So now I understand. For years friends whose musical guidance I regard highly would rave about Bruce Springsteen, but I never really got it. Sure, I could hum along to Born To Run and have been known to perform The River in bars now and again. But I couldn’t really see what inspired the passion – even having watched his Glastonbury headline set on TV a few years ago.
But now I know.
On a damp July night in a 70% full stadium in a city not exactly famous for lively cultural experiences*, Bruce and his E Street Band gave the kind of performance that for many other bands I’ve seen would be a once-in-a-lifetime. But for them it was just another night being the people’s rock’n’roll band, The Boss and his team giving it everything for the fans.
He’s 63 years old, but full of energy. For three hours he strutted around the stage with his guitar, joining the crowd in the rain for a while, and giving lots of time to the hardcore fans at the front of the stage. For them the chance to lay their hands on their musical messiah was enough to send them into ecstasy. Actually, I’m not sure I’d ever feel that way about any performer, but I have to admit that I welled up a bit when he pulled a young chap of around 6 years old on to the stage for a tuneless, but incredibly cute rendition of Waiting For A Sunny Day. I guess that’s what being a father does for you.
Photo stolen from Paul Conneally’s Facebook profile – he obviously has a better smartphone than mine!
Actually, it was very much an inter-generational affair. All around us there were families: a guy around my age with his father; a work colleague with his wife and 16 year old son; a family of four with daughters in their twenties just ahead of us. Springsteen’s music seems to cross all sorts of boundaries, but doesn’t feel diluted in any way as a result. This is music for the masses that retains its credibility and its strength.
Songs I knew or recognised included the three mentioned already above, plus Born in the USA, Thunder Road, and Because The Night, which I didn’t realise he had written. But among the many other songs he played I enjoyed most of them. He dedicated a song called Land of Hope and Dreams to Nelson Mandela and it stood out to me as a highlight of the evening. (Singing along to The River also felt great!)
Having said all that, I don’t think I”m going to become a big fan of his music. I can’t criticise it and I have nothing but respect for him as a person and a performer. But there’s still something about the songs that doesn’t quite connect with me – every performance was epic, but maybe some of the songs weren’t quite strong enough to support such epicness! (The three-hour set is undoubtedly impressive, but they actually play fewer songs than you might expect in that period, as every song is a good 6-8 minutes long…or even longer…and always with a big ending.)
And I have to say, I prefer my saxophone in small doses – it was a bit of a sax-fest at times! But, it feels petty to quibble after such an impressive performance by such great musicians who are clearly having a great time doing what they do. Long may they continue.
My friend Lars, who would have been seeing Bruce for the 7th time had he not mis-timed a holiday, has sent me his top ten Springsteen songs to listen to. I didn’t get around to it before the gig, but I will still do so…maybe I’m just starting out on my journey into the church of The Boss. Time will tell.
*Probably a bit unfair to Geneva, where there’s plenty of great culture to be found. But it’s generally not in the big venues.