Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at RDS Arena, Dublin, on 5th May 2023
A line from The Commodores’ Nightshift, covered by the band at the front end of tonight’s show, sums it all up: ”It’s gonna be a long night, it’s gonna be alright on the nightshift”. It speaks to what we’ve all come to expect from Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band by now; a marathon set of old and new delivered by an indefatigable showman and one of the most consistently tight bands in the business.
Springsteen’s last Dublin visit was north of the Liffey in 2016 for ‘The River’ tour (Out in the Street is the only track from that record to get an airing tonight) and like that show, its an all-inclusive miscellany that places the formidable band at the forefront as much as Springsteen himself.
The back and forth with his drummer during Mary’s Place is typical of the set’s playful informality. “What’s supposed to happen here is I go, ‘Max!’, and he goes…” Max Weinberg responds with a chip of his hi-hat. The call is repeated and the drummer teases with another tap of the hi-hat before answering Bruce a third and final time with an authoritative snare whack; a signal for the band to barrel back in before Bruce commands them to a halt with an inward pull of the fist and elbow before slowly ramping it back up.
On numerous moments like this with both his long-standing bandmates and those newer recruits, he brings each member of The E Street Band to the fore. There are no passengers here. The Boss makes sure every player gets their well-deserved dues.
Similarly, after Soozie Tyrell’s violin solo on Johnny 99, Springsteen announces, “We have got to get some more cowbell!” Percussionist Curtis King obliges with the most cowbell, and the horn section joins Bruce down at the front barrier to finish.
As the song winds down, The Boss covers his brow to shield his eyes from the sun to gaze out at the distant crowd in the RDS, hundreds of whom were probably still in purgatory struggling to pay for their €8 beers at cashless bars with no coverage for the card machines to work effectively. As a triumphant Bruce swings his guitar 360 degrees around his shoulder by the strap at the end, though, it’s almost as if he doesn’t know or care about all that nasty business.
Dusk threatens to fall when Because the Night plays through, or maybe because of it; a force of nature on stage sparking the transformation. Anyway, after dark is always when the magic happens and Bruce knows that as well as we do.
If the first half of the set is for the band, the second is for the crowd and the big screens are filled with smiling punters during the big-hitters of Born in the USA, Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark. It’s more or less how it went down in Croker on the previous visit but it’s impossible not to get swept away in the moment. Springsteen and Stevie van Zandt put their heads together and grin into the onstage camera, filling the screens with an infectious giddiness. “It’s time to go home!” The crowd roars in the negative. “That settles it. Nobody wants to go home.“
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and I’ll See You In My Dreams end the set on a more melancholic note. During the former, departed bandmates Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons are celebrated on the big screens while on the latter, the lights are turned off leaving the RDS in darkness and Springsteen onstage alone to usher the crowd into the night.
While the Croker gig was a celebration of a high-water mark in Springsteen’s career with ‘The River’ album, tonight’s show, although equally joyous, is a more reflective experience. Midway through the set, Springsteen recounts joining his first ever band with his friend George Theiss at “an explosive time in American history.” Theiss died in 2018, and the preamble and ensuing Last Man Standing evoke decades of a life in music through an emotive rumination on mortality. It’s the mark of the great showman, and Springsteen is one of the greats, to send ‘em home smiling in the crook of the reaper’s scythe.