Bruce Springsteen is a force of nature. No man of nearly 64 years old has any right to look as sprightly as he does as he races around the stage in Coventry tonight shaming people half his age.
He and the E Street Band had been playing for over an hour already when he casually strolls up the mic and says: “This is our first time in your city and we would like to celebrate by doing something special. We are going to play the "Born To Run album" for you, and would like to dedicate it to our good friend James Gandolfini.”
As you probably know, Springsteen’s sidekick for 40 years, Steve Van Zandt, was one of the stars of The Sopranos, alongside Gandolfini, who had died the previous day and the band clearly wanted to pay tribute.
Whatever the tragic circumstances surrounding its playing, the chance to hear arguably the finest album in the Springsteen cannon (although RTM could go for “Darkness on the Edge Of Town”) in its entirety, is a quite stunning treat. For 50 glorious, spellbinding minutes, right from “Thunder Road” to “Jungleland” and everything in between, the very album that turned the man on stage into a legend is being played.
If he had waved, said “thanks everyone” and walked off after this, you wouldn’t have complained, but this is Springsteen and there is still an hour left yet….
What had gone before “….Run” was superb, but perhaps a touch low-key – understandable given the circumstances (not only has Gandolfini died, but drummer Max Weinberg has lost his mother recently too).
The evening had begun with Springsteen on his own, strumming “The Ghost of Tom Joad” before he is joined the E Street Band for a selection which includes “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” “Two Hearts” and a live debut for “Long Time Comin’.” This last song was a “sign request.” As has become tradition at his gigs, the fans bring signs with them with songs they want to hear and Bruce plays some of them – occasionally inviting people onstage from the crowd to sing their selection with him. A very clever tool, it adds a real personal touch to what in essence can be an impersonal experience, rock n roll after all isn’t meant for stadiums.
Neatly, it is a song about a stadium that provides the highlight of the first section. The title track of his most recent record, “Wrecking Ball” about the Meadowlands Stadium being knocked down, is an astonishingly good song and sits neatly alongside with “greatest hits” like “Hungry Heart” and the “The River” which follow just after.
After the “…Run” interlude, things go up a notch in terms of energy. “Pay Me My Money Down” a particular favourite with the crowd, before "Badlands" concludes the main set finishes the main set with its joyous chorus.
The encores carry things on. Heavy on “Born in The USA” songs, it begins with a plaintive “We Are Alive” and ends around 40 minutes later with “Raise Your Hand” and “American Land.”
There are no gimmicks, no massive light shows and no lasers, just for three hours and 10 minutes some of the finest rock n roll songs ever made. The band seem invigorated since last RTM saw them, with Jake Clemons, replacing his sadly departed Uncle Clarence on saxophone, a real revelation, but the ringmaster is the eponymous hero of it all.
You can argue, possibly, about some of the quality of his recorded output (“Working On A Dream” is fairly terrible for example) but what you can never lose sight of is that there is nothing quite like a Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band show – and damn it all if they didn’t prove it again tonight, because, to be frank, they were quite phenomenal.