Bruce Springsteen: King of the Castle
WHEN Bruce Frederick Springsteen walks out on to Dublin's Croke Park stage at 7pm on Friday evening he will write the latest chapter in a 31-year-old love affair with Ireland.
The New Jersey rocker, who turns 67 in September, has developed a deep fondness for Ireland that is unique in terms of modern rock music.
Three years ago, the singer-songwriter described Ireland as "the adopted home" for himself and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enrolled E Street Band.
Since his first concert here at Slane Castle in June 1985, Springsteen has included Ireland in every one of his European tours.
He released one live album recorded entirely at the then-Point Depot in Dublin and four of his most recent albums have songs that are clearly rooted in Irish musical influences.
Springsteen and his wife, Patt Scialfa, have socialised at the RDS Dublin Horse Show. He's gone for fish and chips at Leo Burdock's in Christchurch with the E Street Band and then studied horse form in Limerick and Tipperary on behalf of his accomplished show-jumper daughter, Jess.
He's even shared a stage with the Irish-American band, The Dropkick Murphys on St Patrick's Day.
It is a fondness that is reciprocated enthusiastically by his huge fan base here which includes the great and the good of Irish life.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is an avowed Boss fan as is RTÉ political correspondent David McCullagh. So is Newstalk's Jonathan Healy and promoter Peter Aiken.
Irish fans even plan holidays around Springsteen's European tours travelling to Spain, Italy, the UK, Sweden and Germany to attend concerts. I sat my Leaving Cert 10 days after the 1985 gig having promised my mother that, if she stopped me going to Slane amid fears I might get lucky enough to be kidnapped by hippies, she could sit my exams instead.
I've missed just one tour since then due to one of our children being sick - my daughter is 21 now, a University College Cork student, and I've never allowed her forget what she did to me as an eight-year-old. Thousands of Ireland's Springsteen fans will disagree with my assessments but here are my top five Boss gigs of the past 31 years.
Here's to the gigs next Friday and Sunday making a strong case for entry into the top five:
1. Slane Castle June 1, 1985
Springsteen's first gig in Ireland, the best day of an otherwise wash-out summer, a tour to support a stomping rock album 'Born in the USA' and a crowd well north of 100,000 in an idyllic music venue - how could this not take top slot?
Well, in truth, Springsteen has played better gigs in Ireland but for sheer adrenalin-pumping-life-experience, this has to get the nod.
Slane was also rowdy, the front-of-stage scenes perturbed The Boss, the E Street Band didn't quite know what to make of such a mega-crowd and the sound was loud rather than precise.
But Slane did more than enough to kick-start the love affair. The rest is history. If you were there in 1985 and plan to be in Croke Park this weekend, respect!
2. RDS May 31, 2003
The gig I missed but, according to those I trust implicitly in all matters Springsteen-related, a concert for the ages.
Springsteen and the E Street Band were revelling being back on the road together after their hiatus of the 1990s, they had a stunning new album, 'The Rising', to tour with and they were wowing a new generation of young fans.
The older brigade also loved every second of it. No surprise then that tracks such as 'The Rising', 'Lonesome Day' and 'My City of Ruins' became staples of Springsteen's live shows for the decade to come.
3. Nowlan Park July 27, 2013
The earlier Cork, Limerick and Belfast 'Wrecking Ball' gigs might have their advocates (150,000 fans attended) but there was something special, almost magical, about the two-concert festival weekend by the banks of the Nore.
Springsteen was clearly moved by his Irish experience, the expanded and revised E Street Band was in magnificent form and the atmosphere in the city had to be experienced to be believed.
The opening gig witnessed a stunning duet on 'Drive All Night' between Springsteen and The Frames's Glen Hansard that alone was worth the admission fee.
4. Point Depot May 25, 2006
Springsteen arrived with his Seeger Sessions Band and an album which demonstrated that The Boss, with the undoubted exceptions of Bob Dylan the late David Bowie, can reinvent himself like few other artists.
'The Seeger Sessions' was an album of songs which traced their original versions back between 100 and 500 years - and the result was a rollicking, foot-stomping, bar band-type concert that had the crowd screaming for more.
They got their wish - Springsteen came back for a series of further gigs the following November that spawned the Dublin live album. 'Seeger Sessions' made such an impression that many in Ireland, and in Scandinavia, where the album was a smash hit, still pray for a sequel a full decade on.
5. RDS May 20, 1993
This was a tough one. I felt maybe I should have opted for one of his two stunning solo gigs in Ireland (1996 and 2005). Or maybe the underestimated 'Tunnel of Love' tour from 1988 closely followed by 'Magic' in Belfast from Christmas 2007?
But, no, I have to opt for 'Human Touch', when Springsteen arrived in Ireland minus the E Street Band and with a group of musicians referred to by fans as 'The Other Band'.
This was The Boss in transition and, because it was so different, I loved it. I somehow sourced a bootleg CD of the concert years later and it still finds its way onto my car stereo not least for a magnificent duet with Joe Ely on 'Settle for Love'. Oh, and Jerry Lee Lewis also managed to get in on the act.