I FIRST started to ‘get’ Bruce Springsteen about 30 minutes into his 2003 gig at the RDS in Dublin. This was my first exposure to Springsteen and the E Street Band’s rock and roll carnival. And while I knew the hits and was aware the band’s legendary reputation for live performances, I was still a bit blasé about the whole thing. The RDS was a pulsing sea of adoration but I remained skeptical, in my head casually dismissing the man on stage as an overblown, one trick American pony.
How wrong was I? For his sixth song of a blistering three-hour set, Springsteen launched into ‘Atlantic City’, a hard bitten tale of tough times taken from his 1982 album ‘Nebraska’.
Even in his brash fist pumping moments (‘Born to Run’, ‘Dancing in the Dark’), there is always a quiet desperation to the Boss’ voice. And that particular quality bleeds through an ill-fated story of a New Jersey down and out with “debts that no honest man that pay”. It’s familiar Springsteen territory – man forced to take desperate measures to survive an unforgiving environment.
Earlier this year, the American comedian and Daily Show presenter, Jon Stewart remarked, “When I listened to his music I didn’t feel like a loser. I felt like a character in an epic poem about losers.”
‘Atlantic City’ holds a narrow focus on one man’s world falling apart but it has that epic feel to it.
The chorus, as Springsteen sang it on that summer’s night in the RDS, was spine tingling – “Everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
Needless to say my impressions of the man and his music changed considerably after that gig. In the years since, I’ve seen Springsteen three more times live. I’ve devoured his music and his recent biography – the excellent ‘Bruce’.
Next Tuesday, Springsteen returns to Ireland for three sold out shows in Limerick, Cork and Belfast. Later this month, he swings back our way for two sold out shows in Kilkenny’s Nolan Park. It will be interesting if the Boss can generate the same kind of charged atmosphere that was palpably evident from televised footage of Kilkenny’s do or die hurling qualifier against Tipperary on Saturday, but he’ll give it a damn good shot.
Springsteen, particularly in the company of long time compadrés, the E Street Band, has not only consistently raised the bar for live shows – he’s thrown it into the stratosphere.
At 63, Springsteen still brings incredible energy to the stage. The band, though minus the late great, sax player, Clarence Clemons, still pack a powerful punch. The back catalogue from the sly street funk of ‘Greetings from Asbury Park New Jersey’, through the mega-selling ‘Born in the USA’ right up to last album ‘Wrecking Ball’, is as formidable and captivating as anything produced in modern music.
(Recently Springsteen’s shows have included full throughs of classic albums like ‘Born to Run’, ‘Born in the USA’ and the mighty ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. Fingers crossed for a Darkness reprise in Thomond Park).
All of this means that plenty of Clare people will be rocking into Limerick on Tuesday night. Depending how things go in Sunday’s Munster Hurling final between Limerick and Cork, Thomond Park could be set for lift off by the time Springsteen takes the stage.
It’s the first time New Jersey’s favourite son has taken the show on the road in Ireland to such an extent.
And he’s possibly the only act who could fill out four different large concert venues in a country as small as Ireland. He clearly likes coming here and Irish fans seemingly can’t get enough of Bruce Springsteen. Limerick, get ready to rock. 1,2,3,4…..