Hyde Park Calling (Apocalypse Sound AS 178)
Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, London, UK – 28 June, 2009
London Calling, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, Born To Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Jungleland, The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound, Interviews
Bonus Feature: A Superbowl Journal, UK Channel 4 broadcast – 28 June, 2009
The main feature here is a Live Nation broadcast of part of Springsteen’s set from the Hard Rock Calling Festival held in London’s Hyde Park. Regrettably, it consists of only six songs, plus Springsteen’s guest appearance with The Gaslight Anthem and brief interview snippets.
The DVD begins with a searing performance of The Clash’s classic London Calling, with Springsteen sharing vocal duties with Steve Van Zandt, and providing a splendid guitar solo. This high-energy performance sets the tone for the show. Nigel Ford, writing on Springsteen’s official website, contends that “opening with ‘London Calling’ was an inspired move,” and Jonathan Phillips, on the Backstreets website, concurs, stating that “this worked brilliantly.” This song set the tone for the whole show. Uncut reviewer Michael Bonner writes that it was “a breakneck version” and that thereafter the band continued in the same vein, “rarely letting the pace falter”. Max Weinberg’s furious drumming propels the song forward and the vocals, a little hoarse in Springsteen’s case and rather raw and rough-edged in Van Zandt’s, somehow complement rather than detract from the energetic performance. The audience sings along enthusiastically, drawn into the show from the very beginning. At the very end of the song a someone is heard to say, “Bruce and the band and, er…” but he is then cut off and fortunately we hear no more from him.
Oddly, having started with the opening number, the broadcast skips to the end of the set. The fast-paced but nonetheless melodic Radio Nowhere is played in a superbly energetic rendition, Weinberg again pounding his kit relentlessly and Clarence Clemons providing a brief but effective saxophone solo. Next up is Lonesome Day, not a classic song, though it receives a pleasing enough performance. By this time the hoarseness in Springsteen’s voice is clearly apparent. The next song, The Rising, is then passed over and the broadcast goes straight into Born To Run, which receives a vigorous and truly inspired performance. Clarence Clemons nails his sax part and during the instrumental section, which builds to a furious climax, Springsteen descends the rather steep steps at the front of the stage to engage with the audience. As he returns to the top of the steps he collapses flat on his back and motions with his hands that he cannot continue. Van Zandt then makes a big show of helping him up and assisting him back to the microphone. In his Glastonbury review the unsympathetic Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey referred to Springsteen as “a colossal, unashamed, scenery-chewing ham” and we do get an instance of that here. However, I can forgive Springsteen a moment of theatricality in such an energetic and brilliant performance.
Writing on the Backstreets website, Neil Lockwood states that, “‘Radio Nowhere,’ ‘Lonesome Day’ and ‘The Rising’ took us to the pinnacle, but could he take us higher? You bet!” This statement is pertinent not only to Born to Run but to what follows. Firstly, there is a hugely enjoyable rendition of Rosalita during which the band are clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience and then there is a superb Jungleland. The latter part of this epic number, where the intense sax solo gives way to the atmosperic piano solo, which in turn leads to the poignant denouement of the song is truly magical. Karl Birthistle, on Springsteen’s website, writes of hearing “the almost indescribable strains of ‘Jungleland’ as the sky finally grew dim. It was a pulsating, energetic and eclectic show pitched perfectly for such a venue and crowd.”
After this we get Springsteen guesting, as he had the day before at Glastonbury, with The Gaslight Anthem on The ’59 Sound. In my review of Apocalypse Sound’s Gastonbury DVD, Working On A Field I wrote that, “I will be amazed if this performance fails to win the band numerous new converts.” Andrew Crombie, on the Backstreets website, expesses similar sentiments on the Hyde park performance: “I’ve never seen this band before, but will definitely be picking up some of their stuff.” My prediction proved to be correct. Jaan Uhelszki, in the January 2010 issue of Uncut reports that, “within days” of these two performances, sales of the album The ’59 Sound “rose 200 per cent.”
Finally we get brief excerpts of interviews with Springsteen and Van Zandt. The latter confides that, “Bruce writes up a list about five minutes before we go on stage and then he just ignores it immediately. We actually have some spontaneity now built into the show where half way through the show we literally take requests from the audience, you know, so, you know, you find ways of keeping it new and fresh.”
The bonus feature is a Channel 4 broadcast of current diector of choice Thom Zimmy’s film dealing with Springsteen’s Super Bowl performance. The film includes footage of the press conference, rehearsals, the band backstage, the preparations for the show and excerpts from the performance itself. There is also some football footage, which was essentially meaningless to this English viewer. The film has an amusing beginning, with Springsteen purporting to be thinking up the brief setlist and choosing Nebraska, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a recitation of the Communist Manifesto and Badlands. (Now that would have been something to behold!) Springsteen then reveals the narrative thread behind the actual setlist: 10th Avenue Freeze-Out (“the story of the band”), Born To Run (“my story”), Working On A Dream (“our story”) and Glory Days (“the end of the story”).
Aside from this, what we chiefly gain from the film is an insight into the meticulous preparations for the show. As we see footage of the last-minute preparations, Springsteen describes what is happening and how he feels. The thousand volunteer stage builders, described as “an army of ants” have to do in five minutes what normally takes eight hours and Springsteen confesses that when he sees the bare football field he is “not filled with confidence.” With a minute to go someone is jumping up and down on the stage to ensure that it is level and with thirty seconds to go, “they’re still testing all the speakers and equipment.” However, the show proceeds succcessfully and one is left genuinely astonished at how it was all done in such a short time.
Having said that, one does wonder whether there would be much satisfaction in watching the film more than once. However, there is one tantalizing aspect to the film. In two places, Springsteen’s voiceover is accompanied by snippets of concert footage from throughout his career, going as far back as the early 1970s, which left this viewer yearning for an official career-retrospective live DVD.
Hyde Park Calling comes in Apocalypse Sound’s usual tri-fold packaging with the disc held in a clear plastic tray and artwork featuring photographs from the show. With its origins in a legitimate broadcast, the concert onviously features professionally recorded sound and multi-camera footage. This release cannot be recommended with quite the same enthusiasm as the Glastonbury DVD for the simple reason that there is far less music. However, what is here is most enjoyable. In particular, London Calling, Born To Run, Rosalita and Jungleland are superb and make this release well worth having.