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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Bruce Springsteen, Hyde Park

Bruce Springsteen may be in his eighth decade. But, backed by a tight E Street Band and under a golden setting sun at Hyde Park in London, he played with fire in his belly, a twinkle in his eye, and the energy of a man half his age.


It was an epic day on Saturday with Bruce dazzling audiences for the second time this week.


After my third taste of Bruce's current tour I experienced that intense rush of euphoria and intimacy, felt even within a crowd that stretched way up from Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch.


This was a master at work, but it didn't feel like work. It felt as much as a treat for Bruce Springsteen and his band as it was for the hordes in the Park. Three hours is a long time but it passed in a flash: I would do it all again tonight.


With a wonderful back catalogue stretching back six decades, there was something here for everyone.


Blue-collar tales of industry, dusty railroad tracks, rousing odes to pretty girls, free-wheeling bluesy workouts, and propulsive anthems for ripping down the interstate highway chasing that elusive American dream.


After playing the iconic London park just two days before, the legendary US rocker took to the stage once more for a

28-song-setlist.


After opening with 1998's My Love Will Not Let You Down, and another surprise, Death to My Hometown, Bruce moved to an energetic rendition of No Surrender, before moving onto Ghosts, Prove It All Night, Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Promised Land.


There was a lot more to come with the Boss treating fans to the likes of Badlands, Out in the Street, Backstreets, Born To Run, The Rising, Wrecking Ball, She's the One and Dancing in the Dark.


It was the most joyous show you could imagine about death, ageing and trying to hold on to the light as the darkness draws in.


Death wasn’t just a passing reference with the acoustic performance of ‘Last Man Standing’, written when Springsteen realised every other member of his high school band was dead, it was present throughout.


It was there in ‘Backstreets’, with its spoken section about another of his friends, who died in 2007. It was in the pairing of 1984’s ‘No Surrender’, looking back at the promise of youth (‘We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school’), with 2020’s ‘Ghosts’, where, memorialising a lost musical buddy, he finds reason to celebrate: ‘I’m alive, and I’m out here on my own.’


It was a night of ghosts. His cover version of the Commodores’ ‘Nightshift’ was a song about dead soul singers.


‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’, as ever, had the big-screen tributes to ex-E-Street members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, both long gone now. And to finish, back to his acoustic guitar and another requiem, ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’.


The very oldest songs of the night, ‘Kitty’s Back’ and ‘The E Street Shuffle’, seemed to be his way of letting the very idea of the E Street Band slip away.


Besides Springsteen, bassist Garry Tallent was the only one of the 19 musicians on stage to have played on those records – a reminder that the group has aged beyond recognition. It was about the band and the songs and Bruce, still the most magnetic performer imaginable.


Saturday’s wild, desperate delivery of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ was one of the greatest individual performances I can remember – a moment of complete emotional devastation.


Yet through it all – through this catalogue of pain – Springsteen summoned ecstasy with every holler, every wave, every interaction. In the midst of death there is life.


Introducing Last Man Standing, he talks about forming his first band The Castiles, in the 1960s and how, 50 years later, he found himself at the deathbed of his guitarist George Theiss.


"He only had a few days left to live," Springsteen recalled, as the crowd listened in hushed silence. "And I realised that his passing would leave me as the last living member of that band of guys that got together in that house so many years ago.


"George passed away and shortly after I wrote this song and it's just about the passions you follow as kids, not knowing where they're going to lead you and how at 15 its all hellos and later on there's a lot more hard goodbyes.


"Death brings a certain clarity of thought and of purpose and of meaning," he continued. "Death's final and lasting gift to all of us is an expanded vision of this life. Of how important it is to seize the day, whenever you can."


He then dedicates the song to George, playing alone on stage without the rest of his band. Every song that was played had its own power and presence with those usual live E Street Band flourishes.


For the first hour and a half, the music never stops. As soon as Springsteen strikes the last chord of Darlington County or Working on the Highway, there's a 1-2-3-4 and he powers into the next song.


There are wonderful, extended jams on Mary's Place and Kitty's Back, where the band, the horn section and the E Street Choir, get to show off their considerable might; and rousing singalongs to Bobby Jean, Glory Days and Because The Night - a song Springsteen gave to Patti Smith in 1977 but has latterly reclaimed as his own.


Mary’s Place popped up at exactly the right time as the clouds opened and it rained down and let the crowd bellow: “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!”


Backstreets is a highlight with Bruce showing he still has it, hitting every note like it’s 1975. By the time Wrecking Ball, The Rising, and a massive version of Badlands were unloaded upon a passionate audience, you had to wonder what was left in the tank.


Fortunately, the E Street Band are masters of their craft, with Springsteen leading us into a stupendous encore that managed to storm through Born to Run, Bobby Jean, Glory Days, Dancing in the Dark, and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out — some of the finest, most beloved songs of the past 50 years presented back to back. And then finishing with his famous cover of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout


After launching into a rendition of Glory Days, he turned to his guitarist Steven van Zandt telling him: 'It's time to go home Steve. I'm telling you they are going to pull the f***ing plug again!' A reference to organisers stopping his last Hyde Park gig after he broke the curfew.


And he ends the show alone again, strapping on an acoustic guitar to play I'll See You In My Dreams, another song inspired by the loss of a friend, his voice almost a whisper as he conducts the crowd in the final chorus: "For death is not the end / And I'll see you in my dreams."


It's a touching moment. A reminder of the transience of time, and the importance of keeping loved ones close. With Springsteen about to turn 74, there's a nagging feeling this could be the last chance to see Springsteen in full force.


We should savour every moment.




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