My first, and hopefully last, concert at the Happel – not the most conducive venue for live music, and I really can’t imagine anyone else who would get me there other than Bruce Springsteen. More than the vast scale of the thing, what I objected to most was the atrocious sound quality; from where I was sitting, at least, the acoustics were tinny, distorted and just horrible. Maybe they were better down in the pit, but that would have brought its own set of challenges.
Anyway, this show was a blazing success and a glorious encapsulation of all the things I love about Springsteen – the drama, commitment and passion, the unstoppable energy and, most of all, the way he connects with every single person in an audience of 50,000 as surely as if it were one of fifty. Charging tirelessly about the stage for a full three hours, he’s out to ensure that everyone’s having as great a time as he’s obviously having himself – laughing, joking, signalling, touching and always communicating.
Let’s be clear on this: there’s absolutely nothing corny, sentimental or clichéd about Springsteen. His art reaches deep into American history, iconography and myth, emerging with a profoundly moving sense of lived human experience. And, remarkably, it does all of these things through songs that are quite irresistible in their drama, impact and melodic verve. Whether hurtling through the outlaw landscape of “Badlands”, swinging around the exhilarating “The Promised Land” or threading through the desperately moving evanescence that weighs down “The River”, Springsteen connects with you – lives inside you – in ways that no other artist has ever done.
The now legendary “Jersey Girl” moment deserves a special mention. As I wrote in my review of the Live 1975-1985 box set, this song perfectly encapsulates Springsteen’s emotional concerns even though it was written by Tom Waits. I’ve returned to that live recording time and time again, enthralled by the audience’s rapturous reaction to this most affecting of love songs. And although I didn’t know it at the time, Springsteen had never played it in Europe until last Sunday, when a girl near the front of the audience, wearing an orange T-shirt with “Jersey Girl” written on it, climbed onto someone’s shoulders and removed the T-shirt to reveal the not displeasing sight of a red bra underneath. When Springsteen caught sight of this vision, he had little choice but to play the song, which he did with great sensitivity and tenderness. But that was just one of the countless fine moments offered up by this extraordinary concert.