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Gig Review - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Manchester Eveing News Arena, Saturday May 1 1999. by J.G.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played their first English concert for several years at one of Europe's most impressive indoor venues - and what a concertit was.
The MEN arena in central Manchester plays host ti the very best in the entertainment industry, so it was fitting for one of rock's most critically acclaimed live bands to open their current British tour there.
The last time Bruce Springsteen played a gig in Manchester was February 28 1996 when he took to the stage of the Apollo Theatre to deliver a set of acoustic songs about the bleakest subjects imaginable: poverty, homelessness, hunger, and all the components that make up the dark side of living.
The show, to promote the Ghost Of Tom Joad album was unrepenting and the performance, apart from a keyboard player off the stage, was completely solo.
He enthralled the audience with tales of where the songs originated from and urged everyone that the gig was a 'community' event and wanted silence.
Just over three years later and the scene couldn't be more different. From the opener My Love Will Not Let You Die from the boxed set Tracks, the audience at the MEN Arena knew they were in for a rock and roll show.
The amps were turned up and Bruce came onto stage with an eight piece band - three guitar players - Nils Longfren, Steve Van Zant and Patti Sciafa, drummer Max Weinberg, pianist Roy Bittan, organist Danny Feiederei, saxophone player Clarence Clemons and bassist Garry Tallent.
Bursting into Prove It All Night, Two Hearts and Darkness Of The Edgeof Town, it was clear this was going to be something special.
But while bruce and the band were prepared to rock there were moments, like on the Tom Joad tour, when he was delivering a serious message. The river was turned into an incredibly moving piece of music, thanks to Clarence Clemon's saxophone playing. Youngstown, from the Tom Joad album became an electric masterpiece. The lyrics and power of the song not lost in the increased amplification.
Factory, a duet with his wife Patti was an undoubted hihglight - the talk of the working life especially appropriate for the industrial climate that the Manchester area is known for.
Later he would perform the title track of Tom Joad solo - a song even more haunting given the Kosovo crisis. Particularly the line:
'Shelter line strechin' across the corner, welcome to the new world order.
Streets Of Philadelphia, the Oscar winning track from the hit film Philadelphia which was about the devastating prejudices surrounding AIDS suffers, was as touching as ever, and Born In the USA, stark and solo was a haunting masterpiece with Springteen, cutting out the catchy chorus to stress its anti war message, and the loss of innocent young life.
But the concert was far from glum. When the band rocked, they really rocked. Badlands was as menacing as ever with its great line:
'It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.' Working On The Highway, Darlington County and Bobby Jean, all from the Born In The USA album were performed with passion.
But it was the sheer greatness of a run of songs that started with Out On The Street that separated this gig from any other I have ever attended. There was not a member of the sold out crowd who didn't become a temporary member of the E Street band as the song became a sing a long. It would have been an undoubted hihglight if it hadn't been for the next track, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, which was turned into a great piece of audience participation that also gave each individual member of the E Street band a chance to display their talents.
There was plenty of joking from Springsteen himself who was clearly delighted to be back on the stage with the band who he made his name with.
But to top that came Hungry Heart. One of his biggest chart hits, but not nesessarily one of his best songs, the audience sang the first verse and chorus with effort and dedication. A baaner encouraging Bruce to pop round for tea was unjustly confiscated.
And just when you thought he couldn't top that he let the audience bellow out a large chunk of Thunder Road, one of his classic songs of ambition and hope from the Born To Run album. The grin on his face said it all. Thunder Road was released nearly 25 years ago. It sounded as relevant as ever.
Born To Run itself was a hands in the air anthem, but it was perhaps Light of Day which had the edge, when as Bruce himself said, he couldn't promise us an eternal life, but he could promise us life here right now.
One of the sing a lnoges earlier in the show had stressed:
'It's all right to have a good time.' Bruce took on the role of a preacher, but he was preaching to the converted.
The band performed for nearly three hours and, Springsteen especially, as if his life depended on it.
He loves being the enterainer, and, to be frank, there is no-one does it better.
He is simultaneously a giant figure in terms of record sales and the music industry, but he retains his man of the people image.
They ended with The Land Of Hopes And Dreams, a new song which left the audience in an upbeat mood.
I have been fortunate enough to see some of the world's greatest singers, songwriters and live acts.
Last year I watched Bob Dylan at the very same venu, and the sheer brilliance of it left me thinking about it for weeks.
I have seen Neil Young and Crazy Horse, one of the greatest and loudest live acts in the world perform an astounding two and a half hour set. An then there's Bowie, Van Morrison and the like.
And I have also seen the cream of the new generation: Pulp, Sheryl Crow, Spiritualised, The Beautiful South, The Charlatans, Black Grape, Fund Lovin' Criminals, Jamaroqui, Alanis Morrisette, Republica, the list goes on. All those shows were special.
But never in my life have i left any venue after any event on such a high as I did on Saturday May 1 1999.
The performance left me speechless. It was so well orchestrated, the songs he picked were perfect, and, judging by the noise the crowd made you would have thought we were at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, and not an indoor venue.
Springsteen is famous for his onstage speeches - but he rarely spoke during this performance, instead he let the music do the talking. And when it wasn't talking it was shouting.
For three hours, start to finish I was enthralled - and any show that lasts that length and doesn't have at least one member of the audience clock watching must be something special.
But special isn't the word for the E Street Band. Bruce, at 49 might not have the energy he once had, but if he doesn't, it rarely showed.
The utter conviction of the performance was enough alone - he was like a 17 year old going out on stage for the first time - full of confidence, charisma and wanting to show the what he can do.
Earlier in the year he was inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame by U2 front man Bono.
But Springsteen doesn't need to be a resident of that exclusive club for people to realise the contribution he has made to rock music.
Many say he's the greatest live performer of all time. He's the best live performer I have ever seen. Many desribe him as a cross between Elvis and Bob Dylan. That is also true.
His early songs still strike a note today because the themes he talked about then are still relevant now.
He started as an apprentice decades ago, but has worked his way to become a master crafts man. Though he would probably deny it himself, he is an inspirational figure, the man who tells the grim, harsh realities of life like they are, but on some tracks throwing in a lifeline of hope that can always be strived for.
No doubt he would also deny thinking of himself as a legend or one of the most powerful figures in the history of rock and roll. But that's exactly what several thousand people saw on Saturday, May 1 1999 at one of the most impressive indoor arenas in Europe.
A Perfect Moment by J.G.
Eastenders actress turned singer, Martine McCutcheon has taken her first steps in her new career with a number one single.
The attractive 22 year old's 'PERFECT MOMENT' stormed to the top of the charts. But that is no measure of the song's quality.
She left behind Grant, Peggy, Pat and Co to join an even more dubious bunch of characters - the acts that make up the Top 40.
For as far back as anyone can remember groups and artists have been manufactured in a factory process. Even The Beatles had the same haircuts and wore the same suits. But the difference was, they had talent.
They had made their reputations by endless live gigs which helped them to hone their craft. I would be sursrised if Martine, endless stars like her had even sang on a karoke before landing a record deal.
Just recently All Saints started their first ever tour - 18 months after their first chart success. I find it incredible.
Live music seems hardly a part of the pop music industry at all. The one exception to the rule seems to be The Spice Girls whose live show is fantastic - they can dance and sing live - but not one of them could do this when they landed a recod contract.
Steps, Billie, Britney Spears are other acts with limited appeal whose reputations will be secured by radio airplay and not performance.
Martine might be celebrating A Perfect Moment, but the state of the charts is far from ideal.