At Hyde Park, Bruce Springsteen delivers joy on an epic scale

At the first of his 2023 BST appearances, Springsteen finds time for reflection and poignancy in the midst of sheer euphoria

Springsteen live reviews often read like a weird kind of word bingo. “Communal experience.” Tick. “Marathon set.” Tick. “Age-defying enthusiasm.” Tick. If you’d never seen Bruce live, you’d either think journalists a lazy, plagiaristic bunch or that he was just turning out the same slick vehicle, night after night. Once you’ve experienced it first-hand though, it becomes apparent why we’re running out of superlatives for the man.

It’s 11 years since Bruce Springsteen last played Hyde Park; that infamous night when the plug got pulled in the midst of Paul McCartney’s guest appearance. Inevitably, Bruce and his band have aged somewhat since then. The show has changed too, in a way that feels orchestrated to get the best out of the players over three-hours-and-change while allowing for the fact that they’re mostly in their 70s.

The set list is a little more rigid, for one, following a similar order to previous stops on the tour. There’s a necessity in that – especially when you’re leading a 14-strong band – but this is Bruce Springsteen. He could play the same song on repeat for three hours and still imbue each bar with passion and earnest conviction.

The band appears bang on time, walking out one-by-one into the bright evening glare. Sixty-five thousand people roar in unison as Springsteen walks out last, straps on his Telecaster and rips into ‘No Surrender’. This cues up a whistlestop tour that leaps from the 80s to 2020 and back. Born In The USA gets some strong representation up front, a rollicking ‘Darlington County’ leading into ‘Working On The Highway’. ‘My Hometown’ sets up a short run of quieter numbers, which includes a moving tribute to his late mentor George Theiss.

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For a gig that already seems emphatically joyous, the step up that follows is utterly unanticipated. ‘Because The Night’ – Bruce’s co-write with Patti Smith – lifts the atmosphere to fever pitch, driven on by a whirling guitar solo from Nils Lofgren. The melodramatics of ‘She’s The One’ and a cathartic ‘Wrecking Ball’ push things into the stratosphere.

From there, it’s increasing levels of euphoria all the way to the finish line. ‘Thunder Road’ has rarely sounded so magnificent and the final stretch is just hit after hit. It wouldn’t be Bruce at Hyde Park without him jibing with Stevie about being cut off all those years ago, but they’re still willing to push it to the wire, packing in ‘Born In The U.S.A.’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’, ‘Born To Run’ and a transcendent ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’, which salutes fallen E-Streeters Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.

The band departs, Bruce embracing each one of them until he’s left on his own with an acoustic guitar. The closing rendition of ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ is heavily poignant, not quite a farewell but a precursor to one. It’s astounding that Springsteen has maintained this level of performance for 50 years and inevitable that a time is coming when three-hour shows will be impossible. That’s the message that comes across tonight, between all the joy: everything is fleeting, make the most of it while you can.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band return to UK stadiums in 2024. Find tickets here