Bruce Springsteen, Crystal Palace Athletics Ground, London

Crystal Palace Athletics Ground, London

Even an artist used to being called the Boss might be surprised by the scale of his commercial renaissance. Sparked by The Rising, last year's thoughtful collection of 9/11-inspired songs, this is his second UK stadium tour in a matter of months, but no one in the audience shows signs of Boss fatigue. The stands are packed and people are hollering: "Brooooooce!" En masse, it sounds not unlike the lowing of cattle. This is appropriate, because if Springsteen milked his audience any more shamelessly, he would have to come on stage carrying a little stool and a wooden bucket.

Famously gifted at whipping up atmosphere in drab stadiums, Springsteen seems to draw inspiration from Crystal Palace Athletics Ground, which resembles something a communist dictator would build to massacre dissidents in. He slides across the stage on his knees, sings to a little girl in the front row, flings his guitar in the air, sports a glittery Stetson thrown from the crowd. At one point, the 53-year-old singer hangs upside down from his microphone stand in the manner of a pole dancer.

This, like much of the on-stage antics at a Springsteen concert, should be painfully embarrassing. However, the singer exudes an appealing earnestness that lets him get away with hokum. You can see it in his face on the giant video screens - he's knocking himself out to entertain you up there. Not to respond feels a bit churlish.

The same is true of his music. It is as unchanged by the passing years as the E Street Band's wardrobe, which could give your average stylist a panic attack. Songs from 1975's Born to Run sound slightly more episodic than those from The Rising, but otherwise, they are the same: declamatory piano chords, raw-throated vocals, lengthy sax solos, rousing choruses. It's a sound that can only work in such a venue. What comes across as macho bombast on record sounds impossibly stirring here, floating across thousands of raised hands and punched fists. Springsteen's commercial renaissance should come as no surprise: what he does is excessive and occasionally daft, but he does it better than anyone else.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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