An eventful April comes to an end on the High Hopes Tour, and Springsteen and the E Street Band close the month out in style. A vibrant night in Sunrise sees this man and his band pick up where they left off in Atlanta with a variety of surprises, arguably ‘definitive’ versions of songs, and tremendous energy from the outset. Upon entering the stage Springsteen asks, “Are you ready to be transformed!?!” to a mighty ovation, and it’s clear he’s in the mood for a baptism of rock, roll and soul.
As has been the case for two of the last three shows, the night begins with “Clampdown”, and while it’s likely down to watching the official video on YouTube so many times over the last seven years, tonight this just sounds right. A delightful intro leads into clear, albeit strong, vocals from Bruce and Tom, as well as solid Choir harmonies that are backed well by a pulsating Max Weinberg beat. The only flaw here is that the audio on this official release is lesser than the YouTube upload, but it’s an immediate upgrade to Atlanta, and I’ll take that! It’s followed by “Badlands” just like it was in Pittsburgh, and Bruce’s own take on fighting the sociopolitical norm is an equally fiery and inspired performance in which he sings well, supported by Roy’s pleasing piano fills (1:41) and Nils’ galvanising harmonies and backing vocals (3:19). This thematic opening continues with “High Hopes”, and we’ve finally made it to that version I was touting as ‘definitive’ in early 2019. Of course, we’ve come across several exceptional performances of the tour’s title track and everyone is likely to have their own ‘all-timer’ shout, so while this particular version mightn’t captivate the majority, let’s see what’s good about it nonetheless! Starting strongly with Everett’s percussion and Max’s cymbal driven drumming, I like the building, hesitant guitar that becomes very cutting when the song kicks in, alongside the emphatic acoustic played by Nils. Where it concerns the vocals, Bruce’s voice is relatively clear with the slightest touch of throatiness – “gimme help, gimme strength, give a soul!… gimme love, gimme peace“, “fearless sleep!” – and I love his delivery of “give a soul!” at 4:23. That said, Tom is undeniably the star of the song, with his guitar playing around the time Bruce sings that line being scathingly brilliant, and he nicely complements Bruce from 5:05. He can be distracting in a good way too given this is where Bruce starts to sound worn and defeated. The frustrations of the latter are emphasised by that harrowing scream at 6:15, a few moments before a strong Horns finale. Whether it’s definitive or not, it’s pretty damn good.
This thematic opening ends very optimistically thanks to “No Surrender”, which again features quality opening harmonies from the Choir, and for as much as I don’t like their backing vocals towards the end of the chorus, I think the opening gives them the benefit of the doubt. What stands out most here, though, is Bruce’s weathered vocal, and as a result of that this version feels more reminiscent than usual – just listening to how he speaks “I’m ready to grow young again” instead of singing it strengthens that. Regardless of how frail his voice is, alongside Nils he really goes for it with the “li li li’s“, so the energy is certainly prominent, and it’s a testament to that famed, recurring statement, “the older you get, the more it means“.
We go from thematic sequencing to the joys of spontaneity, brought about by sign requests, and it’s the most mouthwatering half hour of the night. The joy actually begins while Bruce rakes through the audience’s ideas, starting with that very quiet, albeit very nice organ riff playing as he collects, and I’ve laughed a couple of times at Bruce’s comment upon coming across a sign asking the whereabouts of one of his sons: “that’s how you know you’re getting old man! They stop asking for you and start asking for your kids!“. The first of four signs gives us the first “I Wanna Marry You” since November 8th, 2009 and it’s aptly made at the same time as a marriage proposal. Noting that “we are in the love business!“, Bruce calms any future marital strife by reassuring the lovers, “If you meet your partner at an E Street Band show, you don’t have to love each other, you just have to love me! … You might not like each other, you might just like Bruce, I dunno!“. Then, with one final (exciting) statement of “Gonna pull out some unusual things tonight!“, it’s into the first of three River album tracks that got away in Atlanta. Played solo acoustically, it’s an excellent effort without any faults and with several stellar vocals such as the hopeful “but maybe darlin’ I could help them along“. My favourite aspect of this, though, is how his voice fluctuates from high to low when singing “my daddy said before he died” and “true true love was just a lie“, before culminating with a painfully emotional declaration of “he went to his grave a broken heart“. Why this was only the third appearance of this song in an E Street Band show since September 1981 is really beyond me.
“Are you ready for an E Street premiere?! … I think this might be the same song as the last one written twenty years apart! I just realised that!“
With Max’s “Be My Baby”-esque drumbeats setting the scene, Sunrise are treated to “Linda Will You Let Me Be The One” for the first and only time in a Springsteen and the E Street Band show. A bittersweet performance if there really ever was one, the quality of drumming and organ playing is spot on as this one begins, and while Bruce’s vocal isn’t perfect, he contributes to an enjoyable listen. Unfortunately – and you can somewhat sense it coming with the hesitations and drawn out deliveries around 2:23 – this one comes to a crushing halt at 3:27 after an Eddie misstep seems to knock everyone out of focus. As a first time ever performance of a song he’d likely never even attempted to practise, Eddie can’t be faulted too much, and while it’s good the rest of the song goes smoothly once they correct themselves, to have such a monumental debut tainted like this is a massive shame. It leaves you wishing the mistake happened right at the beginning so they could start right over! Still, I love the harmonies towards the end of the song that feel right out of the Born to Run recording sessions at 4:37, and it’s nice to know Eddie isn’t deterred by his earlier drawback, because his sax playing for the finale from 4:49 is gorgeous. The way it’s contrasted by Max’s pounding beats (5:07) means this one ends on a high point.
Funnily enough, the imperfect “Linda” leads into a song that was at one point synonymous in highlighting Springsteen and the E Street Band at their tightest in 1988, “Boom Boom”. It’s far from being the thunderous affair it was in ’88 – they sadly can’t all be like that – but this gives us several good moments in Bruce’s nonchalant delivery of “wanna shoot ya right down“, “in love with you” and “a-booma boom boom boom” along with brilliant work from the Choir, Charlie and the Horns – it’s an absolute exhibition for them starting from 3:25. I also really like how the acoustics of the BB&T Arena add to the magic of this one, as Bruce’s voice from 4:00 is given a fantastic reverb to stress his desire and urges.
For me, the highlight of this half hour is the first of two successive songs Bruce notes he sent over to Southside Johnny, “Hearts of Stone”. There are absolutely no drawbacks in regards to the sax playing here, as Eddie aces all of it, leading to a stunning performance. The Kingfish isn’t the only one who contributes to that either, because for as good as Max’s steady beats and Nils’ “the last dance, the last chance” at 4:03 are, it’s Springsteen gritty vocal, full of soul that captivates us. We first get an example of this at 0:52 when he sings “things ain’t like before“, and he continues for the duration with magical recitals of “and you cry…“, “don’t worry baby” and “close your eyes and I’ll be there… we can go anywhere…“. This is clear evidence that as long as the passion is there, a crystal clear vocal isn’t always imperative.
“I feel a Southside double header coming on!“
Following that tour debut is one we’ve already heard on this tour, and the opening riff for “Talk To Me” is just as riveting tonight as it was in Virginia Beach, perhaps even more so considering how Bruce builds it up in telling Sunrise, “we can’t let go until you’re ready!“. After the audience “really scream Jersey style! Super duper Jersey style!“ we get both another mint Horns kicks in (0:50) and another inspired Springsteen vocal to go with it – listen to how his voice flows at 1:16. The Horns keep it going over the course of the song (1;33, 1:52) with additionally good playing by Roy (1:46 is class) and Garry throughout, before Eddie thrills us with one more immense solo at 2:50. That said, with Virginia Beach still fresh in the memory, it’s the moment where the E Street Band slow it down (3:44) that we’re waiting for, and even though Patti unfortunately being absent means we don’t get a tremendous repeat of the Virginia highlight, Bruce gets an opportunity to vent and state his case in the knowledge nobody is going to call him out for being wrong:
“I’m just trying, to start a conversation. First it’s talk, talk, talk, then! Nothing. Baby! I’m just tryin’, I don’t even know what I did. All I know is it’s the same thing I always do her, ’cause I don’t know what that is either! I’m just trying to start… maybe not… but you know you’re never supposed to go to bed mad! That’s what it says in the book! You’re not supposed to go to bed mad, whatever you do, so you try to get a little chat goin’… ah… just, now, who’s married out there? Alright… just… now, if I was down, on my knees like this! I’ll get down there! I’ll get down there! Down there? Alright!“
Despite not being able to sing with Patti, while the cat’s away Bruce shares a few moments singing with an audience member who sounds pretty good, and upon the end of this the Horns drive us back into the song (6:43) in what is a real ‘wow’ moment to conclude the song in a manner befitting what had preceded. Due to the slip-up in “Linda”, this is an imperfect sequence, but it’s also a fantastic example of the surprising spontaneity this era of E Street brought about. I’m sure Little Steven was counting down the minutes until May 17th too!
“I thought everyone was from Florida, it’s actually New Jersey!“
“Wrecking Ball” tonight isn’t as intense as it was in Atlanta, but it’s equally inspired with Bruce’s singing strongly – he also shouts strongly, as evident in that cry of “let me hear yaaaaaaa!” at 1:56. A typically stellar version of the song when it comes to the E Street Band’s playing, my favourite moment here aside from that Bruce cry is in Tom’s forceful “bring on your wrecking ball” harmonies. It isn’t a detail unique only to the show, but it stands out tonight more than usual and that can’t be overlooked.
The second River track that wasn’t played three nights ago, “Hungry Heart”, follows with the audience signing the opening verse well, complementing Bruce’s solid, if not worn out vocal. Of course, while the clear highlight is the return of the Bruce balloon from Pittsburgh – “Balloon man is back!” – this brings us more nice reverberation in Bruce’s voice when he sings “everybody wants to have a home” (1:56), very nice soulful harmonies (2:42) and the seventeenth crowd surf of the tour. All in all, a fine “Hungry Heart”.
“This is a song about… I always remember the first time I heard, one of my own songs on the radio. I was in Connecticut, and I was standing on the street corner, guy pulled up, we were playing at a local college, had his window rolled down and I could hear “Spirit in the Night” coming out of the radio. One of! The top ten moments in my life. ‘Cause I stood there and I remember standing there thinking about all the people, about all the people who were listening to that song, at that moment. And there was something when radio is great, it’s something… something happens in the air, from all those souls, converging, around one idea, at one… moment. That’s what’s happening here tonight! So that’s what I think I wrote about in this song.“
Noting that it was “originally gonna be on Born to Run” – contrasting his claim about it being a Darkness outtake in Brisbane – Sunrise get the third and final “Save My Love” of the High Hopes Tour. Without the added bonus of Soozie’s violin intro tonight, that doesn’t matter too much as what we do hear is more than enjoyable. I love the fragility of Bruce’s vocal, which is strong for the most part, but it’s clearly rocky and likely to break at any point. Thankfully, though, it holds up and as a result we get solid deliveries of “riding on the airwaves“, “hold me in your arms” and “for yoooouu“, along with striking organ riffs played by Charlie (3:30) and good supporting vocals by Nils (3:44) in Stevie’s absence. A delight of a performance when all is said and done? “Yes yes!“.
“A lot of young folks out, so we’re gonna do this one, sometimes I look out there and realise some folks couldn’t possibly have seen us until the last few tours, and uh, so they missed some of this stuff.“
I’ve said in the past that on these modern tours songs like “The River” can feel there without direction in the set, but following Bruce’s comment above this immediately becomes a significant one here. Backed by impressive work from Nils on the acoustic guitar, the stars of this are the fourteen thousand in attendance for their interaction, actually overriding Bruce when we get to the “union card and a wedding coat” line. When it’s just Bruce singing, he does so with a fine vocal, which leads to likewise declarations of “into the river we’d dive“, “we’d ride” and “down at the reservoir“, with The Professor also standing out around the latter (3:21). Culminated by superb harmonica playing in the outro, this song played for those newer fans who missed the early years is followed by another song those of us who got on the train late would love to have seen at its zenith. With that surely in mind, Sunrise get the famed ’78 intro for “Prove It All Night”, and to say it’s also superb might actually be doing it a disservice. Regardless, I’m sure the lad shouting for “Incident” prior will have been happy with this instead, because Roy, Garry, Max and Bruce channel their younger selves for a mint rendition, and while Bruce’s guitar playing from 1:19 to 3:48 isn’t blistering by 1978 standards, it’s more than good enough for 2014. I like the gritty, relaxed vocal Bruce uses for this one, leading to fine recitals of “to buy you a gold ring“, “baby just one kiss” and “pay the price!“, and it’s also good to hear the audience joining in again for the final verse – it’s been a remarkable ninety minutes, and Sunrise aren’t taking it for granted. The quality doesn’t stop there, as this one brings us strong organ riffs (4:45) and sax solos (5:29) too, before Nils’ strong shouts of “prove it all night!” (7:05) end in a duel of “yeah’s!” between him and Bruce and a staggeringly good guitar driven finale (7:37). Everything was better in ’78, but that doesn’t mean the music can’t be good in 2014.
“Prove It” flows brilliantly into another tour de force, “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, which takes Springsteen and the E Street Band a second to get the intro right in regards to tuning. Once they sort that we get a vibrant performance driven on by Max, the Horns, Charlie (0:58, 1:52, 3:01) and Roy (1:07, 2:01, 3:10), with Bruce’s vocal being spot on – “time slippin’ away“, “cross the room” – along with his guitar playing, 4:46 in particular. This half hour mightn’t have the returns and debuts to equal the one from forty minutes earlier, but it definitely leaves us just as satisfied.
Charlie continues his vibrant playing in the opening minute of “Darlington County”, but it’s guitar that dominates an extended ninety second intro. A fun rendition with Bruce laughing from the off, this one sees Nils get more of the spotlight than usual tonight (4:08), a moment which he doesn’t let go to waste with a motivated effort, and the same can be said for Jake and the Horns’ playing as the song draws to a close too. It leads into a “Shackled and Drawn” with particularly good guitar playing tonight (0:49) and Bruce singing well when it comes to lines like “world gone wrong” and “so wrong” (there’s some more nice reverberation in his voice for the latter). The Horns persist in their motivated playing alongside Charlie (2:50) too, but as per usual the absolute highlight comes from Cindy and her calls for Sunrise to “keep on singing (and singing and singing)! Yeah yeah!“. This one definitely loses a lot of its appeal as the High Hopes Tour goes on, but Cindy remains a delight.
One song that seemingly can’t lose its appeal, however, is “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, and tonight’s version also happens to be the electric version of the song I cited as ‘definitive’ back in 2019. There was clearly something in the Sunrise air for a duo of potential all-timers on this night, and even though it’s a similar story to “High Hopes” where it concerns our subjective tastes, let’s see what stood out to me in this one two years ago! Immediately, the opening twenty-five seconds imply something different tonight, with that guitar playing adding a macabre spin, before Bruce opens up with instant hesitation and fear singing “railroad tracks“. Even his tremendous reciting of “well the highway is alive tonight” has a feeling of “this is it” about it, but with that kick in at 1:32 and Tom’s introduction, we realise they’re not going down that easy. Emphasising that with a stellar solo from 3:06, I think the most striking aspects of this come with Bruce singing, not speaking his “fight against the blood and hatred in the air, look for me, mom” line, and doing so with vigour and Tom’s hesitation with “j-just look in their eyes“. There’s a role reversal here with the usually sombre Bruce showing courage in contrast to Tom’s unlikely fragility. The guitar playing (both electric from 5:57 to 8:12 and Garry’s bass from 6:53) is typically excellent and leads to vivid imagery of the fight that followed, but the switch in confidence between our two protagonists leads to a completely different interpretation of the story in Sunrise, and considering the tone of the song from the start, it may result in the bleakest result yet. There are plenty of great versions of “Joad” played alongside Tom Morello, from MSG 2009 to Columbus 2014, and as with “High Hopes”, this one mightn’t be definitive, but it has to be in the conversation.
Following on from a surprisingly nuanced outing in Atlanta, tonight’s “The Rising” isn’t filled with as many vocal delights. Nevertheless, this sees an inspired Bruce giving us several likewise deliveries of lines such as “high I’ve climbed” and “hands in mine“, with the stand out being “dancing in the sky filled with light“. The latter isn’t stunningly sang, but it’s a perfect example of the passion he’s evoking over these five minutes, and I love the unique “sky of glory and madness” he sings tonight too, with the elision of “sadness” making for different interpretations akin to those “Joad” brought us a few moments earlier.
The main set ends with “Land of Hope and Dreams”, which returns for the first time since one of the tour’s best performances of the song in Raleigh. This isn’t quite as good, but it’s a strong version led by those who we expect to shine throughout it such as Max, Roy and Jake. Also standing out is an emphatic intro, which is spurred on by Charlie and the Horns, before Bruce complements his solid acoustic work with fine vocals for lyrics like “you know you won’t be back” and “fields where sunlight streams“. While I’d love every version of the song to be as good as the Raleigh outing, the seven minutes of this one more than suffice.
“Did I see somebody rocking their AC/DC t-shirt out there?!“
For the final time, Springsteen and the E Street Band rock us with “Highway to Hell”, and it’s only right it goes out in the same manner they debuted it. Starting with a gradually rising reaction to the famed intro riff, the encore opens with a rightfully fiery version filled with forceful vocals – “taking everything in my stride” (1:09), “nothing that I’d rather do!” – and most importantly incendiary guitar playing! The solo Bruce plays at 2:48 is equally riveting here as it first was on the final night in Perth, and that’s exactly the case for the duel of guitars from 3:37 as well. Capped off by immense Horns riffs (5:10), this highlight of the 2014 tour goes out with a bang!
The next twenty-five minutes are then comprised of the usual suspects, beginning with the trustworthy “Born to Run”, which is followed by another quality over quantity “Dancing in the Dark” at just 6:43 long. Whether it’s just in the way Bruce sings “I ain’t getting nowhere!“, the return of the great “gimme some of that ol’ soul clappin’!” call, or Garry’s playing from 2:57 for the “I need a love reaction” line, this is thankfully filled with enough to keep us pleased.
Guitar rules the intro of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, and I’m almost certain Bruce cuts the Horns’ riffs short with an early kick in at 1:33 – if he does or he doesn’t, this needed more Horns. In the song itself, we get a Springsteen vocal that’s neither great nor awful, but sadly it’s the latter that has to be used to describe the fan interaction at 2:51. Mind you, Bruce says “that’s good!“, so what do I know! What I know for certain is that Bruce’s declaration of “from the coastline to the city” is equally soulful and mint, and that the Horns riffs behind him from this point forward are superb. Every cloud.
It turns out that we only have to wait until “Shout” for our silver lining, because this is the one. Just when I thought the delectable delivery of “I wanna know!” at 1:00 was going to be my favourite moment of the song, we get to 5:12 and a finest of firsts in the Live Downloads project, Bruce’s call of “pyjammies!“! It’s even better than the immaculate proclamation of “I’m just a prisoner!” at 6:06 and I can’t wait to hear this more and more as “Shout” continues.
Similarly to Atlanta, the second encore takes a different shape to usual on this U.S. leg with the E Street Band remaining onstage, this time for not one, but two show closing tracks. After Bruce shouts out LifeNet 4 Families, he begins his monologue for the first, “The Wall”. Reiterating much of the same speech he gave to Charlotte and Pittsburgh, he and the E Street Band then transition into another beautiful version of the song, highlighted by the acoustics of the BB&T Arena once again contributing to Bruce’s vocal when he sings lyrics like “apology and forgiveness“. Mostly, though, this one is spoken, rather than sang, with Garry, Charlie and those ghostly harmonies that we can hear from 1:45 being the very best musical aspects of a song that has made as much impact upon the tour in just under three weeks as “Highway to Hell” made over two months.
Where “The Wall” really finds strength tonight is in how it ties to the song that follows, “Thunder Road”. Oozing with the inspiration of Orbison and Spector, tonight’s finale begins soulfully and optimistically, as evidenced in the drawn out declaration of “I want you only” and nicely delivered “don’t you run back inside“. However it’s with the audience’s singing of “maybe we ain’t that young anymore” where we remember Bruce once stating this line refers to the Vietnam war, and the loss of innocence it brought about. From that point, the song flows differently. Fuelled by the context of the song prior, Bruce’s fragility singing “I’m no hero that’s understood” stands out greatly, as do the acceptance of “what else can we do now?” and the voice break singing “to case the promised land“. Supported throughout by the marvellous playing of Soozie, Charlie and Roy in particular, for me the most telling moment of the song is that angry cry of “pulling outta here to win“. The strength of this high note is hindered by his weathered voice, so much so that we can really hear his age in the delivery, and considering the pain and the guilt that he’s willingly expressed over Vietnam and those who were lost, as Jake and the E Street Horns play this excellent show out we’re left wondering if it’s anger towards the fact Bruce Springsteen got to the age of sixty-three while so many of his friends didn’t.
A night that superbly highlights the spontaneity of Springsteen and the E Street Band shows during this era, April 29th from Sunrise also reminds us that not everything was always perfect, due to the unfortunate misstep in the world premiere of “Linda Let Me Be The One”. Still, despite those few moments the “Linda” debut gives us several good moments to go along with a show that’s filled with them. With many excellent performances of tour staples in “High Hopes” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, the most appealing aspect of this night is in the tour rarities before and after “Linda”. A soulful, solo acoustic “I Wanna Marry You” nicely takes us from a themed opening four-pack, and soon leads into the first ever “Hearts of Stone” in an E Street tour show, followed brilliantly as part of a Southside Johnny double by “Talk To Me”. And with equally rapturous renditions of “Clampdown”, “Prove It All Night ’78” and the final “Highway to Hell”, as was the case in Atlanta, this is one the rockers will love.
Up next, for the first time on their 2014 U.S. leg, Springsteen and the E Street Band play back-to-back shows in a state with a trip to Tampa. Will they reach the high bar set tonight?
Kieran’s recommended listening from April 29th, 2014 – Sunrise, FL:
“Clampdown”, “High Hopes“, “I Wanna Marry You“, “Linda Will You Let Me Be The One”, “Hearts of Stone“, “Talk To Me“, “Save My Love“, “The River”, “Prove It All Night”, “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, “Shackled and Drawn”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad“, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, “Highway to Hell“, “The Wall” and “Thunder Road“.
You can download the final High Hopes Tour stop of April 2014 here.