High Setlist Hopes

What Springsteen should play at his Cincinnati tour stop

Apr 1, 2014 at 3:41 pm
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen

Tension is building as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with special guest guitarist Tom Morello, prepare to “open” their 2014 U.S. tour on Tuesday at U.S. Bank Arena.

“Open” is in quotations because, after the tour was announced, Springsteen added another date — a free show at Dallas’ March Madness Music Festival two days before the Cincinnati stop. So when he and the band get here, we may have a better idea of what they will be playing. (As of this writing, it’s still unclear if E Street Band’s Steve Van Zandt will be touring with the band or if he’ll skip it due to his busy acting career.)

But if the recently completed Australia/New Zealand leg is any indication, it could be a great concert, one that elicits high hopes. That could happen despite the new album, High Hopes, being a mixed bag of covers, new versions and original material. It probably will be well represented at the concert, since Morello provides hard-edge instrumental punch to seven of the album’s 12 songs.

But Springsteen and band, in their extensive overseas sets, took the pressure off High Hopes to be the concert highlight. Some shows featured start-to-finish performances of his best albums, plus dives into the deepest corners of his catalog to find unexpected selections. Plus, they played lots of location-inspired covers, including songs by Australian and New Zealand artists — Lorde’s “Royals,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” The Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would” (included on High Hopes) and the ’60s classic “Friday on My Mind” by The Easybeats.

And the band took requests, so bring signs.

So with a mixture of seriousness and wishful thinking (and, just maybe, a touch of facetiousness), it would be great if Bruce and band played these on Tuesday night in Cincinnati:

• Since they were playing local-angle songs in Australia and New Zealand, they should find something to play here with strong Cincinnati connections. But, actually, they already have. Overseas, they were playing “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” by Lincoln Heights’ Isley Brothers and “Seven Nights to Rock,” which Moon Mullican recorded for King Records in 1956. Play them again.

• Here’s another suggestion. Springsteen (and Morello, who was in Rage Against the Machine) seems to like the more urgently edgy bands of the ’80s and ’90s, like Suicide, whose “Dream Baby Dream” gets a strong treatment on High Hopes and would make a great setlist addition.

• How about an Afghan Whigs cover? It’d be a treat to see Springsteen, who has done such slow-burning Soul Rock songs in the past as “The Fever” and “Because the Night,” channel his inner Greg Dulli on “Be Sweet.” But would he have the nerve, given some of its controversial lyrics (“I’ve got a dick for a brain/And my brain is going to sell my ass to you”)?

• My favorite Springsteen album is 1974’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, on which his voice had such great interplay with David Sancious’ Keith Jarrett-influenced piano, especially on “Incident on 57th Street.” Sancious long ago left the band and, with him, so did that particular style. But the band did play that whole album in Brisbane, so there is hope.

• If not that album in entirety, what about 1987’s Tunnel of Love? True, it isn’t really a band album and the polished production hasn’t dated well. But it has a bevvy of excellent, passionately personal songs (“Brilliant Disguise,” “Valentine’s Day,” the title tracks) that would be great to hear together.

High Hopes is already old — let’s hear some new stuff, like the four songs from an upcoming vinyl EP, American Beauty, to be released for Record Store Day on April 19. “Hurry Up Sundown,” “Mary Mary,” “Hey Blue Eyes” and the title song are all High Hopes leftovers, but so were some of Dylan’s best songs of the ’80s, like “Blind Willie McTell” and “Series of Dreams.”

• Springsteen is great at medleys — his “Detroit Medley” live rave-up of the songs Mitch Ryder recorded in the ’60s (often also in medley form) was The Boss at his most enthusiastically frenetic. But he doesn’t do it often enough. Detroiters could use the shout-out right now, and Cincinnati is close enough for them to hear it. As long as the Springsteen and the band play it really loud!

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND plays U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday, April 8. Details/ticket info: usbankarena.com.