I’ll start with a quick statement. I’ve never been to a stadium show before- in fact, over the last 2-and-a-half years, the largest venue I’ve been in has been Manchester Apollo- the vast majority of places with a capacity of about 350. At The Stadium Of Light, Sunderland AFC’s ground, 55,000 braved the inclement weather for a man rightfully nicknamed, ‘The Boss’. Bit of a culture shock, then.
One of the most (in)famous things Bruce Springsteen is known for is the length of time he will play for. 3 hours, 15 minutes- no support act, no real breaks, most songs segueing seamlessly as new material slotted in next to classics perfectly. Mr. Springsteen and the 18-strong E Street Band brought out a new album, Wrecking Ball, in March. And therefore he probably wants to show it off to the world.
Before I talk about the show itself, I’m going to say that I like Bruce Springsteen, and I’ve got (or at least heard) most of his albums, but I’m not a massive fan of Wrecking Ball. Yet. Similar to when I got opinionated about David Bowie, here’s a quick brief of The Boss’s back catalogue…
Was that OK? Right- on we go.
Starting with ‘Badlands’, it was apparent in a fairly short space of time that the band were definitely enjoying themselves almost as much as the crowd. Other than The Boss, two men on the stage received the most applause and appreciation- longtime member and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, and newcomer Jake Clemons- nephew of legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who sadly passed away last year. Jake had some very big shoes to fill, but every solo was met with rapturous cheering.
Bruce gave little conversation with the audience, although he appeared more than willing to interact- the front of the stage is set especially low in order to any band member to meet the crowd at any time. Of course, singalongs and call-and-response was the order of the day. Most of the songs from Wrecking Ball were played, but as the night moved on, the band seemed more willing to draw from their very extensive catalogue.
Similarly, as the night wore on, the various influences of the E Street Band gradually surfaced- the mixture of folk, country and western, rock n’ roll, gospel and Wall Of Sound combine to create a panoramic, cinematic quality to the music- pretty much everything from Woody Guthrie to The Ronettes. The gospel influences seemed the strongest- The Boss leading the audience like a Baptist Minister during ‘My City Of Ruins’, a complete contrast to a hip-shaking tribute to Elvis Presley during ‘Working On The Highway’. The Boss didn’t talk much, but a joke had to be made comparing the bad weather (it had been raining during the day, luckily subsiding by showtime) before Working On A Sunny Day.
Ending the first portion of the set with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’, incorporated into his own ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’, the band retreated to the back of the stage for about 20 seconds- the longest break they took. The encore was almost a greatest-hits set- ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and an incendiary version of ‘Born To Run’, complete with a rapturous response to Jake Clemons’ sax solo.
Of course, the show was complete with a true tribute to Clarence Clemons- the man who arguably defined the sound of The E Street Band- during the last song of the encore, ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’, originally contains a lengthy saxophone solo. Instead, complete silence from the band as a tribute to The Big Man filled the video screens. Naturally, the audience celebrated the life and work of the late Mr. Clemons, before the band started up again, finishing the song, and the show.
In terms of scale, this is one of the most impressive concerts I’ve ever been to- the show itself was pretty no-frills, with basic lights and nothing more than a couple of video screens with stage cameras. It shows that the spectacle of pop music can, and should always be the sound.