If there's one thing the Springsteen live archive series has been somewhat lacking, it's concerts that I've been at. What's up with that?
(I say "somewhat" because it did release the Other Band show that marked my introduction to live Bruce in 1992, so I can't complain too much.)
That all changed today, though, when we saw Fenway Park, Aug. 15, 2012 drop at live.brucespringsteen.net. It was one of those second-night sets that drives people who only went to the first night crazy, with its mix of outtakes, rarities, covers and general unpredictability.
Unsure about whether to open your wallet? To help you decide, here's what I had to say the day after the show in the review I wrote for Wicked Local:
Springsteen’s second Fenway show spotlights a loose Bruce
If Bruce Springsteen's first show at Fenway Park this week was an example of the powerhouse tour-de-force the Boss is known for – complete with a theme and a meticulously planned flow of classic and current songs – night two was an equally effective example of the other kind of concert he sometimes has up his sleeve: A loose, fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants party filled with surprises, unexpected detours and an anything-goes energy.
From the very beginning when Springsteen wandered out onto the stage alone to greet the crowd and launch into "Thunder Road" accompanied only by Roy Bittan on piano, it was clear it was going to be a different kind of night. And the collection of rare tracks, covers and requests that followed more than bore that out – of the 30 songs played Wednesday, 18 hadn't made an appearance the night before. For most artists, that's an entire show.
After "Thunder Road," Springsteen brought out the E Street Band and launched into a "summertime set" of "Hungry Heart," "Sherry Darling," "Summertime Blues" and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," the last one being the first of many audience requests. ("Does anybody remember the bridge?" Bruce asked the band, probably only half-kidding.) A few songs later he took a sign request for Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood," which he said the band had never played – and they nailed it straight through, with Springsteen's E Street Horns propelling the number into the soul stratosphere.
Unlike the first Fenway show, which had more than its share of favorites from "Born in the USA," Wednesday's concert seemed more geared to diehard fans who've followed Bruce from the beginning, or wish they had. The often requested but rarely played outtake "Frankie" was one soaring example, along with "Prove It All Night" with its "1978 intro" featuring Bittan's piano and Springsteen's stinging guitar. The guitar duel between Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt to end that song would have blown off Fenway's roof if it had one.
The loose approach had its drawbacks: The pacing lagged at spots, especially in comparison to the epic heft of Tuesday's show – things tend to grind to a halt when Springsteen wanders into the crowd to collect sign requests, a staple of the last tour that he revived on Wednesday. And the theme of hardship, loss and moving on dissipated a bit as the focus shifted away from his new album "Wrecking Ball" and onto an eclectic mix of older classics and rarities – it felt more backward-looking than other shows on this tour.
But as far as individual standouts, there was certainly no shortage: "Backstreets" was the best I've ever seen it, wrenching and emotional, complete with a snippet of "Dream Baby Dream," the Suicide song with which Springsteen memorably closed his "Devils & Dust" shows in 2005. Later, a gradually steadying rain prompted a beautiful acoustic "Who'll Stop the Rain" to start the encore, and who can complain about a set that includes both Mitch Ryder's "Detroit Medley" and Gary U.S. Bond's raucous "Quarter to Three"?
The Fenway stand as a whole – in all its sprawling, joyous glory – will no doubt move immediately into Springsteen fan lore, and leaves just one question unanswered: What can possibly be left for his stop at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro this Saturday? Bruce's Boston-area fans can't wait to find out.
(Spoiler alert from 2021: We found out. Maybe they should release that one next?)