A recent article on chicagotribune.com asked in its headline, “Does Bruce Springsteen’s ‘River’ tour make him an oldies act? Meanwhile, a recent NJ.com article belittled the tour as an opportunity to “[waste] exorbitant amounts of cash to sit in the upper deck of an arena and watch a scowling speck play music you’ve been listening to for 35 years.”
But actually, the tour represents the opposite of what an oldies tour is.
An oldies tour can be summed up as an opportunity to hear all the old hits of a artist, exactly the way you remember them. But by performing his 1980 double album The River in its entirety at all tour stops, Springsteen is actually hindering his ability to play his best-known material.
He played The River once before in its entirety at a concert, at Madison Square Garden in 2009. He was able to do 12 other numbers at that show, as well. So he will obviously not be able to squeeze in all or even most of his fan favorites, this time around.
He’s got 18 Top 40 hits, plus many other songs that fans come to concerts expecting or hoping to hear, such as “Rosalita” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” and “The Rising.” You do the math.
Still, the dozen or so non-River songs he will be playing on every night of the tour gives him an opportunity to mix in some obscure material — including, most likely, some never-before-released songs from his recent boxed set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. He may also do some surprise covers — maybe requested by fans, via signs? — though he will also, I’m sure, perform trademark songs such as “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Badlands” at all or many shows.
But the most obvious reason this is not an oldies tour is that he will be singing, every night, The River songs such as “Stolen Car” and “The Price You Pay” and “Wreck on the Highway” and “Drive All Night,” which many longtime fans have never heard him perform live. That’s simply not what an oldies act does.
Furthermore, I’m assuming — judging by past experience — that Springsteen and the E Street Band will find ways to give the River songs new musical twists over the course of the tour, rather than playing them exactly the way they were played on the original album (which half of the current E Street Band wasn’t even around for).
I’ve written before that the tour strategy may have disappointed some of Springsteen’s hardcore fans, who may have been planning to go to many different shows in many different cities, but reconsidered after it was announced that the shows would be so similar (in that they all will contain the 20 songs of The River). I still wonder why Springsteen committed himself to doing this, rather than performing a bunch of The River songs at all the shows, and sprinkling in some full-album shows as surprises — just to give himself some flexibility, and allow him to not do so many full-album shows if it turns out he gets tired of them.
But that doesn’t mean that this is an oldies show. It’s never a good idea to underestimate The Boss.