I’d been waiting since the beginning of the year to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. I kept an eye on his website and watched as he added extra shows in the US and then concerts in Portugal and Spain. The UK had to be soon.
Of the four dates in the UK three were whilst I was out of the country, including the London gig at Wembley Stadium. Damn. I got the feeling that I was not meant to see this tour, but I really wanted to as The Boss is not getting any younger and I did not want to wait for the next time round when he would be pushing 70.
There was one solution, one show that I could make but it meant going to Manchester, some 200+ miles and 3+ hours on the train.
So I found a place on Airbnb that was within walking distance of the stadium and the journey (pilgrimage?) went without a hitch. I was going to follow a map to get to the stadium but when I got to the main road it was simply a case of following the several thousand other fans walking in that direction. The route from the main train station in Manchester (Piccadilly) to the Etihad stadium is an official route that is properly signposted, and I would recommend that people walk it if possible especially once I saw the situation after the concert with traffic jams and road closures.
The weather can go either way at the end of May and I was hoping that we were going to get a nice sunny, warm evening. No chance. Manchester was the only place in the country where it was raining and it kept it up all night. It was soon forgotten once the band came onstage but it would have been good to just go in a t-shirt instead…
In the days before the concert I had been looking at the setlists for the recent shows and hoping he was not going to change too much – at a Bruce show you never know what you’re going to get but I liked the look of what he had been playing. At the start of The River tour – in the US – they were starting the concerts by playing the River double album in its entirety but by the time they got to Europe this was a thing of the past – we got a good number of the songs but broken up during the set. I’m glad as it’s not my favourite Bruce album – I find it quite schizophrenic with its darker songs mixed with pretty simple rocking tunes.
The band had been playing a number of different first songs and we got Atlantic City – a good start. Then they dropped Murder Incorporated. This was going to be a good night. A few more songs in and the rain eased up a bit.
And then things got a bit… festive. This happened…
Looking out at the signs in the audience Bruce spotted a guy in a Father Christmas jacket with a sign saying “Santa Claus is Coming to Manchester”. He was invited up on stage and soon the bells were ringing out, the band kicked in with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and the crowd was loving it. It was a bizarre but beautiful moment, a highlight of the evening.
Things did get more serious for a while. Bruce got into a more sombre character to tackle a few songs. They went for a different interpretation of I Wanna Marry You. It’s always good to see artists try new angles but on this occasion it was turned into something rather tepid and flat. Shame. The situation was rescued by The River followed by an intimate, almost conversational Point Blank – quite an achievement to pull off in a stadium.
I had mixed feelings when they played Darlington County / Working on the Highway. It was great to hear the songs but Bruce went down to the front of the crowd and disappeared from the stage for a long time. You could see him on the big screens but by the end of the second song I was feeling a bit left out just watching it on video.
All was forgiven when a little later they did this…
The Rising > Thunder Road > Backstreets > Born to Run > Glory Days > Dancing in the Dark > Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out > Shout > Bobby Jean
Holy shit. The place was rocking, rolling, dancing, singing. I’m struggling to describe it but the next day I saw a tweet that summed it up:
Over the next few days I looked at the setlists of the shows that came after. They got a number of songs from the first album which would have been great to hear. Coventry got Seven Nights to Rock and Dublin / London got Jungleland thrown into that last mix. Drool. But I was very happy with the setlist we got at Manchester.
I’ve seen Springsteen four times now and this was the best show yet. They played over 3 hours and never stopped. Any doubts that he is getting too old are ridiculous. He is in the shape of his life.
A fantastic night. A stunning, well humoured performance. Book me in again if he comes back any time soon.
The Manchester Evening News: Review: Bruce Springsteen @ The Etihad Stadium
The Financial Times: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Etihad Stadium, Manchester — ‘High-octane’