Bruce Springsteen @ Hard Rock Calling, London

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.

SETLIST

Thunder Road
Badlands
We Take Care Of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death To My Hometown
My City Of Ruins
Spirit In The Night
The Promised Land
Take ‘Em As They Come
Jack Of All Trades
Empty Sky
Because The Night
Johnny 99
Darlington County
Working On The Highway
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
The River
The Ghost Of Tom Goad
The Rising
Land Of Hope And Dreams

ENCORE

We Are Alive
Born In The U.S.A
Born To Run
Glory Days
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.

An Introduction To Mad Men

Over the past few years Mad Men has never really risen to the fore of my attention. Other than being vaguely aware that it was a TV show, I was blissfully unaware of what it was. Perhaps student years without a TV had played some part in my ignorance. But, by the time Christmas 2011 came around, I had had enough friends and acquaintances telling me I HAD to see it – usually based on my mild obsession with JFK, Revolutionary Road being one of my favourite novels, or my half-hearted attempts to recreate vintage 60s looks in my wardrobe. So, Santa Claus brought Mad Men on DVD and I got stuck in.

The show follows the lives of the Madison Avenue advertising agency Sterling Cooper, and is centred on creative director Don Draper. Obviously it’s the purpose of any pilot to give a taste of everything a show will have to offer, but it’s unlikely any television series has hit that nail on the head quite as precisely as Mad Men. From the smoking and drinking, to the sexism and antisemitism; to the way a hard day’s doing nothing can remain productive; as soon as a passing remark gives Don the tag line for the product he’s been musing on all day. Episode One will have you hooked, so it’s a good thing I got the complete box set. I set about watching one 45 minute episode each night, or thereabouts.

The idea is to look at the emerging 1960s consumer culture, with the ideals of the American Dream so infused in its promotions, but to see it from the perspectives of the very real, and flawed characters who design it (and thus undermining its actual existence). Clever, right? You have no idea.

Don Draper is the man who has it all. On the surface he’s the perfect American man – he’s handsome, with a great job and a beautiful young family; reflective of the Kennedys themselves. But the reality of the juxtaposition between the smiles on the product covers, and the turmoil underneath is what enlists Draper in the ranks of the American antihero. His frontier? Between consumerism gone wild, the Cold War era, suburban imprisonment and the constant temptation from modern amorality, he’s got his work cut out for him. And there’s the small matter of his assumed identity, which sticks him right up there with Jay Gatsby – music to my literary ears. But I’ll let you get to that by yourselves…

If Don is far from perfect, he’s certainly not alone. If you do manage to develop a favourite character in Mad Men, it won’t be for their likability, for every single character is flawed in themselves. The men are adulterous alcoholics with a ruthless attitude towards everyone they meet; and the women are either superficial city dwellers or moaning desperate housewives. But you could find yourself heartbroken when you get a taste of Pete Campbell’s emasculation, Peggy’s Catholic guilt, or Joan’s desperation to be something more than a sex symbol. Then there’s the question you’ll be asking yourself at the end of every episode – is Don a good man? (Answers on a post card).

Roughly, I watched four seasons in the first four months of 2012, so when season five appeared on Sky Atlantic in May, I couldn’t have been happier. I had finally caught up and could enjoy it in real time with all the other fans. I realise I could write enough on this to fill several blogs –  a book perhaps. So consider this a mere sketch of the thoughts I have on the show. If only I’d watched Mad Men years ago, I could definitely have written an awesome dissertation on it. A decidedly low brow English Literature dissertation probably, but awesome nonetheless.