Springsteen defies curfew and plays epic four-hour set in Helsinki (ADDED 2.8.2012)
Dedicated fans also get ex tempore solo gig while stadium fills up
By William Moore
No doubt about it - were Bruce Springsteen, 62, (and the members of his E Street Band, many of whom are also knocking on the door of retirement age) an Olympic athlete competing in London, the rumours would be rife about performance-enhancing drugs.
The man is a veritable machine, displaying the form of his life, capable of knocking spots off artists half his age, let alone a certain 53-year-old female artiste currently on tour.
Last night's concert in a packed Olympic Stadium in Helsinki ran to more than four breathless hours, non-stop, and this did NOT include the five-song 35-minute acoustic solo set that Springsteen produced ex tempore for his "regulars", the dedicated fans who had queued - some of them for days on end - to get a prime place front of stage on the grass infield.
To continue the Olympics metaphor, it is common enough for large countries to include second-string runners or swimmers in the early heats of relay races, reserving the big names for the final.
Not so Mr. Springsteen.
At 6 p.m., an hour before showtime, The Boss, clad in baggy "Dad's" jeans, ambled out onto the stage alone at the point where one might have expected a guitar technician to arrive and do a quick sound check, and he plunked himself in front of around 4,000 suddenly electrified fans (the grandstands were still conspicuously empty at this point) to deliver a heartfelt solo acoustic "warm-up" set comprising I'll Work for your Love, Leap of Faith, No Surrender, For You, and Blinded by the Light.
The purpose of this, he said, was to give a little back to those who had followed him faithfully on tour, and he also shook hands with practically the entire front row, while the hardcore audience - totally gob-smacked and pinching themselves at what they were witnessing - showed remarkable restraint and saluted their hero with respect and warm applause rather than wild screaming and hollering.
This was essentially more a welcome reunion of old friends than a rock concert, and wonderfully intimate, in such a huge public place.
It was a touching and quite stunning starter to what was to become a very remarkable main course indeed, and it also guaranteed that late-comers hurried to take their seats, such that by the official showtime the whole stadium was packed and ready to rumble, with Mexico waves rolling freely around the 42,000 in the arena, even in the expensive "hospitality seats".
The band, however, did not appear until closer to 20:00, perhaps because of the sun shining directly onto the stage from over the main A-Stand.
When they did surface, Springsteen and his cohorts took off on a wild ride through the star's back catalogue, with more rarities and tour premieres being brought out, often in response to the cardboard request cards held up by hopeful concert-goers, one of whom confessed to having attended 54 previous gigs.
It was also a very "international" audience, with a strong Swedish and Italian contingent, and a good deal of American-accented English in evidence, at least down at the front.
For once, too, the Helsinki crowd knew their lines, singing lustily and picking up on cues and nuances dropped by the band.
Springsteen concerts are always a heady cocktail of hard-driving rock, the exultant atmosphere of a revivalist tent meeting, and the glad-handing of a presidential campaign gathering, and with this being the very last date on a long European tour, the band - expanded with a horn section and gospel singers - were clearly pumped for a show that set new records and defied the 23:00 curfew set for the gig.
In all, 33 songs were played in the main set, plus those five solo numbers from the very promising warm-up artist with the acoustic guitar, and things ran on until nearly midnight, a full hour after the plug was supposed to have been pulled and the house lights turned up.
The reactions on the grass down at the front ranged from utter disbelief to shiny-faced tearful ecstasy, with the latter end of the spectrum being taken by the two women who were called up to dance with Bruce and the band during a rousing rendition of Dancing in the Dark in the encores, or perhaps by the young man who sang - pretty well, too - alongside Bruce in the chorus to Waiting on a Sunny Day.
It was a joyous night that nobody wanted to end, despite the fact that the mood was undercut by recent losses - the E Street Band's iconic saxophonist Clarence Clemons is no more, and this tour has been very much about regrouping and renewal after his demise.
The addition of a horn section and the introduction of Clarence's nephew Jake Clemons on sax has definitely not weakened the line-up of an already fearsome house-band, albeit that the massive presence of Clarence Clemons - a.k.a. "The Big Man" - alongside his long-time associate is impossible to replicate.
Springsteen and colleagues, including drummer Max Weinberg, former Grin member and solo artist Nils Lofgren, and long-time Springsteen friend and associate Steve van Zandt (himself now a local hero in Norway after his "Sopranos spin-off" appearance in the TV series Lillyhammer) will now return to the United States (after a fortnight's break to recharge) for more gigs, though there are rumours going around that The Boss might spring yet another surprise by making an appearance at the concert of his New Jersey colleague Southside Johnny in Helsinki tonight.**
The full set-list was:
1. I’ll Work For Your Love*
2. Leap Of Faith*
3. No Surrender
4. For You
5. Blinded By The Light*
Duration: c. 35 minutes, plus a lengthy meet & greet session with those in the front rows.
01. Rockin’ All Over The World*
03. Out In The Street
04. Loose Ends
05 Prove It All Night (’78 Intro)
06. We Take Care Of Our Own
07. Wrecking Ball
08. Death To My Hometown
09. My City Of Ruins
10. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
11. Be True
12. Jack Of All Trades
13. Downbound Train
14. Because The Night
15. Lonesome Day
16. Darlington County
17. Light Of Day
18. Shackled & Drawn
19. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
20. Back In Your Arms*
21. The Rising
23. Land Of Hope & Dreams
24. We Are Alive
25. Born In The USA
26. Born To Run
27. Detroit Medley
28. Glory Days
29. Dancing In The Dark
30. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
31. I Don’t Wanna Go Home*
32. Higher & Higher* (with Jon Landau onstage on guitar)
33. Twist & Shout (as above)
Duration: Four hours six minutes. (19.53-23.59)
** The rumours of a guest appearance proved false, by the way, but given the extraordinary events of Tuesday, many thought that just about anything was possible.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published as a daily in IntEd on 1.8.2012 and moved to weeklies on 2.8.
An exultant and partisan (but still pretty objective) review in English from the Finnish Springsteen forums. Fans are mostly lost for words.
Bruce Springsteen Wrecking Ball Tour (Wikipedia)
Bruce Springsteen Official Site (contains review)
Backstreets (Springsteen fan forum)
This Hard Land (Finnish Springsteen fan forum, who also arranged an exemplary queueing-number system for the GA crowd in Helsinki)