Bruce Springsteen’s new concert dvd London Calling: Live In Hyde Park feels distinctly like the end of something.
In the last 10 years, Springsteen has put out four concert recordings – three with the E Street Band and one with the ‘Sessions band.’ During that period, he’s gone from 50 to 60, and if various newspaper reports are to be believed has had trouble in his private life.
And truth is, this time out he struggles to be what he has always been before – transcendent. A Springsteen show for many years was guaranteed to lift you up, not least because of Springsteen’s boundless energy and willingness to remake/remodel things as he goes along.
There is precious little of that on London, though there is the extended set piece of Springsteen taking requests from the crowd.
His voice is worn as well; for the first time it doesn’t sound as if he could do anything he wants with it. And the band has slipped from being a big, sleek machine (think Cadillacs here) to simply big. The E Street Band is not exactly subtle, but it had a ‘turn on a dime’ muscularity that was the great thrill of rock music. There’s more slack now.
Or maybe it’s just that the classic songs are ready for a rest. The best material here is by far the imports from the Sessions band – Hard Times and American Land. On the latter, the E Streeters hit the high note, that ‘oh my god can anything be this good?’ feeling that is the reason for this band’s existence and that isn’t there for most of the show, if you’re listening closely.
(Edit – Someone could rightly complain that Springsteen and the band really work hard through the entire set, starting with a slammed out five song opener of “London Calling,” “Badlands,” “Night,” “She’s The One,” “Cowboy Pete.”
Here’s the problem with that: even as foursquare a band as the E Streeters is at its best when you get that feeling of propulsion, that sense the band is finely balanced between being pushed and pulled. The balance is out of wack here.)
Springsteen has always had an intense relationship with his audience, but I have never seen him rely on the crowd as much. There are times when it feels like they’re carrying him.
Still, what he does on stage at 60 would be a challenge for men 20 years younger, and I hope that he has many years of music making ahead of him; like a lot of people, I believe in Bruce Springsteen, what he sings about, the way he looks at life. But it may be time to mix it up again; he’s way too good to simply be the world’s best oldies act.
One more thought: you want proof of how vital Springsteen still is, how much he has to say, go to Wrecking Ball, one of the two ‘bonus’ tracks on the dvd. As far as I ‘m concerned it’s more proof that he needs to put away the warhorses.