So, three years on from Bruce’s last appearance at Wembley, we were back on Sunday to enjoy the latest instalment. Last time, in June 2013, I concluded in my review that it was the best concert that I had ever seen. That was because he played the whole of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way through. My favourite album of all time. We didn’t get anything quite like that this time – how could we? – but we did did get three and a half hours of glorious music that spanned most of his back catalogue. A celebration.
The tour is branded “The River” tour, because, early on, it was promoting that album, originally from 1980, which has been re-released in multiple forms. But tonight there were only six tracks from the album – one more than “Born to Run”, which in the end, was supreme, as it usually is.
There was an uptempo feel to much of the set, Bruce and the band celebrating their rock’n’roll and soul/R&B roots. “The River” was always an album of two halves, mixed up: one the straightforward rock’n’roll celebrations, the other a dark, restrained reflectiveness, which built on “Darkness” and presaged the pared-down bleakness of “Nebraska”. Sunday’s concert selected songs mainly from the first category – not only the staple “Hungry Heart” but lively blasts like “Out on the Street”, “Sherry Darling” and “You can Look (but you better not touch)”. Of course we got “The River” itself, but not “Independence Day” or “Point Blank”. No complaints about that; this was a communal celebration, focused on Bruce’s 80s output, and therefore well-received by the crowd, many of whom may have first come into contact with Bruce through “Born in the USA” or “The River”. The responses suggested that.
As ever there were so many highlights and moving moments, but here are a few that stood out for me:
- The opener, “Does the Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”, just Bruce and his piano, a nostalgic return to his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ”. We got a wonderful “Spirit in the Night” from that too.
- Turning the whiplash sparseness of “Johnny 99” into a rockabilly, rocking, R&B celebration.
- The double of “Candy’s Room” and “She’s the One”. Classics, both. We had “Promised Land” and “Badlands” too.
- A pounding, incessant “American Skin (41 Shots)”, a powerful tale of injustice and brutality.
- Bruce and wife, Patti Scialfa, cheek to cheek, singing the awesome “Tougher than the Rest”, from “Tunnel of Love”, his 80s breakup album. This was always one of my favourites from the era, and it was a truly moving performance. And it was followed by a searing “Because the Night”, with Nils Lofgren letting rip on the guitar. The maestro.
- And best of all, obvious maybe, a wondrous rendition of “Jungleland”, sung with depth and passion by Bruce. Those familiar words, the poetry, those images and the dreams amid the despair, expressed as well as I’ve ever seen. And as for the sax break in the middle, the peak moment of the song, played beautifully by Jake Clemons, son of the mighty Clarence, the Big Man – a moment of real emotion. The summary of so many things. And then “Jungleland” rolled straight into “Born to Run”. A crowd eruption. What more could you want? Well how about the last song of all, an acoustic version of “Thunder Road”. Bruce, guitar, audience, in unison.
There were dignified and defiant performances of two key songs from “The Rising”, the post 9/11 album – the title track and “My City of Ruins”. As well as the easy pop of “Waiting on a Sunny Day” – a real crowd favourite, especially given the weather. I find it a bit cloying, but can’t deny the catchiness and the unity it brings. And who can deny the infectiousness of the closing three of the first encore: “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and crowd-pleaser “Bobby Jean”? I think that last one really speaks to the crowd…
We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes…
That’s Bruce Springsteen in 2016. Grown up, at one with the crowd, speaking their language, articulating their feelings. Everyman and a spokesman. Still in love with music and its redeeming power. Still a fan, still a consummate performer, showman, cheerleader, musician, poet. A leader.
The full setlist, courtesy of the brilliant Setlist FM, is here.