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Bruce Springsteen - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - July 23 2013 (Live Review)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 Written by Huw Baines

Dee Dee Ramone might once have taken a run at it, but these days nobody yells ‘one, two, three, four’ like Bruce Springsteen. Nobody. From the scream that introduced the squalling guitars of Adam Raised A Cain, to the breakdown in Born To Run and the drop in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, every one was belted out like its was his last during a 33-song celebration at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

When his ‘Wrecking Ball’ tour first landed in the UK 12 months ago, Springsteen had the man in his sights. His new material bristled live, where the pointed lyrics of Death To My Hometown, Jack Of All Trades and We Take Care Of Our Own struck a chord with audiences carrying their share of problems. 

That’s not gone completely by the time Springsteen rolls up in Cardiff - Wrecking Ball's title track lights a fire in his eyes, while only days ago he weighed in on the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin during a show in Limerick - but it’s plain from the opening note of a gospel-infused This Little Light Of Mine that the Boss is here to dance.

Having played ‘Born To Run’, ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ and ‘Born In The USA’ in full in recent weeks, this mammoth setlist leaned hard on Springsteen’s back catalogue of good-time rock ‘n’ roll.

Only a handful of songs into proceedings he was cavorting with the crowd at the front of the stage, grabbing requests from the hands of fans who had been stood in line for 48 hours in order to get within spitting distance of their hero. Cynthia, TV Movie – played for the first time ever – and Roulette all got an airing soon after, giving the front rows some much-appreciated b-side action to go with the main course.

Selecting a setlist is a tough gig for every band, but selecting a setlist from Springsteen’s sprawling, 40-year back catalogue is a good way to induce a migraine. It's testament to just how big – and how good – that back catalogue is that The Promised Land, The River, Jungleland, Rosalita and many more classics go unplayed, with a whip-smart E-Street Band instead breathing fresh life into Ramrod, Cadillac Ranch, I'm A Rocker and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) from 'The River', a record shot through with enough '50s swagger to suit the mood perfectly.

Bad Springsteen shows are like Bigfoot, or Unicorns; they might be out there but if you’re going to dedicate your life to finding one, you’d better be prepared to get some funny looks along the way. Springsteen grew up wanting to be Elvis, and whether he's slinking across stage during Shackled And Drawn, crawling down the front steps to kick off a raucous rendition of Shout or duetting with the Animals' Eric Burdon on We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, it's plain that he still lives for that ideal.

The main set closed with Badlands – one of three cuts from 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' along with Prove It All Night and Adam Raised A Cain – but the night wasn't over by a long stretch. Springsteen will play until they pull the plug, and his encore was in itself enough to put most setlists in the shade.

Another request, Tougher Than The Rest from 'Tunnel Of Love', joined Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, an acoustic Thunder Road and an emotional Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out – complete with tributes to the dearly-missed Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici – among a 10-song closing salvo, the final note of which sounded some three-and-a-half hours after the first of the evening.

Stadium shows are a funny breed. In the wrong hands they are the devil, a soulless facsimile of what bands are capable of in clubs and theatres, but in Springsteen's embrace they're joyous, communal experiences. Fans were invited on stage to try their hand at being Courteney Cox, while a young boy was plucked from the crowd to lead the chorus of Waiting On A Sunny Day before being returned to a father who'd been reduced to tears. Bruce Springsteen wants to play the best show he can, always has done. The size of the room is irrelevant. At one point he screams: “I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll!” Us too Boss, us too.

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