June 16, 2013

Notes from the road: London

On November 18, 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played their first ever concert outside of America. The Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 show marked the beginning of a near 40-year love affair between Bruce and the United Kingdom. From the moment he stepped onto stage as a young 26-year-old and played to London, for the first time, the introduction to “Thunder Road,” Springsteen captivated the British audience.

Thirty-eight years later, they emerged onto the stage of Wembley Stadium, for the first time since 1988. As the E Street Band walked out, the crowd erupted with a roar. Tonight, Bruce would create light out of Darkness.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” opened the show, setting the widescreen tone of the evening. A rarity followed: “Jackson Cage,” which had the crowd rocking nearly as hard as the band. “Radio Nowhere” maintained the energy before a gorgeous rendition of “Save My Love” from The Promise. Taking more request signs, Springsteen pulled up “Cadillac Ranch” but quipped that it was “too easy” and swapped it for “Rosalita.” The physical energy then transferred to emotional energy as Springsteen and the band played “This Hard Land.”

Requests continued with “Lost in the Flood.” The now-40-year-old song is a rare and emotionally captivating performance. Bruce sang with conviction, and as the tale of the “ragamuffin drummer” unfolded on stage, this concert already felt like one for the history books. After Bruce returned to a “Hungry Heart” sign, and Wembley swayed to another River classic, Springsteen offered the crowd a choice: he could either “continue playing requests,” or he could play the whole of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Bruce thanked London for many years of love and support, to rapturous applause, before jumping straight into the heart of what many fans would call his greatest album. Indeed, Springsteen himself acknowledged that Darkness defines the work of the E Street Band before rocking the stadium to the beat of “Badlands.” Since the three Swedish album shows of last month, Bruce has treated audiences across Europe to full-album performances. Many fans anticipated Born in the U.S.A. at Wembley, but as Bruce tore into “Adam Raised a Cain” before then singing his hauntingly beautiful vocal intro to “Something in the Night,” it was hard to imagine a fan wishing for anything else.

One of his most moving songs of all, “Racing in the Street” was a highlight of Wembley’s show. Picking up where Bruce’s words stopped, Roy Bittan’s piano was staggeringly beautiful and masterfully constructed. As Roy played his own “‘Jungleland’ sax solo,” always slightly different, Bruce stood back in the darkness of his stage with the E Street Band, looking out into an entranced crowd.

Concluding Darkness on the Edge of Town with its title track, Bruce brought some fun to Wembley with “Shackled and Drawn,” followed by “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” The main set ended with “Light of Day” before the encore began with a dance-til-you-drop “Pay Me My Money Down.” “Born to Run” led into “Bobby Jean” while the crowd swayed and sang together. “Dancing in the Dark” saw two lucky fans on stage, one to dance with Stevie, and the other a Mum whose children “paid” Bruce $1 for the dance.

As the E Street Band left the stage following “Twist and Shout,” which Bruce remarked might have them cut off à la London 2012, he paused with his back to the audience. Now alone on stage, Bruce took an acoustic guitar and harmonica, returned to his microphone, and — breaking his curfew — told London “we love ya” before ending the night with the song that he opened with, 38 years before.

“Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road…”

— Connor Kirkpatrick, Backstreets.com