Fifteen days before a swift return to London, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band played the whole of Darkness on the Edge of Town, the second part in a wonderful three-act performance at Wembley Stadium; it is an album he has described as having the toughest songs he had at the time, uncompromising in the spirit of the emerging punk music of the day and still what he sees as the essence of the band. London and Wembley Stadium were privileged.
With a deserved reputation for being flexible there was little doubt the headline performance at the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for Hard Rock Calling would bring a few different songs from an amazing back-catalogue than those at Wembley and it turned out to be another album show, this time with the back-to-back tunes of Born in the USA in the middle of the set.
Album shows seem a natural turn for Springsteen and the E Street Band with sets, while being versatile, so well constructed in how songs follow each other in an evening’s performance. Hours can be lost in the rewarding experience of looking through his past set-lists and even seeing new ones tweeted live still gives a thrill to a fan nowhere near the venue, town or even country where that night’s show is taking place.
The Olympic Park gig was the band’s third in England in the month of June 2013 and having played Darkness at Wembley and all of Born to Run in Coventry, Bruce explained we would get Born in the USA, which instantly quenched the desire to experience performances of I’m on Fire and Cover Me two of a number of great songs on his most hit-laden and commercial album.
Bobby Jean and Dancing in the Dark continue to be live favourites but the playing of My Hometown, his tale of his own experiences amidst unrest in New Jersey, and I’m Goin’ Down, a tale of unspoken betrayal, are two more further highlights brought to life because of the replay of the album in its entirety.
Playing the whole Born in the USA was only a slight surprise because the band had done the same in Paris the previous evening. The set-list and links on the internet showed the Stade de France had got a bit of a treat with 33 songs including big band favourites Out on the Street and Spirit of the Night as well as a pre-set acoustic Growin’ Up. Looking through the dates of this mammoth tour it was the first time for eight weeks they had played dates on two consecutive nights and it was perhaps understandable if they had woken up that morning shackled and drawn, which was the choice of their opener.
But even if there was any element of tiredness Badlands and Prove it all Night from Darkness were a quick call to arms to themselves to blow the cobwebs away and London was soon getting its own treat with three songs from the masterpiece Nebraska. Johnny 99 is a live favourite, but particular highlights of the whole evening were welcome plays for Reason to Believe and Atlantic City, still brilliant even with the overblown celtic instrumental.
There was another stand out moment as late evening fell upon what had been a blazing sunny day as Bruce and the E-Street played a blistering version of Jungleland after a sign request that led to an introduction where he explained how it was his attempt to write all he knew about rock’n’roll and life in a song that he says keeps on giving. The only light was now coming from the stage on the astro-turf on Queen Elizabeth Park that earlier in the day had been full of warm beer and the barefoot girls the song mentions; Jake Clemons’ Sax solo, Bruce’s intro and raised guitar, little Stevie turning his back head bowed – the band’s belief in an awe-inspiring performance was arguably worth the expensive ticket alone.
Most couldn’t follow that, but Bruce and the E-Street Band naturally had Born to Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out from the same album, before a sing-a-long American Land celebrating the immigrant culture of the USA. Bruce congratulated the band off, returning guitar and harmonica in hand, saying there was one song he couldn’t leave without playing before then entering into dialogue with a tattooed fan near the front. He then said this fan deserved an extra number, retuned his guitar and played an acoustic version of My Lucky Day much better than on the recorded version on his 2009 Working on a Dream album.
As a festival with a variety of acts and four different stages it wasn’t an exclusive crowd of Springsteen fans and there was much more talking during songs from those probably not appreciative of how lucky they were to be in front of the greatest live performer in rock ‘n’ roll history; that talking continued during My Lucky Day and it turned out not to be an extra number, but the final song and Thunder Road, which he clearly came out to play, were words that remained left unspoken.
Bruce departed with a brief and unexpected “I’ll be seeing you” but still having played twenty-nine songs for three hours without a break. After the farce of being forced off too early at Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park last year Bruce took the decision himself to leave with everyone wanting more. Regardless, everyday where Springsteen plays live is a lucky day.
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Bruce Springsteen Olympic Park 2013