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Bruce Springsteen
Wembley Arena, London

Yahoo Music (October 2002)

At first, it sounds like boo-ing, as if the twelve thousand capacity crowd has suddenly turned against America’s unofficial poet laureate. Then it starts to become clear: that persistent braying sound isn’t “booo” but “Bruuuuce’, honked out by the males in the audience like a mating cry. It’s a strange yet pertinent show of devotion, one based not on petty notions of love but a very masculine reading of respect. A punch on the arm where a simple hug would do.

The concept of masculinity is central to Bruce Springsteen. He looks every inch the real man, almost untouched by the years in a red shirt and leather waistcoat, the videoscreen picking out the sweat on his brow, playing his guitar like he’s digging a hole. His songs are defined by hard work and honour, the virtue of a good day’s toil and the importance of family. While other blue collar prophets have eulogised abandon (drinking and womanising), Springsteen is the earnest flip, the man who finds euphoria in doing the right thing.

The right thing in this context, of course, relates to the aftermath of Sept 11th. When he calls for silence for two quiet moments from “The Rising”, his dignified attempt to capture the feelings of a nation, the braying ends. A few over enthusiastic souls start to clap along instead, as if they can’t watch “Bruuuuuce” without getting physical, but they’re soon shushed by everyone else. And you haven’t heard complete allegiance to a cause until you’ve heard a good <I>five thousand people<I> shush in unison.

But tonight isn’t about reverie, Springsteen knows that. For all of the brooding glory of “The River” and “Incident On 57th Street”, what this crowd wants is to clap along so hard they almost bruise themselves, to turn a chorus into a terrace chant, to relive those glory days when the music and the world was a simpler place. And, “Bruuuuuce”, bless him, can’t wait to do that too, quickly breaking out tricks you only thought existed in Eighties videos: taking a running slide across the stage on his knees (twice!), throwing the guitar around his neck, hanging off his mic stand like a kid on a climbing frame.

At times, it becomes tiresome, too much bluster and stadium sax and not enough genuine emotion. At others, it’s awe-inducing, proof that there is a power and inspiration in a union, catching your breath as those twelve thousand cry freedom during “Born To Run”. Springsteen’s at his best, though, when he calms down and brings that honourable masculinity to the fore, when he sweats quiet sincerity in a manner you realise has been almost lost from rock music. Be it the simple mantra of “may your hope give us hope” from “Into The Fire” or the raw poignancy of “You’re Missing”, Springsteen becomes himself best when he stops trying to be “Bruuuuuce”.

He ends with the hits of course, he’s not an idiot. “Dancing In The Dark”, possibly the greatest encapsulation of ennui and depression to be hidden in a jaunty melody (“I get up in the evening and I ain't got nothing to say/I come home in the morning/I go to bed feeling the same way/I ain't nothing but tired/I'm just tired and bored with myself”). “Born In The USA”, social comment pushed to the fore now, although you know there’s still plenty here missing the point. And “Born To Run” itself, naturally, his finest moment by several thousand furlongs.
In the end, you leave with respect in your heart. And, and, what is this feeling, could it be…? “Bruce, I fucking still love you,” blurts out one guy, unexpectedly. The Boss chuckles. “Yeah, but you know. Too much love drives a man insane.”


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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