I’ve Never Played It, So I’m Going To Give It a Shot

Bruce Springsteen

LISTEN NOW: Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA, May 17, 2005

By Erik Flannigan

There was a time when we pondered whether Springsteen would ever undertake a solo tour. 

The release of Nebraska in 1982 spurred the initial idea, as fans understandably wondered if Bruce would perform the album live. Next came the Bridge School concert in 1986 (available in the Live Archive series), his first full acoustic set post 1973, some of it solo, the rest backed by only Nils Lofgren and Danny Federici. That special gig triggered another round of talk about solo shows, in part because things had gotten so big following the stadium concerts in 1985. Wouldn’t it be interesting to boil the whole thing back down to its essence?

The two Christic Institute performances in 1990 (also available in the Live Archive series) proved the power of Springsteen alone on stage, and eventually they also proved to be the precursors to his first solo tour later that decade. Springsteen’s one-man world tour in support of The Ghost of Tom Joad stretched from late 1995 to the spring of 1997. The Joad shows saw Bruce in troubadour mode, performing exclusively on acoustic guitar and harmonica with occasional off-stage keyboard support from longtime tech Kevin Buell. The stripped-down tour hit venues the size of which Springsteen hadn’t played since the 1970s. Some, like the Tower Theater outside Philadelphia, were the very same buildings.

Appealing as those antecedents were, the 2005 Devils & Dust tour is Springsteen’s most fully realized solo expression. He expanded his instrumentation, adding new colors via pump organ, electric and acoustic pianos, and, on occasion, autoharp, dobro, banjo, and ukulele. He expanded his setlists, too, working up thrilling new arrangements of deep cuts from the catalog, some played only a time or two. Intimate performances aren’t effective simply due to venue size. They require a performer to take risks and play in the moment, which Bruce did night after night in 2005.

This Tower Theater concert is from the opening weeks of the D&D tour. Bruce’s personal history with the venue — going all the way back to 1974 — portended something special, and the payoff came early. “My Beautiful Reward,” performed on pump organ, closed most shows in 1992 and ’93; here it is reborn as a reflective opener, and Springsteen’s vocals flow warmly right out of the gate, sliding across notes with confidence. A sweet harmonica coda formally commences the evening.

D&D tour setlists progress in a chapter-like form, often tied to the instrument Springsteen is playing. Bruce moves through tour staples “Reason to Believe” and “Devils & Dust,” then sharp readings of “Youngstown,” “Empty Sky,” and “Black Cowboys” (featuring Alan Fitzgerald on backstage keyboards at the end). Those three had limited runs in 2005, but nothing like the next selection, as Bruce moves to piano for a true WTF moment on a tour filled with surprises.

“In honor of the fabulous Tower Theater I’m gonna do something here,” Bruce says. “This is a song I cut for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but it didn’t make the record, and I’ve never played it. So I’m gonna give it a shot.”


The crowd reacts with enthusiasm, only to be reminded not to get ahead of themselves: “[It’s] probably one of the stinkers we left off. I wouldn’t get over-excited.” Funny. When the first chords play, it sounds like fewer than a dozen people recognize “Iceman,” recorded in 1977 and released on Tracks in 1998.

The intriguing tune is representative of a cluster of early material cut for Darkness including the still-unreleased and kindred “Preacher’s Daughter,” which was recorded around the same time and first surfaced publicly as a snippet in some 1978 performances of “She’s the One.” “Iceman” also shares a key line with “Badlands”: “I want to go out tonight, I want to find out what I got.” Given our familiarity with those words from “Badlands,” it is fascinating to hear Springsteen give them entirely different diction here.

“Iceman” may not approach the lost-masterpiece levels of “The Promise” or “Drop on Down and Cover Me,” but his committed vocal performance (faintly reminiscent of his 1972 demos) and excellent piano playing bring out the best in the somber song. Also intriguing is the shift Bruce makes at 2:41, appending “Iceman” with an unexpected piano coda.

That new piece also turned out to serve as a bridge, allowing Springsteen to go from “Iceman” without warning into “Incident on 57th Street.” It’s an impressive rendition, with strong, dialed-in vocals and fine piano. If you bet the “Iceman”/”Incident” exacta at Joad Downs, your ponies came in, friend.

Upper Darby’s next chapter is on guitar. First up, “Part Man, Part Monkey,” preceded by Springsteen’s timely intro about local governments rethinking “the whole evolution thing.” How quaint that mild questioning of scientific fact seems today. A trio from Devils & Dust follows: “Maria’s Bed,” “Silver Palomino,” and Bruce’s sodomy & sin soliloquy, “Reno.”

Springsteen shifts to electric piano for a moment of musical beauty with “Wreck on the Highway.” The underplayed River closer draws quiet power from the steady, sober telling of the tale. But where Roy Bittan’s piano on the album and full-band versions is widescreen, the electric piano comes across more intimately, as the instrument’s tones ring with sweetness and darkness. It’s a disquieting, captivating performance.

Another unlikely transition, as “Wreck” drops into “Real World,” played as it should be on solo piano. Again Springsteen’s full-bodied vocals and stirring work on the keys combine to create one of the best renditions of “Real World” post-Christic. It’s also, notably, the first to be released in the Live Archive series from the Devils & Dust tour.

He’s on a roll now, fueling excellent interpretations of a refreshed “The Rising,” a convincing “Further On (Up the Road),” and four from Devils & Dust to finish the set. The quartet includes “The Hitter,” which ends with Bruce’s lovely falsetto, and “Matamoros Banks,” which Bruce calls the sequel to Joad’s “Across the Border,” reminding us of the deep connective tissue between the two albums and supporting shows.

The encore opens with an enchanting, Mariachified take on “Ramrod” for the first time on the tour. Quirky but fun. Next, the eternally optimistic “Land of Home and Dreams,” and finally the mesmeric pairing of “The Promised Land” and “Dream Baby Dream,” one of the true highlights of the 2005 tour.

The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust both feature Springsteen inhabiting characters. His troubadour persona on the Joad tour afforded a bit of distance from the audience, a stance only punctured at times by tour-debuted originals like “Sell It and They Will Come”” and “I’m Turning Into Elvis,” which felt more personal in nature. The Devils & Dust songs are still character studies, but on the 2005 tour, Springsteen invited the audience on an intimate journey, revealing parts of himself in those new songs and even more through the thrilling exploration of his vast catalog.

Thousands of Miles for Some Rock and Soul

Bruce Springsteen

LISTEN NOW: Boston Gardens, Boston, MA, December 13, 1992

By Erik Flannigan

It has been some time since the Live Archive series revisited Bruce Springsteen’s 1992-93 World Tour in support of Human Touch and Lucky Town. This chapter in his live performance history can be tricky to contextualize, in part because it’s a rare full-band tour that does not list E Street as its home address. As such, there’s no point comparing “Born to Run” played by the 1992-93 band to an E Street Band performance from any year, because there is simply no comparison. That’s okay. It was never their mission.

The selection of Boston 12/13/92 is driven by a setlist that features 16 songs from Human Touch and Lucky Town, many of which never graduated to the Reunion era. Bruce assembled his new, expanded band with that recent music in mind, not “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (though, to be fair, they play the latter rather well). The one constant from E Street to the new crew was Roy Bittan, with whom Springsteen co-wrote “Roll of the Dice” and “Real World” for Human Touch.

I’ve always viewed the 1992-93 band as an attempt to mix roots-rock with gospel-influenced soul music and reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s 1986 True Confessions tour, which saw him backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers augmented by the Queens of Rhythm backing singers. In fact, it was the late Debbie Gold, a mutual friend of both Dylan and Springsteen, who encouraged the former to work with Petty and helped the latter assemble his 1992-93 touring musicians. 

If anything, Bruce was tipping that mix toward soul. The catch was that much of his new music featured heavy synthesizers and keyboards. Synthesizers and classic soul can mix marvelously (see Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love”), but it requires very particular attributes. There are many words one could use to describe the extraordinary talent of Roy Bittan as a keyboard player, but funky is not one of them. 

Boston 12/13/92 effectively captures the strengths and stretches fundamental to the 1992-93 tour. Listening anew proves refreshing, as several HT/LT songs and other arrangements are distinct from the many E Street Band performances that followed. As fluent as many of us were in the sound of that tour at the time, hearing it now is an entertaining time tunnel to a unique period.

Jon Altschiller’s multitrack mix puts Bittan first chair on the bandshell, and you’ll hear the Professor loud and proud as the show starts winningly with “Better Days,” “Local Hero,” and “Lucky Town.” The aforementioned “Darkness” follows, with Roy hard right channel, guitarist Shayne Fontayne hard left. It isn’t a classic version, but a compelling one just the same, with intriguing vocal rephrasing from Springsteen, a frequent event this night. The song ends not with Bruce’s voice but a gorgeous vocal run from Angel Rogers.

“The Big Muddy” gets an infrequent airing here. It’s a kind of swampy, narrative cousin to “Atlantic City” that rides a big Bruce vocal and sinewy synth work from Bittan. “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” taps television news audio a la U2’s Zoo TV tour, but the attempt to graft the social issues of a post-Rodney-King-verdict America on to a humorous ditty about modern media remains a difficult sell. 

Things get back on track with an excellent version of “Trapped” that showcases the powerhouse voices Bruce assembled as his choir. I love the way he biblically tweaks, “good conquers evil, the truth sets you free.” “Badlands” is highly credible, too, filled with small arrangement changes that pulled me into a song that has been played the same way by the E Street Band forever.

The emotional heart of Lucky Town is the life-affirming “Living Proof,” written by Sprinsteen after the birth of his first son. Boston gets an excellent performance, vocal nuances reinforcing that Springsteen is in the moment. The same can be said for “If I Shall Fall Behind.” I prefer this arrangement to the Reunion edition, with lush harmonica and dark synthesizer tones along with a robust Bruce vocal. Listen for how the harp and keyboards play off each other at the end.

Bruce makes the title literal in “Leap of Faith.” We can clearly hear when he enters the crowd, with a funny “Whoa, oh!” soon followed by  a surely deserved “Yikes!” The backing singers are at their church-choir best, lending the song gospel gravitas. Bobby King moves front and center for “Man’s Job.” Beneath those period synths a classic soul song is fighting to be heard, one that could have been the uptempo A-side to a “Back In Your Arms” B-side in a parallel universe where Bruce cut singles for Stax.

“Roll of the Dice,” carried by Roy’s memorable piano melody, is the signature sound of Human Touch and in its live incarnation brings out the best of this band. It also provides another showcase for the talented Mr. King—when Bruce says, “Take me to heaven, Bobby,” the singer responds by holding a long, sweet vocal note.


From the sublime to the, er, stretches. “Gloria’s Eyes” is a slight and underpowered set opener, there’s no getting around it. The fact that Springsteen never played the song again after this tour, solo or band, seems to validate that characterization. “Cover Me” gets the second set properly ignited. While it is a synth-soaked arrangement, Bruce does some excellent and distinctive guitar soloing. “Brilliant Disguise,” featuring special guest Patti Scialfa, sounds just like it should, in a pure and emotive reading.

Next comes the vexing case of “Soul Driver,” a fine song in search of the right arrangement. “Soul Driver” debuted at the Christic Institute shows in November 1990 in a memorable, vocal-led acoustic reading. The studio incarnation on Human Touch is an odd, lilting number with a massive snare sound. In Boston, a keyboard sound from somewhere in the marimba/kalimba neighborhood starts the song, then a wailing guitar joins, but no drums or rhythm part to speak of. The result is superior to the album version and paced more like the Christic, but “Soul Driver” remains an unrealized if tantalizing prospect.

The pairing of “Souls of the Departed” into “Born in the U.S.A.,” however, is fully realized. Where “57 Channels” struggled, “Souls” blossoms, news audio setting the stage for the show’s most powerful performance as Springsteen’s lyrics and a hard-hitting arrangement tap into the American darkness of 1992. It was a masterstroke to connect “Souls” to “Born in the U.S.A.” with Jimi Hendrix-inspired strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The second set rounds the bend into another arrangement challenge, “Real World,” and the outcome is even more confounding. Again, the stunning solo piano debut performance of “Real World” at the Christic shows in 1990 is the lens through which all other versions are viewed. As on the studio version, synthesizer carries too much of the load in Boston, losing the majesty the piano reading has in spades. 

But the instinct that this song could be a showstopper—an uplifting, full-band anthem—is understandable. In the end, Bruce and the band give “Real World” everything they’ve got, and through sheer willpower and commitment, the song does transcend the arrangement and dated synth sound in an otherwise overlong performance. Ah, what could have been.

The set ends with the good fun of “Light of Day,” and everyone on stage gets the chance to shine. Zack Alford feels especially at home on this one, clobbering his drum kit to drive the “Light of Day” train to the station.

The encore opens with a sharp “Human Touch,” again featuring Miss Patti Scialfa, and manager Jon Landau straps on an axe for “Glory Days,” earning a funny introduction by Springsteen in the process (“The master of managerial disaster”). The 1992-93 arrangement of  “Thunder Road” has aged nicely, with Bruce on acoustic guitar and Bittan offering sweeping organ accompaniment. Bittan’s keyboards also fare well on “My Beautiful Reward,” a lovely coda to the show and to the entire Human Touch/Lucky Town body of work. But maybe there’s time for just one more.

It was only 37 degrees at showtime (“I came thousands of miles through some real shitty weather just to get here,” Bruce points out out during “Light of Day”), but it did make the bonus gift of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” that much more fitting.

It’s been 28 years since Springsteen toured with the “other band,” but their soulful mission lingers; the Boston 12/13/92 set is unique to the Live Archive thus far for being centered around the songs he packed especially for their journey. While the 1992-93 experiment wasn’t always successful, Springsteen’s attempt to explore a different sound offers refreshment to ears so accustomed to hearing a beloved but familiar style of performance. It is worthy of a deep relisten.

One Minute You’re Right There, And Something Slips

Bruce Springsteen

LISTEN NOW: Palais De Congrès Acropolis, Nice, France, May 18, 1997

By Erik Flannigan

Every Springsteen tour starts with a vision and an underlying narrative. What story is our favorite artist telling through his setlist and presentation? Over time, setlists typically evolve and tours explore new themes, keeping things fresh but sometimes departing significantly from the initial concept.

Springsteen’s solo-acoustic tour for The Ghost of Tom Joad was unwavering in conserving its original vision. Beyond special nights in Freehold and Asbury Park, from the earliest shows in late 1995 through final gigs in the spring of 1997, the core songs from the album served as the spine of the show, while Bruce’s performances stayed steely and steady. Nice, France, a stop from the tail-end of the Joad tour and the first Archive release from 1997, presents an opportunity to reassess this compelling commitment from the little-heard fifth leg.

I had the good fortune to see a couple of the early shows on the Joad tour, at the Wiltern in Los Angeles on November 26 and 27, 1995. With the exception of the final encore (and album closer) “My Best Was Never Good Enough,” Bruce performed the same songs from Joad at the LA shows as he would in Nice, more than 120 performances later. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Murder Incorporated,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” and “This Hard Land” are also intact. Adding “Brothers Under the Bridge,” which debuted the second night at the Wiltern, 13 songs remained in the set, anchoring the tale and tone of this special solo outing.

Which isn’t to say those songs are played exactly as they were in the fall of 1995. The Nice performance is unmistakably honed after a year and a half on the road without a band. Case in point: Springsteen’s guitar playing feels less muscular but more masterly. Because the arrangements largely remain faithful, the differences are subtle, but a song like “Murder Incorporated” has evolved from stark noir to more of a beautifully sung cautionary tale, with Bruce’s guitar weaving an unsettling rhythmic bed that lulls us into submission.

“Straight Time,” “Highway 29,” and the title track play truer to form, but there’s extra weariness in the tone of the protagonists that makes their stories resonate all the more. Heard through a post-Western Stars filter, “Highway 29” feels like a progenitor to that recent mastework, especially its title track. Truest of all is the four-pack that served as the lyrical denouement for show. Nice gets sublime readings of “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “The Line,” “Balboa Park,” and “Across The Border,” and the verb is accurate for these near novellas.

On Broadway, Springsteen set up familiar songs with stories and vice versa, but this storytelling sequence is more like an author reading to an unfamiliar audience. As such, Bruce’s performances of the material place a premium on the vivid details that make the narrative spark to life. For a performer who has earned the position of having his audiences eat out of the palm of his hand, brokering this type of connection with more demanding material must have been a fascinating challenge. Admiration for how he pulls it off night after night is well earned.

Other Joad tour stalwarts are also in top form in Nice. The 12-string reinvention of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” debuted at the Christic shows in 1990, still sends shivers up the spine. “Brothers Under the Bridge” is perhaps the most underappreciated entry among Springsteen’s Vietnam Veterans material. The song was still unreleased when Bruce performed it on the Joad tour (it eventually came out on Tracks in 1998). The final line, “One minute you’re right there, and something slips,” remains one of the most haunting in the canon.

Nice would also see the final tour performance of “It’s the Little Things That Count.” Bruce revisited the song a couple of times at the Somerville, MA solo shows in 2003, but it has been unheard ever since. The song was written for Joad and later considered for Devils & Dust, but it remains officially unreleased in studio form. Gotta love the transition from “Little Things” to “Red Headed Woman”: “Speaking of tongues…”

Of course Joad tour setlists were not totally rigid. Nice finds Springsteen in something of a nostalgic mood, pulling the kindred “Growin’ Up” and “Saint in the City” into the set, connecting the Joad era to Springsteen’s last turn as a solo artist in 1972. He also takes “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” out for an entertaining spin in its tour debut. “Working on the Highway” is good fun, too, exposing the Born in the U.S.A. song’s Nebraska roots — listen for  Bruce hitting a particularly impressive high note at the end of “cruel cruel worrrrrld.”

The final reinvention of the night comes with “The Promised Land.” As evidenced by his use of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” to close shows on his next solo tour in 2005, Springsteen is attracted to mesmeric arrangements. The transformation of “The Promised Land” could be the most radical of all his reinterpretations and merits reappreciation for sheer performance beauty and vocal control. We’re transfixed until that final percussive thwack breaks the trance of a spellbinding evening and a tour that stayed true to itself from the first show to the last.

Gonna Be A Long Walk Home

Bruce Springsteen and The Sessions Band

Wembley Arena, London, England

November 11, 2006

By Erik Flannigan

How should we view the Seeger Sessions tour in the context of Bruce Springsteen’s storied performance history? Incredibly, 14 years have already passed since the arrival of the album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and the tour that followed. That’s roughly the same amount of time as between Bruce’s early 1970 Steel Mill audition for Bill Graham in San Francisco and the release of Born in the U.S.A. (Join me in an unspoken but no less mortified “Yikes!”)

Springsteen’s foray into traditional music is named in homage to legendary folk-music activist Pete Seeger, with whom he had a fond relationship. Bruce was on tour in South Africa when Seeger passed in 2014 at the age of 94. “I lost a great friend and hero last night,” Bruce told the crowd. “We’re humbled to be here tonight in the land of Mandela, a great freedom fighter. We are here tonight in his grace, because he made it possible for us to be here. Pete, back home, was a very courageous freedom fighter also.”

We Shall Overcome surveys the kind of American folk standards popularized by Seeger. The project’s musical approach is often full-on hootenanny, with Bruce backed by a large, loose ensemble of musicians playing with instinct, spontaneity, and just the right amount of reverence. The Sessions Band tour followed a similar blueprint, expanding song selections to include additional folk and roots classics, as well as Springsteen originals re-arranged in kindred styles.

Whether you love folk music or merely appreciate its importance and influence, Bruce’s live performances of that music with this band were undeniably infectious and entertaining. Part of that was down to the man himself seeming as happy as he had ever been on stage, energized by painting with a completely different palette, performing with new companions and a few friendly faces.

The Seeger Sessions album and tour happened in the midst of a fruitful period for Bruce, who released and toured behind Devils & Dust the year before, and would issue and tour in support of Magic a year later and beyond, followed quickly by the same game plan for Working on a Dream. It was an impressive flurry of activity, and because Seeger Sessions was a one-off, perhaps it hasn’t received a deserved reappreciation.

We know it remains near and dear to Bruce. Earlier this year he blessed the YouTube release of the entire New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival performance from April 2006, the first show of the Seeger Sessions tour and one Springsteen cites in this autobiography as among his most meaningful shows ever. 

Jazz Fest was also released in the Archive series, providing a fine document of the tour’s early stages. The official Live in Dublin culls highlights from three shows at the end of the tour. To those bookends we add London 11/11/06, which offers the first complete performance from the end of the Seeger run and includes a number of setlist variations to New Orleans and Dublin.

We commence with a show-opening throwback to Bruce’s first single, “Blinded By the Light.” When Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was released in early 1973, more than a few critics characterized it as folk rock, making its inclusion here all the more fitting. That being said, while I’m no musicologist, the style in which it is performed here suggests File Under Klezmer. 

The first half of the London show offers a satisfying mix of high-spirited songs from the album (“Old Man Tucker,” “Jesse James,” “Mrs. McGrath”), some of its weightier material  (“Eyes on the Prize,” “Erie Canal,” “O Mary Don’t You Weep”) and Seegerized, story-rich Springsteen originals.

To wit: “Atlantic City” is transformed into a murder ballad rave-up; “Growin’ Up” is appealingly re-arranged with country flourishes and a bit of Dylan influence, too; and “Open All Night” gets something of a juke-joint makeover. The new arrangements cast all three in fresh light that expands our appreciation for each song. “Devils & Dust (which does not appear on the New Orleans or Dublin releases) hues closer to the original arrangement, but it draws upon the chorus of voices in the Sessions band, led by Curtis King and Soozie Tyrell, yielding a beautiful and poignant result.

Late in the show, Springsteen thanks the crowd for “taking a chance on [our] experiment here,” his characterization of the entire Seeger Sessions project. On this night he took that spirit one step further by debuting a brand new song. 

The night before his first London show, Springsteen went to see Lucinda Williams play at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, joining her on stage for two songs. Inspired by her performance of unreleased material, the next night Bruce pulls out one of his own work-in-progress originals, introduced as “Gonna Be a Long Walk Home.”

“She was brave because she played all these new songs,” Springsteen tells the Wembley audience. “Between my whoring and drinking, when I come home after that, I sit up in the hotel room occasionally and I try to write.”

The premiere of “Long Walk Home,” a one-off on the 2006 tour, features a number of lyric variations and extra lines compared to the version eventually released on Magic a year later. The final verse of this unique performance includes a sober couplet on the state of America that feels even more relevant today: “Now the water’s rising ’round the corner, there’s a fire burning out of control / There’s a hurricane on Main Street and I’ve got murder in my soul.”

That kind of risk-taking and the enthusiasm for reinterpreting one’s own work are hallmarks of the Seeger Sessions tour, as is the pure, unbridled joy of the performances.  London 11/11/06 captures those qualities marvelously.  

He Who Doesn’t Get The Whole, Doesn’t Get The Half Either

Bruce Springsteen

Hovet, Stockholm, Sweden, June 25, 2005

By Erik Flannigan

Many nations can lay claim to being Bruce Springsteen’s second home or adopted country. Italy has a strong case, given the ancestral roots of Bruce’s mother Adele (maiden name Zerilli) and a history of special shows that took place there, particularly in Milano. England is in the conversation too, with an incredible run of concerts dating back to 1975, and the passion of Spanish fans is well documented on Live in Barcelona. Australia may be a latecomer, but there’s no denying the love affair between Bruce and the land down under that played out in two major tours in 2014 and 2017.

Yet it would be hard to deny Sweden the symbolic honor of first among equals. Sverige’s history with Springsteen also dates back to 1975, when it was one of three markets Springsteen played on a brief European sojourn on the Born to Run tour. But the special relationship really starts with a pair of shows inside the very building in which this Devils & Dust performance takes place. Then called Johanneshovs Isstadion, the venue was the site of two legendary nights on the 1981 European leg of the River tour, memorialized on the famous vinyl bootlegs Follow That Dream and Teardrops on the City.

Four years later, Gothenburg cemented its place in the narrative with two dates at Springsteen’s home away from home in Sweden, Ullevi Stadium. Legend has it the passionate response of fans in Ullevi actually caused structural damage to the building in ‘85, and Springsteen has played the stadium nine times since that human rumble took its toll. Throw in the 1988 radio broadcast from Stockholms Stadion, the Tom Joad tour at Cirkus, and many other celebrated gigs, and the case is quite compelling. The country’s passion for Springsteen never wanes. Case in point: He sold out three stadium shows in Gothenburg alone in 2016, where it would appear he is as popular now as he was in 1985.

You can hear the special bond with Bruce’s Swedish fans on Stockholm 2005. Jon Altschiller’s mix showcases the audience-artist dynamic and the interplay between the two that makes live performance so special and so missed in these times of social isolation.

One element that made the Devils & Dust tour so bewitching was ever-changing setlists. At nearly every stop, Bruce dusted off a few songs that had been sitting on the shelf awhile and added them to a common core. In Stockholm, he opens with the tour debut of “Downbound Train,” hearkening back to those Ullevi ’85 shows. Boldly, the second song of the night is one of the highlights of that common core, “Reason to Believe.” Springsteen completely reimagined the song on this tour, transforming “Reason to Believe” into a Delta blues stomper with his inventive use of the bullet microphone.

Bullet mics are designed for harmonicas, with intentionally limited frequency range (usually cutting anything above 5,000 khz) and distortion. For his new take on “Reason to Believe,” Bruce played harmonica and sang his vocals through the bullet mic, distorting his voice and crunching down the sound to an eerily narrow slice.

The result sounds like an otherworldly transmission from the Crossroads or a lost Bluebird 78 RPM record spinning in the past. Rearranging his own songs is something Springsteen has excelled at going all the way back to “E Street Shuffle,” but this radical and riveting “Reason to Believe” is one of his most memorable and a standout every night of the Devils & Dust tour.

https://youtu.be/o2GxcTjeu58

“Empty Sky” from The Rising had a second act on the tour as well, making close to two dozen appearances. The mournful tale rides Springsteen’s percussive acoustic guitar and focused vocals. Two guitar songs follow, the heartfelt parental reflection “Long Time Comin’,” which gains poignancy when Springsteen sings off-microphone, and the least-played track from Devils & Dust, “Black Cowboys,” which made 16 setlists in 2005.

Bruce moves to the keys for a rare outing of “The Promise,” in its first ever performance in Sweden. What a moment that must have been for diehard fans, five years before it became the title of the Darkness on the Edge of Town box set. We go down to “The River” on piano as well, with a striking prelude that starts with a single note, builds, swells and then settles solemnly before Bruce sings the evocative first lines.

Though it had been a standard feature on the Tunnel of Love Express tour, Bruce’s entertaining evolution tale, “Part Man, Part Monkey,” had its own second life on the Devils & Dust tour, a narrative befitting the candor Bruce was expressing about human behavior in story and song during the shows, sometimes in deeply contrasting ways. Several Link Wray guitar turns only add to the appeal.

“All I’m Thinking About” is an underrated charmer. Sung in a faltering falsetto, it’s a series of sweet, real-life snapshots (little boys carrying fishing poles, little girls picking huckleberries) set to a simple chorus of devotion (or obsession?). Two songs later in “Reno,” fishing poles and blueberries give way to a price list of front and back door sexual access. Damn.

Snuck in between (no pun intended) is “Across the Border,” played for the first time since the Joad tour, augmented with a rich, accordion-like harmonica. You’d never know Springsteen hadn’t played it in so long, his reading is faultless.

Over to the irresistible eclectic piano we go for “Point Blank,” sounding more haunting and knowing than ever, then a true gift, “Walk Like a Man,” making its second archive appearance this year. Springsteen starts it on electric piano (not unlike the arrangement of “Tunnel of Love” from the previously released Grand Rapids 2005 show) and it unfolds warmly. It’s interesting to note that when he last played the song in 1988, he had no children of his own. Singing it here, Bruce is son and father. The song’s gravitas rises for the final verse as Bruce switches to full piano and the arrangement grows richer and more confident. What a gift to have two incredible live versions in our hands now.

That theme of fatherhood is enhanced with the piano pairing of “Walk Like a Man” with “My Hometown” in a powerful, straight-ahead reading where every line rings true. With that, the first half of the show concludes and we move back to guitar for “The Rising” and an intense take of “Lucky Town,” with Bruce strumming his acoustic with physicality and conviction like “Darkness on the Edge of Town” at the 1990 Christic Institute performances.

The back nine of the show rides his conviction to excellent performances of a trio of story songs, “This Hard Land,” “The Hitter,” and “Matamoros Banks.” One might go so far as to call “The Hitter” the closest thing to an unpublished screenplay Springsteen has penned since “Highway Patrolman” and until Western Stars, where it could have slotted in nicely. As character studies go, it is one of his finest.

As he does so masterfully, Springsteen rounds the bend and lightens the mood with a storming, Seeger-ized “Ramrod,” Dylan-ized “Bobby Jean” and a true-blue “Blinded By the Light,” making its Scandinavian premiere 32 years after its release.

The show wraps with the soul-stirring Devils & Dust tour pairing of “The Promised Land” and a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” both offered in meditative, at times mantra-like arrangements. In “Dream Baby Dream,” the words “keep on dreaming” and “I just want to see you smile” sink into our subconscious, floating on dark-cloud organ notes that brighten as they turn towards heaven. Given the genuine dark clouds that so many of us are weathering, the spiritual power of the “Dream Baby Dream” mantra may provide genuine solace.