Musings on modern life, the 70's – with music.
June 5th 1981 – the date of my second encounter with Bruce. I worked as a sales assistant in a little record shop in Hatfield rather than going to University. It’s everything I ever wanted to do. The manager of the Berkhamsted branch was called Bob Fraser. We phoned each other every day, often having a good old bitch about the owner but more often than not, about what music we were listening to. Bob was the biggest Bruce fan and when the dates were announced for the 1981 River Tour – he implored me to go. I think the tickets were about £8.50, the venue was Wembley Arena so I sent a postal order and duly received the tickets for the 2nd June. I spent much of the run up to the concerts familiarising myself with the back catalogue but particularly The River. The day came and I went with Wendy McCulloch from school. Tripping over myself with excitement, I entered the Arena, Bruce came on and he knocked my socks off. Dad collected us from outside the Arena (I think he popped in for a toilet break) and we emerged drained, soaking with sweat, hoarse and utterly deaf. I wanted more – so had a chat with Bob who managed to secure a ticket for the 5th June. I went on my own (Dad picked me up) and can clearly remember the anticipation as I sat waiting – Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’ was playing, people were chatting – Bruce and the band came on and again floored me. Amazing couple of nights. Perfection. Bob furnished me with loads of bootleg tapes and LP’s including one from the Brighton Centre where they appeared the week before.
I’ve seen Bruce 9 times in my life. Normally in London, but once in Roundhay Park in Leeds. I try to make sure that all my best friends get the opportunity to see him once. Simon came to the ‘Born In The USA’ tour, Dave Morrison and Niall came to Aston Villa (I actually drove a car all the way there and back), David at Crystal Palace (so excited at the end that we kind of lost our way in Croydon and ended up walking to the station).
Whilst I appreciate that he is not everyone’s cuppa, he is undeniably puts on the best show – often running to 3.5 hours – each one different to the last. The template for every single rock & roll band to follow.
June 5th 2016. Bruce at Wembley Stadium. What a long strange trip it’s been. Today is the day for my 10th Bruce encounter. Of course he will be amazing. He never ever disappoints. Finally, the sun is out and it promises to be a blister of a day. And today have the honour and pleasure to be accompanied by my best mate Dom and my musical twin Antony. I’m sure we shall dance and sing, become hoarse and ache (more than I did in 1981 I’ll wager). I might actually rush the stage and plant a sucker kiss on his chops like the girl in this remarkable video performance..
Excited. Bring It On.
June 5th 2016 – 35 years on.
Let’s get the only bad bit out of the way first. The sound wasn’t really that great – not all of the sound or all of the time but in the rabble rousing, loud rockier numbers. The guitars were a bit too loud, the sax was a bit too quiet, the mics a bit too muffled. It must be difficult putting on a show of this magnitude to that many people and getting it exactly right – but sensed the boys on the sound mixer may not have understood the importance of their role.
Now to the good bits. There were so many, many good bits. As discussed in my previous post, it’s been 35 years, practically to the day, since I first encountered Bruce. This time, I was 35 years older, 35 years wiser, an entirely different pup who rocked up to Wembley Arena in 1981. For a start, I needed a pair of £1.00 shop spectacles to read my programme. Secondly, I knew that if I drank more than two pints I’d have to spend a £1.00 in pennies going up and down the stairs for a wee. And thirdly, I ‘thought’ I needed to sit through at least part of the show, given that my knees aren’t quite as ‘bendable’ as they once were. Well I only sat down twice through the entire, mammoth 3 and a half hour set.
Like any Bruce gigs, I had no idea what to expect. Well I did but had no idea when to expect it, at which point to expect the big guns. Would there even be any big guns. Well, yes there would and there was. Starting off in the relative obscurity of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street from his first record way back in 1973 (43 years ago folks), he took us on a journey which included Wrecking Ball from his most recent records, whilst diverting and distracting us with some corkers in between (‘Be True’ for example, had only previously been heard as the B-side to ‘Sherry Darling before resurfacing on the ‘Tracks’ boxed set thingy which in itself is a bold move). In fact, despite being called ‘The River 2016 Tour’ there were far less songs from the LP than I anticipated. It was lovely to hear some selections from ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ namely ‘Candy’s Room’, ‘Promised Land’. I would, though, have killed at the chance to hear ‘Point Blank’ or ‘Fade Away’
Reviewing the actual set list (posted below), I realised what an extraordinary body of work is available for him to tap into – and this does not even include the likes of Independence Day, Born In The USA, Rosalita, Cover Me, The Ghost of Tom Joad – that list is endless. Perhaps Bruce is the American of David Bowie after all. Even Bowie himself (of which there was a certain musical appreciation), could not have performed a set of that length, with that amount of energy at 36 let alone 66. Much as I loved him – he could be a cold fish – his shows were more theatrical whereas with Bruce you get raw, sweaty passion and loud party songs. He looked phenomenal – toned, muscly, fit – unscathed by a surgeons knife. And he was beaming and excited and could still run around the stage with almost the same amount of verve as he did back in 1981. (still missed Clarence a bit as Jake does not quite cut the same imposing 6ft 5” figure nor does he quite have his uncle’s lungs)
Yet he could still break your heart and reduce you to tears with a simple song or look at his beloved band (or audience). As much as I like the faster, rockier stuff – it’s in the slower, statelier ballads where the meat lies. The most surprising and wonderful moment came when he played ‘I’ll Work For Your Love’. I’d not really taken much notice of it previously – tucked away in the middle of ‘Magic’, I’d only heard it once or twice ever. Played in response to an audience request (not sure if it was staged or not) – he began the song, struggling to find the right key (and giggling a little when he couldn’t), the song opened up into a gorgeous flower of a song and a lyric. It suited the slower acoustic mood perfectly and was incredibly moving and extraordinarily touching. I looked over at Dom and he was a broken boy – I knew at that point that my Bruce conversion was complete.
For me, ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ was the highlight – there is something about the pace of the song, the power of the performance, the beauty of those lyrics, the strength that you can draw from it and the interaction between him and Patti which totally slayed me.
For Antony, I think that moment came with ‘Bobby Jean’ – he was stood in front of me and looked round at the end of the final verse:
‘Now we went walking in the rain talking about the pain from the world we hid.
Now there ain’t nobody nowhere nohow gonna ever understand me the way you did,
Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing
And you’ll hear me sing this song
Well if you do you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between
And I’m just calling one last time not to change your mind
But just to say I miss you baby, good luck goodbye, Bobby Jean’ – he looked back at me with tears in his eyes and we hugged. It was that kind of day.
And we had plenty of time for laughs and partying – being awestruck by the complexity of Jungleland – the ‘from the churches to the jailhouse’ organ swells gets me every single bloody time. Traditionally singing the first verse back to Bruce on Hungry Heart. The Courtney Cox beardy boy impersonator during Dancing In The Dark, the lovely girl who sang along to Waiting On A Sunny Day, watching Bruce down a whole pint of lager during Spirits In The Night (much to the shock and amazement to the girl who donated it), the pensioner lady in her summer hat singing along to Darlington County (which I picked as an opportunity to pop for a wee as I fancied dancing up and down the steps to it), playing spot the Bruce during his frequent forays into the crowd, the breeze which blew throughout a stunning Because The Night (there is always a breeze which blows through Because The Night oddly), the incredible party which took place during Shout – at least 10 minutes – where we speculated whether Lulu would make an appearance (and you can bet your bottom dollar that she wanted to). With a final trip down Thunder Road (acoustically if you please), it was all over.
Everything from the journey up, to our lovely little guided tour by Antony of his old stomping ground (‘Harlequin Records was over there, the cinema was over here’), the relaxed banter waiting for the start of the show, the beer bar inside, our view of the stage (I loved those REALLY BIG screens), his ability to hold the entire 90,000 audience in the palm of his hand – playing with us, teasing us – he really is the boss of all things live, the the journey home too was perfect and it all ran like clockwork. The perfect day.
It also, remarkably, managed to re-focus me and re-energise me. After a very strange year so far – a combination of the weather, a couple of major deaths, some challenging work situations, my ever changing moods which even the Almanac couldn’t rectify – it’s EXACTLY what I needed. I’m so grateful for him for that. I’ve spent the previous two days soaking myself in Bruce and crying, not out of sadness but of contentment. He’s done it before and I really hope that I get one more chance (I have been looking to buy tickets for New Jersey as I reckon that would be a phenomenal experience (anyone fancy it?).
Sorry if you wanted go but didn’t – if you want to experience more then you can pop over to you tube for a quick look. And if you didn’t want to go, you would have probably given up reading this ages ago.
But what to post. This clip was taken from the No Nukes film from 1981. During the film the other artists were debating as to why the crowd were booing Bruce – ‘No’ said someone. ‘They are shouting Brooooce’ – a sound you can still hear the crowd shouting today. Dom went and got curry and chips just before he played this and it was another highlight of an afternoon crammed with them. 35 years later, hearing a song about lost opportunity, lost friendship, lost romance resonated deeper than it did at the time. Life experience I guess.
I’m so honoured and proud to have had the chance to see him. Long may he continue – Bruce Springsteen for President does sound like the best choice. And I managed not to smoke – another first!
Featured photo courtesy of Dom Agius Photography