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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
The Emirates Stadium, Highbury, London, May 31st 2008
We’ve come to North London’s home of football to see the Boss. And how fitting it is that the fantastic new Emirates Stadium, rising into the sky like some huge intergalactic behemoth, should play host to such a brilliant and lauded personality. Rarely has anyone excelled so greatly in his or her chosen field, rarely has anyone imposed his sense of the beauty in his art so formidably. Here’s a man who could fill this imposing stadium to the rafters every Saturday afternoon of the year. In fact he does. But sadly Alsatian football genius Arsene Wenger (a former Mulhouse United player unless I’m mistaken, Serge) isn’t at home, but it’s a lovely late Spring evening so we’re more than happy to make do with that other Boss, Bruce Springsteen, and his reformed E Street Band, minus of course the very recently deceased Danny Federici. Arsenal
Springsteen’s two nights at the Emirates are the first concerts at the Stadium since it opened two years ago (“We’re gonna test the foundations” he promised the audience on the evening before). It’s packed. We’re standing on the ground (well not quite, as the hallowed turf is protected by robust flooring). There’s a smaller enclosure in front of us that’s clearly housing the Springsteen Maniacs (they’ve got green armbands, we’ve got orange). Some of them look as though it’s a rare unaccompanied outing. But they’re going to get their money’s worth .
Emirates gig , the setlist
(from official website)
Many of them recognise each other from other gigs, other years, and as the guys just in front of us point out, they’re sporting an interesting range of veteran Springsteen merchandise (“Look dad, there’s a flag from the ’88 tour”). These aren’t the Maniacs, just the mildly obsessive. The two boys behind us have just been to Manchester (an inferior venue called Old Trafford), were here last night, and will be at Cardiff in a few days’ time. Then they’re spreading their wings to continental Europe. With eagle-eyes for detail they take me through the set lists of the previous nights and share their expectations and hopes for tonight (“as long as there isn’t any of that Pete Seeger crap. That was just shite”). That was encouraging as I’d left the black notebook at home, but then I was introduced to a veritable Max Cady, who had Springsteen set lists for concerts he’d attended tattooed all over his body, just like Robert De Niro in the remake of Cape Fear. Scary stuff indeed.
Now I have to confess that I’m not a big Springsteen fan - I mean I admire him for what he does, but in my mind it’s somewhat repetitive in both subject matter (one disenchanted and under-achieving blue-collar no-hoper after another can wear you down a bit, as can all those waitresses who do – or sometimes don’t – the car rides, the highways, the dingy suburban streets, the garages, the whistling trains etc. etc. etc.), and musical structure. Tonight, as Bruce and the band crash through 24 songs (four less than last night – we’ve been short-changed), and play against a strict curfew, the tunes run into each other, Springsteen counting them in before the chords of the previous song have finished, and it becomes really hard to know when one starts and another finishes. But that’s not the point – it’s the show that counts, and it is quite extraordinary. I don’t know how he makes it seem so intimate. His moments sitting on the edge of the stage or perched on a stool singing to the Maniacs as they gaze in adoration, some gently stroking his shoes or legs, others just desperate to get a touch as if it would cure some malignant ailment, are beamed onto huge screens, sucking even the people in the furthest seats (I think they’re almost in Seven Sisters Road) into the closeness of it all. And when he does this (he spends a lot of the night down there) there’s no security – there has to be somewhere but it’s not the ear-pierced monkeys who stride alongside the Stones as their mini-stage pushes into the audience). All his gestures – to the crowd or deliberately to the cameras are inclusive – you certainly leave knowing who you’ve spent the night with. I’m sure he goes through the same routine every night, but it works, because it’s here, tonight, now.
Of course there’s a downside to these big screens, particularly if you’re as close to them as we are. Thirty years or more of rock and roll ravages doesn’t look too good on guitarist and sometime Soprano Little Stevie Van Zandt for example (‘Little’? Which bit of little is that?). But it doesn’t stop him from playing. Saxophonist Clarence Clemens barely makes it on the screen. And the petite Nils Logfren doesn’t look so hot blown up to ten times his normal size, but his guitar playing is sensational, including a solo to die for on ‘Because the Night’. Bruce is just irrepressible, from opener ‘Out in the street’ to the end (by which time, I admit we were heading for Arsenal station to avoid the post-match mayhem). Jeans, shirt, waist-coat, suspiciously dark hair and enough energy to play ninety minutes in the Premiership, he barely stopped.
Springsteen He takes time out to collect written requests from the Maniacs – including a nice one for ‘Downbound Train’, which read ‘No job, no girl, Downbound Train’, which he gently placed against his mike-stand before playing the tune. He spoke for a while about the departed Federici before playing ‘Sandy’, and declared his closely-attuned sense of social justice and injustice, before ‘The promised land’, but for the most part it was high-energy performance of the finest calibre, even down to his cross-stage knee slide (ouch!).
As we rode the train home, we found that we’d left the relative safety of the Maniacs and the obsessives (and the tattooed man) for a rowdy festival of drinking on the London Underground, marking Mayor Johnson’s first edict, which outlaws alcohol on the public transport system. Good-humoured in intent, it had clearly reached the stage where alcohol had overtaken good sense, and I almost missed the cocoon of our new friends and Bruceland, a surrogate world to lost souls and the rootless. It’s a nice place to visit but just make sure you buy a return ticket. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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