Live review

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Hyde Park, London

8th July 2023

Last time Bruce Springsteen played Hyde Park, his set overran and organisers cut the power as he stood on stage with Paul McCartney. This time around, The Boss ensured that nothing fell short.

Arriving at Hyde Park, it was difficult to avoid the notion that everyone was there for one reason, and one reason only. At the intimate Birdcage Stage, an amp broadcast ‘Born To Run’ between sets; a nice idea to gee the audience up, but fairly futile considering we’d be getting the real deal in a matter of hours. James Bay and The Chicks played spirited sets to a sea of picnic rugs and pop-up chairs, their owners only vacating in tag-team fashion to visit the terraced row of curiously stylised Western saloon bars. Sitting down to stake our claim to a yellowing, slightly damp patch of grass - surrounded by people sporting various combinations of official merch, paisley bandanas, and denim dungarees - it’s easy to have a vague sense of imposter syndrome; clearly, these were fans that don’t do things by halves.

But neither, it transpires, does the man himself. Taking to the stage at 7pm sharp alongside an 18-strong cast of bandmates, Springsteen looked, for all intents and purposes, like someone two decades his junior. Launching into ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’, it was clear from the off just how integral the eponymous E Street Band are to his sound - particularly saxophonist Jake Clemons, the nephew of original E Street member and The Boss’ late friend, Clarence Clemons. It’s testament to how much Springsteen values his band that he repeatedly turned his back on the crowd to jam with guitarist Steven Van Zandt, to faux-conduct the collective’s symphony, or to simply watch these musicians - most of whom must be the same generation as he is - create a wall of sound to rival Phil Spector.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Hyde Park, London Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Hyde Park, London

And this is them, if not at the pinnacle of their prowess, then surely not far off. Making full use of the entire stage area, Springsteen bounded up and down the protruding concourse to be among the crowd, his stage chat enveloped by rumbling bellows of ‘Bruuuuuuce’. With over 20 albums to draw from, the set list of even a three hour show would take some refining, and in the end it was pitched fairly evenly between the rock’n’roll of earlier records, the big-hitters of ‘Born In The USA’ (though not, notably, the title track), and a couple of covers thrown in for good measure. His iconic harmonica got some time in the sun - the bluesy, extended outro of ‘Darlington County’ was nothing short of glorious - and, when the heavens inevitably opened, Springsteen was out there with us, leading the crowd in an apt, anthemic chorus of ‘let it rain, let it rain’ for ‘Mary’s Place’.

The show was set to be busy: completely sold out, with no resale tickets to be had for love nor money (save for the ‘Diamond Circle’ experience, yours for a cool £747.50). It was set to be memorable: Springsteen and Van Zandt pulling faces at the camera, joking that “they’re going to pull the plug on us again”. But what was more unexpected (naively, perhaps), was for the show to be so poignant. Speaking about his first band, The Castiles, Springsteen explained that after vocalist George Theiss passed away five years ago, he was left as “the last living member of that small group of guys that got together so many years before”. The crowd now hushed, he said simply: “And that gives you pause to think - it brings a certain clarity of thought. Death’s final and lasting gift to the living is an expanded vision of this life." Gently strumming the opening chords of ‘Last Man Standing’, he gave the impression that when he’s onstage, cradling a guitar that’s scratched and pale with age, he could be 17, not 73. There’s a surprising intimacy to it, given we’re standing in a field of 65,000 people. But that seems to be the key to Springsteen - his ability to forge a connection that transcends geography and generation.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Hyde Park, London

We have an emotional rendition of ‘Backstreets’, and then the home straight: ‘Glory Days’, ‘Born To Run’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’. His roaring version of The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’ is the final full number, but it’s on a more reflective, pensive note that the set closes. Having seen the E Street Band offstage (individually hugging each member), Springsteen delivers a touching solo rendition of ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’, accompanied only by acoustic guitar and his trusty harmonica. With his oxblood Doc Martens and turned up jeans, there’s a chance that this whole show could have felt a little sad, a little bit tribute-act. But it doesn’t; it feels celebratory. It feels like an artist cementing his legacy in real time.

Having been touring for over 50 years, it might have been forgiven if the shimmering gold of his Capitol Theatre-era performances had faded slightly to a dull bronze. It’d still have drawn a crowd, and been a show worth seeing - this is Springsteen, after all, and even his bronze effort would be trophy cabinet-worthy. But what Saturday’s set made clear is that these Hyde Park gigs weren’t the product of some profit-driven nostalgia trip or to satiate his own ego, but were done because Springsteen truly has the time of his life doing it. And boy, can he still do it.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Hyde Park, London

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