Bruce Springsteen

Review of Bruce Springsteen at The Stadium of Light, 21st June 2012


The Boss finally brought his Wrecking Ball show to The Stadium of Light on Thursday. This has been the most anticipated concert of the year since it was announced back in November 2011. It marked Springsteen’s first appearance in the region for 27 years, his last visit coming in 1984 during the Born in the USA tour.

Following the release of Wrecking Ball, his seventeenth studio album, which has been described as ‘his angriest yet’, Springsteen has been on a mammoth world tour which has taken him across America and Europe. Throughout the tour he has spoken out against economic injustice, greedy bankers and corrupt politicians – themes which run right through Wrecking Ball – and inspired by the Occupy Protests.

The plight of the working man, however, has been at the very heart of Springsteen’s songs for 40 years and the poignancy of his music to the North East region is obvious. He famously donated money to the Durham Miners Wives Support Group following the closure of the coal mines and met with community leaders involved in the industrial disputes, during his visit in 1984. Classic, anthemic lines such as “…lately there ain’t been much work, on account of the economy” from 1980 single The River resonate loud today would seem particularly special when heard at the Stadium of Light, which lies on the site of a former colliery.

At Sunderland on Thursday however there was no overtly political agenda in Springsteen’s show. The Metro strike which had threatened to cause chaos for those attending the gig had been called off a week earlier and there was no mention of it from The Boss, despite Union leaders writing to him asking for his vocal support. Arriving on stage at 7:10pm Springsteen chose only to comment on the weather, calling to the crowd “Who needs 75 degrees and sunny? This is what I want in Sunderland” referring to the rain which had been falling pretty much none stop since 2pm, before launching straight into Badlands.

Despite the ever present threat of rain, it became clear from the opening salvo of Badlands that the weather would have no jurisdiction over the mood at the Stadium of Light tonight; this was The Boss’s night, and he and the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making E! Street! Band!” were here to make sure you enjoyed it.

Judging by the rapturous cheering and grabbing that greeted him whenever he took to the barriers, every cheer when the young Clemons picked up a solo or the stadium grade roars of “Bruuuuuuuce” in between songs, it’s safe to say that its mission accomplished for Springsteen and his band.

Amongst his fans, Springsteen is arguably just as well known for his gut wrenching tales street level despair and dashed dreams as he is for his stadium blitzing rock songs but this was a night in celebration of good old fashioned rock and roll and good times more than anything else, a fact clearly represented across the majority of the setlist. Aside from a heart-stopping airing for The River and a poignant My City of Ruins (well, it was poignant until everybody spotted the girl removing her t-shirt on camera. As Bruce noted “there’s just some things you can’t compete with.), the 28 strong set list was mostly a veritable feast of emotionally charged rock and roll, with The Boss himself grinning from ear to ear with each strum of his guitar on the likes of Promised Land and a full band version of Nebraska’s Johnny 99. And if he wasn’t standing playing he spent the rest of his time either running the length of the barriers, shaking his arse with guitarist Steve Van Zandt at the end of Glory Days, or mashing his head against the piano at the crescendo of a storming cover of Seven Nights to Rock. For all the emotional impact of his songs, Springsteen can be a big, daft showman on the stage and the night is all the better for it.

On the flip side, there’s also lot of soul present, and songs like Shackled and Drawn, Land of Hope and Dreams (both from Wrecking Ball) and 2002’s The Rising transforming the assembled crowd into something more akin to a congregation, with The Boss shouting and hollering the joys of his music like a preacher. At times it’s like a gospel service with music in the place of God, but things hit an emotional peak during a silent video tribute to legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons in the middle of Tenth Avenue Freezeout being followed by a searing sax solo from his nephew and new band member, Jake Clemons.

The thing is, that with a legendary performer like Springsteen, and a long awaited show like this, it’s incredibly easy for me to slip into hyperbole so I apologise in advance, but I sincerely doubt there can be any better musical moment than hearing THAT swelling harmonica intro signalling the start of Thunder Road. Arguably one of the best songs ever written, it is certainly never a certainty live (see the Hyde Park Calling 09 DVD) and to not only hear it, but to have it followed by Born To Run was a truly chest burstingly magnificent  moment in an evening full of highlights.

With amazing songs and flawless performances all round, not to mention a connection and a sense of fun that reached everyone  in the cavernous stadium this was a show from a man and his band who, nearly forty years after they started out, are still showing everyone else just how it should be done. Don’t leave it so long in between visits next time eh, Bruce?

Co-wrote with @MarkGrainger