Thursday 27 April 2017

The Boss is back, and he brought a certain spirit in the night with him

This stand-up guy spilled his soul on stage for a solid three hours, and we lapped every minute up

Bruce Springsteen on stage with Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt Photo: Steve Humphreys
Bruce Springsteen on stage with Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt Photo: Steve Humphreys
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

There's a darkness on the edge of town. Or maybe it's just 2am in a private bar at the Croke Park hotel in Dublin after a certain concert for 80,000 people: promoter Peter Aiken is lost in a reverie of what he has just witnessed.

Can I get a witness indeed.

Fans Andrea Kean, 31, Mayo, Orla Clancy, 30, Galway and Ciara Cormican, 30, Galway Photo: Arthur Carron
Fans Andrea Kean, 31, Mayo, Orla Clancy, 30, Galway and Ciara Cormican, 30, Galway Photo: Arthur Carron

"Bruce Springsteen is the best live act in the world. There is no disputing that. After the show he put on tonight, no one would argue that Bruce is the greatest live performer on the planet. No one comes near him. There's no one like him. I am speechless at the genius of what I just watched tonight," Peter rhapsodised.

"I remember hearing Darkness On The Edge Of Town for the first time in the summer of 1978 in Belfast. I was 17 or 18. I went out and bought the album. It changed my life. It was more than music. It had a power and a magic that Bruce still has today. What a show tonight. Incredible. And he'll do it all again on Sunday."

Cut to six-and-a-half hours earlier as the blessed Bruce and his E Street Band open up the show at 7.10pm with a spine-jangling version of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The crowd lose their minds.

"You can tell her that I'm easily found/Tell her there's a spot out 'neath Abram's Bridge/And tell her, there's a darkness on the edge of town," Bruce sang and the crowd were duly transported to Abram's Bridge.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Anna Zasimowicz (right) and Dervilla Gannon Photo: Arthur Carron
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Anna Zasimowicz (right) and Dervilla Gannon Photo: Arthur Carron

Enda Kenny, in the box next to the one I'm in, appeared to be enjoying the break from all the shenanigans and the performances of certain politicians recently in the Dail.

Political performances notwithstanding, Bruce's performance was an alchemical transformation that lasted three-and-a-half hours. He did it his way. There was no Born In The USA. Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen makes few concessions, nor need he.

He makes Roy Keane look like Peppa Pig. The intensity in his eyes as he looked around the stage gave the impression that Bruce Springsteen sees shadows from the past everywhere.

He sings out of the shadows of an existential despair with his tales of what goes on inside a man's soul when sometimes the world around him is crashing down - literally when he sang The Rising, his masterpiece about the events of September 11, 2001 in New York.

Anne Mulholland, Derry Photo: Arthur Carron
Anne Mulholland, Derry Photo: Arthur Carron

"Spirits above and behind me/Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright/May their precious blood bind me/Lord, as I stand before your fiery light," he sang as the whole of Croke Park and its inhabitants seemed to resound with the emotional power of what was being played out on stage.

It is worth pointing out that Bruce's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, was the town that suffered the greatest amount of lives lost in the Twin Towers tragedy.

He did a blistering Badlands, a mesmerising stripped-down, raw power rendition of This Hard Land. His version of Hungry Heart was rousing, good for the soul.

We were lost in that magic when Bruce and his E Street Band played his liberating tour de force about escape, Born To Run. We felt his frustration with life when he sang about "ain't got nothing to say" on Dancing In The Dark.

Jacqui Meskell at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park in Dublin Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Jacqui Meskell at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park in Dublin Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

We swayed and sang along to Waitin' on a Sunny Day. We sang along to tales of getting Mary preggers and how for his 19th birthday the anti-hero of the song got a union card and a wedding coat down at the courthouse as the judge put it all to rest.

The brooding brilliance of Because the Night had everyone singing the words, a mantra of sorts, back to him: "They can't hurt you now, Can't hurt you now, can't hurt you now, Because the night belongs to lovers."

The song Bruce wrote and handed over to Patti Smith to make it her own in 1978 was sung with the other Patti, his wife Scialfa - an integral part of the E Street Band since 1984 - by his side.

He held the crowd in thrall from the first song to the last. It was showmanship that had echoes of Otis Redding, Little Richard and a gospel preacher in the Deep South on a roll.

You imagine that if Bruce Springsteen wasn't allowed this outlet, there wouldn't be a place for him in society. He comes across like an Old Testament prophet in old jeans who sought, and found, the Promised Land, but found it a tough place to inhabit. Think, for a moment, of what has gone on in his head because of the troubled relationship Bruce had with his late father Doug.

On stage at Croke Park, Bruce conspired to push his band and the music into places so far unvisited. There is no resting on laurels, or anything else like a stool, for the entirety of the performance. Bruce is officially a stand-up guy, as they say in New Jersey.

The relentless high-energy of the show - with every song starting with the phrase that will surely be on Bruce's tombstone: "One! Two! Three! Four!" - left the crowd, and Bruce and his band too I'd imagine, reeling for three-and-a-half hours. As Bruce struggled to answer life's biggest questions, so did we the crowd with him, groping in the dark for answers before deciding it would be easier to dance in the dark.

Despite all the painful memories bequeathed him by his late father, Bruce's music does have positivity and a spirit that burns brightly out of that undoubted psychological darkness. You could call it The Unbearable Brightness of Being Bruce. This comes out in the soul stuff he loves to play. "Can I get a witness? Dublin, can I get a witness?" Bruce implored the crowd like a singer on a Stax tour in the 1960s. "Can you feel the spirit?"

The screams of the 80,000 fans at Croke Park on Friday night said they did. And 80,000 more will feel that spirit again tonight.

Sunday Independent

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