Only 90 minutes into Bruce Springsteen’s three hour set at BST in London’s Hyde Park does a quiet finally fall over the crowd.
It’s not for his lack of trying. During a rendition of ‘Mary’s Place’ he tries to call for silence, all the better for him to build up to the song’s crescendo of ‘Turn it up, turn it up / Meet me at Mary’s place / We’re gonna have a party’. Of course, the request is promptly ignored, but with 65,000 people to wrangle and the rain starting to pelt down, victory seemed unlikely.
The hush finally comes - uncoerced - when he performs an acoustic version of ‘Last Man Standing’, his E-Street Band having all left the stage save for trumpeter Barry Danelian.
The song was inspired by the death of George Theiss, who had turned up on Springsteen’s doorstop one day having heard that Bruce played the guitar and asked him to audition for his band, The Castilles. “I was 15 and I had been playing guitar since I was 14 and a half,” Bruce laughed. “It was an explosive time in American history, an incredible time to be young in a rock band. Cut forward fifty years to another summer’s day standing at the side of George’s death bed,” he explains. “His passing would leave me as the last member of that group. Death gives you pause to think. Death’s final and lasting gift to the living is an expanded vision of this life. George left me with this,” he says, before launching into the sombre track. ‘Somewhere high and hard and loud, somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd, I’m the last man standing now’, he sings.
The Castilles, Bruce points out, lasted three years, which seemed like a lifetime to a teenager. The E-Street Band, by contrast, have been going for fifty years. They’re as tight and unified as ever, the crowd’s affection particularly strong for guitarist Steven Van Zandt and saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of the E-Street Band’s original saxophonist, Clarence Clemons.
Save for ‘No Surrender’ at third in the set, they hold back the really big hitters including ‘Born To Run’, ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ for the encore, with ‘Born In The USA’ noticeably absent.
Bruce remains as much a man of the people as ever, making frequent trips down the stairs (something that Billy Joel had gently ribbed him for the night before) to interact with fans. He even sits on the barriers at one point to smile and watch his band along with the crowd, whilst producing guitar picks and harmonicas for young fans on shoulders from a seemingly never-ending pocket of treats.
Towards the end of his set, he and Van Zandt jest, telling the crowd that they’d better go home “before they pull the plug”, a reference to an appearance in Hyde Park in 2012 when Springsteen’s mic was cut off due to a curfew breach whilst performing with Paul McCartney.
It’s hard to tell how long he’d play for if he could choose. Ripping open his shirt in jubilation, he’s as energetic as ever, his left eyebrow still raised when he wants to make his point. But perhaps that’s the measure of a really good Boss; he knows when to take his leave.
Bruce Springsteen - Setlist
Take from his live performance at BST Hyde Park 2023, London, England - Saturday July 8, 2023:
For more on BST Hyde Park 2023, see below: