Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Hampden Park, Glasgow

Two songs into this three-and-a-half hour performance at a sun-kissed Hampden Park and Bruce Springsteen tore up the set list and took requests from the golden circle.  It was a testament to the man’s brilliance and to the tightness of his E Street Band that he can reach out into the crowd and pull in a sign requesting the rarely played Jole Blon and after a four second count-in the band is rocking it out.

The beauty of a Springsteen show is that not only do the audience not know what’s coming next, but much of the time it seems that the band are just as unaware.  If you look closely you can see Max Weinberg studying Bruce intently as he basically doesn’t know what might have to play next.

The result is a musical force of nature; an unrelenting rollercoaster ride of an experience which draws on every emotion of the human spectrum.  There are the highs of raucous classics like Born To Run, Badlands and Atlantic City; then the tender moments of reflection during My City of Ruins and the dedication of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out to Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on the second anniversary of his passing.

There was a fine balance here between old and new as Wrecking Ball stood well alongside No Surrender and We Take Care of Our Own opened before leading into The Ties That Bind.  The ease with which these songs sit in the set list confirm that last year’s album is he best Springsteen has released in at least twenty years.

However, what truly makes a Springsteen show special is the humanity demonstrated by The Boss.  Tougher Than The Rest was another audience request, with the moment made all the more poignant by Bruce’s gesture of handing the sign back into the crowd.  As if that wasn’t enough, he also handed the woman his harmonica.  Dancing in the Dark saw a young girl not only join the band on stage to dance with Jake, but she was handed an acoustic guitar and microphone to join Bruce in the final chorus.

With an exuberant encore of Shout and Twist and Shout seemingly sending Hampden home happy after three and a half hours which had you inclined to believe Bruce when he could “feel a heart attack comin’ on….I’m sixty-fucking-three!” he ushered the band off the stage, though he was lingering at the back and you thought, and you hoped…and when a roadie handed him an acoustic guitar and a harmonica it signified that he had one more song in him:  a perfect solo performance of Thunder Road which had a 50,000 stadium crowd hushed and hanging on every last word until the final line brought the roof down.

There has been speculation amongst online Springsteen afficionados that this current European tour could be his last with the E Street Band – that if he returns to the continent it will either be as part of a solo tour or with a more stripped back band.  Certainly his speech reminiscing about past tours in Glasgow had a touch of a farewell address to it.  If this does turn out to be the last time we see him with the E Street Band, they went out in a blaze of glory.  This is the yardstick against which all stadium gigs should be measured.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band @ Hard Rock Calling, London

How many artists in the world could command 76,000 people to stand in a muddy woodchipped park for seven hours on a dull and wet London afternoon just to wait for his set to start?  A handful, maybe?

Alright – for how many of those artists would the increasingly swamp-like conditions and constant threat of rain be worthwhile?  Answer:  Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

In an era of digital downloards and X-Factor nobody does large-scale rock like The Boss.

Springsteen attracts an almost Biblical following; his worshippers spread out over Hyde Park in tour T-shirts from just about every era of his career, some even going so far as to re-create the classic bandana’d Born in the USA look.

The man himself is comparitively statesmanlike as he takes to the stage alone in a waistcoat and shirt combination.  He instantly defied all expectations of a repeat of 2009’s opener London’s Calling when his harmonica led us into a solo performance of Thunder Road:  just Bruce with his voice and harmonica and Roy Bittan on piano.  The guy from Brooklyn in front of me was moved to tears.  It was astonishing.

The jungle drums of Badlands introduced the rest of The E Street Band to the stage and Hyde Park, by now basking in sunshine for the first time, was ready to rock.

A brief de-tour into new record Wrecking Ball brought the title track, first single We Take Care Of Our Own and a guest appearence from Tom Morello on the angry, rousing Death To My Hometown.  The former Rage Against The Machine guitarist would feature frequently through the night, most notably on a tremendous version of The Ghost of Tom Joad.  Morello’s expertise on the electric guitar added several more layers to the song, which had been dedicated to the hundredth birthday of Woody Guthrie.

Morello’s wasn’t the only guest appearence of the night as John Fogerty joined Bruce and the band in a fine performance of The Promised Land.

Over the course of a career spanning in excess of forty years Bruce Springsteen has become reknowned for his willingness to interact with his audience, and this was again a prominant feature of his Hyde Park show when he took a sign from a man in the front row who had followed the band all over the world requesting the obscure song Take ‘em As They Come.  He didn’t hear it in Madrid, Paris, etc “but tonight in London, my friend, this is your lucky night.  We’re going to play this damn thing!”

Johnny 99 and the outstanding Because The Night became milestones of the concert as they signified the last songs to be played under the warm glow of a summer sun, and the rain returned with a vengeance prior to Working On The Highway.  Bruce left the stage and walked down onto the exposed catwalk in front of the audience barrier to revel in the falling rain.  “I love working in the rain!” he exclaimed, almost willing it to rain harder.  And it did.

What followed was a deluge of hits.  A young boy was lifted over the barrier to assist on Waitin’ On a Sunny Day; The River sounded epic as rain continued to pour from the heavens; The Rising prepared the crowd for the grand finale ahead.

It’s hard to imagine that there’s another band touring with the quartet of songs in their repetoire that Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band utilised to close this show.

Arguably four of the best-known songs ever recorded, Hyde Park was transformed into the largest ever eighties retro bash as first Born In The USA – sang with the kind of passion that once again belied the common mis-conception that this is a song of unwavering patriotism – then Born To Run and Glory Days took us to the song that had everyone dancing upon woodchip and mud like they were Courtney Cox.  I don’t get the love for Dancing In The Dark, but it cultivated an outstanding atmosphere.

Had the show ended there it could rightly have been regarded as a great night by any standard.  But just as Bruce defied expectations three hours earlier he smashed them into tiny, sodden pieces when he introduced Sir Paul McCartney.  It was the first time the two men had performed on stage together, and Hyde Park went ballistic.

Beatles’ classics I Saw Her Standing There and Twist And Shout were performed in an historic duet between two of the most acclaimed musicians of the last fifty years with a spectacular firework backdrop against the canvas of a wet black sky.

Everyone was having a great time.  Bruce and Sir Paul were revelling in the history-making moment, and then….nothing.  Silence.  The sound was cut, the performers completely unaware as they valiantly tried to give the paying public one more song.  They couldn’t even say their goodbyes – nor were the audience able to properly show their appreciation of a special night and a special moment – because as it later transpired through social media, the organisers had decreed that Springsteen and McCartney had gone too far beyond the 10.30pm curfew set by Westminster Council for gigs at Hyde Park.  The gig ended at 10.41pm.

It was a distasteful ending to the night – especially considering that Bruce Springsteen was the only artist of the three headline acts this weekend to sell out his Hard Rock Calling show – but it was slight muddy spot on what was on the whole a great night.

The weather, the poor quality of the Hyde Park sound system and the concert organisers all seemed to have conspired against The Boss last night, but not even all of them could stop Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band from rocking like no other act in the world can.