Bruce Springsteen, Wembley Arena, London

The Boss returns to form in spiritual and spirited rock 'n' roll revival
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The last time Bruce Springsteen played at this venue he was accompanied by a ramshackle outfit and embarking on a new and uncertain career path. In the decade since then, he has found his way back to what many will always consider his true spiritual home, the E Street Band.

The Rising, his first new album with the band since 1984's Born In The USA, has also recaptured the commercial clout that has eluded him in the past 10 years.

There is a palpable air of anticipation as the band come on two by two, the biblical reference being quite intentional. The Rising may have found fame as an album inspired by the events of 11 September but more fundamentally it is an assertion of Springsteen's belief in rock'n'roll as a forum for secular salvation. This is obvious as soon as the band hit into the opening song, the title track from the new album.

With his bandanna-wearing guitar partner Steve Van Zandt at the mike, Springsteen invokes the spirits of departed souls. He makes clear the spiritual tenor of the show to follow. The rock'n'roll revivalism ethic is continued in "Lonesome Day". Here hands are raised in wonder and the band encircles Clarence "Big Man" Clemons as he plays his euphoric saxophone solo.

At 53 Springsteen is a hardened campaigner attuned to audience needs and expectations. So his show includes a healthy selection of old favourites and rarities alongside the new material. "No Surrender" is notable not just for the lyric "We learnt more from a three-minute record than we ever did in school", but also for the band's remarkable ability to combine seasoned maturity with infectious innocence. It is immediately followed by "The Fuse" which features Springsteen at his most musically adventurous, swirling psychedelic guitars with an ominous undertow and a lusty drama played out between him and his wife, Patty Scialfa.

The nerves reported on the opening American leg of the tour were nowhere in evidence. "Jackson Cage", an obscure album track from 1981, was played at the request of a placard-wielding front-row fan. When requests for silence before "Empty Sky" were met with a boorish "We love you Bruce" heckler, Springsteen quoted a favourite philosopher: "Too much love drives a man insane – Jerry Lee Lewis."

But although loss and death are recurring themes in many of the songs it was Springsteen the charismatic rock'n'roll marathon man who was most in evidence during the show. He can still rouse the crowd, skid along the stage on his knees, dance on top of the grand piano but what the show also makes apparent is how he has grown as a vocalist and the band have refined their irrepressible chemistry.

Scheduled to run into 2003's summer stadium circuit this revival seems potent enough to last the course.