Bruce & Neil: big beasts in London
Funny how the timing works out sometimes: two huge gigs in two days – Bruce Springsteen at Wembley on 15 June and Neil Young at the O2 on the 17th. You’ll probably have seen the reviews already so here are some random thoughts on these big talents and big events…
To some the obvious question might be ‘which was the better concert’? But, as any fan of both of these big beasts will know, it’s unlikely there will be a straightforward answer to that.
I can tell you which I enjoyed most as an experience, and that was definitely Neil’s.
That was partly down to logistics. I was in the upper tier seats at Wembley, relying on the video screens to see what the tiny figures on the stage were up to; I was standing at the O2, just 10-15 yards from the stage and privy to every grin and grimace, except when Neil disappeared behind an upright piano. And the sound at the O2 was massively superior: very loud, with crispness and crunch across the spectrum, vocals fully audible in the mix – and no hint of ringing afterwards in my unplugged ears.
Bruce’s vocals were pretty audible at Wembley and the band was louder than for last summer’s outing in Hyde Park, but that is the best you can say. The music was often an undifferentiated mid-range sludge, there were big issues with echo and it was hard to pick out the instrumental solos. I suspect both Springsteen and the E Street Band gave five star performances, but that wasn’t quite how it came through my ears. Don’t get me wrong, I heard some brilliant stuff – but I could have heard it better.
Add to that advantage the thrill of seeing Neil back with Crazy Horse. I’ve seen him play great shows solo and with a range of different bands but he and the Horse make a very special noise together – and it’s been years since I’ve seen them make it.
Neil also deserves bonus points for originality of staging: the huge mocked-up amplifier stacks, the enormous mic-stand, white-coated and grey-wigged scientist-roadies arguing and bossing around the heavy lifters in hard hats and hi-vis, then the litter whirling across the stage for ‘Walk Like A Giant’ as Neil and Poncho literally whistled in the wind…
There were no surprises in the staging of the Springsteen show: you know he’s going to go walkabout at the front collecting song title banners, there’s the familiar mic sharing with Miami Steve, audience members pulled up on stage for ‘Dancing In The Dark’. Of course, he does it all uniquely well, but you’re never going to get the edge and nervousness that Neil induces: might he fall off the tightrope wire this time? Ah, yes – he has done… but he seems to be dusting himself off for the next song…
Bruce’s surprise this time was playing the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album in its entirety. Had he asked me, it wouldn’t have been my recommendation. It’s one of my least favourite of his records anyway, but knowing what’s coming next for three quarters of an hour rather spoils the jukebox effect of a standard Bruce show as he ranges back and forth across the decades and one of your favourites could appear at any time. But yes, Bruce, I am prepared to make an exception and put up with the whole of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle next time…
I’m sure there will be a next time, but I’m going to have to find a way of getting closer.
Anyway, great to see two real giants and personal heroes doing what they do so well and with a clear and obvious appetite to be doing it, in both cases the polar opposite of going through the motions for the money or for old times’ sake.
From Bruce an unexpected ‘Rosalita’, a beautiful version of “The Rising’, an angry ‘Wrecking Ball’ – and the moving tribute to Clarence Clemons behind a stonking ‘Tenth Avenue Freezeout’ which got chopped when the plugs were pulled at Hyde Park last year.
From Neil, a strong and tight ‘Powderfinger’, a lovely ‘Ramada Inn’ – his strongest song for some years, and at least parts of the epic wig-outs on ‘Walk Like A Giant’ and ‘Fuckin’ Up’. (Yes, of course they can go on a bit – but this is what the Horse are about…)