Bruce Springsteen Is Still The Boss Of London’s Hyde Park

On 6 and 8 July 2023 the American singer and songwriter delivered a nostalgic rock’n’roll spectacular in London for British Summer Time Hyde Park. On the second of those dates, writer Nicola Greenbrook were there to witness a legend in action. 

BST Hyde Park 2023

BST Hyde Park 2023 (Kalpesh Patel)
BST Hyde Park 2023 (Kalpesh Patel)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band blazed through two sold-out headline shows in London’s Hyde Park with a supporting line up that included The Chicks, Brittney Spencer, James Bay, Picture Parlour, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls and Pa Sheehy among others.

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The pioneer of Heartland rock graced BST Hyde Park’s Great Oak Stage with an extraordinary two-night performance and 28 tracks selected from an illustrious career.

Bruce is renowned for his unique fusion of mainstream rock, powerful tracks and compelling narratives that depict working-class American life. He is also well known for spirited performances which can last for several hours, and he didn’t disappoint this time around; he and the band played flawlessly for three uninterrupted hours.

As the great man took the stage, a thunderous roar of cheers erupted from the heaving Hyde Park crowd and a great surge forward as BST revellers, making the most of all the mini-festival has to offer, were desperate to catch a glimpse of the man himself. 

The audience erupted into a fervent chant of “Bruuucccee” which, for the uninitiated might have been mistaken for booing, but, surely, it would be sacrilege to jeer The Boss! “London, Saturday night! 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4…” he shouted before launching into the opening track, My Love Will Not Let You Down taken from Tracks (1988). The wrap-around stage provided an unobstructed, panoramic view of Bruce and the E Street Band, even with a man-made oak tree seeming to sprout out of the ground. 

Bruce’s career to date, spanning six decades, boasts an impressive portfolio of no less than 21 studio albums. With such an extensive and well-loved back catalogue, there was something for everyone including anthemic classics, country ballads and rock’n’roll belters. 

While performing Death To My Hometown from Wrecking Ball (2012), the sun was still breaking through the clouds over Hyde Park, causing Bruce had to shield his eyes from the rays. With his signature black short-sleeve shirt, double earrings and an expressive, beaming smile, he looked youthful and vibrant. The rousing No Surrender from Born In The U.S.A. (1984) ignited the energy of the crowd who enthusiastically sang along. The set transitioned smoothly from one track to the next, with barely time for Bruce and Ghosts from Letter To You (2020), his gravelly voice showcased to perfection.

American Express Presents BST Hyde Park

Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)
Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

A Springsteen audience is eclectic, with fans of all ages (from toddlers to older generation) and pretty dresses, football shirts, Bruce tees and a flash of red bandanas for good measure. With a hand clap in the air, he effortlessly transitioned into Prove It All Night from Darkness On The Edge of Town (1978), followed by the self-titled track. This was a bonus addition to the Saturday night show; fans at the first night were treated to Born In The U.S.A. and Thunder Road from Born To Run (1975) instead. The rain began to fall, but in no way stopped play, and as ponchos and rainproof macs were swiftly pulled over heads, Bruce delivered mesmerising guitar solos and a powerful voice, blowing his harmonica into the microphone during The Promised Land.

With Out In The Street from The River (1980) and the honky tonk sounds of Darlington County from the iconic Born In The U.S.A., one of the bestselling albums of all time), “London, let’s have a party!”, Bruce yelled, as if anyone in the audience needed any encouragement. He appeared to be having the time of his life, leaning into the crowd, pausing for selfies and grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the connection with the audience. He handed his plectrum to a younger fan, and brought his mic into the crowd, engaging everyone into spirited sing-along of the “Sha la la, sha la la la la, Sha la la, la la la la” part.

Bruce is a natural showman, and there was no need for elaborate theatrics as the power of the songs do all the talking. ‘Come on Jake!” he said enthusiastically to Jake Clemons, the musician, singer and songwriter who has been the saxophonist for the band since 2012, stepping into the role after the death of the band’s original saxophonist, his uncle Clarence Clemons. Bruce’s appreciation then extended to “Sister Soozie!”, referring to Soozie Tyrell the band’s violinist, guitarist and vocalist. During Working On The Highway, he playfully interacted with his band members, swinging his hips and pretending to conduct the horn section.

The sultry guitar opening of Kitty’s Back from The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973) proved to be a highlight. Here, he showcased more of a jazz-infused style on a track that struts and swings. This was followed by the soulful Nightshift from Only The Strong Survive (2022) then Mary’s Place from The Rising (2002) which quickly turned into a soulful, rocking party. The rain provided the perfect backdrop as everyone joined in with ‘Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain’. 

After introducing the E Street Band and performing a spirited rendition of The E Street Shuffle, at this point of the set, Bruce captivated the crowd by sharing an intimate story from his past, as the atmosphere became hushed. He took us to the mid-60s, when he had been playing guitar since he was fourteen. “George Theiss was a school pal of mine. He was dating my sister. He knocked on my door asked me to audition for his band, The Castiles. I had nothing to lose. I had a $39 Kent guitar. We moved some furniture and in that little room, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life!” he said. Fast forward 50 years later, and on another summers day, he found himself at George’s deathbed. “His passing left me as the only living member of the band; and death’s final gift to the living is an expanded view of this life. 

It created a connection with the 65,000-strong crowd, before he launched into Last Man Standing from Letter To You (2020), a nostalgic reflection on the experiences of a rock ’n’ roll musician. With his guitar held aloft, and accompanied only by his voice, it sombre but not sad. The audience may have been soggy from the rain but were far from dampened in spirit. The contemplative Backstreets from Born to Run (1975) followed, then the crowd-pleasing Because The Night, co-written by Bruce and Patti Smith, and later released in 1978 by the Patti Smith Group. For She’s The One, Bruce and Steven ‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt got close to the microphone and showed off their vocal prowess.

American Express Presents BST Hyde Park

Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)
Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band perform on stage on Day 9 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 8, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

Bruce and the band then unleashed a stream of colossal classics including Wrecking Ball and The Rising from the respective albums of the same name, and Badlands from Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978). The sky might have been slowly dimming, but there was no sign of Bruce and the band’s light fading away.

During the first encore, the set reached its peak glory. Bruce and the band played Born To Run and Bobby Jean without skipping a beat, while the audience shouted, “We love you Bruce!” and moved their hands from left to right in perfect unison. With Glory Days, they were really having some fun; “Steven, Oh Steven! I will drink until I get my fill. Is London with me?”, said Bruce, grinning into the camera and saying, “It’s time to go home, they’re going to pull the plug!”, a cheeky reference to his last Hyde Park gig in 2012 when he ran over the curfew and the sound was cut. 

Dancing In The Dark was nothing short of a celebration, prompting a mass sing-a-long ensued, as Bruce ripped open his shirt. After introducing the magnificent E Street Band, the heartwarming Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was accompanied by footage of members of the E Street Band who have passed away; keyboard player Danny Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons, as the sun set.

Twist And Shout which included a La Bamba segment, showcased Bruce’s immense voice range, even after 3 non-stop hours. As the band lined up to say goodbye, there was a profound sense of love and respect as they shared hugs, built up after years of performing together.

For the second encore, Bruce took to the stage as a solitary figure as he performed a moving version of I’ll See You In My Dreams. It was almost silent, across Hyde park and charged with emotion. As the show drew to a close, he said, “E Street Band loves you, thanks for a great night! — and like that, he was gone — before they really did pull the plug this time. 

During one of the tracks, I overheard the man behind me say, “He’s still got it”. Got it? He’s never, ever lost it. It was a staggering performance and a night to remember for a very long time. No-one does it quite like The Boss and the E Street Band.

Review of Bruce Springsteen @ BST Hyde Park on 8th July by Nicola Greenbrook. Photography of Bruce Springsteen & James Bay by Dave Hogan. Photography of The Chicks by Simon Reed. Other BST photography by Kalpesh Patel.

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