When the man they call The Boss got the nod over Elton John to play the inaugural show at the new £20 million Leeds Arena, it was his first time in Leeds since 1985’s massive open air show in Roundhay Park and as a relatively intimate indoor show on what was primarily an open air tour of European stadia, what might be classed as a seriously hot ticket.
While a couple of the outdoor UK dates on this tour have seen the inclusion of ‘full album’ performances (‘Born In The USA’ at the Olympic Park, while lucky Coventry got ‘Born To Run’) Leeds got a show of classics plus. With no need to be promoting his most recent release having ticked off those duties on the 2012 jaunt, Springsteen was able to do the customary delve into his archive to mix up the set list along with taking his now familiar request slots with large numbers of standing fans pressing forward and carrying placards for their favourites. “We knew this was coming!” he said as the band got the chance to show that their rehearsals had paid off as they made a damn good fist of 1992’s Local Hero, yet it must have been 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake, Gotta Get That Feeling giving the horns a chance to show their stuff, which would have had the diehards (and Steve Van Zandt) drooling.
Within an hour of ripping into Roulette as a set opener and following up with more regular driving set openers My Love Will Not Let You Down and No Surrender, Springsteen was making the first of several trips along a conveniently placed gangway and out into the standing section, leading an audience sing-along on Hungry Heart and then making his way back to the stage via the quickest route by crowd surfing thirty yards across a sea of willing hands.
Some of the newer material took centre stage with an impressive run of Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown and This Depression where second guitarist Nils Lofgren let rip with a scorching solo. In fact it seems to be Lofgren who is pretty much Springsteen’s foil these days, although fellow right hand man Steve Van Zandt flanks Springsteen’s left like an ominous minder not too far from his Sopranos persona. It was Lofgren who accompanied his boss on a trip into the audience during a rocking Darlington County which gave Springsteen a chance to top up on his liquids, taking the offer of a pint which he took down in several gulps.
With an E street Band which now boasts a 16 man (and woman) membership, a whole horn section stood up on a riser to replace the irreplaceable and dearly departed Clarence Clemons, although including his son Jake who played out Clarence’s rasping solos in Badlands and Born To Run in a manner which would have made his dad proud.
Springsteen left the stage after 2 hours, returning for virtually another full hour in what some might call an encore, yet others would see as a second wind. With the house lights up and a party in full swing, it was a whole family who were pulled onstage for an extended dance during Dancing In The Dark before a saturated and visibly exhausted Springsteen was again out in the crowd for 10th Avenue Freeze Out in tribute not only Clarence Clemons but also his late E Street Band buddy Danny Federici whose images flickered up on the big screens transposed over the live images of Springsteen. Ending the show solo and accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and 13,000 voices, then passing his harmonica to one of those faithful front row fans who have the devotion, the time, the inclination and the means to follow his every move, it’s hard not to see why Bruce Springsteen continues to reign supreme.