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Deconstructing Springsteen's set lists (spoilers!...?)

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Boss_l

Boss_lThere are two types of people: those who ardently seek out the set list for every Bruce Springsteen show prior to the tour arriving in their town, and those who don’t. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I suppose I represent a smaller, third subset of humanity: those of us who go on the Web and briefly get obsessed with that kind of minutiae at the start of a tour, and then think better of it a few dates in, realizing that when he gets to our city, it might be nice not to know that “Badlands” will inevitably follow “Long Walk Home,” or to be completely surprised if “Candy’s Room” or “Meeting Across the River” or some other song that’s only been performed once this tour has the chance of being pulled out as a wild card. (You say there’s a fourth category of people — those who couldn’t care less about Springsteen or his shows, at all? Listen, my little census can’t account for every bizarre variable.)

We all know what constitutes a spoiler in the world of movies — and in case we at EW ever forget, our readers are there to angrily remind us. But is knowing what might be or is probably coming in a rock ‘n’ roll show grounds for spoiling, or does it simply whet the appetite all the more? I’d be interested to know your thoughts, PopWatchers, being of two minds about the whole thing, myself. It’s not as if we haven’t heard these songs and even committed them to memory, so, you might reckon, what’s to ruin? And with Springsteen, who usually changes his set by at least four songs from night to night, it can be thrilling for a diehard fan to know that an oldie everyone else down the row is taking for granted is actually that holy grail that fans refer to as a “tour premiere.” (Last night in L.A., there was one of those: “Kitty’s Back,” being played in California for the first time since the 1970s, by some fan accounts.)

addCredit(“Bruce Springsteen: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com”)

On the other hand, Springsteen is the rare bird who puts a great deal of thought into the thematic segues in his shows, and if you care about these things, you’ll know it’s not completely random that “Magic” is followed by “Reason to Believe” each night, or that the patriotically sorrowful “Long Walk Home” is immediately succeeded by the optimistic set-closer, “Badlands.” And while you can read a set list online and admire the way he’s juxtaposed certain songs in the running order, there’s a certain electrical charge to keeping yourself pure — a set list virgin, as it were — and then hearing one song go meaningfully into another for yourself, in the heat of the moment. If, that is, you don’t get so tanked up on beer that you forget all about the sociopolitical undertones of these subtle song linkages and just start yelling “Claaaaarence!”

If you’re inclined to peek under the Christmas tree, there’s no shortage of resources. Every set list from the current tour with the E Street Band is quickly archived (and added to those from ever Springsteen show since 1999) at Backstreets magazine’s website. They also provide commentary about what was different about each show… which may include disparaging remarks about a particular city’s perceived lack of enthusiasm. Springsteen’s official site also provides up-to-date set lists (in both handwritten and transcribed form), along with a bonus video clip from almost every show. (If you aren’t clicking on the link we provided, remember, the official site is brucespringsteen.net, not brucespringsteen.com, a domain name apparently being held onto by someone who intends to go to his grave clutching the coveted URL to his cold, cold chest.)

As I said earlier, after doing some initial snooping around the early dates of the tour, I decided that “true love waits,” so I stopped looking at Springsteen set lists till I actually saw him play Monday night at the L.A. Sports Arena, where I first saw him on the River tour in 1980. I did know, of course, that the show would open with “Radio Nowhere,” the clarion call that makes for a great statement of purpose and is one of this tour’s non-negotiables. I didn’t realize that the second song gets pulled from an ancient/inspirational grabbag from night to night; on Monday, it was Born in the USA‘s “No Surrender,” while Tuesday, it was the even older “Ties That Bind.” The four-song segment that follows stays the same from night to night, and is really one of three mini-sets in the show where Springsteen mixes material from Magic and The Rising, along with a reconfigured and symbolically placed oldie or two, to Say Something About America. The 9/11-themed “Lonesome Day” reminds us of a bygone era — 2002 — when, like Bruce, we might’ve thought that with “a little revenge, this too shall pass” (if only). That leads into the consequences of 9/11 with what, for me, was the clear highlight of the show: “Gypsy Biker,” a ragingly sad elegy for a dead soldier, whose buddies gather to send his chrome-wheel-fuel-injected ride up in flames. This is one of the tracks that just seemed to fade out a bit too early on Magic, but in concert, Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt keep the twin guitar solo eulogizing going long enough to give that soldier a properly elongated sendoff. Next is “Magic,” the allegorically Bush-bashing title track, reinvented in concert as an almost entirely acoustic duet between Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa. But just as “Magic” has been stripped down, the song that follows, the formerly acoustic “Reason to Believe,” has been beefed up into a big blues-rock number modeled after ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”

I could go on… about, say, what kind of political statement is being made with the “Devil’s Arcade”/”The Rising”/”Last to Die”/”Long Walk Home”/”Badlands” procession that ends the main part of the set… or what an apolitical joy it is to hear the rarity “Thundercrack” among the encores (unless you happen to get “Kitty’s Back” in its place, in which case I’m madly, almost murderously envious, even though I wouldn’t have traded the aforementioned obscurity for the world)… but then I’d be spoiling it for you, wouldn’t I? Or not. Discuss…

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