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Hard Rock Calling featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band – Hyde Park, London

Springsteen at Hyde ParkYou have to give the Hard Rock Cafe points for ingenuity. When the Glastonbury headliners were announced, they announced a three-day festival of their own and promptly booked all the acts.  So after turns on the Friday by the Killers and the Saturday by Neil Young, it’s the New Jersey native who tops the bill this evening. These corporations – letting the poor little farmer do all the work then swooping in. Poor old Eavis.

But looking at the support bill, you wish they’d nicked a few more of the acts he’d got on. For reasons best known to themselves, the only act to be announced on stage are the opening act. This is done by a lady who was, apparently, the Hard Rock Cafe’s first ever employee. Alas, her longevity is clearly not down to enunciation, as she stumbles over her words before heading off, leaving the crowd with absolutely no clue to who is coming on.

It turns out to be an act called Beauvoir and Free. They start out by saying ‘London, do you remember us?’ when, in fact, London has never even fucking heard of them. And they are bad. Seriously bad. It’s like they’ve never seen Spinal Tap. No, scratch that – it’s like they saw Spinal Tap and just didn’t get it. They wear leather trousers, despite clearly being in a place where they’ll never see 50 again. They shout things like ‘can ya feel me?’ without irony. They play ‘rawk’ music that would have been considered passé in 1984. I think they’d go down well in Germany.

Thank the Lord, then, for the Gaslight Anthem. Now, clearly they are derivative of Springsteen, but unlike the first mob, they seem to be aware of punk too. Frontman Brian Fallon is a terrific entertainer, playing with the first few rows of the crowd, but it’s the music which stands out. Short, blasting rackets with tales of girls called Mary and Sally, of jailhouses and regrets. Yes, you’ve heard it before, but they bring a passion to it which makes it thoroughly their own. ‘Oh, Casanova!’ is an early highlight, as is ‘High Lonesome’.

Then Fallon says ‘ask and ye shall recieve’ before being joined by Springsteen for a rousing version of ‘The ’59 Sound’. The crowd, already energised, go completely bush at the sight of their leader. With the crowd now firmly behind him, Fallon takes a chance with his slowburning ‘Here’s Looking at You Kid’, almost a re-write of Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’. It’s brittle little thing to play to 50,000 audience, but they manage it. By the end, it’s a triumph of a set.

So then we get James Morrison, who proves two things; one, that men and women will never agree and two, that men are always right. God, his Radio 2-friendly, not-quite-offensive-enough-to-be-memorable ersatz soul rock would make a commited pacifist want to bludgeon him with his own expensive acoustic. The women in the crowd though, from teens to middle-aged ladies, go wild for it. The men go to the bar. It’s dire, music to slowly rot into a vegetative state to. Who booked this crap?

Next on are the Dave Matthews Band, a group bigger in America than here and it’s easy to see why. They play a bluesy version of the music you used to hear in the background of the coffee shop in Friends. It’s all right. That’s about it.

And then, finally, comes Springsteen. Starting with a rousing version of ‘London Calling’, it seems he’s in a good mood after his triumphant Glastonbury performance. ‘Badlands’ is dispatched and the noise of the disciples singing carries off into the London sky. It really is impressive.

The songs are, of course, the strength, but the thing about Springsteen is his total commitment to it. He genuinely believes in this stuff, in a way that Bono aspires to but simply doesn’t. That’s what elevates him above self-parody. The set is packed with classics – ‘Jungleland’, ‘Out in the Street’, ‘Promised Land’, ‘No Surrender’ – and the pace never sags.

The opening strains of ‘Radio Nowhere’ – probably the only genuine classic added to the canon from the last two albums – signal the turn for the last straight. ‘Born to Run’ explodes with all the fervour of a fireball, and by the time a soothing ‘Dancing in the Dark’ is done with and the crowd begin to disspiate, he’s been up there for three-and-a-half hours. To some indie bands, that’s not a show, it’s a tour.

The haphazard booking needs to be addressed if Hard Rock Cafe want to make this event about their brand rather than the acts. People attend T in the Park. People here did not attend Hard Rock Calling. They came to a Springsteen gig. And he delivered.


3 Responses

  1. Puzzled by your ‘potatoes’ tag. Is this linked to the ‘vegetative state’ you slowly rot into when listening to James Morrison or is it something to do with poor old farmer Eavis? Can’t be a description of the Boss because he’s obviously taking anti ageing pills right?

  2. No, I always slip one nonsensisical one in to see if anyone notices. You are the first who ever has!

  3. 🙂 I don’t usually read tags but for some reason it caught my eye, been eating a lot of potatoes lately, maybe that’s it…

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