Belfast Telegraph

Springsteen set to prove he's still the Boss when it comes to stadium shows

The US veteran will perform for 160,000 fans at Croke Park next weekend

By John Meagher

For Bruce Springsteen's many ardent fans here, the countdown to Friday's Dublin show has well and truly begun. There's something truly special about a Springsteen show during the summer. And many of us have great memories of several magical nights in the 1990s and 2000s, including that wonderful show as part of the Wrecking Ball tour in July 2012.

This will be the first time that Springsteen has played Croke Park and, thus, will be his biggest gigs here since his legendary debut here - at Slane in 1985.

On that occasion, riding high on the back of the phenomenal success of Born in the USA, he wowed 100,000 people - many of whom travelled from Northern Ireland - and, this time, he will play to 80,000 people on Friday and next Sunday.

How many others could possibly shift 160,000 tickets for a pair of concerts that will mainly be concerned with reproducing a 36-year-old double album, The River, in its entirety? I could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. And it's likely he could have sold out a third show.

Springsteen remains one of the greatest live performers of all time and he's arguably at his very best when playing a mammoth show in the open air. Other performers are diminished by the scale of stadia, but Springsteen - with the phenomenal backing of the E Street Band - appears to grow in stature.

The Boss has been playing massive venues for decades now and has refined the task into a fine art. The River tour has been calling on stadia all over the world and last Saturday, he played Europe's biggest stadium, the Camp Nou at Barcelona, and a number of the reviews I read were positively ecstatic about a set that featured no fewer than 36 songs. Tonight, he's in Real Madrid's massive home, the Santiago Bernabeu.

So, why does Springsteen succeed as a stadia performer where so many other great live musicians fail? His charisma alone doesn't explain it, because plenty of hugely charismatic singers have struggled to translate their wares on the larger stage: Kanye West, for instance, was truly brilliant when performing with Jay Z in the-then O2, but bombed in the open air on a return visit just a year later.

Perhaps the key to Springsteen's apparent ease with the mammoth show is the anthemic nature of so many of his songs. From early albums like Born to Run through to this recent releases, High Hopes and Wrecking Ball, he has delivered a huge quantity of anthems that sound especially thrilling when performed in front of a large audience who sing the chorus back word-perfectly.

The River has no shortage of anthems - including that evergreen live favourite Hungry Heart - but there are introspective moments, too, and it's truly a mark of the man's gifts for creating intimacy in enormous settings, that they can connect just as powerfully.

U2, too, have Springsteen's capacity to engage on such a huge level, although they have long favoured audio-visual bells and whistles to accentuate the theatricality of their shows. Springsteen, by contrast, has kept his stage-set up comparatively simple, which makes his achievements all the more remarkable.

Still, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that Bono and friends have made an enormous contribution to the art of stadium rock - one that bands like Coldplay desperately try to ape. It says something about the dearth of bands who can play on this scale that Coldplay - hit or miss in huge outdoor shows - have been chosen to headline Glastonbury for a record fourth time this summer.

Mind you, radio listeners can't get enough of Chris Martin, it seems: the band's 2011 headline set was voted as the best Glastonbury moment ever.

Unusually for U2, they took their most recent tour - Innocence + Experience - indoors, although with an average capacity of 20,000, their arena shows weren't exactly intimate. But few arena tours featured a video wall as spectacular as the one they employed on that tour - it had all the hallmarks of a stadium backdrop.

The concert filmmaker Hamish Hamilton, who has directed a concert from each U2 tour since 2001's Elevation, recorded their stirring final show in Paris late last year. The Live in Paris DVD (and accompanying live CD), which is released on June 10, features a pair of songs from Eagles of Death Metal at the end.

It was their first performance since the horrific events at the Bataclan in the city a month earlier - and an emotion-drenched performance it was, too.

Belfast Telegraph


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