When Bruce says he is going to do “something special”, he means it. On his last visit to London earlier on this worldwide mammoth tour, which has now been rolling since March last year and will continue to Rio this September, he gave us an unexpected and majestic stripped down Thunder Road to Roy Bittan’s accompaniment. On Saturday at Wembley Stadium, once again he told his London audience he wanted to do something special, and he did, with a staggering set bestowed with gifts for his fans.
By the time he left the stage, after playing for approximately three hours and twenty minutes without a break, he was like a father consoling his upset children seeing their hero depart after giving them one of the great parties of their life so far, telling them in a soft voice that he’d be back in a couple of weeks.
Coming on stage around 7.20pm he started with the epic Land of Hope and Dreams that merged into People Get Ready, the seventeen piece band already in full flow. Jackson Cage was an early treasure followed by the upbeat Radio Nowhere before just three songs in he started taking sign requests, a signal of the versatility and skills of him and his band which stats show have played around one thousand different songs over the years.
It was still daylight on a Saturday evening and Wembley was being treated to Save my Love and Rosalita as well as This Hard Land, a classic available as one four tracks from his ‘Live and Rare’ record, both live and rare. It looked like Hungry Heart was next but another sign caught his eye and instead, from his wonderful debut that is still essential listening 40 years after its release, came Lost in the Flood. (One day a crowd may get to hear that whole album played form start-to-finish, and a very lucky crowd they will be, as indeed every Springsteen crowd is).
It is easy to forget, but this is still the ‘Wrecking Ball Tour’, and the title track and a big band version of Death to my Hometown followed, as members of the E-Street version interchanged positions like a musical version of total football. Bruce then went back to Hungry Heart but allowed it to be a karaoke version with all of Wembley doing the signing.
About an hour in now, ten songs down, still daylight in north-west London and Bruce says something like “I could keep doing requests all night. Or we could play the whole of Darkness on the Edge of Town”. And he did. As soon as he said those words, well we knew then it was something special. In his last gig in Italy he played the whole of Born in the USA, still a great album, full of brilliant songs. Darkness though, as Springsteen said himself, is the essence of the band.
In 2009 London was lucky enough to hear Racing in the Streets at that year’s Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, and once again it captivated, this time as the centre piece of the performance of a great album. A couple of the songs were sign requests anyway, as shown on the big screens either side of the stage, including Adam Raised a Cain and Something in the Night, as every one of the songs were sung with sincerity. Factory was recognised by those even unfamiliar with the album and Streets of Fire has stayed in the head days after the gig.
After the title track that closed the album Bruce and the E-Street Band could have justifiably walked off, the best part of two hours of classics delivered to the faithful; yet they were only two-thirds through, as Shackled and Drawn and Waiting on a Sunny Day started another chapter, with the big screen behind the band coming on as the director was able to get back to showing a magnificent spectacle of the staple set-pieces within the rolling Wrecking Ball Tour.
Later, as the band briefly take a bow, they return within a minute, like an encore but without a break, and Bruce promises the crowd “every single one of you is going to be dancing in 30 seconds time”. A band member resets the mobile stopwatch shown on the big screen, but of course he delivers on his promise with an energetic version of Pay Me My Money Down.
Wembley Stadium then suddenly comes into its own. The frustrations of being held to ransom for Wembley food and drink prices that included £1.60 for a bag of crisps, and the farce of poorly signposted queuing that went down Wembley way and right round the Stadium as the doors opened only 90 minutes before Bruce was due on stage, were forgotten, as the floodlights in the stadium came directly onto the crowd for an electric Born to Run.
While a Stadium lacks the variety of food stalls at open air parks and the ease of entry, the standing area at the front (outside the pit) is less fluid, so benefitting those who have made the effort and are genuinely there for the music, rather than festival day trippers. The floodlights take the evening to another dimension in the third act of the set, and Bobby Jean and Dancing in the Dark follow, and everyone, even those in the stands, is singing and dancing in the lights.
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out is performed as a set-piece, with band introductions and a tribute to lost E-Street members on the big screens. Bruce teases London about the plug being pulled before Twist and Shout is the thirtieth song of the night, before the band finally leave the stage for the last time, Bruce congratulating them all personally.
Just when Wembley thought it was all over, Bruce straps on another guitar with a harmonica and treats everyone to a solo Thunder Road to finish. Asked to draw up a dream 31 songs in a Springsteen live set, every fan will have a different list, and there were, naturally, scores of favourites omitted tonight. Yet, somehow, it was a perfect set.
Another stunning, remarkable performance. It is not hard for him to be a saint in this city.
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Bruce Springsteen Wembley 2013