Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Hyde Park

Bruce Springsteen on the main stage in Hyde Park, 14 July 2012
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
(Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, 14 July 2012; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Finding Bruce Springsteen and Phil Minton on the same bill would seem to be beyond all reasonable possibility – but it really did happen at Hard Rock Calling! And the day was better for it, too.

The shenanigans at the end of Springsteen’s concert, with the resultant media frenzy, didn’t detract from his momentous performance. Stadium concerts or festivals are generally to be avoided, but because of the Boss’s reputation as a live performer, braving the 75,000, when a friend hit lucky with tickets was an opportunity not to be missed.

‘The Boss’ is a superb communicator. There’s no superstar stuff, he gets in with his fans (he literally walked in close to the adoring audience, found a young kid to sing with him, danced with a female fan) and onstage is the musical personification of the working men and women for whom he speaks in so many ways. His core audience was there in the park, a great swathe of died-in-the-wool fans who knew every word of his songs, cutting across the blue and white collar, many in mid-life and a lot of youngsters, too.

In the company of a great Springsteen fan, Steve Stecklow, who also hails from New Jersey and for whom Springsteen’s music has been the soundtrack to life, many of the links were connected, and a good spot was staked out, the equivalent of being in the ‘back row of the gods’ in a concert hall, no mean achievement!

What a great set. Entertainment in the best sense – no fluff, nothing superfluous, no theatricals, no special effects, just strong songs – some epic roller-coasters, some spare acoustic coffee-house cuts. He had an unerring sense of how to make everyone in the massive audience feel as though he was talking directly to them and playing just for them, reaching out to touch his fans with a natural humility.

Springsteen has a tremendous band which delivered, and some. Nearly twenty onstage with his E Street Brass and Choir. Legendary, long-term members included pianist Roy Bitten – who provided perfect tinkling, richly chorded accompaniment to the Boss’s vocal and harmonica on the spine-tingling opener, ‘Thunder Road’ – guitarists Stevie Van Zant and Nils Lofgren, bassist Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg on drums, the Mexican-tinged accordion of Charles Giordano and multi-instrumentalist, Soozie Tyrell linked up in a broad-weave tapestry of songs that covered every facet of Springsteen’s output.

There are too many numbers to namecheck individually, but check out http://backstreets.com/setlists.htmll for the set list and a good round-up. Amongst the highlights were ‘Spirit in the Night’, from the first album, which included an emotional stretch with Jake Clemons, a richly experienced tenor player who stepped with respect and inspiration in to his late uncle Clarence’s shoes, blowing with knockout maturity and confidence. A mention, too, for some quietly classy jazz trumpet soloing from Curt Ramm, deftly slipped in to the E Street Band’s whirlpool momentum.

‘My City of Ruins’, in gospel mood, thrilled with its snatches of Curtis Mayfield’s unforgettable ‘People Get Ready’. ‘Jack of All Trades’, one of eight from the latest album, ‘Wrecking Ball’, was a poignant, all-too-real reflection on the plight of the ageing working man adrift in today’s fast-moving world, and had Springsteen belting a large bass drum to emphasise the heritage invoked. ‘Johnny 99’ from the album ‘Nebraska’ was played at a cracking pace which drew out its rock and roll roots, complementing the original’s eerie, sparse mood. ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, earlier in the day, had Springsteen team up with its author, John Fogerty, to barrel it out with raucous humour and energy – and showed what great rockin’ guitarists they both are!

With Paul McCartney at the climax, it was just like one imagines a Beatles concert might have been, with a touch of hysteria thrown in, and the words to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ all but drowned out by the enthusiasm of the audience. No wonder Springsteen said he’d “been waitin’ about 50 years for this!”

Over three hours – you just can’t knock it. The lifelong devotees were living every word, and all were drawn in by Springsteen’s stage presence, his timing and the band’s musicianship, absolutely honed to rough perfection.

My last word on the now-infamous ending – well, it has to be down to the promoters – knowing that he can play for nearly 4 hours, Springsteen should have been scheduled for a 6pm start.

Feral Singers, Hyde Park July 2012
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

In the ‘Hard Rock Rising’ tent I caught the final scintillating number from KonKoma – a Ghana-via-London mix with tremendous brass and percussion in the true spirit of the best bands out of West and Central Africa, and an extraordinary set by Phil Minton’s Feral Singers.

The Feral Singers are six vocalists – Dylan Nyoukis, Kay Grant, Luke Poot, Elaine Mitchener, Sharon Gal and Phil Minton – who pushed the boundaries in a continuous performance which was all about what was possible, never about what was expected, in the realm of the communicable, evoking the chattering, screeches, growls and wails of the animal world in an unstoppable, explosive flux which was never less than mesmerising.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 14 July 2012
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Categories: miscellaneous

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