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Live Review – Bruce Springsteen – 8th July 2023 – BST Hyde Park, London, UK

10 min read
Live Review - Bruce Springsteen - 8th July 2023 - BST Hyde Park, London, UK

Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

The Boss is back in town! Yes, Bruce Springsteen has long been a highly anticipated player in this year’s BST Hyde Park series with shows for the Dancing In The Dark icon selling out almost as quickly as the press release for the announcement to reveal the shows was written last year. The rock legend has already performed a day of BST Hyde Park this week, selling out Thursday’s performance and sandwiching fellow icon Billy Joel in between that and last nights stellar performance. We heard many fans in the crowd talking about seeing the Thursday show and saying what a treat we were in for so we were extremely excited as we arrived just in time to see support act and megastar trio, The Chicks deliver a truly phenomenal performance of some of their own impressive back catalogue of country twang and hootenanny gems.

Catchy and high-octane Fly hit Sin Wagon opened the show as lead singer Natalie Maines and sisters Martie Maguire on violin and Emily Strayer on banjo and guitar took to the stage looking incredible and sounding sublime as they tore through the number with passion and an energetic bounce to their step.

Throughout their hour long set the band dished up many of the tracks that have made them one of the most loved (well….if we aren’t counting the US’s odd dismissal of the group following Natalie’s controversial political jabs over a decade ago) and best selling country acts. Their famous cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide was extremely well received from the expanding Hyde Park crowd while politics washed over numbers like more recent hit Gaslighter and a heavy performance of March March engaged the crowd with its flashing images of protests around Black Lives Matter, LGBT equality and names of fallen citizens under the brutality of police and injustice flashed up on the giant screens overhead. The band have never been closed lipped about their political views and have often found themselves in hot water but this is also something that has been incredibly attractive to working class people and the fight of minorities that deal with injustices every day of their lives and for that the band we given a rapturous applause.

(L-R) Emily Strayer, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire of The Chicks perform on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

Maines’ vocals were as mind-blowing as ever as she ran through some of the outfits more celebrated singles like the syrupy Wide Open Spaces and Fly’s Cowboy Take Me Away, bringing the south of the US right into the heart of London while songs within the set were beautifully coated in the talented violin playing of Martie and the incredible finger work of Emily on banjo. While the group were less interactive with the crowd than the last time we caught them (some 25 years ago at the Royal Albert Hall), an occasional nod to the audience was delivered by Maines.

Giving the crowd something a little more lighthearted to end the set, Fly gem Goodbye Earl – which tells of a pair of friends who plot to kill an abusive husband in a series of comical ways – had the audience both singing along and laughing at the hilarious hit that has become one of the staples to any set from The Chicks and a classic in their remarkable repertoire that swings effortlessly from serious to silly.

With an hour between The Chicks and The Boss, not many people were brave enough to take a toilet break or get water to rehydrate themselves from the exceptionally humid London temperatures. This would eventually prove a mistake for some who found themselves passing out from exhaustion later in the night; security often seen being signaled from the crowd to come and collect one after another, but for those with stamina, the man of the hour was about to take to the stage at a very early time of 7pm.

Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

With fellow icon Billy Joel being slotted in between Springsteen’s shows, Thursday night saw the musician first take to the leafy Hyde Park stage for the BST series, and at 7pm sharp, the background music stopped, the crowd roared and one by one the members of the E Street Band came running out to take their position; each getting their own applause from the crowd and some, like guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who has become a legend in his own right, basking in the attention as he appeared wearing a giant hat before revealing himself to the audience. Then, The Boss – Springsteen himself walked out to a deafening response and immediately leapt into action with opening number My Love Will Not Let You Down before charging through loaded performances of Death to My Hometown and the defiant anthem, No Surrender.

Drenched in sweat and commanding the Hyde Park stage with his energetic and charismatic E Street Band, Springsteen often made visits between songs to the back of the stage to sip on water and grab a giant water soaked sponge which he would press over his shirt to cool himself down. And I say the word ‘between’ very loosely here. If you have seen Springsteen before you will know that he doesn’t really give himself much of a break between songs – often counting down his “1, 2, 3, 4” to his band before one song is finished and they are launching themselves straight into the next.

Bruce Springsteen performs in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

The set, like many major touring artists sporting a set with songs from several decades, has retained much of its form but given his two shows this year in Hyde Park, a small shake up was noticed between last night and Thursday nights set with the likes of mega-hit Born in the USA being traded in for lesser commercial notables. While playing the same set each night in the same order may make more sense for a rock veteran that performs such long shows, and while it may create more of a sense of ease for everyone in E Street Band to have a set structure – this is Springsteen and the E Street Band… a collective that is famous to pushing themselves and not taking the easy road. And on top of that, so famously long are The Boss’s sets that Paul McCartney has recently said that he blames the superstar for the raised expectations from punters for acts to play lengthy shows – albeit all tongue-in-cheek of course. But it’s definitely well worth your money being a fan of Springsteen – you get a lot of songs for your pound and these shows have proved no different with nearly 30 numbers being thrown in for these Hyde Park spectacles – not to mention the incredible showmanship that comes with each one from one of the most iconic musicians the music world has ever seen: a showman that would tear open his shirt nearing the end of last nights performance to a deafening roar of approval.

Halfway into the set, a moment of quiet takes over the entire park and you could hear a needle drop as Springsteen told a lengthy story of his very first band that he joined in 1965 at the age of 14. He told the audience of the 3 year stint which he said “for a band is a really long time” and then acknowledging his 50 years with E Street Band, and that he was the last surviving member of the outfit following the more recent death of a ten-bandmate before going into a graceful rendition of Last Man Standing.

There were many moments like this within the set – moments of pause and reflection and appreciation for those that have touched his life. And this extended to the crowd as he spent a large part of the 3 hour show up close and personal with fans in the front rows; fist bumping or arm wresting children that were being held up by their parents; Springsteen often digging into his pockets to find keepsakes like guitar pics to offer to the young music fans as he smiled at them, giving them their first brief brushes with the music icon that would no doubt be a memory they carry with them for all their lives. As the enormous screens showed his fans, Springsteen would often turn to look at the crowd on screen and give his thumbs up or a wave to those on the shoulders of friends; an approving and appreciated acknowledgment from The Boss himself between meaty, earth shaking performances of Springsteen classics like Wrecking Ball, Badlands and The River.

Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

One of the things we love about the BST shows is the camaraderie of the crowd. Apart from the occasional bad egg in the audience that might get upset and hurl insults at those pushing past to find friends or the odd foolish punter trying to take position in front of someone just as the headliner is about to crack a lid on things, everyone is here for the same thing – to hear great music and have a good time. We’ve seen short fathers ask their towering neighbors to lift their children up above the crowd so they can get a peek of Pink being flung around on stage during her set. We’ve seen bridal parties celebrating at Take That and we’ve seen senior citizens wearing Gun’s N Roses t-shirts chanting back in their cracking and aged voices to Axl Rose as if they were teenagers that had slipped out of home in the darkness of night to rebel against mum and dads refusal to let them attend an R18 performance.  Every show is such a mix and everyone gets along and helps each other out.

While a casual Springsteen fan may not have recognized the gritty catalogue numbers that often described hardship, working on the rails, or lower class struggles that have made the icon so relatable for so many over the last 5 decades, you couldn’t help but be swept up by the performance; each instrument and band member that was on stage shining as individual parts that ultimately making up one enormous, pulsating heart in central London.

The playful friendship between Springsteen and guitarist Steven Van Zandt was highly evident throughout the show as they threw the occasional joke to each other and often shared the mic; Springsteen calling to his right hand man to help him deliver some powerful moments in some of the key hits of the set, and as The Boss jokingly claimed that the BST organisers would pull the plug on their long set, the pair offered laughs to the crowd via a camera close up of them comically messing around to the lens that would show them on the mammoth overhead screens before Van Zandt took control of the camera to show Springsteen’s dancing rear-end.

This then led them into the shows encore which was made up of many of Springsteen massive eighties numbers including a stellar performance of Dancing In The Dark, complete with extended E Street Band introductions, Born to Run and a absolutely incredible rendition of Glory Days. All, of course, came complete with the 65,000 strong Hyde Park crowd singing at the very top of their lungs back to the icon that dominated the stage in his tight blue jeans.

As each member of the E Street Band waved their goodbye to the crowd and descended from the stage in much the same way as they took to it, Springsteen was left alone to close the night. Grabbing his acoustic guitar and harmonica, a beautiful performance of I’ll See You in My Dreams had the crowd swaying to the ballad and Springsteen’s distinctively gravely yet pristine vocals before he himself waved goodbye under a sole spotlight and left the stage for yet another absolutely outstanding performance for London fans.

My Love Will Not Let You Down
Death to My Hometown
No Surrender
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Promised Land
Out in the Street
Darlington County
Working on the Highway
Kitty’s Back
Nightshift (Commodores cover)
Mary’s Place
The E Street Shuffle
Last Man Standing
Because the Night (Patti Smith Group cover)
She’s the One
Wrecking Ball
The Rising

Born to Run
Bobby Jean
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Twist and Shout(The Top Notes cover)

Encore 2:
I’ll See You in My Dreams