The Art of Concert Setlist Composition - A Data Driven Analysis of Bruce Springsteen’s Setlist Curation Over His Career

Edward Abel, Andrew Goddard

Research output: Other contributionResearch


Playing live has always been an important part of Bruce Springsteen’s artistry. During his career he has performed thousands of live shows, often as part of a tour in connection with promoting the most recent studio album. When fashioning a live concert setlist there are potentially conflicting considerations for Bruce, such as looking to combine commercial considerations regarding the presence of material from the most recent studio album, alongside an incredibly large pool of other possible songs, in a way that still allows the setlist to be crafted coherently together as a unique whole. In this paper, we explore Bruce Springsteen as a performing artist, with a data driven analysis and discussion of his attitudes for setlist composition over the tours of his career. We explore how his setlists look to juggle considerations of containing material from the most recent studio album alongside expectations from fans of different levels of fandom. Through analysing Bruce’s setlists, we explore the weight given to such considerations and how it varies for different tours, providing perceptions into Bruce’s feelings regarding his different albums. We explore how Bruce looks to challenge his audience, himself, and the band, by taking a more nuanced approach to setlist curation, as opposed to looking to perform more greatest hits type setlists. Through our analysis, we show how Bruce is eager to play a significant amount of material from his most recent album, highlighting both his belief in his most recent work, but also potential commercial pressures for pushing for the current album. However, we show this is not always the case, with albums such as “Working on a Dream” being significant outliers, suggesting Bruce’s belief in his most recent work is not always so strong, so much so, it even outweighs commercial pressures. We analyse how Bruce has always shied away from a greatest hits mentality within setlist curation, even during the “Reunion” tour which, arguably, was the ideal occasion to break from traditional and succumb to a greatest hits driven setlist mindset. Through exploring Bruce’s setlists over the course of his career, we analysis how his thinking around setlists have evolved. We highlight how more recently he has become more open to playing an identical setlist repeatedly and become open to the phenomenon of playing studio albums in full and in sequence, suggesting a growing consideration of legacy and nostalgia within his setlists.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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