Pop: If you believe in rock'n'roll



BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & The E Street Band returned in triumph to the UK for the first time in almost a decade and a half when they played to a packed house at Manchester's Evening News Arena on Saturday. Performing a set that drew heavily on vintage material from the band's classic era - the period spanned by the albums Born to Run and Born in the USA - he seemed to be genuinely moved by the response, stopping several times to let the audience sing entire verses of songs such as "Hungry Heart" and "Thunder Road" for him.

Age does not seem to have withered Springsteen; indeed, he looked unnaturally fit for a man who will turn 50 this year, chunkier and more muscle-bound than most fans will remember, boasting something of James Caan's rugged appeal. Alongside him, the saxophonist "Big Man" Clarence Clemons seemed even bigger than ever, hugely elegant in tied-back dreadlocks and suit, while the tiny guitarist Nils Lofgren, by contrast, seems to have shrunk even further. Most of the band, in deference to encroaching maturity, opted for the casual-but-smart, suit-but-no-tie look preferred by ageing rockers - though the guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt appeared as if cryogenically preserved since the Seventies in his bandanna, leather waistcoat and long red shirt. Springsteen himself managed to cover both sartorial angles, removing his suit jacket after a few numbers to reveal that what had appeared to be grey suit trousers were in fact made of some more durable, denim- like material; instantly, he was transformed from rough-diamond dinner- party guest to rugged roustabout, shooting from the hip with his battered old blond Telecaster.

The set opened with "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and "Prove it All Night", twin statements of faith which he proceeded to fulfil in a set only 10 minutes short of three hours long. The street-operatic splendour of the E Street Band remains undimmed even after more than a decade in mothballs, with the two keyboard players operating like Bruce's portable Spector Wall of Sound, studding the songs with majestic ostinatos and triumphant bells, while Springsteen works on a grittier level entirely. The dignity of labour remains his perennial theme, with "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and a new number called "Land of Hopes and Dreams" demonstrating that he can still turn out heart-piercing songs to rival such previous blue-collar sagas of disillusion as "The River".

Though stopping some way short of the exertions of his mid-Eighties stadium shows, Springsteen's stagecraft was impressive throughout, and particularly effective on "Out in the Streets", for which he strode the length of the enormous stage, saluting the audience, before counting in the song and executing a perfect tiptoe-drop while hanging on to his microphone stand. The song went on to become something of a demonstration of his R&B faith, as an extended call-and-response section incorporated elements of both The Impressions - Bruce essaying a creditable impression of Curtis Mayfield's falsetto - and Bobby Womack.

"The Ghost of Tom Joad" also demonstrated the flexibility of his band and material, expanding from a plain acoustic-guitar intro through the addition of double bass, accordion and gentle synthesiser washes, subtle accretions of sound that matched the song's swelling emotions.

The most significant change, however, was reserved for "Born in the USA", the song that marked the peak of Bruce Springsteen's mid-Eighties appeal.

Mortified when Ronald Reagan, among others, misconstrued it as a breast- beating nationalist anthem, he stopped performing the song for a while, but it's now returned to his set revamped as a solo slide-guitar blues number, dark, sullen and introspective. Stripped of its former band bombast, there's no possibility of its being interpreted as anything other than a Depression song; it's an extraordinary feat of de-imperialisation for an artist to inflict on his own work, but it testifies to Springsteen's commitment to his constituency. As he explains in the mock-revivalist- preacher section of "Light of Day", he continues to serve the "ministry of rock'n'roll", to raise the souls of the "downhearted, downcast and downsized", simply because "it's my job".

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power