Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Wembley Arena

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Wembley Arena
30th May 1981
I had been just too young to catch Bruce for his debut London appearance at the Hammersmith Odeon at which he had been billed the future of rock n roll. By the time the show rolled into England again he was the hottest ticket in rock . Only Bob Dylan at Earls Court and Led Zeppelin’s Knebworth shows, both in 78, were on a par for excitement, anticipation and demand. That excitement had been heightened by the postponement of the original dates in March to later on in the year.

Punk had blown many of the old rock dinosaurs, and new pretenders, away , but Bruce had been untouched. This was mainly because a contract dispute stymied his efforts to both tour and release records. Fortunately it did not stop him writing songs. So he emerged, post punk, untroubled, but with a burgeoning catalogue of new songs to play. It also gave time for devotees to catch up with his already four strong album back catalogue, and crucially, some bootleg live albums of his US shows.

I had played a tape of his “Live at Winterland 78” show until it stretched and snapped so was familiar with all of his material, and the live arrangements, but nothing prepared me for the great man live. Our seats were on the side, elevated, overlooking the stage, a perfect view of the band. 7.30pm and we were off, no support.

At most gigs, you get a decent show, and the odd moments when it lifts, a song which captures the zeitgeist of the evening. If you are fortunate, you might get a section. Very rarely, that happens for the entire show. This was one such evening. The set list had been meticulously prepared, the opening trio masterful. “Prove it all Night” was the call to arms, his statement of intent, he was going to prove his reputation all night. “Ties that Bind” united us all together, all 12,000 spectators and the band were as one in this Rock n Roll communion. “Out in the Street” signalled that we were going to have a great time together too.

The evening finished at 11.10pm, three hours and forty minutes later, for a sprawling exploration of the wonders of rock n roll broken only by an interval of a quarter of an hour.

There were epics galore, “Independence Day”, a majestic “Promised Land”, “The River”, “Rosalita”, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” the pick. The Woody Guthrie “This Land is Your land” a minimalist tour de force. Yet it was the home straight which astonished. Essentially, a nine song run, from the main set’s “Because the Night” through to a rip roaring “Rosalita”. A majestic first encore duo of “Jungleland” /“Born to Run”, and a rip roaring rock n roll second encore finale of the “Detroit Medley” / “Twist and Shout”.

It was an astonishing, visceral performance, with The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, an essential visual, as well as musical, counterpoint to Springsteen. The final encore was his salute to his youth, the songs which inspired him to perform, and although “Twist and Shout” had its roots as an American composition ( Medley/ Berns) and hit ( The Isley Bros) it was the Beatles who made it famous and it felt as though he was saluting the Fab 4 in his finale.

The greatest rock n roll show I ever saw? It’s up there…

01 Prove it all night
02 The ties that bind
03 Out in the street
04 Darkness on the Edge of town
05 Independence day
06 Johnny bye bye
07 Jackson cage
08 Trapped
09 Two hearts
10 Promised land
11 The River
12 This land is your land
13 Badlands
14 Thunder road
15 Cadillac ranch
16 You can look (but you better not touch)
17 Sherry darling
18 Hungry heart
19 Fire
20 Because the night
21 Point blank
22 Backstreets
23 Ramrod
24 Rosalita (Come out tonight)
25 Jungleland
26 Born to run
27 Detroit Medley
28 Twist and shout

Bruce 99

It was almost twenty years later that I saw him again. Of course he was excellent, and the set list was a treat. But can you forget the first time, or the excitement of your youth? No. Nils Lofgren was now on board. The set long euphoria of Wembley could not be matched, but there were highlights. “Youngstown” showed off Lofrgren at his best, “If I should fall behind” a melancholic delight.

e street
The surprise was Edwin Starr, who lived in nearby Polesworth, coming on to duet on “War”. It was a great choice. Traditionally, Motown stars would often stay at his house when performing at the NEC. One of my friends worked in the village shop, she had both Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in for a pint of milk! Starr did a terrific vocal, looked suitably grateful to Bruce for the slot, and to the crowd for the adulation, then left – just what you want.



Birmingham NEC, May 16th, 1999


01.My Love Will Not Let You Down

02.Prove It All Night
03.Two Hearts
04.Darlington County
06.The River
08.Murder Incorporated
10.Out in the Street
11.Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
12.Darkness on the Edge of Town
13.Working on the Highway
14.The Ghost of Tom Joad
15.Born in the U.S.A.
17.The Promised Land
19.Light of Day
20.Streets of Philadelphia
21.Hungry Heart
Encore 2:
22.Thunder Road
23.If I Should Fall Behind
24.Land of Hope and Dreams

Thanks for the memories.

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