Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury 2009

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put on a show so good it's quasi-religious – for nigh on three hours, Pilton becomes the Promised Land

Who: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Where and when: Pyramid stage, Saturday, 10pm

Dress code: Tonight Bruce is the Man in Black, with more than a dash of Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer. He's also wearing dark blue Levi's and tall boots ("The kind you never want to wear again"). Plus, with his gold earrings, and bandmates Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren sporting black bandanas, there is a hint of the piratical.

Who's watching: More than half the state of Nebraska, judging from the immense, rippling sea of arms and the forest of flags. There are older fans who've been with him from the beginning, stuck with him through his late-80s slump to witness his current rejuvenation. And there are younger fans who first encountered the spirit of his music channelled through bands such as Arcade Fire, the Killers and Gaslight Anthem.

What happened: He's sold out stadiums across the world, played the Superbowl, opened for Obama during his presidential campaign. Now, the Boss faces his toughest challenge yet: to "rock the house", or in this case, the field, at Glastonbury. He does, of course. Springsteen is perhaps the finest practitioner of gig-as-religious-event, a huge communion between performer and audience. His ability to render such vast spaces intimate is unrivalled, effortlessly bridging the gap between band and audience – sometimes strutting down to the front and making brief attempts at crowd-surfing. It's an orchestrated routine, certainly, but it's hard to deny the Boss's sheer passion and conviction.

The mood tonight is largely jubilant; his anthemic songs suggesting Bruce has finally shaken off his Bush administration hangover. However, it's not all arms-aloft chorusing – the recession is ever present in his set. During the encore he plays Hard Times, a folk song from 1855, delivered with a sense of defiance.

It's exhilarating to watch Springsteen power through a set that, at nearly three hours long, is way past the curfew. However, unlike NERD on Friday, nobody dares pull the plug – he's the Boss, for God's sake.

High point: Hard to say, there were so many. But taking requests for Because the Night, being joined by the singer from Gaslight Anthem for No Surrender, and playing American Land, based on an Irish folk song, are especially memorable. The latter if only to see saxophonist Clarence Clemons playing a tin whistle.

Low point: The only time when Springsteen addresses the crowd at length, he adopts the demeanour of an evangelical preacher. It's a self-conscious routine, as if to deflect accusations of sermonising, but it feels a bit hammy and contrived.

In a tweet: The Boss transforms Pilton into the Promised Land with songs of labour and love, faith and freedom.


Dafydd Goff

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Blur, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen to headline Glastonbury 2009?

Rumours have surfaced that the Britpop luminaries and the Americana heavyweights are to headline next year's festival

Rosie Swash

12, Dec, 2008 @3:42 PM

Glastonbury returns to roots with Springsteen

American heartland rocker announced as main act for 2009 festival as well as Neil Young and Blur

Paul Lewis

23, Feb, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Bruce Springsteen headlines Glastonbury 2009 | Gallery

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury was a sight to behold. Relive the concert here, in picture form

28, Jun, 2009 @11:55 AM

Article image
Back to the Boss: Bruce Springsteen returns as Glastonbury 'goes with its gut'

Last year US rap star Jay-Z controversially headlined, this year the old guard take centre stage

Alexandra Topping and Rosie Swash

25, May, 2009 @10:29 PM

Article image
Glastonbury lineup: Lily Allen and Nick Cave to join Bruce Springsteen and Blur

Kasabian, the Specials and Metronomy to join veteran stars Tom Jones, Neil Young, Bruce Spingsteen and Blur at this summer's festival

Rosie Swash

25, May, 2009 @11:24 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2009: What do you think of this year's lineup? Whether it's Nick Cave, Lady Gaga or Baaba Maal, the festival boasts that it has someone for everyone. So who will you be watching?

25, May, 2009 @11:39 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2009: How was it for you?

Was it Dizzee, Blur, Trash City or the glorious weather that made this year's festival? Share your Glasto moments here

29, Jun, 2009 @10:43 AM

Article image
What should the Glastonbury headliners play?

Tim Jonze: Do you crave the hits? Or is a set of new songs with added drum solos more your thing? Let us know!

Tim Jonze

22, Jun, 2009 @12:08 PM

Article image
Best of the fest: the great big Glastonbury music roundup | Alexis Petridis

Lily Allen was rude, Neil Young was gleeful and Dizzee Rascal was, well, dizzy. We look back on the hottest bands at Glastonbury 2009

Alexis Petridis

28, Jun, 2009 @11:05 PM

Respect for old masters at Glastonbury | Peter Beech
Peter Beech: Anyone who says this Glastonbury lineup is for geriatrics doesn't know their yoof culture

Peter Beech

30, May, 2009 @9:00 AM