As volume, song and energy become amplified by the give-and-take between artist and audience, nothing beats the immense force of a great concert. For decades Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band have sustained a reputation as an extraordinary live act. And because of that, the iconic American figures solidified an international following that frequently crosses the border to fanatical. It’s why the reaction the Boss and his musical compatriots receive overseas equals, and occasionally overshadows, the reactions in his homeland.
London Calling: Live in Hyde Park finds Springsteen & the E Street Band bringing his Everyman emotional content and unrestrained rock ‘n’ roll as salvation approach to London’s Hyde Park. (Although, based on the number of countries flags represented by the more than 50,000 in attendance the show was actually played to a world audience.)
Capturing the group’s June 29, 2009 show in front of a sea of bodies, it demonstrates Springsteen’s charismatic presence, workmanlike attitude and indefatigable nature. Magically, as the nearly three hours of music moves forward he’s transformed into a younger, fresh-faced being that belies his age. While it’s better to see him in the “intimate” space of an arena, Springsteen has grown into these major-sized gigs. He embraces the vastness of the situation with overtly entertaining shtick which he acknowledges with a wink and self-conscious laugh. During the buildup of “Glory Days” he poses the question “What time is it?” to which Stevie Van Zandt answers, “It’s curfew breaking Boss time!!!” With wife Patti Scialfa not there, it’s a pleasure to watch the camaraderie and interaction of these lifelong friends.
Showing that risks will be taken, the band starts off with a cover of the Clash’s “London Calling.” It’s obvious that this is a last-minute decision as Springsteen and Van Zandt frequently check the teleprompter for lyrics. The song also relates Springsteen’s little recognized strength as a guitarist. His solo here, and during several other spots, is fierce and economical. Following several classics that date back to the ‘70s, he finally turns to a track off his 2009’s “Working On A Dream” — “Outlaw Pete” succeeds much better here in the fifth slot than it did when the band played it as the second number 15 days earlier at Bonnaroo .
Later, he calls out for Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem to join him onstage to share vocals on “No Surrender.” Fallon looks like Christmas arrived early. That same look of elation is pasted on Springsteen’s mug throughout much of the set. During “Waiting On a Sunny Day” there’s a comical bit when he’s standing on a platform next to the front row and wants to toss his acoustic guitar back to his tech, Kevin Buell. The roadie frantically runs from the back of the stage to the Boss’s current spot. Shortly afterwards, Springsteen’s standing on another platform within inches of the crowd and it’s almost a tossup between who’s enjoying the proceedings more – him or the fans. It’s a telling moment about his character as much as it is about the impact he’s made on other’s musical choices.
The respect he receives from his audience allows introspective numbers such as “The River,” a bonus clip from the previous night’s Glastonbury Festival date, or “Racing in the Street” to flourish. On the latter number, the inherent strength of the E Street Band is underscored when its lengthy meditative instrumental heightens the street drama without ramping up the volume.
Besides the performers doing the part to make this DVD a success, the manner in which London Calling was filmed and the method towards editing the footage is vitally significant to the positive results. The cinematography balances close ups of the musicians, which offer revealing moments such as Springsteen switching up the set list or drummer Max Weinberg’s near constant gaze on the Boss in order to sense even the slightest of changes to the proceedings, and crowd shots. Unfortunately, the filmmakers became too enthusiastic with crane shots on disc two, but it’s not enough to sour the overall proceedings.
It’s been rumored that the 2009 performances were a swansong for Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band. Whether London Calling was merely a document to two years’ worth of touring or a way to immortalize the final sparkles of an era, filming at least one of the many triumphant shows just made too much sense. Either way it’s the best opportunity to maintain the experience. As Springsteen shouts during the end of band introductions “You’ve just seen the heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, hard-rockin’, earth-shockin’, booty-shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, history-making, legendary…” E STREET BAND!!!