Springsteen has mortality in mind but celebration in his songs at London show

LONDON (AP) — Bruce Springsteen wasn’t going to let concert organizers pull the plug like the last time he performed in Hyde Park 11 years ago.

“F—they’re right,” Springsteen growled in delight as he feigned fear that an impending curfew would dim the lights on his sold-out Thursday show in front of 65,000 viewers.

Blowing the deadline was never a real threat as Springsteen, still strong at 73, got off to an early start and rode through a three-hour set Thursday in quick succession. He only broke pace a few times to reflect on the passage of time and the passage of friends.

The 28-song set included anthemic classics like “Born in the USA,” “Prove it all Night” and “Born to Run,” plus several new tracks and a cover in a show that relied heavily on a message. of mortality but felt more like a celebration of life as an enthusiastic audience sang along on a beautiful summer evening.

“London, is anyone alive tonight?” he blasted into an intro to “Mary’s Place,” one of many tracks that featured the E Street Band’s crisp horn section, dueling keyboards and an impressive cast of backing vocals backed, of course, by dozens of thousands of fans. “If you’re alive, then I’m alive. And that’s why we came here. »

The tour, Springsteen’s first in seven years, kicked off in Tampa in February and included nearly the same set list every night, unusual for an artist who often played fan requests posted on handwritten signs.

Springsteen followed the members of the E Street Band on stage just after 7 p.m. in a roar of “Bruuuuuce” that may sound like boos to the uninitiated. His short silver hair slicked back, Springsteen wore a black snap-button shirt with short sleeves rolled up to show off his still-stretched pipes, dark ankle-cuffed jeans, and oxblood Doc Martens boots.

After the required “Hello London” he quickly counted “one, two, three, four” for the chest-pounding drum intro to “No Surrender” which had the fans roaring and the band rushing forward like a train. of rocking goods.

Even this opening on friendship and the power of music with its memorable line about learning “more than a three-minute record…that we never learned in school” captured the theme of the evening. .

“Young faces grow sad and old,” he sang in a stanza that gives way to “I’m ready to rejuvenate” before the eventual chorus of “no retreat…no surrender.” .

He followed with “Ghosts”, a grand tribute to the bandmates he had lost that ends with “I’m alive and I’m here all alone / I’m alive and I’m coming home”.

But Springsteen was not alone. He had 17 backing members of the E Street Band who have been rocking for 50 years in an evolving cast of talented musicians, which included some of the oldest members: guitarists Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry The great and keyboardist Roy Bittan.

Saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of saxophonist and longtime Springsteen friend Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011, had his arm around Springsteen’s shoulder as they sang a seemingly endless string of la-la-la to the end of the song. Then, as he has done throughout the night, Clemons took center stage and wept over his sax which glistened in the setting sun.

Despite a few tour cancellations due to unspecified illness, Springsteen remains a terrific performer although he moved a little stiffer as he jostled along the stage or descended several steps to snap his palms. and pose for selfies with an ecstatic audience in the front row.

On a catchy “Out in the Street”, in which he sings “I walk like I want to walk”, he stumbled up the stairs to the stage. It wasn’t as embarrassing as falling on stage at a concert in Amsterdam in May. He sat down on the stairs to finish the song and Clemons sat next to him.

He led the E Street Band like a symphony, waving his arms, swinging his hand to indicate a downbeat or counting time with his right hand. He joked that he practiced the movements in the mirror at night.

After a 10-plus-minute jazzy jam on “Kitty’s Back” during which Springsteen opened up the melody by running his fingers down the neck of his Fender electric guitar to produce a feedback howl and growl like Tom Waits, the band quieted down in “Night Shift,” a Commodores tribute to R&B singers Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. The song recorded on his latest record, “Only the Strong Survive,” of soulful covers, featured beautiful backing vocals by Curtis King , whose impressive ability to hit high notes made Springsteen smile.

Halfway through the show, the band took a break and Springsteen approached the mic alone with an acoustic guitar. The audience was silent as he recounted how he “embarked on the greatest adventure of my young life” in 1965 when he joined his first band, The Castiles. Half a century later, he was on the deathbed of the friend who founded the band, George Theiss, and realized that he would soon be the sole survivor of this group of guys.

“Death is like standing on the train tracks with an oncoming train racing towards you,” he said. “It brings a certain clarity of thought, purpose and meaning. … The final and lasting gift of death to all of us is an expanded view of this life. How important it is to seize the day whenever you can.”

“At 15 it’s all hellos and later there are a lot more tough goodbyes,” he said. “So be good to yourself and to those you love.”

He then sang the song inspired by Theiss’ death, “Last Man Standing,” from his most recent album of original material, 2020’s “Letter to You.”

The group then ripped through Springsteen staples including “Because the Night”, “Badlands”, “Thunder Road”, “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark”. Even with the crowd singing at full throttle, they couldn’t drown out Bruce’s powerful voice or the sound system that amplified it.

During a rocking “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” which includes a reference to Clarence Clemons joining the band, a video montage of the larger-than-life figure nicknamed “The Big Man” and former organist and accordionist Danny Federici , who died in 2008, played behind the band.

For an encore, Springsteen emerged alone with an acoustic guitar and harmonica and joked that he had just warmed up.

He then sang “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, a lullaby commentary on mortality inspired by the death of another friend.

“Cause death is not the end,” he sang, “because I’ll see you in my dreams.”

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