The Boss arrives in Belfast, the E Street Band in tow, to deliver a hit-heavy set that was well worth the wait
Five and a half years on from his last date with Belfast, everyone's favourite (former) blue collar hero Bruce Springsteen has finally returned for an outdoor show at the King's Hall Complex.
Not only has the Boss brought the E Street Band the sun with him, he's also got an army of diehard international followers in tow too, some of whom have been dutifully queuing outside the Belfast venue in the heat for over 24 hours.
On tour in support of 2012's critically acclaimed album Wrecking Ball, this evening's show is one of the final dates on Springsteen's worldwide trek. If the 63-year-old is feeling a little weary at this point, however, you would never know it. As soon as the opening bars of his cover of the gospel track 'This Little Light Of Mine' hits, the Boss and everyone in the E Street Band is firing on all cylinders.
While the happy, clappy high energy number doesn't do much for this reviewer, and frankly feels a little throwaway, the knowledge that Springsteen favours three plus hour gigs leaves us with an odd sense of peace. As the faithful beside me say, 'The hits will come.'
'My mother in law's from Belfast,' offers Springsteen by way of introduction to 'The Ties That Bind' from the now classic record The River. He looks out at the 30,000 capacity crowd – he already knows that he has most of them in the palm of his hand.
Saxophonist Jake Clemons, relative new-comer to the E Street Band, gets his time to shine on the track, and does an excellent job of filling his departed uncle Clarence's shoes, while Little Steven and Co never miss a beat.
Springsteen then heads into the crowd to pick up an armful of signs from the fans and piles them beside his microphone. As is customary at Springsteen gigs, he takes requests (or at least advice) from the battle-hardened faithful on the front lines in the pit, and plays some songs especially for them. It's a novel way to do things and a testament to his players' prowess. Springsteen's is the best bar band in the world.
After placing a placard reading 'Reason To Believe' in front of his stand, Springsteen instructs guitarist Little Steven to 'make it dirty', delivering a fierce version of the track. His re-visiting of the Nebraska LP continues with a rendition of rock 'n' roll anthem 'Johnny 99'.
Then the haunting 'Atlantic City' (which provokes a singalong in some pockets of the crowd), followed by the title track, during which the Boss performs solo, armed with an acoustic guitar. It's a special moment in the set, silencing the tens of thousands in attendance.
After an emotive run through of 'The River', it's time for another tour premier. The band perform 'Fade Away' after we're told it's 'Steve's favourite song'. Featuring stirring organs and a near note-perfect vocal performance, it's a classic track that definitely deserves its time in the spotlight.
'Waitin' On A Sunny Day' sees Springsteen bound around the stage, getting up close and personal with the fans and playing the role of showman with aplomb. He invites a young girl up to sing the refrain, and she refuses to show even a hint of nerves while singing to the smiling New Jersey native's face. This, too, is a tried and tested showman's ploy, but Springsteen repeats it at most concerts for a reason – it works.
The encore features the likes of the reclaimed 'Born In The USA' and 'Born To Run', and after hearing a set heavy with understated moments, the sheer good time rock 'n' roll of the synth-laden 'Dancing In The Dark' makes for a welcome change of pace, as female fans flock to the stage.
Finishing his epic set with an acoustic version of 'Thunder Road', Springsteen finally leaves Belfast with hungry hearts and assurances of plenty more glory days to come, as the 'heart-stopping, pants dropping, house-quaking, earth-shaking, booty-shaking, viagra-taking' E Street Band leaves town and heads off into the sunset.