedly “Shackled and Drawn”, as it’s (finally) once again played with the same spirit that makes the 2012-13 renditions so riveting. Alongside extended rants of “yeah yeah yeah yeaahhhh” and “I woke up… I woke up… I woke up… I woke up this morning…” in the intro and outro, this one find its strengths in the quality of Bruce’s vocals, Horns, percussion and organ, which blend together to make for a thrilling listen. “If your ass is on the grass, let us know it!“.
Wrapping this particular sequence up is “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”, and we have a first, as Tom’s guitar riffs are prominent in the mix and I don’t think they’re a strong addition to the song – “Sunny Day” is too breezy for his blazing style. Unfortunately what isn’t a first is a less than great Sunny Day kid, even with the hype Bruce builds them up with prior to their efforts, noting he was shown a YouTube video of them singing. Regardless, the Jake finale is excellent and I believe that’s Bruce shouting “everybody form a line” from 7:45! For every cloud…
A strong version of “Joad” kicks off the main set ending trio, and even though the contributing factors to that are the usual suspects – Bruce’s vocal nuances (“in the south West” (1:15) “beating a guy” (4:18), “look for me, ma, I’ll be there” (4:33)), Charlie’s mesmerising riffs to complement Bruce, Tom’s powerful vocals and ever-altering, but always stunning guitar solo (5:48 – 8:35) – the song remains as thrilling at this stage in April as it was in late January. “The Rising” on the other hand has its ups and downs on account of Bruce’s vocal not being the strongest, but it still features an excellent double shot of guitar playing from Bruce and Nils (1:52 – 2:09), before “Land of Hope and Dreams” ends the main set in stellar fashion. Continuing the song’s improvement following the weaker Dallas effort, this is more typical to the solid modern day performances, with moments of magic from every E Streeter, from Roy’s subtle fills (2:04) to Max’s pulsating tempo, to the triumphant riffs of the Horns (5:33). I think what really sells this version, though, in comparison to Dallas is how much Bruce is evidently feeling it. We get an idea of that in certain vocals – listen to how he sings “brokenhearted” at 4:06, but nothing exemplifies it greater than his demand of “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!” (6:31). Perhaps it’s unsurprising given the tour debut up next and the sentimentality of the evening, but Bruce’s desire for a communal effort from his band and audience is palpable here.
“This is a, uh, song from our latest record, but it’s a song I wrote a while ago, and uh I’ve ended up, y’know, I guess it’s an old war for a lot of you kids now, but, I had several friends who ended up on The Wall in Washington, and then had the strange experience of ending up on an airplane with Richard Nixon once, and ended up a few tables away from Robert McNamara, so this was a song that, we came down to Washington for a weekend and I wrote when I went back home. Dedicated to a couple of great musicians from my hometown, Walter Cichon and Bart Haynes.“
The above mentioned tour debut is “The Wall”, one of Bruce’s most personal songs (which says a lot) and a gem to come from High Hopes. On a night where the legend of the E Street Band has been honoured, Bruce uses this moment to note the importance of Virginia for himself and his bands over the years, shouting out The Mosque where he “opened up for Ike and Tina Turner, Chicago and Iron Butterfly many many years ago“, as well as played “many shows of our own that were supported very deeply and dearly by our audience… so there’s always a little bit of coming home“. Most importantly, he takes a moment to honour two musicians who never got the opportunity to become Hall of Fame worthy icons, and while he’ll go into more detail later on in the tour about them in future performances of the song, the impact that the life and loss of Walter Cichon and Bart Haynes had on Bruce Springsteen is reflected massively within this performance.
With the E Street Band playing a sombre sound behind him, Bruce honours his fallen friends in a similar way, singing with a defeated vocal, highlighted in his reciting of “ah Billy… yeah you and your rock and roll band (0:51 – 0:59), “central highlands mud” (2:50) and the exclamations for the finale from 3:50. The latter adds greatly to the instrumentation of the Horns, who in the song remind us that while they’re masters in making a song such as “Land of Hope and Dreams” sound triumphant, they also have the ability to make a song so despondent. In a recent episode of his Renegades: Born in the U.S.A. podcast with President Obama, Bruce retold the story about failing his draft physical, and while some people continue to be disappointed with him for avoiding the Vietnam war, the guilt he feels for those who went and fell, that he lives with on a daily basis is more than evident in songs such as this.
The emotional catharsis of the night leads to a final forty-five minutes full of relief, starting with “Born to Run”, which is played “for lovers!” (4:16) and that’s followed by excellent versions of “Seven Nights to Rock” and “Dancing in the Dark”, with the former being its usual Horns-led exhibition to the extent that Bruce even calls “alright boys let’s get that riff, “Johnny 99”!” at 2:36. In case we’d forgotten, anything can show up anywhere in these High Hopes shows. As for “Dancing”, it’s a bit hindered by Bruce’s worn vocal breaking a couple of times, but instrumentally it’s spot on, typified by one more superb Jake finale.
A fine “Tenth” afterwards isn’t too much to shout about, although I do like how Bruce is on the brink of exhaustion when singing, “oohhhh and I can’t my way back home now” (4:00) and how it seems to give him a second wind, leading to intense deliveries of “the Big Man joined the Band” and “sit back right easy and laugh!” for a strong ending.
“Didn’t we kick your ass, you’re not tired?!“
A breakneck version of “Shout” then thrills as the penultimate song of the evening, with Bruce once again soulfully riffing while setting the E Street Band up for the kick in – “What I want to know is… all I want to know is… do you feel alright now?“, “Do you feel the love now?“, “If you can feel the love raise your hand now” – before turning this into the most wholesome “Shout” of the tour so far by thanking Virginia Beach for their years of support and adding a new line into the famous summary:
“You’ve just seen: The heart-stopping, pants-dropping, Earth-shocking, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, Earth-quaking, love-making, viagra-taking, history-making, MEMBERS OF THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME! THE LEGENDARY E. STREET. BAND!“
Following that up with an earnest declaration of “I’m just a prisoner, of the eternal, everlasting, ass-kicking power of rock and roll!!!” and one more shot of the chorus, preceded by an equally hearty “Wai-ait just a minute!“, if this was to be the E Street Band’s final performance of the night, they’d be going out with a bang.
It just so happens, though, that Springsteen and the E Street Band have one more for Virginia Beach, in the form of a full band “Thunder Road”! And as has been the case with the other rare full band outings of the song on the tour, this just hits so much differently than the intimate acoustic rendition, even more so at the end of a celebratory Hall of Fame week. Whether it’s in the opening harmonica being backed by Roy’s piano, the strength of Bruce’s vocal when he’s complemented by the E Street Band and the harmonies of his choral, or simply that essential guitar riff from 4:29 to 4:36 to build into the final line. The solo performances are fantastic, but to steal lines from both Bruce and Little Steven, nothing betters the ‘eternal, everlasting, ass-kicking power’ of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This is the legend. And while I could be critical in saying the instrumentation from 4:45 to 5:19 isn’t the most powerful we’ve ever heard it, hearing it at all is a lot better than not, and of course Jake and the Horns’ mighty conclusion afterwards is mint. A fitting end to an excellent night of music in Virginia Beach.
Following on from an enjoyable, albeit straightforward show in Cincinnati, Virginia Beach is treated to a delightful show full of tour highlights. Kicking off with the impressive, one-off cover of “May I”, the show then stuns with a mouthwatering sequence – the highlight of which is the outstanding tour debut of “Talk to Me” – and it also finds strengths in stellar versions of back catalogue tracks such as “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Wrecking Ball”, which are filled with sentiment coming off of the E Street Band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. It also benefits us that this is another solid audio recording too, considering that the 2014 tour isn’t renowned for them. Up next for Springsteen and the E Street Band is a trip back to Ohio, this time for a gig in Columbus, let’s see if they can keep up their ever-improving form!
Kieran’s recommended listening from April 12th, 2014 – Virginia Beach, VA:
“May I“, “Mary’s Place”, “High Hopes”, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, “Wrecking Ball”, “Sherry Darling”, “Talk to Me“, “Seaside Bar Song“, “Jersey Girl”, “She’s the One”, “Shackled and Drawn”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, “The Wall“, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Thunder Road“.
You can download Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 2014 Virginia Beach outing here.