It’s been 2 years since I converted to the Church of Springsteen, so the only thing that delighted me more than the release of the Wrecking Ball album (which I reviewed earlier this year) was the return of Bruce and the E Street Band to Hyde Park last night, as part of their 2012 world tour. Although I’m fairly new to all this, I was well aware in advance that for die hard fans, a Springsteen gig is akin to a religious experience; but having swotted over the back catalogue for the past few months, I was ready to hold my head high and roar the lyrics with everyone else.
By the time I got through the entrance and hit the crowd, Bruce had just taken to the stage to open with a piano solo version of ‘Thunder Road’ – usually reserved for encores, he silenced the crowd with the 1975 classic as the sun set in a orange-purple haze behind him. Then, the E Street Band joined him for his standard opener ‘Badlands’ before launching into a string of stompers from Wrecking Ball. “Looks like we’ve got a beautiful night London”, Bruce roared about half an hour in, before cautiously adding “Give it fifteen minutes right?” In fact the rain held off for about ninety minutes before soaking us persistently for the best part of an hour. But, Bruce ignored it, and so did we.
For the first time since releasing The Rising in 2002 (which contributed several songs to the set), Springsteen has a new record which punches its weight alongside rock n roll classics, and for many people around me, they rejoiced as much at hearing ‘Death To My Hometown’ and ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ for the first time, as they did at hearing old favourites. An extended brass and horn section recreated the specific sound engineered on Wrecking Ball – somewhere between an American folk song and an Irish jig. They also seem to have dictated the inclusion of Born In The U.S.A tracks like ‘Darlington County’ and ‘Working On The Highway’, which sound bigger and badder than before. The late Clerence Clemons – Springsteen’s long time saxophonist and friend – was remembered at various points of the night, in Bruce’s speeches, song dedications, and in the wonderful playing of Jake Clemons, who has taken his uncle’s place in the band.
Famously, Bruce plays sign requests passed forward through the audience. A girl who sat on her boyfriend’s shoulders with a sign saying ‘MY NAME IS BOBBY JEAN’ didn’t get to hear her namesake, but one guy at the front did have success. His sign asked for a rare outtake from The River, ‘Take Em As They Come’; and underneath he had written the names of the five European cities where he’d already seen the show and had his request ignored. Bruce said “Tonight my friend, this is your lucky night. You’re gonna hear this damn thing”. A combination of his overjoyed face on the big screens, and the introduction of the crowd to a great unknown song, made this one of the evening’s highlights.
For some reason my Wrecking Ball favourite ‘Rocky Ground’ – a glorious fusion of rock, gospel and rap, with contemporary sampling and loops – has been dropped from the setlist, having been an encore for quite a few months. That was disappointing, but instead we were treated to ‘Born In The U.S.A’ – absent from setlists for years because of its famous misinterpretation as a patriotic song. It was in good encore company as well, with ‘Glory Days’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and the ‘we’ll-kick-off-if-we-don’t-hear-it’ number, ‘Born To Run’.
There was a special treat in store for the Hyde Park audience, as Springsteen welcomed none other than Sir Paul McCartney on stage, saying “I don’t wanna make a big deal of it, but I’ve waited fifty years for this”. They performed ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ underneath a shower of fireworks, much to the crowd’s delight. But, before they could finish, the Hard Rock Calling organisers pulled the plug on them for running over the curfew (it was 10.35pm; Bruce had played from 7.30pm). The audience booed, Macca walked off, and Bruce was unable to be heard as he tried to thank us and say goodnight. It seems that here in the summer Olympic city, noise after 10.30pm somehow isn’t acceptable – even when it’s the sound of two music legends joining forces for an historic moment. A disappointing ending to a wonderful night.
We Take Care Of Our Own
Death To My Hometown
My City Of Ruins
Spirit In The Night
The Promised Land
Take ‘Em As They Come
Jack Of All Trades
Because The Night
Working On The Highway
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
The Ghost Of Tom Goad
Land Of Hope And Dreams
We Are Alive
Born In The U.S.A
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
I Saw Her Standing There (with Sir Paul McCartney)
Twist And Shout (with Sir Paul McCartney)
The Wrecking Ball Tour continues across northern Europe in July, and returns to North America in August and September.