Bruce Springsteen & the E-street band
RDS Dublin, May 25, 1999
Sometimes you get the impression that the RDS show-jumping arena has a bit of a soft-spot for ageing rock stars on dubiously motivated Greatest Hits tours. Recent years it has seen MOR maestros such as The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joel with Elton John trawl limply through radio weary back catalogues. Indeed, the worst was to be feared when Bruce Springsteen announced he had pulled the E-street band together for a swan song tour around the stadiums of Europe that included the equestrian epicentre of Dublin 4.
Fortunately, the evening revealed that the fears proved to be totally unfounded. I suppose though, with three decades of gigging experience under his belt, a 50 year old Boss knows that Greatest Hits a great concert do not necessarily make. Instead the assembled thirty-somethings were treated to a three-hour feast of album tracks, new songs, out-takes, cover versions, and God forbid, even the odd blatant hit. What was most refreshing though was to see the hunger for his early material he has managed to hold on to - of the 23 songs performed more than half were originally recorded before 1984's Born in the USA. The evening was most definitely on his terms and not a sniff of compromise permeated the air.
After opening with My Love Will Not Let You Down from Tracks, Bruce got the E-street band to delve back to 1978's Darkness on the Edge of town album to paint a statement of intent with 'Prove it all night'. Curiously the proof didn't involve many tracks from the colossal selling Born in the USA LP. Indeed the only single from it that was played - the title track - was almost barely recognisable in a deconstructed solo performance involving undiluted slide guitar and a much more restrained vocal.
A new arrangement also distinguished the River. It was however more a question of reconstruction than deconstruction - a totally different intro, some seductive French accordion but it was all marred by some awful & inexcusable glass keyboards, the like of which normally punctuate the airbrushed 'soul' of Messrs Houston and Carey. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out was stretched to 8+ minutes of memorable musical flux. It started off with the Boss parading the length of the simple, unadorned stage as the band teased and built the tension with a drawn-out intro. Having eventually plunged into the song there was time to jive-talk the audience, tongue nicely placed in cheek, down through the Avenues of "love? riches - compassion" etc., all this before the bass broke into the riff from 'Soul man'.
The highlight though was performance of Jungleland, the closing track of 'Born to Run'. It's one of those rare songs in rock music that while whisking you away from the daily humdrum on each listen also manages to root you utterly to the earth beneath your feet. The opening chords of 'Astral Weeks' or the seconds before Thom Yorke's voice soars at the end of the 2nd verse of 'Fake plastic trees' also come to mind. In Jungleland it is the sustained exorcising note towards the end that Bruce Springsteen pulls from some place defying explanation. It is arguably one of the purest, yet at the same time, unsettling notes ever sung in rock music. Performed tonight with conviction, twenty-four years after it was first recorded, it lost none of its power or resonance.
For the encores it was laid on thick - Hungry Heart followed by Born to Run followed by Thunder Road. The assembled, now delirious and heaving, didn't know what had hit them. Sensitive though to the power of contrast, after this anthemic hat-trick, Bruce led his band into a delicate and moving If a fall behind from the wonderful Tunnel of Love album. Shortly after the first verse Bruce stepped back from the microphone and, one by one, Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt, Clarence Clemons and Mrs. Springsteen herself Patti Scialfa of the E-street band stepped forward to sing the remaining verses. Desperately gorgeous and inspiring moments, each contrasting verse sung with a truth not often heard in contemporary music.
His 50 year old voice on occasion may have sounded a bit strained but it seems like the Bruce Springsteen chapter in rock music is far from over. This 3 hours of compelling music was brought to a close with a brand new song that was anything but jaded. 'Land of Hopes & Dreams' it was called and it seems like his musical pursuit for such a place just might not be over yet.