Thankfully they don't turn off his microphone in Dublin. Ralph McLean only wishes The Boss had brought his protest North
In case you hadn’t noticed, things have been pretty tough in Northern Ireland of late. An infuriating banking crisis and a thinly veiled Great Depression snapping at our ankles have taken their toll on many of us. In hard times like this, popular music needs hard men to take on the bad guys in words and music.
Once upon a time it was Woody Guthrie – celebrating his 100th anniversary this very month – who tackled the big money muggers and capitalist highwaymen head on with songs of struggle and dust bowl heroes travelling the country struggling to make a living in a world where the odds were always stacked against them.
Bob Dylan may have adopted a similar stance for a while in the early 1960s, but once the Woody hat started to itch – and he began to hanker for wider and weirder vistas – the great man soon tired off the 'protest singer' handle.
These days one man, and one man alone, carries the torch for socially committed liberal singer-songwriters everywhere. That righteous figure railing against bankers and fat cats everywhere is Bruce Springsteen. That he’s also a multi-millionaire businessman hardly matters really, because this is one Boss who really has the best interests of the workers at heart.
As the man’s Wrecking Ball tour rolls into Dublin, I have the privilege of watching this most committed of musical icons charge his way through a performance that positively bristles with pure righteous anger and passion in the RDS Arena.
With that most strident of street gangs, The E Street Band, the Boss offers up a set of songs old and new that stretches to over three hours in duration and shows many sides of the man in all his furious glory.
After a prolonged, and well timed, gag aimed at the London authorities who had curtailed his performance at Hyde Park a few days previously, Springsteen and co crash manfully into a version of the Bobby Fuller 4/Clash favourite 'I Fought The Law'. An anthem of garage punk resistance, it sets the scene for the joyous celebration of rock and roll attitude that is to follow.
Powerfully delivered tunes from the new album Wrecking Ball, Springsteen’s angriest and most socially focussed work in years, provide timely swipes at all manner of deserving targets, from bankers to developers. Springsteen spits them out with barely concealed disgust.
New songs like 'Jack Of All Trades' and 'Wrecking Ball' sit side by side with older pearls of hard won wisdom like 'My City Of Ruins', and the result is often moving in both its sincerity and sheer primal power.
For the thousands of believers basking in the rare southern sunshine of course there are plenty of crowd pleasing favourites to get them punching air like it was 1985.
A stunning Celtic flavoured take on 'The River' and a euphoric 'Born In The USA', with a beaming Steven Spielberg (who is seated just a row away from yours truly) filming it all on his trusty iPhone, will remain in the memory long after. But really there are few low points in a set list peppered with dozens of Boss favourites.
In keeping with his beaming 'man of the people' vibe, requests are plucked democratically from the crowd down front of stage. 'Rosalita', 'My Hometown' and 'I’m A Rocker' are all aired as a result.
After more than three hours on stage, and having wrung the audience dry of emotion, time is up. We are regaled with one final milking of the curfew gag that started the night off, featuring a massive made up power switch with comedy on/off switch that Springsteen grapples over with a Keystone Cops-style stage invader, and the lights finally go out.
This was a masterclass in the art of stagecraft from a true American original. My only criticism? Given the number of northern fans I spoke to – who piled out onto the Dublin streets to make their long journeys home – a Belfast date would have been nice. I mean, where’s the world’s greatest entertainer and social activist when Northern Ireland needs him most?