Belfast was always going to be a special show for me. I’ve been visiting the city for years. Home of my grandparents, I’ve spent long summer holidays playing in the street, kicking a football against the wall and waiting for the chimes of the ice cream man.
As you may have seen me mention just once or twice, Belfast got off to a particularly incredible start for me when I got to meet Bruce Springsteen and chat about burgers. It set me up for a surreal weekend and an relaxed evening in the Saturday sunshine, listening to the music of a band I’ve been following for the whole summer (or actually my whole adult life).
As I always say, my love of Springsteen’s music isn’t just about the concert. Meeting fellow fans makes me so so happy, and this time it was Beth and Charlie, a fun and hilarious couple from Philadelphia (or ‘Philly’), who had travelled from their home in the US to go to various Springsteen dates in Ireland. They were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and are Springsteen nuts like myself, making them instant friends. Springsteen fans come from all over the world, a mixture of ages and interests, all with our different stories of how we’ve become fans. But we have one big thing ultimately in common that will make us always be friends: we’ve got a Bruce Bond!
When I met Bruce the evening before (!!) I’d tried to ask, as casually as possible considering Bruce Springsteen was in front of me, if he was going to do a pre-show for us in Belfast (I hadn’t heard one yet despite all these concerts). He said very honestly that he never really knew until the last minute. But my weekend just kept getting better , and we were treated to a chilled and relaxing five song acoustic at 5pm. With the pit singing along to ‘Growin’ Up’, there were happy, albeit sun-burnt, faces all round.
Arriving on stage with a “we’re late” the main set opened with a very lively ‘This Little Light Of Mine’, which had me beaming at what I was about to see for the next few hours. A bit further back in the pit than my normal first few metres from the barrier position, the crowd seemed a little subdued. But Bruce worked and worked and eventually got them loosened up with a powerful ‘Jackson Cage’, a ‘dirty’ ‘Reason To Believe’ and ‘Johnny 99’.
‘Atlantic City’ at song number seven had me transfixed, lump in throat I watched one of my favourite Springsteen songs played for us again. An acoustic ‘Nebraska’ (first time I’d heard it live) silenced the crowd before Bruce spotted a sign for a ’78 ‘Prove It All Night’. ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ was a welcome appearance for me, as was ‘The River’, which I’ve heard plenty of times, but when it’s performed so beautifully, I could hear it at every single show ten times over and it would have the same impact. ‘Fade Away’ was a rare choice and a favourite for many of the hard core fans on the warm evening.
Some of the more usual songs followed with ‘Bobby Jean’, a sidestepping ‘Shackled and Drawn’, and a late appearance from ‘Badlands’, with the crowd responding to the band’s intense delivery with raucous ‘singing’.
But this time the encores were also a particularly highlight for me. I haven’t heard ‘Rocky Ground’ since the tour last year and it was refreshing to see Michelle come to the front of the stage with Bruce for this incredible number, as they told us “there’s a new day coming”.
‘Dancing In The Dark’ – always a crowd pleaser, but hearing Bruce holler “I NEED A CHEESEBURGER” after pointing to my sign made it particularly fun. He really does love burgers!
‘Shout’ complete with band introductions, into ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ (again) it was a superb finish filled with energy and passion before a wonderful acoustic ‘Thunder Road’.
That night we returned to our hotel for a drink with our new friends from Philly. On the way back, the local radio station was blasting Springsteen’s hits as a tribute to the musician we all love.
We had smiles on our faces from a truly special weekend filled with burger chat, Bruce’s music and new Springsteen loving friends.
I’ll raise a burger to that!
(If you’re as interested as me, when the camera finally settles on the screen, the best bit of Dancing In The Dark starts with the ‘point’ at 1min20, and the ‘cheeseburger holler’ at 1min40. G’wan Bruce!)