Bruce Springsteen, RDS Arena, Dublin, 31st May 2003
No fancy pyrotechnics, no flashing lights. No self-indulgent fanfare or even an opening act to warm up the crowd. Just trademark denims and an acoustic guitar. Bruce Springsteen, the world's favourite blue-collar everyman, showed up for work ten minutes early at 7:20pm and strode unannounced onto the RDS stage. Launching into a solo, bluesy version of 'Born in the USA', he worked damn hard for his money over the next three-and-a-half hours.
For someone who has been 30-odd years in the music business, Springsteen is holding his own well, and an appreciative roar went up as he shook that legendary booty at the capacity crowd. Move over Justin Timberlake, this is the real deal. Some might deride Springsteen as formulaic, but, hey, this formula works. It's obvious that he still enjoys it as much as ever, too, as the giant screens on either side of the stage broadcast his cheeky grin over the arena.
Reunited once again with the E Street Band, Springsteen ripped into a marathon set. He played, predictably, a lot of material from his most recent album, "The Rising" - his first album of new songs with the E Street Band since 1984. After setting the pace with the latest album's title track, he slowed things down with some acoustic songs, including a haunting version of 'Empty Sky' with his wife Patti Scialfa providing some beautiful harmonies.
Springsteen was the voice of a generation back in the 1980s, with his misunderstood 'Born in the USA', reaching out to disenchanted Americans lost amidst the Wall Street yuppies. Now, once again, he has taken on an almost evangelical role. His tales of blue-collar workers, firemen and cops tap into the post-9/11 mood, as the world shows its appreciation for those unsung heroes who have, in fact, peopled Springsteen's songs for the past thirty years. He addressed the crowd like a preacher to his adoring acolytes, racing along the length of the stage and asking the assembled masses if they were "ready to testify". If the whole rock 'n' roll thing doesn't work out, there's surely a career waiting for him on some U.S. daytime cable show…
New songs like 'Into the fire', the anthemic tribute to NY firemen, had the whole crowd singing along, and all 40,000 of us were invited back to 'Mary's place' for an E Street house party (despite the banner in the crowd that read: "Forget 'Mary's place' - come back to mine!"). As Springsteen launched into 'Waitin' on a sunny day', the gods smiled and dazzling sunshine broke through the few clouds in the warm evening sky. One of the highlights of the night, this was a perfect, sing-along tune that got the crowd belting it out in one voice.
As some of the crowd began to wilt, Springsteen was hardly breaking a sweat. The man's energy is incredible, especially given his 53 years. In fact, in a passable Irish accent, he exhorted those seated in the stands: "For fuck's sake, get up off your Irish arses!" To the few stragglers that still remained in their seats, he added: "We're older than all of you, for God's sake!" Not that you'd think it though, as he did an impressive display of pole-dancing that saw him hanging upside-down from the microphone stand.
Springsteen had obviously done his homework, peppering his banter with crowd-pleasing Irish references. He found the existence of Dublin's Bruce College pretty amusing and, before leaving the stage, he joked that he had to finish up or else he wouldn't make Leo Burdock's before it closed. As it turned out, Bruce and the band played two encores that lasted an hour-and-a-half, so they presumably never got those fish and chips. They began the first of these with 'Kitty's back', a song that hadn't been played to European audiences since 1975, much to the delight of the real aficionados in the crowd.
Classics like 'Born to run', 'Glory days' and a cover of Moon Mullican's 'Seven nights to rock' finished off what was to be the first encore. Teasing the audience, who were more than willing to play along, Springsteen repeatedly insisted "It's quittin' time!" and was met by indignant protestations from the good-humoured crowd. Of course, anyone who has ever been to a Springsteen gig knows that after a mere two-and-a-half hours, he's barely getting into his stride - even if those strides are skintight denim.
Returning to the stage for the second encore, Springsteen took to the piano and played an unaccompanied version of 'My City of Ruins'. He finished up with the song that everyone had been waiting for - 'Dancin' in the dark'. The sun had long gone down on the RDS and Springsteen's working day was finally over. He clocked off to the cheers of 40,000 tired but happy fans, after once again proving that this blue-collar worker is still, undisputedly, The Boss.
Mary Anne Kenny.