Bruce Springsteen, Emirates Stadium, London

Emirates Stadium, London

A third of a century has passed since a young Bruce Springsteen came to London to play his debut UK gig at what was then the Hammersmith Odeon. Horrified to arrive at the venue and find his record label billing him as "the future of rock'n'roll", he famously ran around the streets before the show tearing down the offending posters.

Springsteen's modesty was laudable, even if the over-enthusiastic marketing hype was to prove unusually prescient, and more than three decades on, his performance and persona have hardly changed. He still strides on stage, a rugged everyman in blue jeans, work shirt and suspiciously jet-black hair, and fires out a never-ending series of dynamic, insatiable, big-hearted rock songs.

It would be forgivable, at 58, if he took his foot off the gas, and he has described his recent dates as "victory laps" at the twilight of a formidable career. But tonight Springsteen shows no signs of slowing down. The opening Tenth Avenue and Radio Nowhere set the tone for the evening, being heartfelt, yearning songs, rich in observational detail, performed with an energy and brio that verge on the pathological.

Springsteen's legendary charisma is so winning that he performs the miraculous feat of making a stadium show appear intimate. He has no shortage of crowdpleasing tricks, regularly ambling into the throng and returning with a sheaf of song requests. But tonight is free of showbiz schmaltz: the vivacious Atlantic City and Because the Night sound like earnest declarations of his eternal faith in the healing, redemptive powers of rock'n'roll.

The material from last year's thoughtful Magic album is so immediate that it sounds as familiar as his peerless back catalogue. Before Livin' in the Future, awash with sepia nostalgia for pre-Bush liberal America, he mumbles incredulity at what is going down in his land: "Rendition, illegal wire-tapping and the rolling back of basic civil liberties." The album's title track is described as "about the troops" and is sung in a monotone as low and wearied as a soldier returning from war broken by having seen too much, too clearly.

Yet the E Street Band's raw, raucous rock is too vibrant for spirits to dip for long, and a lengthy encore including Born To Run, Glory Days and Dancing in the Dark has 50,000 delirious fists punching the Emirates' night air.

Bruce Springsteen has been on stage for three hours, and it doesn't seem a minute too long.

· At Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on June 14. Box office: 08705 582582.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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