LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) - Bruce Springsteen jumped off the stage and into a frenzied German crowd of 45,000 fans on Sunday in Leipzig to pluck a sign with a hand-written request scrawled on it - as he has been doing all summer on his popular tour across Europe.
But when Springsteen whirled around and held up the name of the song for his band to see, jaws dropped and a frightened look crossed their faces. The sign read “You never can tell” by Chuck Berry, a 1964 tune made popular in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.”
“Every night we try to pull one out that we haven’t played since we were, I dunno, 16,” Springsteen said, savoring the challenge of figuring out how to play an unfamiliar song from another artist on the spot in front of a stadium audience.
“Let’s see how we do,” Springsteen said. He began humming the tune as encouragement to the worried-looking band members who seemed flummoxed by the melody and unsure of the key.
“Try it boys,” he said, growing impatient after a few minutes of tentative strumming, tooting and drumming. “Let’s hear it now!”
Springsteen and the E Street band then nailed “You never can tell” and the crowd loved them for it just as an even larger crowd did last Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris when he took a request in the crowd for “Lucille”.
“Someone’s trying to stump the E Street band,” Springsteen laughed before the band aced the Little Richard number in Paris.
Leipzig was as enthralled by the boundless energy of Springsteen on Sunday as were similarly large and enthusiastic crowds in Moenchengladbach, Germany on Friday, in Geneva on Wednesday and in London last Sunday.
The 63-year-old American rock icon has been filling stadiums and venues around the world for nearly 16 months on a 130-stop “Wrecking Ball” tour.
It’s been a tour full of audience requests that has tested the musical skills of Springsteen and his E Street band but at the same time given audiences something new every night to cheer about at shows from Spain to Sweden and Scotland to Switzerland.
Even many of the hardcore fans who trek around Europe to see his concerts have also been impressed by his ever-changing gigs. The set list is never the same as he draws titles from his 17 studio albums in five decades but also from other artists.
“We’re playing it loose tonight,” he said in Moenchengladbach, a small town west of Cologne. “This is what we used to do in the nightclubs. ‘Hey, 10 euros for a song’.”
Many are Springsteen hits but many are from other artists that he and his band might not have heard or played in years - or even decades. His forays into the crowd for obscure titles cause his band visible concern but make each concert unique.
In Hanover in May, Springsteen grabbed a sign in which a fan offered a body organ to hear “Drift Away”. Springsteen told the fan he didn’t really know the song but wanted him to go home in one piece so he’d give it a go.
Even after 50 years performing, Springsteen still packs stadiums. Ordinary life comes to a halt in many towns. Leipzig has a population of 500,000; there were 45,000 at the concert. Moenchengladbach has 250,000 and 35,000 were at the stadium.
His six-leg, 130-stop “Wrecking Ball” began on March 18, 2012 in Atlanta and is nearing its end. It will conclude after 10 more stops in Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, England and then in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 21.
Most crowds are on their feet after about 30 minutes into the three hour shows. But not always.
“I’m up here with the sweat running down my back.”
“I realize I haven’t done my job yet,” he added. “I see so many fine Leipzig-ians still sitting in their seats.”
Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Michael Roddy