Bruce Springsteen @ Hampden Park

5 stars (out of 5)

2

Wrecking Ball tourOn Tuesday Hampden Park was blessed with one of the most gorgeously sunny days seen all year and a fittingly spectacular concert. For three and a half hours, Bruce Springsteen used his usual magic to turn Scotland’s national stadium into the most intimate of gig venues through a mixture of well-known hits, lesser-known wild cards, sing-alongs and a masterful command of the art of audience participation.

This concert was particularly notable for being on the two-year anniversary of Springsteen’s long-running saxophonist, Clarence Clemons’, death. This occasion was marked by “My City of Ruins” returning to the setlist after being  in semi-retirement for some months. The singer told the crowd to dedicate it to anyone they might be missing in their life and once he began singing the line “when the change was made uptown…” over and over, a line lifted from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, a song which details the first meeting of Bruce and Clarence, it was clear where the sentiment was coming from.

As surprising as the return of “My City of Ruins” was, the fact that this was one of the lesser shocks of the evening illustrates just how unpredictable and consistently wild Springsteen shows have always been. After the opening “We Take Care of Our Own” and an unexpected “The Ties That Bind”, Bruce immediately dove into the audience fetching sign requests that have become so standard in the touring process. After collecting what seemed to be at least six (including this reviewer’s own!) he called upon the band to play the almost unknown “Jole Blon”, a cajun traditional which he had recorded with golden oldies singer Gary U.S. Bonds. He described it beforehand as a “band stumper” but given the level of performance the E Street Band gave it was hard to tell and any fans left unknowing of the track were singing the “sha-la-la” chorus by the time it was over. From here, two more requests took place in the form of the early-career “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and post-2000 “Radio Nowhere”. It was as if Bruce was trying to show how any request no matter how old or unexpected could be pulled off with a great deal of ease.

One might think that with a show as unpredictable and career-sprawling as this, it could end up feeling directionless and inconsistent but watching, it seemed that every step of the way seemed to be very carefully calculated. The request of “I’m on Fire” into “Tougher Than the Rest” flowed perfectly and when “Atlantic City” and “Murder Incorporated” followed, the thematic and musical fluency was so astounding it was as if this setlist had been planned and rehearsed for weeks.

Throughout the night, the New Jersey singer seemed to be in great spirits, copying the dance moves of anyone who seemed to have a particularly visible groove in the audience and sharing banter with anyone who seemed to have something to offer. At least four fans managed to get up onstage: two women were pulled up for a dance during “Dancing in the Dark” as well as a younger girl getting to play guitar and sing backing vocals on the same track (but not without taking a few pictures while up there). During “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” Bruce performed the usual ritual of letting a small child sing the chorus through a few times before shouting “come on, E Street Band!” and kicking the song off again. A boogie-woogie version of “Open All Night” showed  Springsteen promising to have everyone in the stadium on their feet within thirty seconds, a promise which was very easily kept.

The night seemed to go on forever and in the least tedious way possible. And just when it seemed it was all over after the poignant tribute to Clarence Clemons in the form of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce let everyone know that this was far from true. “Oh, we ain’t done yet!” came the cry and so the house party was extended through the devices of covering both “Twist and Shout” and “Shout”, especially meaningful given Scottish singer Lulu’s successful version. No party, including the band, seemed to want the marathon gig to end. Even following this and the exit of the band from the stage there was one more surprise for the still eager Glasgow audience: a “rock and roll lullaby” as Bruce put it in the form of a solo acoustic “Thunder Road”, one final heartfelt sing-along before the stadium collapsed with exhaustion and satisfaction.

On a more personal note, walking out of the venue myself and those I had attended it with were literally speechless. Watching a Springsteen concert feels less like being at a gig sometimes and more like some sort of religious enlightenment. To think nights like this happen up to 100 times a year and have been occurring for around 40 years is extraordinary. I whole-heartedly pray more than anything else to do with the music industry that these sort of shows remain a constant for a good while longer.