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Bruce Springsteen review: A masterful and poignant performance, with a jarring final note

The packed Dublin audience know the plays, the moves and the songs, but this master of stagecraft renders them anew each time

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

RDS Main Arena, Dublin
★★★★☆

Bruce Springsteen and his ever-impressive E Street Band, including brass and backing vocals, returned to Dublin’s RDS Main Arena on Friday night for a three-hour show filled with energy, humour and invention but also tinged with a sense of poignancy as he recalled the friends he has lost along the way.

The contemplative tone of songs such as Last Man Standing, Letter to You and the moving I’ll See You In My Dreams, which closed the show, contrasted with the lively reworking of songs from the past 50 years of his career, notably material drawn from early albums such as The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the USA, which formed the spine of the set.

Unlike the opening shows of his European tour in Barcelona last week, there were no celebrity backing singers, nor former US presidents watching from the wings. But there was an atmosphere of such heady anticipation among the lucky 18,500 souls crammed into the venue – the first of three sold-out shows in Dublin – that the air tingled with possibility. He and his trusty comrades in the E Street Band will play to 1.6 million people during the 31-concert European leg, but I can’t imagine any other city will deliver greater fevered fidelity to their hero nor such unbridled acclaim. The audience sang, clapped and generally embraced the night.

And Springsteen responded in kind. The audience is a key player in the ritual-filled drama that unfolds each night. They know the plays, they know the moves and, of course, they know the songs, but he renders them anew in each performance. He achieves this by making the local universal. Of course we don’t believe we are in a small steamy club on the Jersey Shore in the early 1970s, but the spirit of the night survives, even into the cavernous spaces of anonymous stadiums in multiple countries. That is some trick, and to keep doing it with such brio for so long is remarkable.

They delivered 27 songs, kicking off under a lovely summer-evening sky with the defiant No Surrender. Thereafter Springsteen’s mastery of stagecraft ensured the concert maintained momentum, with highlights including his version of the soul classic Nightshift, a lively rereading of the old favourite Kitty’s Back in Town and a thrilling New Orleans-style version of Johnny 99.

Then, as darkness fell, the band hit the home straight with a bunch of rousing classics including Wrecking Ball, The Rising and Badlands, closing with Thunder Road. In the long encore of six songs he dedicated Land of Hopes and Dreams “to my friend Charlie Bird” before stepping out solo on to the stage to deliver the sombre See You In My Dreams, inspired by the death of another friend.

It was a jarring note to finish on. Time is taking its toll, though this performance was passionate and defiant. I wouldn’t bet on it – Springsteen himself looks an amazingly well-preserved 73 – but this could be the band’s last full tour. If that proves to be the case, they have left us with a sweet memory.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play the RDS Main Arena, Dublin 4, again on Sunday, May 7th, and Tuesday, May 9th

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