Last Tuesday evening, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band rolled into Limerick, my home city for the first of 5 Irish shows this month.
It would be a vast understatement to say that this was a dream come true for me along with thousands of Springsteen fans in our part of the country. His many appearances previously in Ireland had been confined to Dublin or Belfast with the exception of his by now legendary 1985 performance at Slane castle in Co. Meath.
The first time I went to a live performance by Springsteen was back in 1993 at the RDS Dublin.
For years before I had spent a lot of time listening to his early studio albums and of course the 1975 to 1985 box set of live recordings. Incidentally I had that box set on cassette tape format and I remember how one of the tapes actually snapped because I had played it so many times.
I joined the tape with some sticky sellotape thus somewhat repairing it, however when it reached Bruce's introduction to the song 'The River' I had to wind it forward with a pencil over the lumpy joining in order for it to continue.
I remember a few things about the 1993 concert, the ticket for one thing had a glorious photo of the Boss on the front. This is something we don't see anymore, I guess it's a cost cutting measure today just to have text on a concert ticket. I also remember how Bruce just walked onto the stage with an acoustic guitar to belt out a very raw version of 'Seeds' and 'Adam Raised A Cain' before being joined by the band. It was a thrilling experience to be there finally hearing and seeing this guy in the flesh after years of wishing. I must also mention that another great memory from that 1993 show was when Bruce was joined onstage by none other than 'the killer' himself, Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis for a rendition of 'Whole Lot Of Shakin Goin On' and 'Great Balls Of Fire'. It was an incredible show to say the least but that was then, this is now, the summer of 2013. We are in the middle of a mini heat wave, 35,000 or so fans were about to be treated to a gig of a lifetime in Thomond Park. This was Limerick's night, our turn to welcome one of the greatest rock performers of all time to our county.
Nils, Bruce and Steve at Thomond Park.
The stadium was filling up as soon as the gates opened at 5pm, many had camped outside days in advance, the enthusiasm was huge among all age groups. While the food stalls and bars were busy trading their wares and revellers were mingling, what seemed like a sound check started from the stage area. It was just 5.30pm, one and a half hours before the scheduled kick off time for the concert, when almost in disbelief there was a rush of people towards the sound of a strumming acoustic guitar. Suddenly there was a familiar voice, Springsteen was onstage ready to play some songs as a warm up. I must admit I along with most people there never expected this 3 song solo acoustic treat before The E Street Band were ever to appear. The songs of choice were certainly from the vaults 'Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street' and 'For You' from his 1973 debut album 'Greetings From Ashbury Park'. A rarely performed song which can be found on the 'Tracks' box set compilation called 'Hearts Of Stone' completed this short set that opened up the atmosphere for an unforgettable evening.
It was two hours later that Springsteen returned, this time with an extended E Street Band complete with brass section and backing singers. 'This Little Light Of Mine' was the introductory song of choice tonight, an unlikely choice I thought, but I didn't research too deeply into the recent tour set lists. I wanted this concert to unfold without too many predictions. In the past 20 years I have attended a few Springsteen concerts and they have never failed to be full of surprises. 'American Land' was next, I did expect such a choice due to geographical and historical reasons. What I did not expect and I will always hold this as the greatest memory from the Limerick concert was the playing of the entire 'Born To Run' album. This is my favourite of all his records and I never dreamed for one minute that I would one day hear it all played in sequence from start to finish live.
From the harmonica introduction to 'Thunder Road' to the final notes of 'Jungleland' this collection epitomises everything about the creative genius of Springsteen and his long standing band.
Released in 1975, it's incredible to listen to how fresh it still sounds today, what was even more incredible was to be there tonight in an audience thirty eight years later to witness it played out in full.
Sweat drenched just minutes into the first few songs, Springsteen never left the stage once during this marathon performance that included countless delightful moments. Notably there were a few hilarious incidents too, someone from the densely populated front rows handed him a pint of beer, which he duly drank down in just a few gulps. At one point a young boy called Ross, who was holding a sign that read 'Ross with the boss on my 12th birthday' was hoisted up on to the stage to duet with his hero on 'Waiting On A Sunny Day'.
On a more serious note 'American Skin (41Shots) was selected as a tribute to murdered victim Trayvon Martin, while there was also a special mention for the recently injured Limerick jockey J. T McNamra with which he dedicated the song 'My Hometown' to.
Patti Scialfa was absent tonight from The E Street line up but it was a joy as always to watch Steve Van Zant on guitar, forever such a prominent member of the band. Nils Lofgren , Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg and Roy Bitten also from the original line up added the magic touches to what seems like an ageless union.
Multi instrumentalist Soozie Tyrell a few years now a permanent addition, provides something special to the group, while Jake Clemons on saxophone is simply impeccable throughout.
I don't think there could be a single soul leaving Thomond Park this night disappointed, from the die hard long term Springsteen fanatics to the new fans just now discovering the music, all were obviously overwhelmed.
On a week that Limerick were celebrating a Munster hurling win and when the weather had reached Mediterranean temperatures for the first time in years, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band came and played the concert of a lifetime. History was in the making tonight, positivity seemed to be everywhere around the city and county, it's something I among many will never ever forget.
The complete set list.
Pre concert solo acoustic set; 1.Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street, 2.For You 3.Hearts Of Stone.
1. This Little Light Of Mine, 2. American Land 3. Badlands 4. Death To My Hometown 5. Hungry Heart. 6. Spirit In The Night 7. Ain't Too Proud To Beg 8. American Skin (41 Shots) 9. The Promised Land 10. Wrecking Ball, 11.We Take Care Of Our Own, 12. Jack Of All Trades, 13. The River.
Born To Run
14. Thunder Road, 15. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, 16. Night, 17. Backstreets, 18. Born To Run, 19. She's The One, 20. Meeting Across The River, 21. Jungleland.
22.Waitin' On A Sunny Day, 23. The Rising, 24. Land Of Hope And Dreams, 25. My Hometown, 26. Born In The U.S.A, 27. Glory Days, 28. Bobby Jean, 29. Drive All Night, 30. Dancing In The Dark, 31. Shout, 32. This Little Light Of Mine.