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With the summer in full swing, it is time for some massive outdoor gigs to descend on our capital’s Greenland. Bruce Springsteen (with a little help from his friends) ensured that his will be remembered as one of the finest, most memorable, and yet also most controversial of all of these.
The Hard Rock Calling gigs have been bringing some of the finest classic rock music to Hyde Park for six years now; the series of concerts have boasted headliners as diverse as The Killers and Stevie Wonder. They are nothing noteworthy – they are just your typical one day concerts that take place in the heart of our capital. However there is plenty noteworthy about the Saturday night headliner of this year’s event. Bruce Springsteen, making his second headline appearance at HRC, is famous for his miraculously energetic shows that can stretch for as long as four hours; even more noteworthy is that he is now into his fifth decade of doing this and approaching 63.
However the day wasn’t about Bruce until the evening: before him on the main stage there were strong performances from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, performing acoustic protest songs; and Credence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogarty, who pleased the crowd with such classics as ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Fortunate Son’.
As seven o’clock arrived, everyone in this corner of South West London was awaiting the arrival of The Boss. Bruce arrived on stage 20 minutes late, due to the support acts also being delayed by 20 minutes. This did not seem important, for now, as he surprised the expectant crowd with a low key version of the usually noisy ‘Thunder Road’, which dazzled as much as it surprised. This was not to be a Bruce Springsteen acoustic set, however. The remainder of his iconic E Street Band soon joined him for a storming performance of ‘Badlands’. This is followed by a few songs from Bruce’s critically acclaimed latest album ‘Wrecking Ball’, including a guest appearance from Tom Morello who did contribute guitar to some songs off the album. As is the case with Springsteen every song turns into a glorious jamming session from the E Street Band. Thus a simple three minute song like ‘Death to my Hometown’ comes alive live and turns into an electrifying eight minute epic.
After consorting with the crowd, Bruce returns with requests scrawled on placards (as is custom at his gigs). He puts his loyal band to the test by asking them to play some thoroughly obscure songs from his back catalogue. One fan, who had followed The Boss to Spain, France and now London, requested ‘Take ‘em as they come’ – a b side from the early 80s, which had only been played nine times before and not for almost ten years. Miraculously, the full E Street Band played the song perfectly. The camera cut to the fan, who was now almost in tears of joy. This sent a clear message: no matter how big he is, Bruce still cares about each and every one of his devoted fans.
The band kept energy levels suitably high with Springsteen himself demonstrating incredible stamina for a man of 62. A special shout out should go to the band’s saxophonist Jake Clemons who had some very big shoes to fill. The world of Springsteen was rocked earlier this year by the tragic death of E Street band member Clarence ‘big man’ Clemons. Clarence had been one of Bruce’s closest friends throughout their careers and featured on the iconic album cover of “Born to Run”. However his replacement, Clarence’s nephew, filled those shoes superbly with some fantastic saxophone playing that would have made Uncle Clarence very proud. It was quite clear that the big man lived on and the E Street band was still just as strong.
This superb musicianship continued through all the Bruce Springsteen classics that were played, just take for example the run of four songs towards the end: ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, ‘Born to Run’, ‘Glory Days’, ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were unstoppable; however that was about to only get better. Bruce introduces Paul McCartney to the stage. Once I am over the shock at this most notable special guest appearance, I find that I cannot wipe the grin off my face as I boogey down and sing along with 50,000 others to The Beatles’ classic ‘I saw her standing there’. This was then followed by the even better ‘Twist & Shout’; it all seemed unreal – the boss and a Beatle on stage together.
Unfortunately it was all too unreal. Thirty seconds from the end of ‘Twist & Shout’; the sound plummets. I cast my eyes down at my watch, and realised that Bruce had now been onstage for over three hours and was ten minutes over the Curfew time for Hyde Park. All the same I couldn’t believe it; here we had one of the most iconic American musicians of our time with the most iconic British musician of our time and they had been cut off by a jobsworth. It was an unbelievably disappointing decision that has since been condemned by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as “an excessively efficacious decision”, but it happened so we have to live with it. Whilst I’m not over the disappointment that this caused me and 10,000s of others; I would like to focus on the positives of a superb three plus hours of music proceeding that and the opportunity to see two legends jam together. It was controversial, but I expect to remember it for the music not the controversy; I can only hope it’s the same for everyone else.
…Liam has been listening to: Paul Simon – You can call me Al…