My Dream Set list for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Concert

While Bruce Springsteen is receiving critical acclaim for his new one-man Broadway show and I enviously read the reviews from the lucky ones managing to get tickets I now look forward to seeing him live soon in whatever capacity.

As a huge Bruce Springsteen fan who has attended many of his concerts over the years, I was inspired to write my story on how his music, beautiful lyrics and incredible live performances have inspired me along with so many other people over the years. As I guess with most Springsteen fans, I have often reflected on what would be my dream set list of songs at a concert so as an appendix to the story I listed my dream concert set list. The list may change the more material he releases or mood I may be in for a particular song at the time but it is fairly comprehensive and as you can see quite long. However no longer than some of his mammoth shows he has done over many years! The beauty of it is, that due to the extensive catalogue of songs he has produced over the years, a Springsteen fan may have some of the same songs listed below but I guarantee every single fan’s set list is likely to be significantly different.

  1. The Promise

I am going with the premise that in a lot of his concerts he starts alone with a solo performance (usually on the piano).

This beautiful song about broken dreams when a promise has been shattered has always been dear to me. The lyrics ring out to us all who have had dreams crushed after some sort of oath has been broken in our lives. I think the song had been earmarked as a song for the Darkness album but never made it. It was only released officially on an album when it was included in a set of previously unreleased songs from the Darkness sessions area for a thirty-year anniversary to the album. You can catch Bruce doing this one as a solo on the Live in New York DVD. It is a mesmerising performance which I often play on a cold and winter night comforted by large glass of red wine! Ever since seeing that footage of this song I have longed to see him performing it at a concert I attend so that is why it is on my list as the first song.

2. Prove It All Night

The next three songs (all from the Darkness on The Edge of Two Album), I am listing are not only regular at his concerts but I would guess many fans concert favourites.

Starting with this upbeat and optimistic song about proving love all night long! A great piano entry into the song and just an all-round dazzling song to get fans up and dancing. There is, as usual, a great sax bit in the middle and for me it is a must to have at his concerts.

3. Promised Land

This is in my current top ten Springsteen songs and likely to stay there no matter how many songs are yet to come from the great man. Great lyrics about despair and determination to get through life whatever it brings. Something we can all relate to in our lives. Just such a lovely tune with yet another great sax solo but also for me, when played live, demonstrates Springsteen’s skill and mastery on the harmonica.

4. Badlands

Probably one of his fans most favourite concert songs that seems to get everyone going. A real heart thumping song about forgetting about your bad times (Badlands) and unfulfilled dreams and to keep going through life to make it better. For me an essential song at any Bruce Springsteen and E Street band concert.

5. Youngstown

Close to being my favourite Springsteen song. Whether it is the original folk song from the Ghost of Tom Joad album or the powerful full band version with one of my favourite guitar solos from the great Nils Lofgren I just love it. Perhaps as this dream set list is for Bruce and the E Street band then the full band version would be great. I love the lyrics that tell the story of devastation brought about by the closure of a steel mill plant. I guess a symbol for the collapse of a whole working-class industry and community. It is the one song that stirs me with so much passion and certainly had some strange looks from people next to me at my response to it the last time I saw it live. I am getting emotional just writing about this song. Enough said. Just adore it.

6. The Ghost of Tom Joad

A beautiful poem and a beautiful song about his thoughts on America’s social climate and injustices in the 90’s equated with the character Tom Joad from the book “The Grapes of Wrath”. This song inspired me to read the book and I am so glad I did. To me it gives you a sense of anger and guilt. I try to do a little bit for the homeless by supporting Crisis UK especially at Christmas time but it is never enough and this one just hammers home greed and poverty.

Once again, I love the original folk song from the same named album but when you witness the whole rock anthem version from the band featuring Tom Morello it just blows you away and intensifies the anger in the words so this version would be my preference.

7. Racing in The Street

If you asked me what was my favourite live track from all of the Springsteen concerts I have attended, it will be this one at Hyde Park in 2009. An unbelievable version of yet another beautiful song. The story line is verging on the dark and desperate but I always just adore hearing this song live. Just recently listened to it on a new live download I purchased of his recent tour and oh my goodness every time I hear the stunning instrumental ending I get very emotional. Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it now. To me it is the greatest ending to a song when played live. Therefore, there is no debate this one must be on the list.

8. The River

My wife’s favourite Springsteen song or it certainly was at one point so this one must be on the list! Such a beautiful haunting song which I will never tire of hearing live. I have been lucky to witness at least two versions of the song live. I think I prefer the original but providing it is played I really don’t mind!

9. Downbound Train

My favourite song from the Born in The USA album and maybe slightly underrated compared to the other songs on the album; I am not sure. A dark and haunting song about a person’s misery and torment about having everything (a job, girl etc.) only for it vanish. I guess we have all been there. I have heard this live a few times but when he played at the London Olympic park in 2013 it just sounded better than ever. So, this one needs to go on the set list.

10. Magic

I just love this little song from the same named title album. Another haunting song backed up by a brilliant violin playing throughout. A song I guess relating to the Bush Jr era and all the dirty tricks played out in hiding people from the truth about what was really going on after the paranoia from the fallout of 9/11. I have heard this a couple of times live and it is beautiful and magic (excuse the pun!) albeit about a very dark subject.

11. Lost in The Flood

I am not sure how other people determine a great song. Whether it is the tune, lyrics, the singer(s). With me it can be any of these but sometimes a song is slow burner and grows on you. Well this is one of those slow burners. The more I heard a live recording of it the more it grew on me. A song about a mish mash of characters maybe flying in the face of their own destruction that just seems to get better with age. I am known now to quote various lines of the song in the bathroom, in the kitchen and at work. Or if someone is losing it, having a meltdown, I often ask whether they were “lost in the flood”! I love the way the song starts with the sound of an organ/synth followed by piano chords and then slowly builds and builds like a storm maybe relating more and more to the desperation of the characters the story is based on. Just love it.

12. Long Walk Home

Probably my favourite song from the Magic album.

Lovely tune with a chorus we can all sing along to. I often sing this chorus when I am travelling home much I am sure to the annoyance of anyone around me and not really what the song is about at all! Although quite an upbeat song, I believe the lyrics are substantially darker about the Bush times and someone returning to his home town not recognising anything that he had known before. The world and its values had all changed. A reflection perhaps on the country as a whole. Great song.

13. Backstreets

My favourite ever Springsteen song. Mentioned it quite a bit in my story so not much more to say than this. The song still reminds me of my great friend Bruce who we tragically lost at such a young age. To be honest it is not the main reason I love the song but it does remind me of all the times and laughs we had together and the sadness at losing him. As soon as I hear the first few bars of this song the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. He can play it at the beginning, the middle or the end of the set list as long as it is played it doesn’t matter. Can’t say any more than that.

14. Empty Sky

The next two on the list are two beautiful and sad songs from the great album The Rising. Both with similar references to loss and sadness and closely linked to the terrible aftermath of 9/11.

Starting with this one maybe more about the loss to the city as well as a lost loved one and could relate to so many people the day after the travesty. A haunting start with a beautiful tune and poetic lyrics and every time he sings it live it stirs the strings in your heart. Another essential song for my list.

15. You’re Missing

Another exceptional beautiful song with great lyrics. This is another song associated with the aftermath of 9/11 and the sad loss of someone dear. For me it is more personal and could be applied to anyone who has lost a loved one whatever the reason. The beautiful sound of the violin at the start is then enhanced by the guitars and Bruce’s vocals make the song reflect the terrible loss felt by the author. Stunning.

16. New Your City Serenade

This is another song that if I am honest didn’t really impact me until I started hearing it live and it just grew and grew on me and now I just adore it. I think it is a masterpiece, a sort of short symphony covering over 10 minutes live. A story obviously of New York and its various characters with a lesson in there I think. I love the waltz bit in the middle. Other than in the US (particularly New York quite rightly) he seems to only play this one in Rome so that is where I am heading next tour just so I can hear this song. I have heard it recently backed up by a string section which just fits so perfectly with the song and it just blows you away.

17. Born to Run

Although surprisingly not in my top 20 favourite Springsteen songs, no concert would be right without probably his most important, famous and iconic song. A real crowd jumping, waving and dancing classic that gets everyone out of their seats or up in the air. If you have read my story, then you may appreciate that I would be quite happy with the acoustic version he has done on occasions but it really doesn’t matter as, whatever version, it is simply a classic.

18. I Wish I Were Blind

I have already mentioned in my story how much this song means to me in terms of the lyrics after the break up a relationship and losing a girl mainly down to my own stupidity. Such a lovely tune with a lovely bit on the guitar in the middle. Never heard this one live at a concert so it would be very special for me to see him play it at some point.

19. Atlantic City

Another song that has grown on me over the years. When I bought the Nebraska album I did not appreciate at the time how great this song is. For me it stands out more powerful as a full band song and every time I hear it now it really gets hold of me. There is also a great alternative version of it on the Live in Dublin With the Sessions Band album. It is just simply a classic!

20. Jack of All Trades

My favourite song from the Wrecking Ball” album. An angry song about injustice and people’s loss due to the greed of others. More great lyrics and a lovely tune accompanied by a horn section with a great guitar solo at the end by Tom Morello. I have seen one version of it with a string accompaniment; Stunning! Fantastic song and in my top ten which unsurprisingly I play often.

21. Independence Day

Still waiting to hear this great song from the River played live. Thought I would be in for a good chance after attending two gigs of The River tour in England in 2016 but alas never mind. Lovely song with a great little sax bit in the middle and lyrics relating to his father and one of my favourite tracks from the album. The lyrics can probably relate to a lot of father and son relationships and I often think of my brother and Dad when I hear it. Great tune and lyrics so therefore it goes on my list.

22. I’m On Fire

This, to me, is a lovely little simple and moody song from the Born in the USA album that I have always liked. A short song maybe about sexual tension I am not sure. There is also a bit of synthesiser in it. Never been a great fan of the synth but I believe it works well here. Nice song that you could relate to more when you were younger!

23. Long Time Comin

My favourite song from the Devils & Dust Album. I heard him play this at the Albert Hall and it was just superb. I think it is just such a wonderful song about someone looking back on their life and looking for a second chance. I guess it could fit into any of our lives at certain periods: certainly the “I ain’t gonna f**k it up this time”. Great acoustic guitar sound and I would just love to hear it live again.

24. Because the Night

I have always loved this song even the version Patti Smith had a hit with. To hear it live from Springsteen is always a pleasure. Even more so now with the fantastic guitar playing from Nils Lofgren doing his twirls. A great song to sing along to and a real crowd favourite.

25. Outlaw Pete

I think this is my favourite song from the Working on A Dream album. I have read a few comments on Springsteen fan sites of a dislike to this song but not quite sure why. I guess it is a slightly different type of song from Springsteen. A song about a man trying to outlast his sins and I did read somewhere about a link with George Bush Jr. Whether that is true or not I do like the tale, the music including hints of Morricone’s spaghetti western sound and the guitar sound on this song. When I first bought the album, this was the one song I used to play time and time again. I saw him do it live in Hyde Park in 2009 and would love to hear it played live again.

26. Bobby Jean

Another crowd favourite. Just love this simple and poppy song about friendship and closely linked with Springsteen thoughts on his great friend Steve Van Zandt relating to his departure from the band in the 1980’s (luckily not for good). A song that I have heard many times and you will always see us fans with hands in the air waving to the rhythmic music towards the end. It is likely to be on most fan’s set list favourites and I am no different in that respect.

27. Land of Hope and Dreams

I am moving into the encores now and what better way to start with than this great song about what it says on the tin. A place where everyone can go no matter who you are good or bad to try and reach your hopes and dreams. I first heard this song on the 1999 reunion tour and have loved it ever since. Love the guitar playing by Steve Van Zandt and it is simply a brilliant song. I keep saying great and brilliant songs about them all but that is Springsteen’s song writing for you and to me they just are!

28. Jungleland

No encore could be complete without having this classic Springsteen song included. It is just an epic that lasts almost ten minutes and is set around a mix of characters mixed up in gang violence and love. It really has everything. A violin to start, then piano, then vocals backed up by great guitar music and in my opinion the greatest sax solo ever. Hearing it live each time gives you goose bumps and I am honoured and privileged to have been present on several occasions when Clarence Clemens has delivered his famous sax solo on the song. It is also a pleasure to see Jake Clemens take up the mantle and make this song still feel so fresh and alive.

29. Dancing in the dark

Another classic encore song which just must be included. Usually played under dark as one of the last few songs of the night, it gets everyone going and demonstrates how much energy Springsteen has even towards the end of his concerts. A slightly more commercialised song but I have always loved it. This is usually the only Springsteen song I can get a DJ to find when I am out at some party/wedding and fed up with some of the music being played (getting old I guess!). I can’t dance to save my life but you will certainly find me doing something on the dance floor to this one whatever bodily movement I am making.

30. American Land

To me another great encore song that gets everyone going. This song came out at the time of the Seeger sessions but eventually found its way onto the Wrecking Ball album. A folk based gig centred around the American immigrant experience. It really captures everyone’s enjoyment of a Springsteen night out. Great violin and an incredible band song.

31. Paradise (Acoustic)

Springsteen usually finishes his concerts with an acoustic version of one of his songs. I am being greedy here by wanting two acoustic songs to end what would be my perfect concert. This beautiful and haunting song about a suicide bomber is very rarely played at concerts I believe. I think I may have seen it on one set list at some point but it is rare. I remember the first time I heard it when I bought The Rising I was struck on how enchanting it was albeit about a dark subject. I have very recently seen a couple of versions on YouTube of him performing it solo on the piano and it is stunning so I would just love to hear this one live.

32. This Hard Land (Acoustic)

Most fans would probably go for the epic Thunder Road as their favourite to end the show. It is indeed a truly great classic and deserves to be on any favourite set list. I think the main reason I have omitted it is because I have been present on so many occasions when it has been played. Therefore, I am going for this wonderful song instead. The more I heard this song in the past the more I grew to love it and I have heard the more upbeat and original version of the song a few times. A song about friendship and survival sort of fits in with everyone’s lives and I just love the last few lines of the song.

“stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive if you can and meet me in a dream of this hard”

He has done a few acoustic versions of it over the years and I think acoustic suits this song so would just love to hear it to end what would be a magical night.