Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band played a quite amazing show at Hampden Park on Thursday. It’s difficult to describe the intensity and the sheer raw emotion of the show, which took place on the second anniversary of the death of Springsteen’s musical foil and long time friend Clarence Clemons. But I’m going to try.
The numbers alone give some idea of the scale of the event. Thirty songs were played during a show that lasted three and a half hours.
Read that again. Three and a half hours. Thirty songs.
After song 29 most of the crowd were exhausted, let alone the 17 strong ensemble that backs Springsteen on this tour. And the man himself? “I’m having a heart attack”, he complained. “I’m sixty fuckin three you know.” But he recovered and played on …
The night started with 45,000 people packed into Hampden Park enjoying the rare Scottish sun on a lovely Glasgow evening. The band appeared just before half past seven and burst straight into We Take Care Of Our Own from latest album, Wrecking Ball, and an older favourite The Ties That Bind. It was high energy and high tempo rock music from the off. Springsteen was soon prowling along the gangways built at the front of the stage collecting audience signs requesting songs, pulling several back to the stage with him.
And the night’s first surprise came at song three, with the rare Jole Blon. It was one of those moments that splits a Springsteen crowd: many not knowing the track while the fanatics were going crazy. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City from Springsteen’s debut album and Radio Nowhere followed, also requests. Things then settled down a little with No Surrender, Wrecking Ball and Death To My Hometown all delivered perfectly.
After such an eclectic opening to a show the practice recently has been for a complete album to be played. But not this time, which pleased me as I much prefer spontaneity, especially with an artist who plays very different shows every night.
My City Of Ruins was originally written about Asbury Park, New Jersey, but it has come to have a wider significance as song of remembrance. The extended version here saw Springsteen go through the band intros before asking, “Are we missing anyone?” We all knew the answer.
Bruce repeatedly began to sing a famous line: “we made that change uptown,” but left it unfinished. Then he stood with his head bowed. A moment of silence was called for as he pointed to the vacant spot stage-right that was occupied by Clarence Clemons for so many years. Poignant doesn’t come close; many of us in the front pit had tears in our eyes. And I saw both Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt wiping their eyes too. The song restarted and a video montage featuring both Clemons and organist Danny Federici, who died five years ago, played on the screens.
It was back to the oldies next with both Spirit In The Night and The E Street Shuffle given the extended treatment. There was a loose feel to these jazz influenced songs, with Roy Brittan on piano quite outstanding. Bruce looked to be having a ball, and more requests followed. I’m On Fire was followed by a slow, beautiful rendition of Tougher Than The Rest, played for a young woman whose father who had died recently. And Bruce returned the sign to her afterwards, a lovely touch.
The music kept coming, the band kept playing and the crowd was in great voice too, joining in with every song. A murder themed three pack of Atlantic City, Murder Incorporated and Johnny 99 was an intense period. Darlington County was a party, The Rising a song of defiance and Badlands an anthemic classic that had fists pumping all over the stadium. The soulful Land Of Hope And Dreams was the 23rd song, closing the main set.
The immediate encore followed the pattern of recent shows with the addition of the wonderful Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) to staples Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark. Bruce had earlier promised a women from the crowd a dance, and he didn’t forget. Another woman had a sign asking to dance with Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew who was on fine form with the sax all night. She came up on stage and looked to be having a great time – even before being given a guitar to play along with the end of the song. What a memory to have.
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out provided another Clarence moment. The biggest cheer of the night came as the line familiar to all fans was this time completed: “We made that change uptown … and the Big Man joined the band.” It was a fitting celebration of the life of a musical legend.
Was this the end? No, the band started up once more with a glorious Twist And Shout, followed by an equally joyous Shout, a song best known locally for the Lulu cover. With more false endings that I’ve ever seen, it appeared that the show was never going to end – not that anyone wanted it to. But finally the band left the stage. And then Springsteen himself reappeared to end the night with “a rock n roll lullaby”, a tender acoustic performance of Thunder Road. He left the stage for the last time clad in a tartan scarf thrown to him earlier with applause echoing around the still full stadium.
What an amazing night. Three and a half hours of music from the best damned rock and roll band on the planet, led by a man who takes stagecraft to new levels. He played the crowd, running back and forth, often leading others from the band along. He directed every moment, controlling the massive supporting cast throughout the show. And his voice was strong and true on every single track – he added some meaty guitar solos too, reminding us of just what a good player he is. It was a simply incredible performance from a man in his seventh decade.
After arriving at the venue at 6:30am I was lucky enough to secure a place very near to the front, with only one person between me and the barrier at the front, so I had a perfect view. It is an incredible experience to see a show like this from so close, to witness the effort and energy that is put into the performance. To see every expression on the band’s faces as they marvel at The Boss.
Quite simply, no one does it better.