Bruce Springsteen at Wembley
Great memories from a decade ago …..
“From small things big things one day come”, as Bruce Springsteen once said – or sang. In September 2002 an attempt to buy a ticket for Bruce’s forthcoming concert at Wembley Arena was thwarted, as the venue’s website crashed. Loyal fans were denied tickets, but touts obtained large quantities, which they attempted to sell at several times the face value. I joined Mary’s Place, a group of fans, who posted messages in a massive chain, which became known as the Thread of Hope and Dreams, on Bruce’s official website run by Columbia / Sony Music. Taking a lead from Bruce’s view that “nobody wins unless everybody wins”, we worked together, gradually acquiring tickets for fans at face value. My name on the website was Andrew Net, derived from Net being my pet name for Jeannette – rather than a shortened version of the Internet. “Andrew Net are you online?” became a catch phrase, and slogan on a T shirt that advertised our message. During the course of the Internet discussions, I picked up a series of nicknames, including List Man, as I kept a list of which of us had tickets for Bruce’s concert, and who was still searching.
We contacted Wembley Arena, Harvey Goldsmith Entertainments (the promoter of the concert), and Shore Fire Media (the public relations firm who represent Bruce). I acted as publicist of Brooce Fans for Fair Ticketing – another of our names – producing a media release which helped spread the word. Our campaign gained momentum, and received publicity on several radio stations, starting with BBC Newcastle. Harvey Goldsmith provided a tip-off, as previously unallocated tickets went on sale three days before the concert, and this enabled us to complete our search. After several weeks of frantic activity, I attended Bruce’s Wembley show, and met up with fellow-members of the Internet group. I subsequently wrote the following concert review, which appeared on Springsteen’s website:
Attending a Bruce Springsteen concert is one of those amazing things which cannot be adequately described in words. A couple of years before the blessed appearance of the five LP box set in 1986, Bruce said he had not released a live album because a record could not capture the excitement of being at a concert. Bruce had a point, but fans wanted a live album, and were delighted with the arrival of a lasting document of what his shows sounded like. If Bruce feels a recording of a concert cannot fully capture its effect, what chance have I of getting close with a piece of writing? I probably will not succeed, but feel I must write an account of the concert at Wembley Arena, on October 27 2002. This was shared with fellow fanatics, who I met via the Internet.
My great moral supports, Mrs Net and Net Junior, accompanied me to the railway station early on the morning of the concert. Britain experienced the fiercest winds for more than a decade that day, with gusts reaching 96 miles an hour. Fallen trees meant that it took two and a quarter hours to get from Southampton to Basingstoke. Fearing the train would not reach London, I got off at Basingstoke, from where my father kindly drove me to Wembley. During the car journey, I explained the determined efforts of our group to get to the concert. Dad said we sounded mad, but deserving of success. Dad drove me to my first Bruce concert, at Wembley in 1981, as a 16 year old – now he was repeating the favour for a man aged 37. We got lost a couple of times, and stuck in gridlocked traffic a mile from the Quality Hotel. I got out and walked the final part of the journey, nearly being blown over by the wind. I spent the afternoon, and early evening, in a merry-go-round of meetings with the Internet threaders, a short-lived time in the GA queue, collection of my ticket from Jeff, and some great laughs. At the hotel, I met devoted fans from Switzerland and Italy.
This concert featured eleven songs from The Rising, old favourites, and welcome surprises. Bruce’s showmanship seems to get better as he gets older, and the musicianship of the E Street Band was as excellent as ever. It was two hours and forty minutes of non-stop brilliance. Bruce and the band arrived on stage at 8.08, being greeted by an enormous cheer of anticipation. Bruce and the E Street Band have now become a ten person act, with Bruce, Clarence, Steve, Nils, Garry, Patti, Roy, Danny, and Max being joined by Soozie Tyrell, who provides an added dimension with energetic violin playing. Bruce launched into The Rising, my favourite song on the album of that name. Some people think the song is about the rebuilding of spirit in the USA after the destruction of the World Trade Centre (an idea supported by the album cover), while others think it is about heaven. I think the song is simultaneously about both ideas. Bruce sang with great emotion, and the crowd responded in the same way – something that was to recur throughout the show.
The Rising was immediately followed by Lonesome Day, the opening track on the new album, and another song which combines the personal with images of post-September 11 events. The third piece of the night, No Surrender, is a song from Born in the USA which I had not heard live before. The Fuse has not captured the imagination of most fans. I enjoy the brooding eroticism, and Dan, sat next to me, said “great lyric” as Bruce reached the line “Your bittersweet taste on my tongue”. Next came Jackson Cage, a song I had not seen Bruce perform since the 1981 Wembley show, its reappearance being a pleasant reminder of that concert. I read later on the discussion board that Bruce seemed to include Jackson Cage as a spontaneous choice. I like to think he recalled the 1981 show, when the song made its European debut. At the end of the song, Bruce said it was “Nice to be back in this old building, had some nice nights here”, a reference to concerts at Wembley Arena in both 1981 and 1992. Bruce asked that we listen quietly to the next two songs. A few shouts from the crowd were met by other fans calling “shush”, and Bruce’s joke that “Too much love drives a man insane”. Bruce sang moving versions of Empty Sky and You’re Missing. On the video screens it appeared to me that Bruce was close to tears during the latter song, and those near the stage later reported the same of Clarence.
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day brightened the mood, led by Bruce, Steve, Nils, and Patti on acoustic guitars. Next came a rolling electric guitar intro from Bruce, which I did not recognise, that suddenly gave way to his singing the line “Hey bus driver keep the change”. I jumped up, waved my arms, and shouted “At last”, whereupon Dan shook my hand. The woman to my right probably thought I was deranged, but I was excited with Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? Having said to Dan earlier that I had never heard a song from Bruce’s first album live, this was a great moment, filling a missing link, back to the start of Bruce’s recording career, thirty years ago. Worlds Apart sounded better live than on record. Badlands was simply stunning, as thousands of people sang and gestured with great passion. She’s the One saw perfect timing from the band, during the start / stop passages. This was followed by Night, which I had not seen Bruce perform before.
The opening bars of Mary’s Place brought a great cheer from me, it being the theme song of our search for tickets, and the unexpected companionship forged on the thread. Bruce added a new vocal intro, and broke off midway through the song to spotlight the band. The E Street commentary ended with Clarence, of whom Bruce said several things, including “The next king of England”. The crowd listened quietly to Countin’ On A Miracle, regaining our breath after a series of up-tempo songs. The River has seldom sounded better to me than it did on this night. The jazzy 1999 version (has Bruce seen the film Betty Blue?) has been replaced with a stripped down arrangement, with Bruce on vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica backed by Soozie’s haunting violin. The new version captured all of the poignancy of the song, leaving the crowd in a trance. At the end of The River, Bruce left the stage, with mock pretence the show was over, after only an hour and three quarters.
Massive cheers from the crowd brought Bruce back to the stage a minute later. He thanked us for the support British people have given him, and the band, over the years. Bruce sat at the piano vacated by Roy, and performed a stunning version of Incident on 57th Street. A man singing a delicate song, accompanied by only his piano-playing, was combined with the enormous power of the sound with which Bruce filled Wembley Arena. The audience remained still, enraptured by Bruce’s first British performance of one of his masterpieces. For me, Incident on 57th Street was truly beautiful, and the highlight of the show – I know many others felt the same way. Into the Fire opened with clever harmonies from Patti, followed by fine singing by Bruce. A new stomping version of Dancing in the Dark had us all on our feet. Next came Ramrod, not the greatest of lyrics, but a fun song. Born to Run was a frantic rush, with the house lights on, as is usually the case. It always leaves me breathless, as I sing and wave my arms with passion, for a five minute spell that passes all-too-quickly.
Bruce and the band left the stage again, but quickly returned, and Bruce made his way to the piano. I hoped Bruce was about to sing The Promise, which he performed on the piano in Berlin a week earlier, as it is the greatest of the songs I have not heard live. Instead of this we heard My City of Ruins, with Bruce soon giving way to Roy on the piano. This was the last of the songs from The Rising which Bruce played that night – I will always remember the show when I hear the album from now onwards. Born in the USA was performed in the style of Live / 1975-85 – with more power than the studio version. During the introduction to the next song, Bruce announced “This is Land of Hope and Dreams”. I sang along with great feeling, stood at the back of Wembley Arena, surveying 12,000 happy people, and reflected some of them had tickets due to the efforts of our Thread of Hope and Dreams. It was a proud moment, and I was almost in tears. Bruce and the band seemed to think this was the end of the show, but massive calls for more led to one last song. Thunder Road was a song I heard Bruce perform at Wembley in 1981 and, twenty one years later, it was a great way to end an amazing show, in which so many wonderful connections had been fulfilled.
After the show, lots of us shared drinks, and stories, back at the hotel. I rushed around bonding with blokes, kissing and cuddling as many women as possible, and getting lots of photos. Everybody probably thought I was over the top, but I was filled with excitement at what we had been through together. I finally went to bed at 4.30 am, because I ran out of people to drink and talk with. I was up before 9.00, for more chat with those staying at the hotel, before the long journey home, with further train delays. I reached home in the mid-afternoon, feeling excited, and ready to do it all again next year with my new friends.
A few weeks after the concert, Jeff, from the discussion group, set up the Mary’s Place website, featuring our stories and photos, with my concert review serving as the concluding instalment of the tale. News of our British thread group reached Atlantic City, a place that gave its name to one of Bruce’s songs. In January 2003 I exchanged emails with Elaine Rose, a journalist who ran a story in The Press, an Atlantic City newspaper, about the touting of tickets for Bruce’s shows.
At the end of May, I attended two concerts by Springsteen at Crystal Palace in London, followed by one in Dublin. These shows were the scene of large gatherings of fans from the Bruce threads. There was a trivia quiz, in which I took joint first place, winning a photocopy of one of Bruce’s handwritten concert set lists. I sold spare tickets for one of the London shows to Bill Tangen, a sports writer born in the USA, and his wife Christine, following which I stood with them in the crowd at the first concert. A few weeks earlier, Bill and Christine met Bruce, along with Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell, as Soozie performed in Asbury Park, New Jersey – an event they excitedly emailed me about as soon as they arrived home that night. The Crystal Palace shows were among the best by Bruce I have seen, particularly the second night, which included an amazing performance of Racing in the Street.
I made a bit of a naff error in arranging my trip to Dublin. I intended to stay at the Bewley Hotel, a few minutes walk from the concert arena, but managed instead to find myself at a sister hotel, with the same name, in Naas, a town several miles away. Bruce’s Dublin concert, a marathon of three and a quarter hours, was followed by a large party at a pub. Inger and Dan, a couple from Sweden and the USA respectively, provided a large supply of labels that could be added to wine bottles, for toasting the comradeship of the Thread of Hope and Dreams. Some input on wording of the label led to the phrase “Andrew Net was online” being added to the credits. I wrote an account of the new events, Glory Days in England and Ireland, which joined that about the previous year’s Wembley concert on Bruce Springsteen’s website. I arrived home from Dublin with presents for my wife and daughter. Jeannette received a book about posh shoes, and wondered why I was suggesting she might wish to read about shoes, rather than wearing them.