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  • Writer's pictureNick Meynell

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, 5th May 2024

I didn’t get into Bruce Springsteen ‘til I was in my forties, and he was in his sixties. I guess I didn’t really know him properly. My wife, Heather, is a long-standing fan but again had missed out on seeing him live. About a decade ago we caught him at the Manchester Etihad. Despite being forty minutes late due to M6 traffic, we still got over two hours of music.

 

Tonight, we arrive early at a venue I have not been to since its previous incarnation - Cardiff Arms Park - to see U2 on The Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. That was so long ago that I have since seen the 30th anniversary tour of that album! We get down to Cardiff early and take a bus in, travelling with a lovely lady called Deborah, who is going alone tonight. Her husband is not a big fan, but Springsteen audience are extremely friendly, so that is no issue. She has seen Springsteen 36 times which makes us look like absolute amateurs with a mere five!

 

Bruce on the big screen in Cardiff
The Big Boss!

The Principality Stadium is right in the centre of Cardiff, and tonight the roof is on (due to typical Welsh weather) so we’ll be in the UK largest indoor venue with about 70,000 fans - think London’s O2 Arena times 3.5! Entry is fast and extremely courteous, and along we go to the front standing area. It really is worth the extra 70 quid once you have paid for tickets, hotel, transport etc. Getting a good position is easy, and again fans are extremely respectful and apologetic for the merest minor collision.

 

Whilst we wait (for about an hour) we chat to a lovely German couple from Dortmund. The gentleman is on his 32nd Springsteen gig. His son and wife have seen a fair few too. They plan to go to Hanover and Milan on this tour too. Some people out there spend a lot of money on The Boss! That said they are spending a week exploring Wales, so they are making the most of it.


Nick's wristband for the front standing area
Down the front!

Bang on 7pm The Boss (and the enormous E Street band) come on stage playing Lonesome Day from The Rising - the first time apparently in over a decade. Predicting a Springsteen set is not easy. No Surrender and Prove It All Night then get the audience nicely warmed up.

 

The superb new album, the very reflective Letter To You, gets an airing with the bouncy Ghosts. Better Days is apparently a sign request from a fan in the crowd. Now this is where Springsteen’s stagecraft works well. The E Street Band clearly rehearse to within an inch of their lives, and must know exactly what they are playing. Bruce must just pick the signs for the songs he knows they can (and will) play, but the seeming spontaneity is appreciated by the audience.

 

Hungary Heart gets the youngish (and quite flamboyant) gentleman behind me incredibly excited. Again, he apologises for enjoying himself! Springsteen then plays If I Were A Priest. Even he doesn’t know what it is about as he wrote it 50 years ago and only recently recorded it. This is supposedly only the third time it has ever been played. The Boss has played 1,000s of gigs in over fifty years and this has only been played thrice - amazing! During the cover of Nightshift (by The Commodores) a man just in front of us falls down. The people around his wave the phones to security. A medic arrives swiftly - just a lovely (and very responsible) fanbase.



Audience favourite The River follows with all the passion that Bruce can give. His eyes are shut but face is so full of emotion, giving you the feeling that this man genuinely cares for the downtrodden, despite the trapping of fame he must enjoy.

 

Then for me come the most reflective and emotional part of the mammoth gig - Last Man Standing, from new LP Letter To You. Bruce describes his first band, The Castiles, and seeing over the years, all its members pass away. He talks of how everyone will be missing somebody. So powerful, and played to a near silent stadium. The cover of Patti Smith’s Because The Night is another fan favourite, before we get some of expected belters that made The Boss the king of heartlands rock - Wrecking Ball, The Rising, Badlands and Thunder Road.


 

On Badlands the brooding Steven Van Zandt gets very much involved vocally. He was the one that called Britain a ‘police state’, when Hyde Park cut the power off when they went beyond the curfew about ten years back! I even saw him smile at one point later on! The other standout member of the E Street band (and they are all superb so standing out is tricky!) is Nils Lofgren. I hadn’t realised that this multi-instrumentalist was a member of Crazy Horse. Tonight, his guitar work is mesmerising.


Bruce on several screens at Cardiff
When one Boss just isn't enough!

And so ends the end of the main set, but we all know that we still have the best part of an hour’s music left! The big hits then follow and the audience’s enthusiasm just grows even more. With the roof on, the sound is superb, and despite the stadium size, there is a sense of intimacy. That is where the stagecraft is so apparent. Bruce does all he can to connect with his (large) audience. On at least two occasions a young audience member (who has presumably queued outside for hours) is given a harmonica. A treasured memento of an incredible show. He always seems to be looking at the right camera (and smiling) and does all he can to get down into the pit to engage with the front row, guitar slung behind him. He then manages to get back on stage just before his next guitar bit! It all looks casual and endearing, but is clearly tightly rehearsed by the wonderfully talented E Street band.

 

By this time (2 hours forty minutes in) my bladder is practically bursting. I’ve needed to go since The River and I’m not a huge fan of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. I know I’ll have to watch the last couple from the side but so be it. Wine not beer next time, although I do recall thinking that at Hyde Park last year. On my way up the steps the is an on-duty policeman taking pictures. He tells me how much he loves Bruce Springsteen. I guess he’s had a far more pleasant evening than policing Cardiff City, Swansea etc! The cover of Twist And Shout is excellent as I return much emptier. Bruce then hugs the entire band off stage. This takes time - I counted 17, but might have missed one of two of the E Street Choir.



Then it’s just The Boss himself, acoustic guitar, harmonica and 70,000 near silent fans for I’ll See You In My Dreams. Had the power been cut (like Hyde Park) I think we all would have still heard it! A shade under three hours seems strangely good value, despite this being the most I’ve ever paid for a ticket.


I hope I get to see Bruce Springsteen a seventh time (Wembley perhaps this summer?) I doubt I’ll get to thirty, as it’ll be too much for an ageing me (but not an immortal Springsteen!). If you can catch him, do try before it’s too late. Life is after all way too short and very precious. Perhaps a bit of Bruce Springsteen’s reflections on mortality have rubbed off on me. You will never be disappointed in seeing The Boss.


Editor – I think that's a fourth guest blog from Nick Meynell, a man who sees more gigs than I do!. If you fancy writing a piece, Back In Black(heath) would be delighted to publish it and put it out into the world. Give us a shout if you fancy it!


PS Bruce actually wrote Because The Night, which Patti recorded and earned a co-write by adding her own lyric. Sorry, trainspotter tendencies...


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