Bruce Springsteen, Crystal Palace National Sports Arena, London

Springsteen riding high in rock survivors' club
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The Independent Culture

When I was 11, I believed the highest form of happiness humanly attainable would be to sing Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender'' before a crowd of thousands. With adolescence came the painful recognition that that probably wasn't such a cool ambition to cherish.

Most of the songs Springsteen is famous for are bombastic. They romanticise and sentimentalise without restraint, blowing almost any emotion up into the same fist-in-the-air "This Rocks!'' catharsis. If feelings as strong as those which "Born To Run'' expresses really existed, Springsteen would explode every night. It's all an illusion. But maybe that's what rock and roll is about - magnifying emotions through illusion.

So can the Boss, 54, still create that illusion live? Yes. Bruce is riding high in the rock survivors league: the E Street Bands are reunited and the latest album The Rising is Springsteen's best (and most energetic) in 18 years, slushy though some of its 9/11-focused lyrics are. Moreover, his voice sounds better than ever.

Watching couples, young and old, families and gangs of 40-something blokes grin with glee at the first half-dozen songs, all from The Rising, I almost wept for joy. The E Street Bands are so tight that if they were unsigned you'd sell everything you owned to give them a deal.

Quieter interludes like "Meeting On The Other Side'', though, remind you that alongside the showbiz rock-outs, Springsteen has also written some deeply affecting music.

But these are exceptions. Mostly, we get the full blast of the huge, epic rockers. Springsteen's brand of power rock has the force of gospel, inspiring tears and whoops among the crowd.

Sometimes, the rabble-rousing aspect of this spiritual side is disconcerting. Interesting parallels can be drawn between rock and religion, but half way through the extended break in "Mary's Place'' you wonder just what kind of megalomania we are dealing with here. Springsteen has always seen himself as a left-winger, defending the working man, but some of the notions of individual struggle and glory that his music expresses seem closer to the Republican worldview.

Still, the onslaught of emotional manipulation is tempered with humour, and the band are enjoying themselves for all their worth. By the time they get to "Thunder Road'' I've completely given in. It's an awesome, all-conquering juggernaut of a song and the closing "Dancing In The Dark'', is fantastic. If all music sounded like Bruce Springsteen, you'd probably want to be deaf. But for three hours tonight, you just wanted to be here. They rocked.

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