Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band review, Hyde Park: An age-defying, generation-defining performance from The Boss

It’s an evening of emotional peaks and valleys but true to Springsteen’s form, even the valleys feel pretty joyous

Annabel Nugent
Friday 07 July 2023 12:45 BST
Bruce Springsteen addresses being CUT OFF as he takes to the stage at Hyde Park

Has anyone on earth aged better than Bruce Springsteen? As the New Jersey rocker strides, fist pumps and swivels on stage tonight at Hyde Park, it’s a question I ask myself repeatedly. Apparently, The Boss is immune to the decades that have passed since he stormed out of the gate in 1973 with his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park. The elixir of life, it seems, is blue jeans, a good-guy grin and, most importantly, a down-home attitude that belies immense success.

Springsteen shows are the stuff of legend: epic, prodigious musical marathons that put the pedal to the metal and hold it there for three (sometimes four) hours. How and why after all these years, the musician, now 73, still wishes to put himself through such a physically gruelling set is a mystery but one that serves the 65,000 people in the crowd tonight well. From the moment he and the E Street Band arrive on stage promptly at 7pm, it’s a breathless race to the finish line. With a beat-up yellow guitar slung over his shoulder, Springsteen launches into the hard-won optimism of 1984’s “No Surrender” with that famous showman’s countdown of his (“Two, three, four!”) – and we’re off.

It’s an evening of emotional peaks and valleys but true to Springsteen’s form, even the valleys feel pretty joyous. The title track from his 2020 album Letter to You – a wistful, mid-tempo reflection on the passing of time and the loved ones who have passed with it – is the first downbeat moment of the evening. “Got down on my knees/ Grabbed my pen and bowed my head,” Springsteen croons, eyes closed, and hands clasped together in prayer, proving once again he is capable of making even the most life-weary sentiments sound life-affirming.

Springsteen recently told a reporter that his group is at its “best” right now – and he isn’t wrong. The E Street Band has always been a group effort; a motley crew of virtuosos who play together in that special way only long-time bandmates know how. Stylistic shorthand and onstage chemistry made possible by decades of jamming, performing, and touring. Ever the team player, Springsteen throws the spotlight to each of his comrades in an enthusiastic roll call during a swinging 15-minute rendition of “Kitty’s Back”. (It’s not his fault that the crowd sees this as the opportune moment for a loo break.) Special shout-out to Roy J Bittan, generous with glissandos on the piano, and Max Weinberg, who is as steadying a force as ever at the back, pummeling the audience with thunderous and fastidious drums. Sharp cracks of snare hit like lightning overhead. But, of course, there is no lightning. It is a sunny and idyllic evening, practically custom-made for kicking back to Springsteen.

The audience predictably skews older. Tour T-shirts are an easy barometer for age: soft, faded white tees emblazoned with Springsteen’s denim-clad derrière identify those who had been around for his 1985 Born in the USA tour, while others sport black-and-red Nineties tour shirts, and an even smaller crowd don the Noughties merch. Still, there are a handful of younger fans and some very, very young fans, many of whom scale the shoulders of their parents to participate in heartfelt singalongs to the hits. One lucky child is the recipient of Springsteen’s harmonica, which squalls brilliantly on “The Promised Land” and “Thunder Road”.

Even in the early days, Springsteen sounded old for his age. That voice, a warm crackle like the red-hot tip of a puffed-on cigarette, is all raspy heart and grizzly guts. The vocals on “Badlands” are as big, rough and ready as ever. He can still hit those high notes, though, reaching towards an angelic falsetto in fleeting moments on “The River”, “The Promised Land” and later “Glory Days”.

Around the two-hour mark, my uncle suggests an early cut-off time might be on the cards; Springsteen can’t possibly keep this up for another hour. Evidently, he still has gas in the tank left over for a final, full-tilt, flat-out encore – and then some. The band barrel through “Born in the USA”, “Born to Run”, “Bobby Jean”, “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark”. Thanks to Springsteen’s penchant to holler off mic on record, Born in the USA has always been an album that vibrates with vitality even when listened to through cheap, tinny speakers. Hearing it live, though, is a different experience altogether. Production is stripped away and all that’s left is the red-blooded warmth and rawness for which he is so famed and loved.

The record’s dance-rock title track, replete with massive drums and synth, is a welcome surprise. The band have mostly forgone it on their recent US shows – perhaps because its booming chorus is often mistaken for a flag-waving, jingoistic anthem. Meanwhile, “Bobby Jean” is a wonderful moment. Although it has never been confirmed, fans believe the track – a lovelorn barnstormer with an epicene subject and ambiguous pronouns – was written as a farewell ode addressed to Steven Van Zandt after the guitarist briefly exited the band in the Eighties.

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt together on stage in Hyde Park on Thursday 6 July (PA)

On stage, the two men clown around, turning to the camera and making funny faces. As the track closes in, Bittan’s piano riff yields to the glorious sax blares of the late Clarence Clemons. Tonight, though, it is his nephew Jake who leads the audience through the song’s unmistakable coda.

“Dancing in the Dark” is the biggest hit of the night. It is a surprise, then, that after its euphoric climax, and with only two minutes to go, Springsteen chooses not to retire to the wings for a well-earned break but to return to the stage solo and finish with an acoustic rendition of 2020’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. Again, I ask myself: has anyone on earth ever aged better than Bruce Springsteen?

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in