No intro music, no explosions, nor fireworks or other special effects. If the video screens hadn’t suddenly been switched on, you might have missed The E Street Band casually strolling on stage at 10 past 7 in Munich and Berlin. Because even though Springsteen is playing stadium shows, he doesn’t resort to fancy stage gimmicks like his colleagues Bono, Mick and co.

Bruce likes to keep it basic. The E Street Band also went back to basics. In previous years, they had, at one point or another, been accompanied by a horn section, backing vocalists, a percussionist and even Rage Against The Machine guitar player Tom Morello. None of that on the current tour. There’s long-time friend Steve van Zandt, who is halfway in the process of morphing into Captain Jack Sparrow, guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren (who now resembles a miniature version of Abraham Lincoln) along with usual suspects Roy Bittan, Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg and Soozie Tyrell. However, time has caught up even with the fellows from E Street. Charlie Giordano replaces organist Danny Federici who died in 2008, while Jake Clemons follows in the big footsteps of his uncle Clarence who passed away in 2011.

Bruce Springsteen performing during the 2016 River Tour in Munich

And even Bruce isn’t immune to the ticking of the clock. He has given up on covering up all his grey hair, now going for that Clooney-look. Also physically, he takes things slower. He is no longer jumping from piano’s, sliding across the stage or dropping on his knees, James Brown-style. Still he sports biceps that many a 30-year-old would be jealous of, and he’s still kept that irresistible twinkle in his eyes. And most importantly, his shows still go way past the three-hour-mark.

And so how were the shows in Munich and Berlin? I have seen Bruce ten times over the years. Sadly, the concerts this past weekend didn’t rank among the best. One of the reasons I love Bruce is that, unlike his peers, he still manages to stay relevant, to put out great music, and to deliver an important message. The German shows on The River tour were lacking that. Already the fact of naming a tour after an album that was released in 1980 is questionable when it comes to musical and topical relevance. However, the concept of playing the full album front to back as he did during the US leg of the tour, convinced me of the uniqueness of the tour. But in Europe, that concept was dropped. In Munich, only six songs of The River were included in the setlist, and in Berlin only five! Mind you: The River is a double album featuring 20 tracks. In comparison, in Munich he played 7 out of 12 songs on the Born In The U.S.A. album and in Berlin he played 6 out of 8 songs that are featured on Born To Run. He might as well have named the tour after either one of those albums.

Bruce Springsteen performing during the 2016 River Tour in Munich

But more than that, the show lacked a story. Bruce has always done a great job combining songs from his current album with older songs that fit the theme. He did so on The Rising (inspired by the terrorist attacks of 9/11), Magic (which dealt with the Bush administration and the war in Iraq) and Wrecking Ball in 2012 where he examined the effects of the financial crisis. The River shows turned out to be a greatest hits fest, which is fine for most of the casual fans, but left me yearning for more.

There where however lots of highlights in the show, with the most poignant moment being his rendition of American Skin (41 Shots). Although he didn’t talk to the audience about the Orlando shootings explicitly , the music spoke for itself. Following 41 Shots was The Promised Land, another strike of Bruce’s story-telling genius. But this was as close as the shows got to some thematic consistency.

Both nights, Bruce ended the show alone on stage, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. In Munich, we got For You, while in Berlin, he left us with Thunder Road. As I watched him there, I could only wish that he will do more of that soon. Stripping it down to the core: a microphone, a guitar and a spotlight. One thing is for sure: Bruce ain’t done yet. And I ain’t done with Bruce.

Featured below, a gallery of my photos from Munich. Coming soon: another collection of shots from the Berlin show!

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