Playing Wembley like a Boss

On Sunday night Bruce Springsteen showed Wembley Stadium that at 66 years old there isn't just life left in the old dog -- there's new tricks too. Bruce walked on stage, alone, in front of over 68,000 fans, sat himself at the piano, and played a rarity from his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. Less than an hour later he was in amongst the crowd, taking sign requests out of the hands of fans, playing obscure album tracks and keeping material from The River to only a half dozen songs.

The crowd loved it and it was clear that Bruce and his band were revelling in the familiar format of heartfelt ballads and bombastic hits.

But this isn't how it was supposed to be. The River Tour 2016 started with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band performing the 20 song, 84 minute 1980 double album in its entirety, followed by another dozen hits from the band's extensive back-catalogue. But, after 37 gigs across North America, Bruce declared in Brooklyn that this was the last time he would play the album from start to finish.

Why? Well, like all great big double albums, there's a perfectly trim single album inside, fighting to get out. And despite being a classic Springsteen release -- his highest charting at the time -- The River, unlike its now sexagenarian songwriter, is a little bit flabby.

Ironic then that The River was Bruce's attempt at capturing his Live shows in the studio: a stream of tracks, tumbling from one to the next, one moment hitting the high rocks the next settling into deep pools of reflection.

But the truth is that in 36 years the artist has found many a tributary and his live show has evolved with the requirements of new songs and old age. Bruce still slams every chord, screams every note and means every word that he sings. His honesty is the most potent force in the stadium, connecting the E Street Band to the crowd through his passion for human rights and his determination for every single person, on stage and in the audience, to have the best night of their lives.

And in tearing up his tour plan, and returning to an evening of 43 years of Bruce, The Boss is more relaxed than ever. Clutching an audience sign request for I'll Work for Your Love Springsteen showed his genuine delight in being asked to play what he thinks is "one of my best songs." It had been so long since he'd had the opportunity it took a full five minutes for Bruce to remember the chords and for that matter the key.

After starting the song five notes too low he asked for a different mouthorgan and blasted through the request as if he played it every day. A true highlight of the night.

A true interactive experience

The moments of interaction with the crowd were as beguiling as ever: bringing not one but four audience members on stage (a la Courtney Cox) for Dancing in the Dark, fishing a young girl out of the pit to sing Waiting for a Sunny Day, duetting with a Grandmother on Darlington County. The River and Thunder Road were finished with a disarming falsetto, a softer side to his performance that shows a veteran rocker so comfortable in his work that he is still able to grow as a musician.

After 3 1/2 hours of playing he was so impressed with the audience's singing in his solo finale that Bruce took a moment to tell them how beautiful it was -- not as an over the top rock star, but as a folk singer in a small club, surrounded by friends and fellow musicians -- a smile breaking out and a simple "that's nice." Bruce Springsteen: The Boss of the most democratic show on tour and all the better for it.

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