Bruce Springsteen proves he isn’t just still going at BST Hyde Park, he’s still good

It’d be a fantastic set for a man half his age, but it’s even more incredible to see someone at the peak of their abilities even in their eighth decade.
Photo credit: Dave Hogan

When Bruce Springsteen last played Hyde Park, he misjudged the curfew so badly he got cut off while dueting with Paul McCartney. That was over a decade ago, but clearly the lesson has been learned, with The Boss’ set billed to start at an eye-wateringly early 7pm to avoid a similar fate this time around.

This means main support The Chicks stroll onto stage at 5pm, just after a summer downpour and just before everyone begins to queue for the most expensive burrito currently on sale in the UK. It should be a tough crowd, but the Texans have enough bangers to drag the audience’s attention back to the stage. ‘Sin Wagon’, ‘Cowboy Take me Away’ and ‘Goodbye Earl’ are the smash hit highlights, but a cover of Beyonce’s ‘Daddy Lessons’ gets a singalong that’d make any headline act happy.

Photo credit: Dave Hogan

It’s Springsteen that everyone’s here for though, and as he steps on stage the whole of Hyde Park erupts with chants of his name. Opener ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ is a hint that the setlist has been completely reworked since Thursday’s Hyde Park show, showing he isn’t phoning anything in, even this deep into his career. 73 years old but looking at least a decade younger than that, he and his band relentlessly power through a three-hour set with hardly a pause for breath. 

Each song is as tight as it is on record, even the ones he seemingly dusts off on the spur of the moment. ‘Mary’s Place’, with its repeated refrain “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain” kicks in just as the heavens open once more, causing Bruce to grin from ear to ear as he looks to the sky. Good timing or a conscious choice? It’s honestly hard to say.

Classics are peppered throughout the set to ensure the energy never flags. ‘Darlington County’ into ‘Working on the Highway’ pair as perfectly (and sound as good)  as they did on ‘Born in the USA’ nearly 40 years ago, and if there’s a pause afterwards, it seems more to let the crowd catch their breath than for Bruce’s sake.

Recent material also gets an airing, much of which sees The Boss grappling with his age and the mortality of those around him. ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Last Man Standing’, the latter prefaced by an emotional speech about George Theiss, a member of the first band Bruce was in, are equally heartbreaking in their melancholy admittance that many of the people he came up with are no longer here.

Photo credit: Dave Hogan

The encore is exactly as bonkers as expected, with ‘Born to Run’ straight into ‘Bobby Jean’ and ‘My Hometown’ showing just what a catalogue Bruce has to draw from, even after he’s already played over 20 tracks. “It’s time to go home,” he says with a grin “…but I don’t wanna!” ‘Dancing in the Dark’ kicks in, and a crowd ranging in age from five to eighty-five all sing their hearts out like it’s their first-ever gig.

With a final flourish, the band kick into ‘Twist and Shout’, although McCartney doesn’t make an appearance this time around. A second encore sees Bruce play a solo acoustic rendition of ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’, before wishing everyone a final farewell. 

It’s not a perfect night, and the setlist has some notable absences compared to Thursday’s show. Sure, he isn’t going to play all the hits every time, but no ‘Born in the USA’, ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Glory Days’ or ‘Jungleland’? It feels like an odd choice, especially when ‘Kitty’s Back’ is drawn out into an extended jam session. These are minor gripes though, and a reflection of just how many huge hits he has that he can play 30 songs and still not get to half of them. It’d be a fantastic set for a man half his age, but it’s even more incredible to see someone at the peak of their abilities even in their eighth decade. When you buy tickets to see a heritage act you’re normally just happy they’re still going. When you see Bruce Springsteen, the most joyous realisation is that he isn’t just still going, he’s still good.