On arriving at the first of Bruce Springsteen's only two UK dates, everyone was presented with a card spelling out the rules for the night. This was a solo acoustic show, and there was to be no intermission, no late arrivals and, heaven forbid, no leaving foyer doors ajar. On the last point, they were rigorous. Spotting an open door on the upper tier, a steward gasped, "Oh my God", and sprinted to close it. "He's very strict, and he'll stop the show," she explained.
So Springsteen has become the sort of aesthete who gets thrown off his stride by an errant chink of light. Age and acoustic tours have a way of doing that to even former spit-and-sawdust types. They also implant the idea that it's acceptable to play for two hours without slipping in a single major hit (The River was as hitsy as it got).
Who'd have thought it - and the worry is, having acquired the gravitas to pull this kind of thing off, he'll probably never fully revert to being the rocking Boss. If that's the case, at least he's negotiating career midlife in a way that will cause the least embarrassment to his kids. There are worse things - ask Mick Jagger - than the role of introspective patriarch, and Springsteen is doing it with grace and maturity.
In a show dominated by the new Devils & Dust album, he covered the personal and the political with equal passion, giving a song about the death of his son's friend (Silver Palomino) the same weight as a rant about American racism toward Mexican immigrants (Matamoros Banks). He did it in an accent that has somehow migrated several states southwest of his native New Jersey, which imbued a folksy twang to his anecdotes. Not only is Springsteen a modern version of the politically-engaged Cash/ Guthrie agitator, he now speaks like them.
His singing voice has taken on the same weathered patina, and as he solemnly moved through the set, accompanying himself on harmonium and piano, they would have thought he made a creditable elder statesman of Americana.