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Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt at Murrayfield Stadium.

‘Drumming home music’s alchemical powers’: Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt at Murrayfield Stadium. Photograph: Euan Cherry/Getty Images

Sat 3 Jun 2023 09.00 EDT
Guardian US

Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
In a typically breathless three-hour set, the Boss and band deliver the goods with such joy and passion, there’s little option other than to succumb

“As you get older,” notes Bruce Springsteen wryly, “death gives you pause to think.” The singer and his 17-strong band are being held briefly at the halfway mark of a nearly three-hour set that segues fluidly from song to song, rarely pausing for breath – just a “one, two, three, four!” from Springsteen, before powering up again.

We’ve reached the part where he recalls joining his first band in the mid-60s and how, 50 years later, he found himself at the deathbed of George Theiss, who had hired the teenage guitarist into the Castiles. You could hear a plastic half-pint cup drop in the 60,000 capacity stadium, bathing in unfamiliar late evening Scottish sunshine. “And death’s final and lasting gift to the living,” Springsteen intones, as though trading elevated oratory with his podcast buddy, former president Barack Obama, “is an expanded vision ofthis life.” Naturally, Springsteen urges us to “seize the day”. Then he launches into Last Man Standing, from his 2020 LP Letter to You – a song about the loneliness of outliving all of your comrades, and the transformative powers of rock’n’roll. And if Springsteen’s soul revue-calibre rock show remains consistent in drumming home music’s alchemical powers – 2016 was the last time the E Street Band came to the UK – its joy delivery system is so sound, there’s little point in rolling your eyes at how tremendously Boss-like the man is.

Springsteen then models what seizing a day might look like if you were a rock star-cum-poet laureate of US post-industrial decline. He sings about passion – with muscular, scrunchy-faced investment. He shares a microphone intimately with guitarist Little Steven, clasps the hands of the entire front row, even giving away a couple of spittle-sanctified harmonicas.

Springsteen doesn’t so much seize the day as grab it by the lapels and shout in its face, wipe its tears, then give it a kiss

With sometimes as many as five guitars being played on stage at once, the 73-year-old sets up duels with the piratical Little Steven and Nils Lofgren who, when not on E Street duty, plays sideman to another indefatigable North American legend, Neil Young. More than once, Springsteen goes mano a mano with saxophone player Jake Clemons, nephew of the late E Streeter Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011.

Bruce Springsteen at Murrayfield.

‘Muscular, scrunchy-faced investment’: Springsteen at Murrayfield. Photograph: Jane Barlow/

With his back turned to the crowd, Springsteen conducts the five-strong horn section. He duets with backing singer Curtis King, whose falsetto on their soulful cover of Nightshift by the Commodores are sweet sounds indeed. He pogoes while soloing on guitar, then rips his black capped-sleeved shirt open during Dancing in the Dark, revealing some burnished pecs gilded with silver chains. Eyes shut as though in ecstasy, he shouts “Edinburgh!” a great deal, and emphasises the musical roots of Death to My Hometown – a broadside against the depredations of late capitalism – with standup drums and a piper-like trumpet line. Springsteen doesn’t so much seize this rare scorcher of a day in Scotland as grab it by the lapels and shout in its face, wipe its tears, then give it a kiss.

There has long been a push and pull in Springsteen’s career between his songs of yearning – his paeans to escape, from Born to Run (stellar tonight) on down – and those tunes where people are stuck, making the best of things, making mistakes, and witnessing how much is beyond their control. Although there’s only one track, Johnny 99, from his most bleak outing, Nebraska – the 1982 LP that is the subject of a newly published book by musician turned writer Warren Zanes – the set list trades off between Springsteen’s penchant for wild romance, and his witness-bearing to harsh realities. The trajectory is mostly up, though, with joyous defiance edging out sober reckonings with time: every song seemingly a Wrecking Ball.

Since this tour set off from Florida in February, the set list hasn’t, perhaps, enjoyed as much spontaneity as E Street Band outings of yore, with Springsteen calling out rarities at the drop of a hat. But there remain a few slots in the running order where variables cycle in and out. Tonight’s lesser-heard gem is Mary’s Place, a soulful party tune from The Rising (2002) that locates transcendence in music once again.

Watch a live video of Death to My Hometown by Bruce Springsteen.

Another more regular wild card, Kitty’s Back, is a high point – not so much for the 1973 tune’s extended alley cat metaphor, but for the glorious longform swinging blues it offers up. Starting with Springsteen’s battered guitar line and horns, the lead is handed around the band, from the honky-tonk of pianist Roy Bittan, to the organ wheeze of keys player Charles Giordano, building until it tilts at New Orleans jazz. Springsteen visibly relishes his players’ fluent flexes. Near the close of the show, powerhouse drummer Max Weinberg provides one final beat: he climbs down off his mount and hands his drumsticks to a tween boy superfan in the front row.

Having rolled around on the floor a bit, Springsteen says something vague about not waiting so long to come back next time. This tour’s high ticket prices – much grumbled about by fans – indicated this jaunt might be one last chance power drive to see the E Street experience in full. But despite all the arms waving from side to side across this big bowl full of people, it really doesn’t feel like goodbye.


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