Who plays for three hours these days? I mean, seriously? Does anyone? It sounds ridiculous. It IS ridiculous. Who could possibly keep a crowd not just interested, but ecstatic for three hours?
New Jersey’s most famous son arrives on stage at Hampden Park armed with a battery of classic songs that redefine the whole concept of a stadium show.
The forty-odd thousand people in attendance for the Glasgow leg of Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball world tour are an amorphous mass of die-hard fans, curious journalists and the kind of people who only buy greatest hits albums.
Like any modern stadium show, there are the two giant screens at each the side of the stage. However, unlike most other modern day stadium shows, there are no special lighting effects and no pre-recorded video footage. This is elemental rock and roll stripped of anything but the bare necessities.
Opening with lead single, We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce and the band tear through a sprawling set list that covers all forty plus years of his professional career. Badlands, I’m On Fire, Tougher Than The Rest, No Surrender. The Boss (as he is known to his fans) mixes hit singles with obscure b-sides and reworks well known songs in innovative ways. It’s testament to his audience that they remain supportive of this eclectic approach.
You will be hard pressed to find a musician anywhere in this world able to command the rapt attention of an entire stadium and hold them in the palm of his hand for three whole hours. This is at the core of what Springsteen does. His personality radiates from the stage, inviting us all to partake in the sacrament of rock and roll. We see his enthusiasm and embrace it as our own. This is the true gift of Springsteen the performer. He makes you want to join the party. He makes you want to dance.
For all his naysayers, the Born To Run hitmaker is unashamedly epic and passionately earnest to the point where few could doubt his sincerity. What makes this gig appealing as opposed to self-righteously dull is the earthy humour and sheer sense of fun that Bruce and The E Street Band demonstrate throughout the three hour plus Hampden show.
For a group of men and women in their early 60’s (during the encore of Twist and Shout, Bruce actually announces, “I need a break, I’m 63-years-old.”) these musicians put generations of younger bands to shame with their endurance and sheer joy of playing music.
If Hampden Park stadium had a roof it would well and truly have been blown clean off during the climactic performances of Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark. These songs of yearning and escape are ready-made for a stadium audience and the Glaswegian crowd lap them up, making more noise than the band, singing along to every hook and riff. This is rock’n’roll as catharsis, as moment of transcendence. By the time The Boss gets to his final acoustic performance of Thunder Road, it’s hard to tell who is more tired, audience or band. What is clear is that something wonderful has happened. The redemptive power of rock and roll has swept across a stadium and reminded us why we buy music and why we define ourselves by our musical idols.
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band offer a primal, no-nonsense take on the rock and roll myth that celebrates the most visceral aspects of rock and ignores fashionable cynicism in favour of joy and sheer fun. It’s an impressive trick to pull off and even more impressive to witness as the happy Glaswegian crowd wanders exhausted into the night.