The first American leg of the tour totaled ninety-four shows in forty-five cities. It climaxed on January 26th and 27th, 1985, with two concerts at the cavernous Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The crowds there – 39,000 people each night – were the largest of Springsteen's career up to that time. They were also a sign of things to come.
For Federici, the first leg was the hardest part of the tour, "because we were doing a lot more one-night stands in real close cities, flying out and playing the next day." But there was little rock & roll backstage monkey business; the entire Springsteen organization, from Bruce on down, was a model of efficiency.
"When you go backstage at a Bruce Springsteen show, you don't see a circus," declares Clarence Clemons. "Everybody has a job to do, and everybody goes about it seriously. Bruce instills the moral fiber that runs through the whole organization."
Each of the members of the E Street Band prepared for the evening's work in his or her own quiet way. Clemons, a recent convert to the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, meditated for about a half hour and received a massage before every show. A few band members warmed up with a game of ping-pong. Backstage guests were usually escorted to a hospitality suite, well stocked with food and drink, where they awaited visits from Springsteen and the band.
It was often an all-star crunch. Elizabeth Taylor, Don Rickles, John McEnroe and Jack Nicholson, with Meryl Streep on his arm, were among the nonrock stars who attended. Royalty included Princess Stephanie and Prince Albert of Monaco, who attended the Paris show, and purple potentate Prince of Minneapolis, who showed up in Clarence Clemons' dressing room there and complimented Clemons' Swedish wife, Christina, on her dress.
Clemons says one of the high points of the tour for him was when Sean Connery, "the James Bond, came back and said he really admired me." But did it ever get crazy backstage with all those luminaries jockeying for position? "No," he says serenely, "we were the luminaries. They came to our gig."
No one enjoyed those gigs more than the musicians themselves. "Nils said it in a fantastic quote," notes Weinberg. "He said it's like you get up there with Bruce and they've given you four hours to live. And this is your four hours. Now what are you going to do with your time?"
To a man – and woman – the E Streeters agree that out of the approximately 150 shows they performed in 1984 and 1985, they didn't have a single bum night. Led by Springsteen, with a calm assurance born of nearly twenty years at center stage, they displayed a consistency each night that was equal parts technique and telepathy. The "stump the band" aspect of the group's mid-Seventies concerts – when Springsteen would suddenly alter the set in midshow, calling out an old cover or a forgotten LP track – tapered off as the band went into stadiums. "For the sake of projecting to 50,000 people, you needed more structure," claims Weinberg. Yet, while ninety percent of every show ran like clockwork, Springsteen always left an extra ten percent, Lofgren says, "to goof with."
For example, there was the night at Giants Stadium in New Jersey when the band was set to play "I'm on Fire," from Born in the U.S.A., and Springsteen abruptly called out "Fire" instead. At one of the last shows on the tour, Springsteen had finished the last encore when someone in the crowd threw an artificial leg onstage. "A whole leg," recalls Weinberg, marveling. "Bruce picks it up and says, 'We've got to play one more for this guy.' So we all run back to our instruments, but what the hell are we gonna play? Bruce looks at the leg and says, 'Fellas, "Stand on It." ' "
After completing the U.S. arena tour in syracuse, the band took a six-week breather during February and March before taking on the rest of the world. Springsteen's international itinerary included spring and summer swings through Britain, Europe and countries like Australia and Japan where the group had never performed before.
But Bruce's rock & roll gospel of self-respect and emotional liberation needed no translation. Japanese, Australian and European audiences easily grasped the universality of his frank, lyric portrayal of the tarnished American dream – the dashed hopes and defiant aspirations. Clarence Clemons was astonished to see young Japanese fans waving American and Japanese flags sewn together during shows there. In Milan, Italy, 60,000 people sang "My Hometown" with Springsteen while, ironically, an American serviceman near the foot of the stage stood at attention, holding the Stars and Stripes for the entire show.
"You could hear the whole audience singing," Max Weinberg remembers. "The idea of community in rock & roll is never more apparent than when something like that happens. The things we've seen from our vantage point onstage are irreplaceable memories."
"I wish some of the politicians had seen these things," declares Clemons. "Those kids didn't understand the words to 'Born in the U.S.A.,' but they understood what we were singing about. Those things Bruce sings about, attention to self and country, pertain not only to America. They pertain to everybody."
Clemons remembers swooping down in a helicopter over Slane Castle, near Dublin, Ireland, awed by the sight of over 70,000 people gathered there for the band's show. "It's wasn't only the sheer volume of numbers, but the sheer volume of harmony and peace. The next day I was in a cab going to the airport, and the driver turned to me and said: 'You were better than the pope. You brought the North and the South together, and there were no fights.' And that's what it's all about. That's why we knock ourselves out."
Audiences responded everywhere. At a race track in Brisbane, Australia, Springsteen asked the crowd to raise their hands in the air during "Twist and Shout." "They were so tightly packed together," says Weinberg, "they couldn't get their hands down. They were standing there in front of us, waving their hands. I felt, 'Wow, this must have been what Beatlemania was like.' They were completely freaking out." The normally reserved Japanese, he adds, "were the best dancers I've ever seen. And they knew all the words."
The decision by Springsteen and his manager, Jon Landau, to play large, outdoor venues, first in Europe and then in the States, was not made lightly. Springsteen worried about the loss of intimacy and the often inferior sound quality at stadium rock shows. "But there was a time when Bruce didn't want to go into arenas because of the same argument," Garry Tallent points out. "We had to take the shot. Some intimacy was lost." he admits, "but something was there to replace it – the event itself. We pulled it off."
To compensate for the increased distance between band and audience, Springsteen doubled the size of his sound system and added giant video screens to broadcast the action onstage to the back rows. Danny Federici says some of the band members also made slight adjustments in their stage wear. "We'd wear more vivid colors so we could be seen. I remember telling Garry, 'That shirt's a little too busy; they won't see you in the back.' We tried to get our clothing together a little bit better, wear more outrageous shirts."
"When you play big places like that, there's a tendency to think that if you jump around a lot, people are going to notice you more," explains Nils Lofgren, a veteran of stadium shows with Neil Young. "But in those places, it doesn't matter, because twenty or thirty rows out you still look like a dot. The best thing for us to do, with the video cameras there, was to do exactly what we normally did – be ourselves and let the cameras pick it up."
Max Weinberg dubbed the U.S. outdoor stadium shows that wound up the tour in September and October the Pestilence Tour. At the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the band was attacked by a horde of crickets that got in the musicians' hair, on Weinberg's drum kit and even down the back of Springsteen's shirt while he was getting sentimental in "My Hometown." In Philadelphia, the temperature onstage registered 106 degrees. In Denver, the mercury plummeted to 35 degrees, with snow to boot. The weather was fine in Miami; unfortunately, the Orange Bowl there did not have an electrical system adequate for high-volume rock & roll. Diesel generators were brought in to take up the slack and set up behind the stage. Says Weinberg, groaning, "Those fumes were killing us."
Throughout the tour, the Springsteen road crew numbered between thirty and forty members. (By comparison, the Who traveled with a crew of ninety on their 1982 farewell U.S. tour.) The sound, lights and band gear filled nine tractor-trailers; the three separate outdoor stages used for the stadium shows took up another fifteen trucks. Often, while a crew was dismantling a stage in one stadium, Springsteen was performing on a second one in another city and a crew member was overseeing construction of a third stage in the next scheduled venue. Although the crew usually had two days to set up the entire production, they set a record at Giants Stadium when, because of a conflict with a football game there, they put up the stage, sound, lights and instruments in only seventeen hours.
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