Bruce Springsteen Live Review: The Boss triumphs over the elements

Despite the best efforts of the British weather, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band come out shining at Sunderland’s Stadium Of Light.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band Sunderland

by James McNair |
Updated on

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Stadium Of Light, Sunderland, 22 May, 2024

If you’ve reached that stage in life where 60 minutes of anything seems ample, The Boss is out to whip your sad defeatist ass. “Do you think you can outlast The E Street Band?”, he hollers, some three hours into tonight’s breathless jamboree. We don’t, of course, but we reply in the affirmative, relishing the banter. This is how Bruce shrinks stadia, making them feel intimate.

Tonight, however, there are just 45,000 of us. By E Street standards it’s almost cosy. Yet Bruce’s first Wearside show in 12 years is initially an uphill battle, since there’s a cold, squally rain to contend with, and problems admitting the crowd to the stadium delay curtain-up by 40 mins. Once the stage has been mopped, Bruce opens with Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. Magically, it’s the song’s tour premiere, but no clement weather arrives. “Is it raining yet?”, Springsteen jests later, his waistcoat, pinstripe shirt and jeans ensemble sodden. “This ain’t what we call rain in New Jersey!”

E Street’s formidable wall of sound finds definition and separation by Prove It All Night, wherein Jake Clemons’ and Bruce’s thrilling sax / guitar solos leap from the mix. Max Weinberg - still the straight-backed Gibraltar Rock of drumming - remains incredibly commanding throughout, anchoring seamless transitions between blue-collar combustion, stirring gospel/ soul revue, and yearning, broken-dream evoking balladry.

During The Promised Land, Springsteen makes the first of several long, intimate forays along the crowd’s front rows, gifts a thrilled young women his harmonica, then tries on an England-flag bowler hat to please a transfixed young lad. In Dublin, a proffered beret remained on The Boss’s head for the rest of the show, but the plastic bowler is quickly returned to its owner. Does the St George Cross connote too much these days? Possibly.

Further in, Racing In The Street’s return to the set feels like the grandest of grand gestures. Book-ended in cinematic, big-screen close-up, Springsteen sings the entirety of it with his eyes shut, seemingly summoning the despondency of his greatest song from the full depths of his subsequent experience. Roy Brittan’s wonderfully simpatico piano shepherds the song’s quietly majestic conclusion.

By contrast, the by now familiar cover of The Commodores’ Nightshift seems a little surplus to requirements, but Badlands is truly monumental, a gob-smacking injection of energy as its sinewy Telecaster riff is cycled way beyond the constraints of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town version’s fade-out, and the full E Street oomph kicks in yet again.

In Cork last week, Springsteen played Santa Claus Is Coming to Town 222 days before Xmas. Audience request-wise, anything has seemed viable lately, but tonight there’s no-time for hammy perusal of fans’ placards bearing song titles. Instead, things are even more rapid-fire than usual, gaps between songs rarely longer than “one, two, three, four! ” Springsteen is mindful that, if he’s to fully deliver on his usual customer-service and rock ’n’ roll promise, he must cut to the chase.

Nils Lofgren lights up Because The Night with an impressionistic, Crazy Horse-like solo. Meanwhile the seemingly ageless Steven Van-Zandt milks his usual air of mock menace, eventually cracking a smile when Bruce’s simple ‘C’mon Steve!” exhortations bring him to a shared mic for brotherly bv’s.

Land Of Hope And Dreams and Bobby Jean, both visible on the official set-list, now get spontaneously dropped as Bruce and The E Street Band recalibrate the mood and their watches. Instead, we get hitsville. Born To Run, a newly re-instated Glory Days and Dancing In The Dark are delivered back to back, re-kindling the best summer memories of 45,000 Geordies on this most November-like of May nights.

You marvel at Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s ability to emerge triumphant yet again. And with all key members save for Jake Clemons now in their early-to-mid-seventies, you wonder if Sunderland marks their last UK hurrah, save for those two nights at Wembley in July. Then again, never say never. Where The E Street Band are concerned, impossible is nothing.


Waitin’ On A Sunny Day

Lonesome Day

Prove It All Night

No Surrender


Letter To You

The Promised Land

Hungry Heart

Light Of Day

Atlantic City

Darlington County


The River

Racing In The Street

Last Man Standing


Because The Night

She’s The One

Wrecking Ball

The Rising


Thunder Road


Born To Run

Glory Days

Dancing In The Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Twist And Shout

I’ll See You In My Dreams

Picture: Jill O'Donnell/Alamy

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