Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Hyde Park 2012

Standing in the rank-smelling mud in the rain, next to three aesthetically-challenged half-naked individuals yelling at the tops of their tuneless voices, it was impossible not to feel a) joy and b) privilege at being in the presence of Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band.

Unlike the many thousands of people who weren't actually there, though quite understandably like to claim to have been, I did really see Bruce first in 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon, and for me it remains the ne plus ultra of rock and roll performance, (probably because at 17 'Born to Run' meant EVERYTHING).  Subsequent gigs have never matched that, and why should they have?  I have seen Bruce all over the place, including Milton Keynes, at Wembley, at the Emirates, and indeed the last time at Hyde Park.  Each time is a sort of echo of that moment in 1975, and I shed a tear for the passing of the boy I once was.  Occasionally I have wondered whether I deserve to hear, say, 'Badlands' sung live right in front of me.

I don't know why, but last night was special too.  The show opened with a piano- accompanied 'Thunder Road' that justified the expense of the ticket all on its own. It is an immense song.  (Anyone interested should read Nick Hornby's chapter on it in '31 Songs'.)  Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, accompanied on three or foru songs, pretty effectively on 'Death to my Hometown', but fiercely, magically, on 'The Ghost of Tom Joad'.  It was a bonus to have a moment of outstanding musicianship.

'Spirit in the Night' swung wonderfully, and after a plaintive acoustic 'Empty Sky' the show kicked into non-stop high energy bossdom until 'The River', which had me weeping all over again.  It was followed by 'Joad' and then 'The Rising' with the massed thousands nah-nah-nahing like so many military wives.

There was a spoken intro to 'We Are Alive', most of which I couldn't hear because of people talking and laughing, but I think it was a classic Bruce homily involving walking with his mother and sister in a local cemetery...

By now the curfew time had passed, but the band played on - 'Born in the USA' (apparently the entire crowd had been born in the USA), 'Born to Run' ("in an everlasting KISS"), 'Glory Days' ("in the wink of a young girl's eye"), 'Dancing in the Dark' (he brought on stage a girl who'd been holding a card reading 'I'll be your Courtney Cox') and then, suddenly, amazingly, there was Paul McCartney and they were singing 'I Saw Her Standing There'.  "I've been waiting 50 years for this", said Bruce.  'Twist and Shout' followed.  My 18 year old son remarked that you could sing the chorus for ever and it would never grow dull.

And then Westminster Council turned the sound off. Must have been the greatest moment of his life for the jobsworth responsible for pulling the plug on Sir Paul McCartney and The Boss. 

Stupendous gig.  Three hours and twenty minutes of pure fandom.  Oh yes, I've still got it.

PS  If you don't believe me, read neil McCormick, here.

20 comments:

  1. Although not there in '75, have been a fan since then, which was hard as my girlfriends of the time were bopping to Abba and the BeeGees! Can never say I've been disappointed with a gig but that is probaly due more to loyalty than anything else. Last night was a treat as always, though felt he did encourage the fans to do a lot of the 'nah-nah-ing' and hence waste some time for him to get his breathe back, but then I remind my self that he is the same age as my husband and I haven't known him to do anything that strenuous for over 3 hours in years!. A little too much gospel creeping into the rocky classics maybe? I was lucky(?) to be standing in the middle near the front, the sound was okay, though Foggaty's sound wasn't, feel very sorry for the people at the back seeing we all pay the same price for tickets. I appologise just incase I was one of those talking and laughing near you, I was telling my husband that it was the most heart moving version of Thunder Road I had ever heard, laughing to myself as the man strutted his stuff down the stairs, words of anger as I heard Bruce say the first lines of 'Goodnight Irene', a favourite of mine, through a silent mike.
    Long may the Boss perform.
    Sue

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    1. You may be in the only Springsteen fan not to have been at Hammersmith. I thought the show was paced brilliantly, given the man's age (I mean he does this every other night - I am eight years his junior and I can hardly move this morning - in Milan they played for over four hours). My son doesn't particularly like the gospelly stuff, but the preacher, the rabble rouser, has always been in there - it goes hand-in-hand with his politics. Having moved from front to back in order to dance, i can report that the people at the back were enjoying themselves thoroughly. I hear van Zandt says this was one of their best gigs ever.

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  2. I agree, Bruce has always had something to say, watching Tom brought back memories of Springsteen of old. Steve has said that about being one of the best gigs, but I think the experience of jamming with a Beatle has a lot to do with it. He has also rightly condemed the council/police for pulling the plug. Hopefully this will not put them off coming back to London

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  3. 10.30 curfew on a Saturday night in the greatest city in the world. It's ridiculous. Mind you, didn't spoil the gig, which Neil McCormick described as "one of the greatest gigs I have ever witnessed".

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  4. My second Bruce show first time Hyde Park '09. Became a massive fan through 2007. Been waiting three years to see him again but shame there are so few UK shows and getting time off work wasn't easy. Still this was hreat and his voice was much better than last time! Horns and Jake were incredible!! Pity about the crowd though. I know I'm young (23) and I screamed my heart out front row of the seated section.... I just wish some people would have joined in more!

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    1. Ah, my friend, you must simply thank your lucky stars that you were born in time to see the man and the band at all! Back in 1975 Hammersmith Odeon (now the Apollo) was seated. Capacity must have been around 5000. Of course nobody paid the slightest bit of attention to the regulations. I just about remember rushing the stage towards the end of the show during Rosalita or perhaps it was the Detroit medley. Bruce wore a weird kind of woolen rasta hat the entire gig. Must have itched like crazy. He also did a kind of double act with CC in which he played dead. Ah, good times.

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  5. It was a terrific gig! The set list was great even though he has so many classics to choose from. To think he never played 'Darkness on the edge of town, jungleland, backsteets, brilliant disguise, i'm on fire, atlantic city, to name but a few, it was still a fantastic gig. I saw him last at Giants stadium in '08, but I enjoyed saturday's concert more. I wanted it go on all night!! To read some comments from people on the Telegraph site calling themselves true fans and saying he didnt play any classics until after 1.5 hours is crazy!! Opening with Thunder Road was my highlight. Not to mention Badlands and Promised land soon after.

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  6. Fantastic gig, agree with all the above. As for the crowd, only thing that spoilt it for me was the so called "VIP" area, and I was standing just behind them-this was a bunch of pretentious jerks who were not there for the gig, and spent most of it either on their mobile phones or chatting to each other. These were not Springsteen fans, and unfortunately they had been stuck in the middle of the real fans, fenced off from the rest of us, which kind of left the front crowd rocking, the middle (where this lot were), standing idly around, then the rest of us rocking behind them.

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  7. cheese4maweasel16 July 2012 at 10:41

    This was my first Springsteen gig - I've been a fan since about 1978 but never managed to see him before. I was completely blown away. The sun came out as he came on stage and I knew it would be brilliant when he started off with Thunder Road my all-time fav. Brought tears to my eyes. I was nervous about what he would sound like without CC but Jake was amazing - what a band anyway!Stevie van Zandt and Nils Lofgren were on fire and I was in awe of Tom Morello - real showmanship! I must have been lucky where we stood because I was on a bit of a mound so could see quite well although quite a way back between Delay 5 and Delay 4 and I thought the sound was excellent. Much better than when I went there last year for Arcade Fire. Loved John Fogerty and really good to see Macca too. Bruce was grinning like mad. I am in awe of his energy. What a back catalogue. It was quite simply the best gig I have been to (haven't been to all that many but this was a blinder!)I'm still feeling the glow today. Really enjoyed your review WW and agreed wholeheartedly - sorry to gush!

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  8. Great review and thanks for posting

    This is the third time I've seen Bruce - Earls Court (great) and Emirates (average) were the others. We arrived at about 2:30 and got a position to the right of the stage in front of the grandstand area. It was a great spot as the ground sloped away a bit so you could see directly onto the stage, it wasn't too crowded until John Fogerty came on and the sound for all the acts was excellent.

    POSITIVES: Thunder Road was brilliant (I admit had a tear in my eye, as did many others around me), Ghost of Tom Joad was a revelation (I'd never liked this before), the Wrecking Ball material was fabulous, Death to my Hometown, My City in Ruins, Johnny 99 (best version I've heard), Spirit in the Night, Badlands, The River (so tender and pure)... oh yeah and Status Quo's Rocking all over the World with John Fogerty (never ever would have thought I would hear that!)

    NEGATIVES: "VIPS" (Very Important Prats) trooping through the crowd just before he came on, knocking people flying without any concern, people going to get beer and pushing their way back in the middle of the set (why, it's BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN THE GUY YOU CAME TO WATCH!!!), the rain (but not as bad as I thought it would be), but mostly killing the sound at the end (at least let him say thanks and goodbye!)

    WHAT I SHOULDN'T KNOCK (but I can't help it): The "hits" towards the end, personally I could live without hearing Dancing in the Dark and Glory Days ever again. I know he's contractually obliged to play Born to Run, but I would have loved Rosalita or Jungleland so much more. Paul McCartney (just left me cold thinking what could have been played instead)

    All round it was a brilliant gig, one for the ages...

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    1. Thanks Chris. As far as the VIPs are concerned - if you don't recognize privilege, then you can't enjoy it. You almost certainly had a better time than they did. Beer? Well, that's the nature of festivals and big crowds, and, you know, rock'n'roll. In 1975 Hammersmith Odeon reeked of tobacco and weed. I rather miss all that. So, to the songs: yep, Thunder Road (do try to read the Hornby chapter - very good) - it has the power of poetry. Sort of agree with you about the 'hits', but of course he plays a different set every night and non-one is going to get everything they want. 'Rosalita' happens to be among my favourite numbers, and I'm always sorry when he doesn't play it, but hey, can't complain. Macca? Well, I'm probably a good deal older than you, and I've always reckoned 'I Saw Her Standing There' among the best of the Beatles' songs, and I couldn't quite believe my eyes or ears. And this tour he always finishes on 'Twist and Shout' (as he has done in the past, too). Surprised you didn't mention Tom Morello, who was as fired up as Bruce - a great addition.

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    2. Yes Tom Morello was a revelation to me, loved the guitar solos, although I didn't specifically reference them I was alluding to them with Ghost and Johnny 99.

      I've read the Hornby chapter, very enjoyable. I also recently read Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen by Robert J. Wiersema. This is a similar book, but based around the authors life and Springsteen songs and the significance they had for him. Worth a read it you can pick up a cheap copy.

      Now all I want to know is when will the Bruceleg appear?

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  10. Loved your post and the review. I am now even more excited to see him play in Helsinki in few weeks time. Hopefully Helsinki Council does not pull the plug.

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  11. Wynn,

    Thank you for your review of the Hyde Park concert, together with your recollections of Hammersmith '75. My friend and I located ourselves at Delay 7 and felt, naturally enough, envious of those near the front. I could hardly see the stage and watched the performance on the screen nearest to me throughout, which was slightly bizarre, but still well worth the money.

    I'm not one to enthuse without good cause and, on that basis, I do find it difficult to comprehend why some think it just to be critical of performers who seem to give their all throughout a concert. I never get the impression that Bruce and his fellow musicians turn up for a pay day. They do their best to engage the audience and I personally find this wholehearted musical celebration an ultimately infectious experience. It seems pedantic to complain about the sound quality, the conditions underfoot, the drunks and so on when given the opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen perform. He has 'the gift' and I will be intensely sad when he decides that he has had enough of writing and touring. I have felt a little melancholy at this prospect since Saturday and am already kicking myself that I didn't release all inhibitions from the beginning. Older but, sadly, still no wiser!

    Prior to the concert, I promised myself that I would converse with other Springsteen fans but, yet again, did not do so and this constitutes my other regret. I don't know any others, amongst my friends, who are equally as admiring of his work and I still can't specifically pinpoint what it is that sets Springsteen apart. What are the qualities that make him 'great'? His latest album addresses bleak, uncomfortable and distressing themes yet he manages to create something 'transcendent' from these, as he has always been able to do, and I don't know how he accomplishes this. How the heck can the lyrics of "Wrecking Ball" be transformed into the anthemic singalong, such that there is no apparent paradox betweem these two positions? Desperation is transmuted into celebration and he has achieved this seemingly impossible task throughout his career.

    Presumably, that is his intention. I just can't quite figure out how he manages to seduce us in this manner, such that we don't feel cynically manipulated. It all seems quite plausible to have the dark themes of life converted into rousing and even joyous musical expression. How many times does he use the word 'death' and yet it is not at all intimidating in his hands. A stark, quasi-existential, message that doesn't give us cause for navel gazing. Heck, no, in a live performance it becomes neutered and almost mocked. He seems to evoke 'human spirit' and I'm bemused as to how he achieves this in such a seemingly innocent manner. I don't feel duped,conned or manipulated in the slightest. Maybe I'm gullible, more so than I'm prepared to recognise. Conversely, perhaps he demonstrates the power of his type of music to diminish, or recontextualse, these concerns. Whatever it is, long may he continue!

    Thanks again,

    Clive

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    1. Clive, you sound truly troubled! At the risk of sounding pseudy, isn't Mozart also capable of marrying melancholy and celebration? We weep at beauty because it reminds us of how transient it is (and we are). Springsteen's ability to provoke tears - well attested to - say in Thunder Road the other night is couched in his recognition of this transience, and of the almost arbitrary way in which we experience happiness. This doesn't answer the question, does it? I'm not sure I can. I suppose the bottom line is that there is nothing false, nothing pretend in what he brings. You might want to listen to his SXSE Keynote speech (the whole 50 minutes) to get some idea of where he thinks he is coming from. At the very end he emphasises the importance of keeping two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time. His example is that before you go on stage you must recognize that what you are about to do is the most important thing in the world, and that once you get on stage you have to remember that it is only rock and roll. Or something - he puts it better himself. A good book is 'The Promise of Bruce Springsteen'by Eric Alterman.

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    2. Thanks for your response, Wynn. You may have a point in respect of Mozart and the emotional impact of his music. However, until such time as I see members of the audience attending a tragic opera jumping up and down on their seats, whilst smearing themselves in cucumber and smoked salmon pate, I will reserve judgement as to the suitability of the comparison. Not that I am making a crass stereotype in respect of opera lovers, as compared to Bruce Springsteen lovers, of course.

      Truly troubled? You have no idea! Thanks for the recommendations. I will follow these up. This is indeed what I was hoping for, in terms of explanation. I concede that I may be making a riddle of an enigma where in truth none exists, and this is to dive head first into pseud territory - which is what I was trying to avoid. I think that your comment on his sincerity has something to do with it, as does his ability to encapsulate transience in his lyrics, such that we, perhaps unconsciously, recognise a depth to his story telling They are, in one way or another, tales of Everyperson, irrespective of whether the collar is blue, white, embroidered or shackled.

      I'm still, however, struggling to understand how such dark tales are then rendered 'joyful'. It's alchemy, isn't it? Turning base metal into gold (if there is such a thing as base metal any more). Granted, a good riff and a solid beat can help this process but it doesn't necessarily follow that they inevitably deliver the requisite potency. To me, some 'thing' within the entire composition and performance makes it 'inspiring'. Okay, I'm sort of won over to your position. The ephemeral nature of being, the injustices in life laid bare, the humanitarion response and, above all a sound that impels one to wave hands in the air and unselfconsciously chant 'la la, la la la la la'. There we are. I knew I'd get an answer, pseudo-intellectually speaking!

      Thanks for your assistance.

      Clive

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    3. Springsteen said: "Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside your head and heart at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk onstage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it's all we have. And then remember, it's only rock and roll."

      I can relate to this, but in my case it would read as follows: "Be able to keep two completely contradictory sets of figures - budget compared with actual - in your head and heart at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy, it will, eventually. And stay panicked, stay in the office and stay hopeful that someone in material control has screwed up the year end inventory number. And when you present the profit and loss account to the board of directors tonight, treat the huge bottom line negative figure like it was nothing to do with you. And then remember, it's only accountancy."

      I prefer Bruce's version.

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    4. Wynn,

      This is my final attempt at articulating the Springsteen phenomenon, which may have some resonance for you.

      Springsteen addresses the human condition and what he delivers through his lyrics is the offer of hope, together with the elusive possibility of redemption. What he delivers through his music, the medium of rock, is to accompany his lyrical message with a vibrant and harmonious sound.

      The live performance is the communal venue at which the audience can, no matter how distantly, engage and interract with the messenger, who speaks on behalf of Everyperson. Springsteen's concerts are not gigs and this is what makes them unique. In essence, they are revivalist meetings that attempt to restore faith in the human spirit and those that intuit this, on some level, are the ones that attend for this reason, above all others. If his music doesn't stir your inner core, then you are in the wrong place.

      It has an inspirational quality to it because in a post-religious, relativistic and commercially driven world, Springsteen is one of the few artists to focus on subjects that really matter. Life can be challenging, life can be uncertain and on top of this, we are bombarded with seductive, distracting marketing messages that hijack our deeper sensibilities in exchange for superficial concerns.

      Springsteen brings us back from this trivialising agenda. He confronts us with our collective failings to honour our shared humanity. "Hard times come, hard times go, just to come again". He encourages us to be resolute, to sustain hope and to retain faith in redemption. "I'm the Jack of all trades, we'll be all right". Yet he avoids our cynicism and disillusionment by providing no quick fixes.

      The power of his rousing music is that it elevates us. The power of his slower, reflective, music is that it moves us. And it is this combination which makes it so effective. The live performance is the reification of the twin human ideals - elevation of spirit and depth of soul. This is who we truly are. In their absence, life becomes ultimately meaningless and Springsteen, during the course of a concert, steers us away from existential despair. This is his gift. This is what makes him such an outstanding performer and compels those that identify with his values want to return again and again in order to immerse themselves, for just a few hours, in the magic that is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

      Clive

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    5. well put Clive. Thank you.

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