Who’s The Boss At Glastonbury?

I’ve just been watching Bruce Springsteen’s set at Glastonbury.  I’m an average Boss fan: like any music lover I know the main songs – Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark – plus a few other, lesser-knowns – Promised Land, for instance.  But I don’t know his back catalogue so well, and I sat down to watch the BBC’s coverage of his set expecting to like those songs I knew, uncertain about the rest.

How wrong I was.  The BBC showed the last hour or so of Bruce’s set and… lord, I’m lost for words.  It was so, surreally, stupidly, absurdly, majestically brilliant.  Just pure heaven.  Every song more immense, more breathtaking than the last, and the crowd in some sort of orgiastic, demented ecstatic fervour throughout, greedily milking it in. Pianos were tinkling, guitars rampaging, saxophones peeling and Springsteen was constantly standing on the front-row barrier, guitar high above his chest, roaring out the lyrics in his manly growl, sweat piling down his forehead and stained blue shirt, his eyes rapt in delirium, head bouncing, mighty legs thrust wide and oak-carved arms thrashing at his strings, his every sinew and motion demanding more, more, fucking still more more more more from his besotted crowd, they falling slightly more in love with him with each tearful second and gleeful song.

The sweat’s indicative of a vital element of Springsteen shows: the fact that he gives absolutely everything he has.  Quite how is beyond imagination – he had a similarly momentous show the next night, at Hyde Park, and you know he wouldn’t have delivered any less of a show – given his age (50-something, I think), and the length of his set (this one 2hrs 40 mins).  Fitness is one thing, but he’s clearly driven by other, bigger forces – a love for his work, a desire to reward his fans as best as he can, and possibly some superhuman powers as yet undiscovered.  Throughout the chunk of the set I saw, Bruce was forever running up and down the stairs to jam with fans in the front rows, careering around rage, scarcely pausing between songs to pack more in, and bellowing to the huge (as huge as there can ever have been at Glastonbury) crowd in the few quiet moments.  This was real rock-and-roll; a real show, with a real showman, and I can’t believe any music fan of any genre would have been completely uninspired watching it.  At the end, during a typically epic rendition of Dancing in the Dark, Springsteen thrust his guitar in circuits around his body to the precise beat, a glazen, paradiscal look hewn on his kind face.  It was as if there was nothing he couldn’t do.

He talked amid one song of the E Street Band building a house of joy with their music, and that’s precisely the sound they made.  Songs like Outlaw Pete deliver it via shrill, moving choruses, and anthems like Born To Run through vast, singalong zeniths, ones during which it’s nearly impossible not to thrust fingers or arms in the air at every peak. Perhaps the most joyous moments of all come in the giddy refrains of Springsteen’s cheeriest songs – Waitin’ On A Sunny Day (a pulsating, triumphant messaging written in reaction to 9/11), Glory Days, 10th Avenue Freeze Out – when the band, licked into total harmony after so many shows down the years, just play, saxophones, guitars, harmonicas, accordions and more making the most terrific, uplifting, thrilling noises, different every time but all equally magnificent.  Watching it I was constantly close to tears; not in a sad way (although I am devastated I wasn’t there), but because of the power of song, the ability of some music to strip everything bare and pare away a listener to his/her basest emotions and purest reactions.  Listening to Springsteen’s music felt like walking into a rainbow, meeting a deceased relative or the onset of world peace: in short it made me feel free, and keenly aware that anything was possible.

Afterwards, Jo and Mark on the BBC revealed that the band decide their first two songs before going on stage, then ad-lib the rest having gauged the crowd’s move.  They all know all the songs by heart, so it’s a purely interactive, interpretive experience, and likely never the same.  That makes it still worse that I’ve missed this one, but provides still more reason to go and see future shows.  And by God I will now.

Here’s a little taster of the live Springsteen experience:

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Waitin’ On A Sunny Day (Live) (zSHARE)

Bruce Springsteen Live (search)
Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark (Live at Glastonbury 2009)

Purchase Links:
Bruce Springsteen – Greatest Hits (album)
Bruce Springsteen MP3s


~ by ripamel on 01/07/2009.

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