Bruce Springsteen's Hyde Park show proved artists aren't the best judges of venues

More artists should think about the experience of fans at the back of the crowd, not how the show feels from the stage

First, a disclaimer. I was among friends on Saturday night, dancing and singing and celebrating the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Nothing – not the sticky, oozing mud, not the draconian sound limits, not the plug being pulled – could stop me being again transfixed and transported by a Springsteen show. It was, once more, a startling and joyful three hours.

But – and you knew there was a but, didn't you? – how much better it might have been.

I don't really blame the residents of Mayfair for the problems with the show in Hyde Park in London – the volume and the plug. I'd be pretty fed up if there were three-day festivals near my house on consecutive weekends, with assorted Olympics concerts to come. I'd be lobbying my local council to get the sound reduced to the level of the speakers on a MacBook. Having had Mr Hudson and the Library play outside my house, I am familiar with the misery caused by live music you really don't want to hear.

Likewise I don't blame Live Nation for cutting the sound on Springsteen and Paul McCartney's romp through Twist and Shout/La Bamba, rather than risk losing their licence to put on shows in Hyde Park. Much as I love the E Street Band, Steve van Zandt's tweets that "we break curfews in every country" and describing the UK as "a police state" were the reactions of someone playing in a band whose every whim is usually indulged.

In fact, it's the whim of the band that's the issue here. Simply, the problems of Saturday night could easily have been avoided – if Springsteen had just played somewhere else for his London show, rather than returning to Hard Rock Calling, which he had headlined triumphantly in 2009, also quietly – though not quite as quietly as this time.

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What Saturday night's problems proved is that artists are rarely the best judge of a concert venue. What they hear onstage is completely different to what we hear in the crowd; likewise what they see. So, Springsteen was apparently so taken with Hyde Park in 2009 – the show was later released as a fantastic DVD set – that he wanted to return, and I can see why. That evening, he would have seen an ocean of fans, framed by the trees of the park, bathed in the setting sun. I bet that's a hundred times better than seeing your fans swathed in the shadows cast by a soulless concrete bowl.

But he's not the one contending with sound reduced to 73db for this year's shows. He's not the one who – if less than average height – would see nothing but the back of the person in front, because of the complete flatness of the site, with the sound further muffled by the bodies around.

The same applies in other places: I've heard bands enthuse about Koko in north London, praising its wedding cake-tiered balconies, the sense of history it exudes. And I've stood on its stage, gazing up and up, and understood why they love playing there. But I'm more commonly in the crowd, fighting to get a sightline, cursing those balconies, from which only the front row can see anything.

It takes a certain alchemy to make a gig special. And Springsteen's shows in Hyde Park have been special. Both times I've been moved to tears. I'm sure the surroundings inspired him to raise his game to something even seasoned Springsteen watchers have judged incredible. But, for the fan, it can be an effort to stay involved when you are able to whisper and be heard above the music. Springsteen knew what the sound limits were, he knew the site was flat, but he chose to accept Live Nation's offer to play Hard Rock Calling again. He has to accept at least some of the blame for Saturday's problems.

Next time, Bruce, why not just play Wembley? There are sightlines for those who wish to sit, a pitch for those who wish to stand, and the sound can be pretty much as loud as you (or we) want. It's not as nice for you as Hyde Park, but it might just make for a show that doesn't leave people complaining as much as celebrating.


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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