LONDON (AP) — Bruce Springsteen was not going to let concert promoters pull the plug on him like the last time he played Hyde Park 11 years ago.
“F— ’em is right,” Springsteen growled in delight as he feigned concern that a looming curfew would bring down the lights on his sold-out show Thursday before 65,000 faithful.
Blowing the deadline was never a real threat as Springsteen, still going strong at 73, got an earlier start and powered through a three-hour set Thursday in rapid-fire succession. He only broke stride a few times to reflect on the passing of time and the passing of friends.
The 28-song set included anthemic classics like “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Prove it all Night” and “Born to Run,” along with several newer tunes and one cover in a show that leaned heavy on a message of mortality but felt more like a celebration of life as an enthusiastic audience sang along on a beautiful summer evening.
“London is there anyone alive out there tonight?” he boomed in an intro to “Mary’s Place,” one of several tunes that showcased the E Street Band’s crisp horn section, dueling keyboards and impressive group of backup singers supported, of course, by tens of thousands of amateurs. “If you’re alive, then I’m alive. And that’s what we came here for.”
The tour, Springsteen’s first in seven years, kicked off in Tampa in February and has included almost the same set list every night, which is unusual for a performer who has often played requests fans post on handwritten signs.
Springsteen followed the members of the E Street Band onto stage just after 7 p.m. to a roar of “Bruuuuuce” that can sound like boos to the uninitiated. His short-cropped silvery hair slicked back, Springsteen wore a black button-snap shirt with short sleeves rolled up to show his still-taut pipes, dark jeans cuffed at the ankle and oxblood Doc Martens boots.
After the requisite “Hello London,” he promptly counted out “one, two, three, four” for the chest-thumping drum intro to “No Surrender” that set fans roaring and band charging forward like a hard-rocking freight train. Even that opener about friendship and the power of music with its memorable line about learning “more from a three-minute record … than we ever learned in school” captured the theme of the evening. “Young faces grow sad and old,” he sang in a stanza that gives way to “I’m ready to grow young again” before the eventual chorus vow of “no retreat … no surrender.” He followed with “Ghosts,” a soaring tribute to bandmates he had lost that concludes with “I’m alive and I’m out here on my own/I’m alive and I’m comin’ home.”
But Springsteen was not alone. He had 17 supporting members of the E Street Band that has been rocking for 50 years in an evolving cast of talented musicians, that included some of the longest-serving members: guitarists Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent and keyboardist Roy Bittan.
Saxophonist Jake Clemons, the nephew of Springsteen’s longtime sax player and friend, Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011, had his arm around Springsteen’s shoulder as they sang a seemingly countless string of la-la-la’s at the end of the song. Then, as he did throughout the night, Clemons took center stage and wailed on his sax that glimmered in the setting sun.
Despite a few cancellations on the tour due to unspecified illness, Springsteen remains a formidable performer though he moved a little more stiffly as he hustled along the stage or walked down several steps to slap palms and pose for selfies with ecstatic front-row audience.
On a rousing “Out in the Street,” in which he sings “I walk the way I want to walk,” he stumbled climbing stairs back to the stage. It was not as awkward as a fall on stage at an Amsterdam show in May. He sat on the stairs to finish the song and Clemons sat next to him. He conducted the E Street Band like a symphony, waving his arms, swinging his hand to indicate a downbeat or counting out time with his right hand. He joked that he practices the motions in the mirror at night.
After a jazzy jam of more than 10 minutes on “Kitty’s Back” that had Springsteen open the tune by running his fingers along the fretboard of his Fender electric guitar to produce a screeching wail of feedback and growled like Tom Waits, the band eased into “Night Shift” a Commodores tribute to R&B singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. The song recorded on his latest record, “Only the Strong Survive,” of soul covers featured beautiful backing vocals by Curtis King whose impressive ability to hit high notes put a smile on Springsteen’s face.
Halfway through the show, the band took a break and Springsteen approached the mic alone with acoustic guitar. The audience was silent as he told how he “embarked on the greatest adventure of my young life” in 1965 by joining his first band, The Castiles. A half-century later, he was at the deathbed of the friend who founded the band, George Theiss, and realized he’d soon be the lone survivor of that group of guys.
“Death is like you’re standing on the railroad tracks with an oncoming train bearing down upon you,” he said. “It brings a certain clarity of thought and of purpose and of meaning. … Death’s final and lasting gift to all of us is an expanded vision of this life. Of how important it is to seize the day whenever you can.” “At 15, it’s all hellos and later on there’s a lot more hard goodbyes,” he said. “So be good to yourself and those that you love.” He then sang the song inspired by Theiss’ death, “Last Man Standing,” from his from his most recent album of original material, “Letter to You,” from 2020.
The band then tore through Springsteen staples including “Because the Night,” “Badlands,” “Thunder Road,” “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Even with the crowd singing full-throttle, they couldn’t drown out Bruce’s powerful voice or the sound system amplifying it.
During a rocking “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” which includes a reference to Clarence Clemons joining the band, a video montage of the larger-than-life figure nicknamed “The Big Man,” and former organ player and accordionist Danny Federici, who died in 2008, played behind the band. For an encore, Springsteen emerged alone with acoustic guitar and harmonica and joked he was just getting warmed up.
He then sang “I’ll see you in my Dreams,” a lullaby-like comment on mortality inspired by yet another friend’s death.
“For death is not the end,” he sang, “’cause I’ll see you in my dreams.”
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Written by: Editor