Bruce Springsteen dazzles in Spain
Bruce Springsteen is on stunning form in a night of high energy and heartfelt emotion in Spain.
When you see an act of Bruce Springsteen's vintage (it's 39 years his debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ), you want to hear the big hits, the classics; the prospect of having to endure newer, less familiar material rarely appeals. Except that, in the case of Springsteen's latest tour, which kicked off its European leg in Seville last night, the new stuff easily stood comparison with old favourites such as Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
Wrecking Ball - his 17th studio album, released in February - is one of Springsteen's finest. And, as he and the E Street Band ploughed through eight of the 11 tracks on the CD, a wildly enthusiastic Spanish crowd roared their approval. And sang along, too.
Typically for Springsteen, whose blue-collar credentials remain intact despite the enormous wealth that success has bestowed on him, Wrecking Ball is about the injustices suffered by disadvantaged fellow Americans ("The banker man grows fat/Working man grows thin" he laments on Jack of All Trades); but also evident is an indefatigable pride in his country and a deep-seated optimism, too: "Tomorrow there'll be sunshine/And all this darkness past" (Land of Hope and Dreams).
The arenas of the world might not seem a natural home for a modern-day protest singer, but Springsteen, aka The Boss, is also one of the greatest showmen in rock and roll. The sound is big, but the feeling is intimate even when, as in Seville last night, there are upwards of 20,000 guests at the party, plus quite a crowd on stage, too: the E Street Band, who have backed Springsteen since the early days, have been augmented for this tour by an array of backing singers, accordion-, fiddle- and horn-players to the point where there are now 17 musicians on stage.
So there was a lot going on, yet, throughout, Springsteen strove to get as close as he could to the audience. He didn't attempt any crowd-surfing, as he had during recent American dates, but he repeatedly leapt from the stage to venture into the seething, sweating melee of bodies (the temperature had hit 39 degrees earlier in the day and was still stifling).
On two occasions, he pulled youngsters up on stage. First, a Spanish girl of about 10 sang solo during Waitin' on a Sunny Day: she was word-perfect and in tune. Later, he smooched with another young girl during Dancing in the Dark: she had thick cotton-wool plugs in her ears.
Musical highlights included Because the Night (a hit for Patti Smith, who co-wrote it, in 1978), from its haunting piano intro, played by Roy Bittan, to an astonishingly frenetic solo by elfin guitarist Nils Lofgren; the roaring adrenaline rush of Candy's Room, powered by Max Weinberg's thunderous drums, was terrific, too.
After three hours, and well past midnight, the closer was Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Halfway through, the music suddenly stopped and the vast video screens that flanked the stage were filled with images of "the Big Man" Clarence Clemons, saxophonist and mainstay of the E Street Band, who died last year. It was a stunning climax to a night of high energy and heartfelt emotion.
The Wrecking Ball tour comes to the RDS in Dublin on 17 and 18 July.