Notes from the road: Milan
Who do you love more, your mom or your dad? What is the best Bruce concert you’ve seen? Unanswerable questions. But chances are that if you’ve seen Springsteen play Milan’s San Siro Stadium, it's a show that has to be in the running. 1985, 2003, 2008, 2012... every single show here has been special in its own way. And this year’s is no exception.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve played quite a few places... but this one is special,” says an emotional Springsteen at the end of San Siro 2013. “You are special. I keep you in my heart every time.” This is not rock cliché — he really means it. You can tell just from the facts: a mammoth set at 34 songs, three-and-a-quarter hours, with rarities, premieres, hits, and even a full album. And you can tell it from his face.
The first Italian concert of the year with no acoustic pre-show starts early, at 8:15. As Bruce takes the stage, the sight is breathtaking: The historical stadium, home of soccer teams Milan and Inter, is packed with 60,000 people. The second and third rings of the venue have white, red and green signs that form a gigantic dedication: “Our love is real.” Bruce remains speechless for a full minute.
When the show begins, it already feels like an encore: not only because the opening song (“Land of Hope and Dreams”) is one that usually comes near the end, but because of the energy and the audience participation. Going into “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “Out in the Street,” the whole thing already feels like a party, with the entire stadium chanting.
As request time comes, the real surprises begin. The choices are party songs: “American Land” and “Long Tall Sally,” played for the first time by the E Street Band. After a welcome “Loose Ends” (“This is Stevie’s favorite!”) the standard sequence is cut to just two songs, “Wrecking Ball” and “Death to My Hometown.” No “We Take Care of Our Own” and no “Spirit in the Night.” Bruce doesn’t need them tonight. His voice is in perfect shape, and his face appears continuously astonished by audience. A couple more songs — a wonderful “Atlantic City” and an intense “The River,” with Bruce leading the audience back into a reprise — and then comes what almost every die-hard fan had been talking about and hoping for, if they didn't exactly know it was coming. Remembering his history at San Siro, Bruce announces that in honor of that historical 1985 concert — his first time in Italy, back on the Born in the U.S.A. World Tour — he’s going to play Born in the U.S.A. start to finish.
Playing a full album is a choice sometimes debated among fans. But the fact is that Born in the U.S.A. fits the evening perfectly, from the bombastic beginning of the title track to the emotional closing of “My Hometown,” with so many fast songs in between. A fun “Working on the Highway” and a wonderful “I’m Goin’ Down” (with a fantastic electric guitar intro) are the highlights of the sequence, along with Jake's perfect renditions of the solos in “Bobby Jean” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Bruce and the band cut a rug with many different ladies as "Dancing” stretches out.
The rest of the main set is like a greatest hits collection, ending with "Hungry Heart." And then the encore takes the energy and intensity to a higher level, if possible. The acoustic segment many fans had hoped for in the afternoon comes as an encore intro, with a bit of “This Land is Your Land” that segues into Wrecking Ball's “We Are Alive,” (played very rarely this year) as the band joins in. After the trifecta of “Born to Run,”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” and “Twist and Shout” that often closes the show, Bruce just wants to keep going. So does the audience, dancing on the soccer field. The screens show him calling out some chords changes, and the E Street Band goes into the Isley Brothers' “Shout” — a perfect companion to “Twist and Shout,” as Springsteen directs the moves of the audience. It's a perfect way to end the evening as well. Only, we still aren't quite finished. As in Naples, Bruce ushers the band off and, by himself, sings “Thunder Road” with just his acoustic guitar, a moving ending to a wonderful night.
I’ve seen Springsteen in San Siro all five times. 1985 was the first rock concert of my life. All were memorable, especially the rain-soaked 2003 show. What I saw tonight rivaled any of them for emotion, intensity, energy, passion and fun. This was one of the best concerts of my life: pure rock music, Bruce at his best.