‘Everything live music should be’ – Bruce Springsteen at Wembley

 

To be perfectly honest, it is really difficult for me to write a review or put into words my experience of seeing Bruce Springsteen live for the first time. I had never been so excited for a gig in my entire life and standing on the pitch at Wembley Stadium last Sunday in the rare English heat, it all felt a little surreal.

From 6pm, the anticipation in the stadium hit fever pitch and then, almost unexpectedly, Springsteen just walked on stage, alone, no fuss. He sat at the piano and played ‘Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?’ and the crowd were silent. So much so that a minute or so in, Springsteen paused and looked out at the audience, as if to say ‘are you still there?’ and everyone cheered. Everyone was so entranced in the simplicity and sudden intimacy of a 90,000 capacity gig that it even seemed to surprise the main man himself. I felt the tingly sensation in my eyes that I was about to cry and told myself to toughen up. I had to get through another 3.5 hours without mascara running down my face, after all.

The E Street Band then joined Springsteen with the exploding ‘Seeds’ and they did not stop until Springsteen closed with an acoustic version of ‘Thunder Road’ over 3 hours later. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. The amount of pure talent and musicianship on stage blew my mind, let alone the fact that Springsteen is now 66 years old.

This was part of The River Tour, and although Springsteen played only a selection of songs from the album, I thought the setlist was perfect. I was praying that he would play something from the Tunnel of Love era and when he took up a sign request of playing ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ with wife Patti, I was so happy. Another sign request for ‘I’ll Work For Your Love’, rather refreshingly, took Springsteen a few minutes to work out the right pitch and chords. He joked that it would be worth it eventually, and it was beautiful. Other set highlights included ‘Candy’s Room’, ‘Spirit in the Night’ (which featured Springsteen downing a pint) and ‘American Skin’. He also played ‘Jungleland’, which I was delighted about, and again, almost reduced me to tears.

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My favourite shot of the night – Springsteen and The E Street Band take their bow at Wembley Stadium, 5/6/16.

Although I only truly discovered Springsteen’s music in the past few years, and still have a lot left to discover, his music has resonated with me in a way that no other artist or band ever has. I knew seeing him live was going to be a special night, but it was more than that. It was almost therapeutic. Springsteen and the E Street Band showcased everything that live music should be – loud, honest, spontaneous and heartfelt. It was just one man and his incredible band playing and singing their hearts out. There were no fancy costumes, crazy light displays or epic stage design. There didn’t need to be. From the people in the front row of the pitch singing every word, to drummer Max Weinberg sweating over the cymbals, everyone was united in their love of music.

Springsteen seems to have that rare blend of being arguably the best live performer of all time but also being just a relatable guy who you could sit and have a beer with. His songs resonate with me and millions of others because of their honesty and emotion. Whether he is singing about unrequited love or commentating on American gun violence, Springsteen makes you really think about the world and your place in it. Seeing him live was undoubtedly an overwhelming experience, but it was by no means a fleeting moment or a night that you quickly move on from. I woke up the next morning feeling excited about it and I keep thinking back to it and wanting to relive it because, let’s face it, you may forget what people do or say, but you never forget how they make you feel.

Setlist:

  1. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
  2. Seeds
  3. Johnny 99
  4. Wrecking Ball
  5. The Ties That Bind
  6. Sherry Darling
  7. Hungry Heart
  8. No Surrender
  9. Be True
  10. Candy’s Room
  11. She’s The One
  12. My City of Ruins
  13. I’ll Work For Your Love
  14. Spirit in the Night
  15. Out in the Street
  16. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  17. Death to My Hometown
  18. American Skin (41 Shots)
  19. The River
  20. The Promised Land
  21. Darlington County
  22. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  23. Tougher Than the Rest
  24. Because The Night
  25. The Rising
  26. Badlands
  27. Jungleland
  28. Born to Run
  29. Dancing in the Dark
  30. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  31. Shout
  32. Bobby Jean
  33. Thunder Road – acoustic

 

Bruce Springsteen – The Highlight Reel (1973-1975)

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A young Bruce Springsteen holds his debut record, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Introduction

Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band kicked off The River Tour (due to finish in September after 75 dates), in support of the 2015 release of Springsteen’s The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set, featuring outtakes and video footage to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the album The River. In September, Springsteen will also release his autobiography Born to Run, which he has been privately writing for the past seven years. Amongst this Springsteen fever, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to collate, and share, my personal Springsteen highlight reel.

Over the past few years I have gradually fallen deeper and deeper in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. First introduced to him via his Born In The USA record, I immediately connected with his 80s releases and decided to delve further into his musical history. As both a History graduate and a huge music fan, I find him absolutely fascinating. In just over a week’s time, I will be seeing Springsteen at London’s Wembley Stadium and when buying my tickets, I came up with the idea of writing a Springsteen series for this blog.

My personal highlight reel will span every single Springsteen album, split up into roughly 2 to 3 albums per post. The tracks I have chosen are my current personal favourites and this project is not intended as an in-depth analysis of Springsteen or a list of his ‘best’ work, but as a personal reflection on his music. I will aim to cover all of his current work by the time his River Tour ends in September (fingers crossed!)

As with any ‘Best Of’ list or countdown I have ever written for this blog, choosing which songs to feature has been incredibly difficult. However, it feels like even more of a challenge with Springsteen as not only is there a lot of music to choose from, but his work is so varied and raw, that it somehow feels personal choosing one song over another.

Highlight Reel 1973-75

In this first highlight reel, I will cover Springsteen’s three albums released between 1973 and 1975 – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) and Born to Run (1975).

Springsteen was only 23 years old when he released his debut record and right from the very start, he showcased his talent with words. One of the main reasons I love Springsteen’s music is because of his beautiful lyrics and ‘The Angel’ perfectly demonstrates his ability to convey a character through music, within a number of minutes. The lyrics feature numerous references to motorcycles and I love the simplicity of the piano playing and how its delicate sound contrasts the typical connotations surrounding the hells angel of the story.

Reading Springsteen’s lyrics is often more like reading a poem than a song, and it is these lyrics that make his songs so special. Also from his debut album, ‘Spirit in the Night’ tells the story of ‘Crazy Janey’ and co’s escapades to the Greasy Lake. It is romantic, freeing but also mysterious and shows how Springsteen is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.

Springsteen’s second album, also released in 1973, features a more bluesy and soulful sound with tracks including the gorgeously funky ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and ‘Kitty’s Back’. However, it is the final track, ‘New York City Serenade’ that is my personal favourite from the record. At just under 10 minutes long, it is a truly magical composition. It sweeps over you and transports you to Springsteen’s romantic fantasy of 70s New York. It also proves how skilfully Springsteen has been able to incorporate piano and saxophone into rock music.

In 1975 Bruce Springsteen released his third studio album, Born to Run, which saw him finally break into the mainstream and achieve commercial success. The second song on the album, ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ is one of my favourites mostly because it just makes me feel good and because it reminds me of the music featured in The Blues Brothers that I was obsessed with as a child. It tells the story of the formation of the E Street Band, with Springsteen placing himself in the story under the pseudonym ‘Bad Scooter’ and meeting the other band members such as the ‘Big Man’ himself, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. A big, big tune.

It may not be as lyrically sophisticated, but ‘She’s the One’, also from Born to Run, is without a doubt one of my top Springsteen songs. It has a great pace to it and builds so beautifully. Its staccato beat is infectious and when it really kicks in at 1.17 you just feel so alive.

Perfectly placed after the sombre, but stunning, jazz of ‘Meeting Across the River’, is Born to Run‘s big finale – ‘Jungleland’. The song portrays the violent gang lifestyle of the protagonist (the ‘rat’) who tries, and ultimately fails, a ‘stab at romance’. It is tragically beautiful and a fantastic example of Springsteen’s role as a commentator of 20th century America, in particular of the working classes. It also features a breathtaking saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. ‘Jungleland’ is epic and when you listen to it, you really feel it.