Bruce Springsteen has always managed to straddle that line between superstar and man in the street with more success than most in his class; a boy done good who can do no wrong. More than once tonight he brings to mind Joe Strummer – a spokesman for the everyman, just a folk hero with an electric guitar. You always get the feeling that The Boss doesn’t see that dividing line between player and punter, or devoted and devotee in this case, and as he and The E street Band return to the old town and Springsteen wrings the first notes from that lovingly abused Fender with a pained expression, ‘Darkness At The Edge Of Town’ is a prescient beginning given the bloodshed in the north city these last few weeks.
This time around it’s The River tour that brings the band to town, but as with every Springsteen show it’s a marathon of miscellanea, with tracks from that classic 1980 release interspersed with crowd pleasers, requests and covers. There’s no-one that hits that guitar-keys-sax blend quite like The E Street Band, and they know it. Springsteen and sax man Jake Clemens high five one another as a triumphant ‘Thunder Road’ draws to a close after the crowd has belted it back at them, but as much as the hits get things moving, it’s The River tracks that seem to hit the sweet spot in tonight’s selection. It’s not that the crowd hold the album in higher esteem than anything else from Springsteen’s five decades worth of blue collar poetry (although some do), it just feels as if this is the one they’ve been primed for – that distinctive grey and blue record cover that’s been postered all over town and in the papers this last few months, the radio ads, the spinning of the record in anticipation.
“Let’s hear some Guinness party noises!” Springsteen calls out; guitar slung behind his back as he courts the front rows for a rout of ‘Sherry Darling’. Stevie Van Zandt vamps it up, the actor in him coming out to raise eyes to heaven, all theatrics as ‘Two Hearts’ folds into an ‘It Takes Two’ coda. There’s cheese on a platter here on occasion, no doubt about it; Bruce taking a selfie with the small person he brings onstage to accompany him on ‘Waitin’ On A Sunny Day’, or the three game-y dancers pulled onstage for ‘Dancing In The Dark’ – here less about the band than it is the crowd, as the audience dominate the big screens and the camera operators take their cue from the folks who film the crowd at Brazilian football matches.
Anything is forgivable, though, when the ten-strong band delivers the likes of ‘Hungry Heart’, not even bothering to sing until the crowd has roared the first verse themselves, or a balls to the wall rock’n’roller like ‘Crush On You’ with Bruce and Stevie sparring over the mic. Nils Lofgren doles out the guitar solo of the set on Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’, spinning on his heels like Mr. Scratch playing his fiddle as dusk falls over Croke Park, and the main man takes up the baton, channelling a boogaloo soul preacher through ‘Spirit In The Night’. Springsteen takes it from the raucous to the reflective almost seamlessly, and it’s no push to see a 1916 nod with ‘Death To My Hometown’. Maybe we merely imagined it. That’s the quiet genius in Springsteen’s songwriting.
“I’m just a prisoner of rock & soul” he confesses as a crowd-inciting, dance-inducing take on The Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’ decelerates along with the set – over three hours worth of no-frills rock’n’roll. The E Street Band takes their leave for ‘This Hard Land’, a heartfelt finale that rings out beyond the stands of Croke Park as Springsteen stands alone, just a folk hero with an acoustic guitar.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko.