Scary thought: can The Boss really be getting better? MOJO's Danny Eccleston was at Glastonbury, and he saw the light...
It's been a long time since one artist owned the Glastonbury Festival like Springsteen did the weekend before last. Radiohead's headline show in 1997, Pulp's in '95, even Jay-Z's last year--all had a seismic quality--but the moment that Springsteen and the E-Street Band hit the Pyramid stage at 10pm, it was with an unequalled, even ferocious intensity.
Any fears of the party-hearty cheesefest that you can get with Bruce en masse (there's a section of your correspondent's buttocks that's still numb from an E Street Band show at Earl's Court in May '99) were instantly allayed with the Boss's super-intense reading of Joe Strummer's Glastonbury-inspired "Coma Girl." It was two things at once: an audience-involving acknowledgment of the culture of the festival (remember Pulp's "Sorted For E's And Wizz"?) and a simply scorching performance, setting a high bar for what was to follow.
What followed was the gamut of Springsteen's showman tics--jumping into the crowd, collecting their request cards and even playing a couple: "Because The Night" is brilliantly unfurled--but underscored all the while by a grim assault by his bandmates, with songs old and new delivered as if their lives depended on it. Three words for accountant-attired drummer Max Weinberg: Oh; My; God.
The crowd, not all Springsteen converts by any means (as proven when Bruce tried and failed to get them to sing along to "Thunder Road") responded in kind. Bruce can rarely play to a crowd as young as this, but he seemed to take it as a challenge, not a turn-off. The inter-generational torch-passing was emphasized by the co-singing guest stint of Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon on "No Surrender." The latter appeared to be the singularly most extremely delighted man of the weekend, and why not? All those Springsteen name checks in his interviews finally paid off.
There were lots of songs of our times, sad and angry songs, songs about the sh*t we're in and how we'll need to stick together if we're to see it out. Questionable recent tunes like "Working On A Dream," "My Lucky Day," even the borderline self-parodic "Outlaw Pete," were thrown out there like they deserved to sit alongside "The River" and "Prove It All Night" and the conviction of the performances were enough to pull them through with plenty to spare. There's a sense that, post Bush, Iraq, Seeger Sessions and Credit Crunch, that Springsteen has a mission again, a mission that's lighting a fire under everything he does. Once rock 'n' roll was, in and of itself, enough of a credo for Springsteen; now, with the end of the E Street Band in view (keyboard player Danny Federici died last year), a sense of moral purpose and a renewed urgency have taken his music to another level.
So, even given the responsibility of entertaining a damp and muddy 80,000-strong audience, there was no compromising what has become the heart of Springsteen's muse, although there were moments--notably an overly-preacherly interlude where Bruce promised to build "a house of hope," presumably right here on Worthy Farm--when he rather overcooked it. It was a bit Elmer Gantry, but at least it was a crime of passion, not calculation. Although even Bono might have winced.
And that's a thought...U2's continuing inability to sort themselves out a Glastonbury headline slot seemed even more absurd at 12.30 last Saturday night, as Bruce left a panting crowd with a skin-tingling almost-ravey "Dancing In The Dark." Maybe they're too late. Springsteen got there first, and he rocked the place all to bits.
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