'He came, he saw, he rocked. And then he rocked some more' - Bruce Springsteen takes Croke Park by storm
He came, he saw, he rocked. And then he rocked some more. Bruce Springsteen concerts are always epic but as the 66-year-old icon took to the Croke Park stage under balmy early summer skies it was clear we were about to witness something extra special.
Tanned, faintly goateed, face seamed with the lines of a lifetime taking the road less traveled, Springsteen looked like a man with something to prove – extraordinary for an artist supposedly staring into the twilight of his career.
"Come on Dublin let's hear some noise y'all," he proclaimed, as he negotiated the stage with the strut of a young gun rolling into town and eager to make his name. "Let's get a Guinness party going." (He would subsequently thank the President for turning out to see him).
The welcome Springsteen and his E Street Band received as he kicked off with Darkness On The Edge Of Town was every bit as full-throated as the performance. When the ensemble plunged into second number Badlands those not already on their feet were springing from their seats. In the stands, fans pinched themselves and clutched their phones – as if merely being in the presence in Springsteen presented the mother of all selfie opportunities.
So it had been all day as the atmosphere built and built around Croke Park. Springsteen devotees are not necessarily the most demonstrative as they go about their business and were easily distinguishable from the Ole Ole chanters headed across town to see the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Still, the excitement was palpable as evening descended. Concert- goers had been warned to show up in good time and had held their part of the bargain, with Croker packed to the good -natured brim as Springsteen led his troupe from the wings, a tricolour and stars and Stripes fluttering in the rigging (in the event he didn't arrive until 30 minutes after the billed 7pm).
The gig was the latest date on Springsteen's River tour. For the first time the New Jersey bard is on the road without a new record to promote. Instead he hopes to train a spotlight on what he has long believed his most underrated LP, 1980's The River.
Released at a difficult phase in his career, when he was creatively and personally adrift and grasping of a new direction, the album is best known for its keening title track – that rumination on financial and mental ruin that will speak to Irish people coming out of recession as surely as it did to the unemployed Rust Belt workers to whom it was originally dedicated. When he delivered it at Croke Park the tingles were palpable, 80,000 raising their voices to sing the devastating lyrics.
Yet as Springsteen reminded us through an enthralling, pedal-to-the-floor set, this was a collection loaded with surprises too. He swerved from the confessional charge of The Ties That Bind to the sad lilt of Hungry Heart, his everyman ardor never dimming. It was as if he had penned these songs just yesterday and was showing them to the world for the first time. These were his babies and he loved them all equally.
There was time for a request, as well, a hard-punching take on torch song Roulette that reminded us that Springsteen can croon as impressively as he could belt a note into the higher echelons of the Hogan Stand. Later, sprinkled in sweat, he led the house through a singalong version of Patti Smith's Because the Night, beaming as he played off with saxophone player Jake Clemons and rousingly negotiated The Rising, perhaps the outstanding moment from the later phase of his career. The never-ending encore, meanwhile, featured freewheeling anthem Born To Run and Dancing in the Dark, during which fans were pulled up to groove with the band. Now everyone truly was on their feet bawling their lungs out. Even the selfie set had lowered their phones to watch.
It was the first of a Herculean two night stand at the northside monolith, which will see Springsteen perform to some 160,000. He could probably have tacked on several further shows, so deeply is he adored in Ireland. Granted, Springsteen is not an artist for everyone - those of short attention span may have wished he had culled the obscurities and focused on his landmark hits. Yet he remains the world' s biggest cult star and as the brought the curtains down with an acoustic This Hard Land every last person in Croke Park will have felt he was singing his big heart out for them and them alone.
"Hi Dublin, thanks for a wonderful night," he beamed. "The E Street Band loves you."