Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wembley Stadium, 5 June 2016
Through the wonders of the world wide web, there is now a nice little fan created site that allows other Springsteen followers to have a look at some of the stats of the variety of sets The Boss has played dating back to 1973. In that time word has spread that he, augmented with the E Street Band, are the best live rock’n’roll performers in history. And the word is right.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s only London performance during The River Tour 2016 produces all the magic of a Springsteen gig, acting like a drug that takes hours to come down from, leaves a glow for days to come and leaves people walking away thinking it was an even better hit than the last. And the last, two nights earlier at Coventry, was brilliant. Like at Coventry he played 33 songs, but yet 14 of them were different from the Friday night.
At sixty-six years of age there is a recognition that Bruce can’t go on forever, while he still continues makes every live performance special. Throughout a hot and humid day in north-west London anticipation builds as people flock from their local accomedation from their overseas trips, the rail replacement services, the slow Sunday trains and the 182 bus that stops at Wembley Park. And that anticipation explodes into an atmosphere that lasts an unrelenting three and a half hour perfomance.
Being the hottest ticket in town has its downsides. Prices for his some tickets on his return to the US are reputedly on sale on secondary ticket sites for $500, exploiting an ordinary fan base who already spend disproportionate time and money for that special feeling a Springsteen gig gives, which can’t be bottled and is hard to describe.
At Wembley, by 1pm, ahead of the early evening gig, Wembley Park Station is reeking with over 50 ticket touts, circling the exit both at the bottom and top of the stairs. They all know each other by name, a cartel created in the spirit of capitalism. They look different and yet all look exactly the same. They are all male, but are of different ages, different sizes and have different types of sunglasses hanging from their foreheads, ears and their various short sleeved shirts, but they all have a nastiness about them which makes them easily identifiable. Some of the younger ones could be a chance meeting away from being offered a chance to be a slimy Account Manager for an IT company while some of the older ones could have been throwing chairs outsides bars in Belgium a few European Championships ago.
A stark contrast to the Springsteen fans that went to Wembley the day before (some directly from Coventry) just to be allocated a number so they could queue for hours in the hot sun to get in the pit and enjoy the greatest of them all at close quarters. And they are the ones who are truly rewarded with an experience where the value can’t be quantified.
Bruce walks on at 6.20pm on a hot summer’s day and plays a rare version of Does this Bus Stop at 82 Street, as a solo ballad on the piano. As the band then walk on, Springsteen goes to the centre of the stage, studies the crowd which stretches back in the sun. And then he says knowingly, to himself as much as the crowd, “What a day, what day.” Indeed.
High energy version of Seeds, Johnny 99 and Wrecking Ball follow, before the first two tracks of the The River and then Hungry Heart follow in an uptempo flurry. Then come a number of sign requests which happen throughout the evening. Early on there is a welcome play of Be True, an out take from The River, but also a favourite live version on Chimes of Freedom EP. A little later there is I’ll Work For Your Love (where, like Billy Bragg has done in the past, Bruce notes it is him that has to remember all the chords and words). And in the final third Tougher Than The Rest, introduced with the poetry of Muhammad Ali and then sung by the whole Wembley crowd.
It was a gig that seemed to have everything. American Skin (41 Shots) is captivating; Promised Land is energizing straight on the back of a majestic The River; Spirit in The Night, Out in the Street, Sherry Darling and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out are band party songs; Jungleland is breathtaking; Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark are played back-to-back, with the crowd in his hands; Shout and Bobby Jean could be a joyous farewell but Bruce finishes three and a half hours with an acoustic version of Thunder Road.
Arguably best of all though on a hot night at Wembley is Badlands. A staple in his live sets and often a call to arms at the front, this time it comes at the end of the nominal main set, 26 songs in. And everyone at Wembley seemed to be up for it, singing every word with as much passion as him. Exhilarating.
At the end of Thunder Road Bruce says “We’ll be seeing you.”
Another hit of this drug is the promised land.
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