Friday, 22 June 2012
THE POWER OF BRUCE: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AT THE STADIUM OF LIGHT, SUNDERLAND, THURSDAY, 21st JUNE 2012
Getting out of the Stadium of Light proved far easier than getting in. Seated at the end of a row itself adjacent to an exit ramp facing wide open doors meant I got out of there in less than a minute and I was hoofing it round the perimeter of the stadium, my short legs moving in a Flash-like blur (perhaps I exaggerate slightly) as I quickly overtook those who'd got out of there ahead of me. Then I reached the crowds who'd left by the south-facing exits and I was forced by their sheer density to slow to their pace as we walked, still briskly, down narrow streets. I passed two mounted policemen, beautiful dignified animals with sleek coats, so tall and majestic, they dwarfed me (okay, easy to do). The horses were impressive too. (Sorry.) The police were out in relative force, albeit not, I suspect, as many as for a football match. I doubt they had much, if anything, to do. Everyone, including the drunks, were on a good high and just wanting to get home, or to their hotel in the case of those who'd travelled from well outside the locality. Out on to the bridge where the police had closed two lanes of traffic to make it easier and safer for the concert-leavers to get across. Back in the town centre I was lucky enough to catch a bus immediately and landed back in the house at 10.40pm, almost exactly five hours after I'd left it.
Just over five hours earlier I'd been checking that I had everything: Ipod, camera, ticket, umbrella, two bottles of fruit juice filled with Australian shiraz, a bag of processed fish tails to nibble on when I got peckish, a small amount of cash in case of emergency, and a shoulder bag to put most of them in. Sorted. Except when I got there I realised I'd forgotten the small pair of binoculars I'd picked up from our charity shop solely for use this evening. Bugger. The journey to the Stadium was a reverse of that leaving. With the new Patti Smith album Banga playing on my Ipod (there is a Bruce connection there), I got a bus straight away from the bottom of my street, into a quiet town centre where it only became apparent that the concert-goers were out in force, as I approached the bridge and the thickening fog, and en masse by the time I reached the end. Arriving at the stadium I looked at signs to find out where I was supposed to enter, joined a long snaking queue which proved to be the wrong one and had to go much further round the stadium's circumference before finding the queue for the correct entrance. Eventually I got inside to the outer circle, a tunnel which, I assume went all the way around the building's perimeter and was packed with food and drink concessions, and also plenty of toilets which was useful as I had to go. I got to my seat just over an hour after leaving the house. I didn't mention that it was next to four amiable but somewhat drunk Scotsmen with weak bladders. Worth mentioning is that, despite the forecasts, it stayed rain-free albeit still a little cold and damp and I had to pull my leather jacket across my Grateful Dead t-shirt to keep warm. Here's the view I had.
There are two Bruce Springsteens.
One is an enormously talented singer-songwriter who stands in the Rock pantheon along with Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and U2. In my own personal pantheon, you can omit the first two and add Neil Young and The Grateful Dead. Despite my love for Sandy Denny, she doesn't count because there's no way in hell she could ever be described a rock singer. Springsteen has recorded two perfect albums in my book -Born In The USA and The Rising- both note perfect from start to finish, all packed with memorable songs, the latter being an unbelievably dignified fine response to the tragedy of 9/11. But there are wonderful songs on all his albums and these two are just my favourites; I'm sure other Bruce fans would disagree. Bruce crafts songs about love, regret, disillusionment, working class life, oppression both social and economic. On his latest album there's We Take Care Of Our Own about how America looks after the weak in society except that the title and lyrics overflow with a sneering irony as Bruce knows America does any but take care of its own. And then there's the song Born In The USA itself which sounds anthemic and triumphant on first hearing but is the bitter story of a ground-down VietNam vet. Or try the wistful nostalgia for good times gone on Glory Days. And so many more, all sung with a rough-hewn sensitivity, perfectly arranged, everything done in service of the song.
And then there's Bruce the entertainer.
He's there, trust me, looking half an inch high from where I was sitting. I'd watch the screens, wonder whereabouts he was on stage and only then occurring to me to actually look at it.
He started at 7.08pm and finished, without a break or encore, at 10.15pm. He started at full blast and hardly let up for three hours. When he wasn't singing he prowled the stage, doing a little dancing, interacting with band members while they soloed, at one point pretending to bang his head on the piano keyboard. Often he was at the very front, glad-handing members of the audience, racing along the stage in exaggerated steps. When he saw one fat guy with a sign wishing guitarist Nils Lofgren a happy birthday (it was his 61st) Bruce pulled the guy up onto the stage to dance next to an amused Lofgren. He whipped the audience up into a frenzy, getting them (us) to thrust our arms into the air and sing along. He made local references which went down well as you'd expect. A smile never seemed to leave his face as he poured everything into his performance.
About halfway through he asked, "Who's in the house?" and set about introducing every member of his 18-piece band. As you'd expect there were massive cheers for guitarists Nils Lofgren, Little Stevie (aka Sopranos actor Steven van Zandt), and drummer Max Weinberg. Then he asked, "Is there a pretty red-haired woman in the house?" Um, actually as it happens, no. Bruce explained that his talented singer wife Patti Scialfa "..is at home looking after the kids." A few days ago, they'd been papped coming out of a Paris restaurant where they'd celebrating their wedding anniversary but with Patti looking very upset and Bruce unable to console her. I hope her absence had nothing to do with that.
With a huge back catalogue of great songs there were always bound to be someone's favourites missing. With me it was Born In The USA (no suprise there), though he included others from that album. From the recent Wrecking Ball, he left out my favourite Rocky Ground opting instead for the more anthemic Wrecking Ball, We Take Care Of Our Own, Shackled And Drawn, and if a song wasn't anthemic in the first place, he made it so. Song after song was a full band production, often dominated by horns and sax. Nils and Little Stevie did get their solos and very good they were too but for my personal taste I'd have preferred more guitar and less brass. All the band were excellent including the strongly featured Jake Clemons (Clarence's nephew) on sax. Towards the end Bruce featured a video collage of the late and much-missed Clarence Clemons to great applause.
He slowed things down a little towards the middle of the set but it wasn't long before he and the band were in full everything and the kitchen sink mode and I'd begun checking my watch wondering when he'd take a break which, as I'd already mentioned, he didn't. I'd begun to feel Bruce fatigue.
It didn't last though. Not even I can resist the Power of Bruce. By the time he sang Hungry Heart and Glory Days I was on my feet and singing along with most of the rest of the audience. "Everybody's got a hungry heart/Everybody's got a huh-huh-hung-ery hahheart." I mean, it would have been rude not to do so.
I did not, however, pump my fist in the air, either of them.
And there you go. That's pretty much about it. Bruce Springsteen who loves writing and singing songs and loves performing for an audience. He's 62 years old, he's rich, he doesn't need to perform at full belt for three hours several times a week, he just loves doing it and you can see it in his face and in his body language. His energy puts people half his age to shame. I'm really glad I went to see him and it's something I'll never forget.
I just don't want to do it again.
Shortly after leaving the Stadium of Light, I switched on my Ipod and starting listening to an album by The Grateful Dead called So Many Roads. It's an authorised collection, compiled by some fans, of previously unreleased live and studio tracks culled from a variety of sources containing versions of familiar numbers but that are played somewhat differently from usual. Much of it comes in the form of long jams. After three hours of high intensity Bruce, I found listening to this a really pleasant way to come down.