By Adrian Peel
‘The Boss’ returned to Hyde Park for the second of two shows, as part of the British Summer Time (BST) series of concerts, which concluded on Sunday, July 9th, with a performance by Lana Del Rey.
Opening for Bruce on Saturday, July 8th, were a band I’ve liked for years but had never seen live, The Chicks (formerly ‘The Dixie Chicks‘, which, let’s face it, was a much better name).
The uptempo Sin Wagon kicked off their set, immediately reminding us what talented musicians the trio are – particularly sisters Martie Maguire, who really impressed on the fiddle and mandolin, and Emily Strayer, whose picking on the banjo and dexterity on the Dobro certainly made one sit up and take note.
Singer Natalie Maines has an enjoyable, powerful and instantly recognisable voice and she used it to good effect of the emphatic Gaslighter. It’s a joy to hear these three women harmonise.
It was also a joy to hear pedal steel guitar, that most ‘country’ of instruments, on a number of songs, my favourites being the foot-tapping The Long Way Around, the gorgeously melodic Wide Open Spaces and the romantic Cowboy Take Me Away.
When it was time for the main event, the various members of Bruce Springsteen‘s 18-strong E Street Band, which includes guitarists Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren and saxophone player Jake Clemons – nephew of original member Clarence Clemons – came out first, each receiving generous applause, before the man himself appeared, to cries of “Bruuuuce!”, which humorously sounded like booing, from the packed crowd.
Where as on Thursday, June 6th, Bruce’s Hyde Park gig began with No Surrender, tonight the first song to be played was the rocking My Love Will Not Let You Down, from the 1998 box set, Tracks.
More changes – mainly concerning song order – to Thursday’s setlist followed, including the aforementioned No Surrender being played third. An early highlight for me was the groovy Prove It All Night. What an amazing song that is.
With his no-nonsense sound and attire (he was wearing a black short-sleeved shirt, dark blue jeans and dark red boots), Bruce has always been a ‘man-of-the-people’ type of artist, and he displayed this with his many interactions with the audience members at the front.
The age-defying musician (how can he look and sound this good at 73?!) shook hands, posed for pictures and gave a pick to a child holding up a sign saying “This is my first ever gig”, although a request from a young girl, “Can I have a harmonica for my little sister?” appeared to go unfulfilled.
The likeable star played a mean harmonica on The Promised Land, turned in a soulful version of The Commodores‘ Nightshift and aptly delivered the line “let it rain” from pleasant pop-rock number Mary’s Place just as the rain started to fall.
The singer rarely spoke, preferring to let the music do the talking, although an hour or so into the proceedings, he stopped the music to share the story of his friend and original bandmate from The Castiles, George Theiss, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2018.
“In 1965, I was 15 and I had been playing guitar since I was 14 and a half,” he told the crowd. “[George] was dating my sister and she had told him that I played guitar.”
Going on to introduce the moving Last Man Standing, Bruce explained: “It was George’s gift to me when he died… he left me with this.”
Now I’m probably going to sound like the kind of ‘fanboy’ that die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans hate, but I was hoping to hear Born in the USA, Hungry Heart, Streets of Philadelphia, I’m on Fire, Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark, but I had to wait more than two and a half hours to hear any of them!
The latter two came during the first encore – as did the anthemic Glory Days – and were deservedly very well received, but inexplicably there was no room for Born in the USA, despite it featuring in Thursday’s set.
At one point, Bruce said to Steven Van Zandt that it was time to go home as the organisers were “going to pull the f****** plug again!”, jokingly referring to the infamous incident at the same venue in 2012 when that actually happened.
It didn’t happen tonight and the singer came out for a second encore consisting of a solo acoustic rendition of I’ll See You in My Dreams, the last song of the night.
Ahead of the gig, I heard someone in the crowd say that seeing Bruce Springsteen live is almost like a religious experience.
Despite some top-notch material and the singer’s magnetic personality, I wouldn’t go that far – although this was something of a masterclass in live performance and all-round showmanship from one of the all-time greats and his equally-legendary band.
That said, the exclusion of Born in the USA was simply unforgivable!
Photos by Dave Hogan