Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Manchester was gridlocked. We abandoned the car 2 and a half miles from the stadium and pegged it through the rain, getting there just as he was taking the stage. We took our seats, a mile from the stage. The sound swirled around the arena. The atmosphere was that of a ring road industrial estate. But if anyone can overcome these limitations it is Bruce Springsteen. He did it when I first saw him at Wembley on the Born in the USA tour (though it wasn’t raining then) and over 30 years later he can still do it. How? Well, here’s a few reasons
He really does have an extraordinary back catalogue. On the European leg of this tour he has abandoned the idea of performing the whole of The River, and the result is that a whole lot of other great material is getting a look in. Of course the trouble with such a rich back catalogue of material is that no one is going to get the set list of their dreams. This concert almost entirely focussed on that extraordinary run between Born to Run and Born in the USA. I’d have loved to hear more from his later work, but it wasn’t as if there was much filler here (even Crush on You sounded good). And how can anyone resist Because The Night, Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, The River, Thunder Road, etc etc?
The E Street Band may not be the most sophisticated or musically gifted set of musicians but together they make an extraordinary racket and they back Bruce perfectly, responding to every change on the setlist, and every extension as Bruce plays the crowd. And this has survived the changes in the band and the sad losses of Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici. Most of the band have been with him forever and they know exactly what they are doing.
I can’t think of a performer that gives more than Springsteen. It isn’t just the 3 hours plus of high octane performance, or the impression he and the band give that they are having the time of their lives. And it isn’t just the fact that for a man of 66 his voice and overall stamina is ridiculously good. It’s also to do with the way Springsteen connects with his audience. Springsteen is a great song writer who takes his craft very seriously – but he also knows and isn’t too grand to embrace the fact that he is a showman and an entertainer.
For all I know he may be a complete bastard in private, but on stage he comes across as everyone’s best friend – as a performer with integrity, commitment and who just wants to give everything to his audience. Like I say, it may all be an act, but if it is its a hell of a good one.
I always like a performer who varies his setlist from night to night and Springsteen is a past master at this, picking up and responding to requests for the audience. As I said at the top of that review, there was much about the circumstances of this gig that I hated, and, to be honest, it took me a while to get into (and I don’t think it was just me). The moment that lifted the gig was surreal and only Bruce could have got away with it. About 20 minutes in he spotted a guy in the audience in a Santa suit. I reckon he was a Man U fan making his own private protest at being in the Etihad by wearing as much red as he could. Anyway Bruce invited him onstage and proceed to lead 50,000 in a mass singalong of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. In Manchester. In the rain. in May. With a pissed Manc in a Santa suit bouncing up and down and singing tunelessly along. It was ridiculous and it was absolutely perfect.
In short, a great night from, quite simply, the best live performer I have ever seen.
God, Bruce’s audience loves him. And more than any of the many other ageing white male performers I like, Bruce has a female audience who adore him. I looked around when he was doing Because The Night and there were a dozen people in my immediate vicinity on their feet and punching the air and every single one was a woman.
It made me think..
That some artists have a connection with an audience that lasts through every stage of their lives – and there are few artists who do that and mean more to more people, than Bruce Springsteen. And that the way some music and some artists connect with us in this way is a truly wonderful thing.