May 17, 2013

Notes from the road: Herning

A city doesn’t have to be called London or Barcelona to inspire Bruce Springsteen to deliver what could be a show that will be remembered long after the tour is over. Most people outside of Denmark probably never heard of a place named Herning. Even among Danes it’s best known for being in the middle of nowhere. Still, it was central enough to host the second Danish show in three days, the first time Bruce has played more than once in Denmark on the same tour leg.

It was also one of the smallest venues of the tour, holding only around 15,000 attendees. As a result the atmosphere inside was intense and the temperature hot from the get-go.

Although the two Danish shows were at two different venues, the Herning show got the Night Two treatment with a setlist almost unrecognizable compared to Copenhagen.

“Long Walk Home” was a rare and welcome opener, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” got the arena singing and clapping from the first note, while “The Ties that Bind” gave credit to the rumor that had floated beforehand that Bruce was going to do the entire River album. That possibility, however, was quickly quenched, as the show moved into more familiar territory with a triple shot of Wrecking Ball songs. “Death to My Hometown” in particular got the crowd moving with its hard punching folk riff and the band standing shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the stage like a Revolutionary War line of battle.

The small venue allowed the stage setup that’s usually reserved for indoor shows in the United States, with an aisle surrounding the entire pit section, allowing Bruce to do a rare crowd surf at a European show. A perfect landing back on the stage meant that the trust between artist and crowd had been sealed, and from then on the show loosened up and became full of those moments that make diehards keep coming back for more.

While fans climbing up on stage uninvited are not encouraged, even Bruce had to smile when one fan somehow managed to get up there and do a cool dance. Bruce sent him back to the pit kindly but firmly, but that didn’t put a damper on things. The sign request section that followed prompted a logistical problem when a “sign” on a woman’s bare and very pregnant stomach was held up on the shoulders of what was probably her husband. Rather than collecting her along with all the other signs, Bruce had a spotlight pointed at her before granting her wish of “Tougher Than the Rest”.

The request section continued with two songs from Greetings From Asbury Park, including a full-band performance of “For You” and the funky version of “Does This Bus Stop” complete with a drum kit vs. bongos duel between Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley.

A note to guys who bring a sign request for “I Wish I Were Blind”, as someone in the Herning crowd did: be prepared to explain yourself to Bruce as to why you ruined your relationship and got dumped. The guy at the Herning show willingly complied and got his wish played in a stunningly beautiful solo acoustic version with Bruce hitting the high notes perfectly in his best crooner voice.

Back on track with the setlisted “Prove It All Night” with the ‘78 intro, the show went into guitar overdrive. You almost forgot that between Bruce’s piercing intro and Nils Lofgren’s supersonic six-string coda, there is a killer song that would work just fine on its own, but with the guitar work, it becomes something extraordinary.

The guitar attack continued during “Murder Incorporated”, allowing Steve to channel his best Sylvio Dante gangster attitude into his axe. Then it was time for some slightly more danceable music in the shape of a rollicking “Johnny 99” and the swing version of “Open All Night”. At this point the temperature in the arena was at the boiling point, with both Bruce and crowd absolutely drenched in sweat.

That didn’t mean either side let up. The energy remained extraordinarily high during both “Badlands” and “Land of Hope and Dreams”, which concluded the main set.

The first song of the encores is often used for a little breather for both Bruce and audience, but not in Herning. Bruce went straight into a powerful “Born in the USA”, the loud bass notes literally making it feel like your clothes were being blown off.

The heat and the noise were starting to take their toll on the front rows in the pit. During the second verse of “Born to Run”, the crowd had to step in and do the lead vocals while Bruce, with a concerned expression, fetched water for someone in the pit who was on the verge of dehydration.

Most of the fans in the arena, however, were still able and willing to continue. But not Bruce quite yet. The end note of “Born to Run” was dragged out for what seemed like minutes while he frantically combed the stage for a sign he had picked out earlier. That is, until Steve pointed out that the sign was again not the cardboard kind, but was drawn on the forehead of a man in the front row. This time the “sign” was invited up on the stage for display, and while the band shifted into the slow, heavy beat of the requested “Ramrod”, the human sign toured the stage and gave each front line member of the E Street Band a kiss on their cheeks, finally turning to Bruce, who overbearingly offered his own cheek as well. The fan clung on to him a little too long, but not for need of attention, but because at this point tears of joy were streaming down his face.

More fans, this time of the female kind, were pulled on stage for “Dancing in the Dark”, including the now mandatory extra guitarist, and the show concluded with “Tenth Avenue” that once again allowed Bruce to go deep into the crowd and do the final verse from the podium between the pit and the main floor section.

The show didn’t quite hit the three-hour mark, but the crowd was exhausted and Bruce was exhausted, and it was a perfectly fulfilling ending to a 2½ week run of Scandinavian shows. Those who had been to all of them said Herning rivaled the best of them, and many veterans in the crowd were ready to put it in the top three of Springsteen shows on Danish soil.

At the very least, it proved a Springsteen show in an obscure town in a small country can be as good as any show in a world-renowned metropolis.

– Karsten Andersen,