Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Hampden Park, Glasgow

Two songs into this three-and-a-half hour performance at a sun-kissed Hampden Park and Bruce Springsteen tore up the set list and took requests from the golden circle.  It was a testament to the man’s brilliance and to the tightness of his E Street Band that he can reach out into the crowd and pull in a sign requesting the rarely played Jole Blon and after a four second count-in the band is rocking it out.

The beauty of a Springsteen show is that not only do the audience not know what’s coming next, but much of the time it seems that the band are just as unaware.  If you look closely you can see Max Weinberg studying Bruce intently as he basically doesn’t know what might have to play next.

The result is a musical force of nature; an unrelenting rollercoaster ride of an experience which draws on every emotion of the human spectrum.  There are the highs of raucous classics like Born To Run, Badlands and Atlantic City; then the tender moments of reflection during My City of Ruins and the dedication of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out to Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on the second anniversary of his passing.

There was a fine balance here between old and new as Wrecking Ball stood well alongside No Surrender and We Take Care of Our Own opened before leading into The Ties That Bind.  The ease with which these songs sit in the set list confirm that last year’s album is he best Springsteen has released in at least twenty years.

However, what truly makes a Springsteen show special is the humanity demonstrated by The Boss.  Tougher Than The Rest was another audience request, with the moment made all the more poignant by Bruce’s gesture of handing the sign back into the crowd.  As if that wasn’t enough, he also handed the woman his harmonica.  Dancing in the Dark saw a young girl not only join the band on stage to dance with Jake, but she was handed an acoustic guitar and microphone to join Bruce in the final chorus.

With an exuberant encore of Shout and Twist and Shout seemingly sending Hampden home happy after three and a half hours which had you inclined to believe Bruce when he could “feel a heart attack comin’ on….I’m sixty-fucking-three!” he ushered the band off the stage, though he was lingering at the back and you thought, and you hoped…and when a roadie handed him an acoustic guitar and a harmonica it signified that he had one more song in him:  a perfect solo performance of Thunder Road which had a 50,000 stadium crowd hushed and hanging on every last word until the final line brought the roof down.

There has been speculation amongst online Springsteen afficionados that this current European tour could be his last with the E Street Band – that if he returns to the continent it will either be as part of a solo tour or with a more stripped back band.  Certainly his speech reminiscing about past tours in Glasgow had a touch of a farewell address to it.  If this does turn out to be the last time we see him with the E Street Band, they went out in a blaze of glory.  This is the yardstick against which all stadium gigs should be measured.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse @ SECC, Glasgow

Watching Neil Young with Crazy Horse is a lot like eating a large piece of toffee.  It can be difficult and it takes a little effort to break it down and digest it, but the more you chew it the better it gets and eventually you find that sweet sugar rush you were looking for.

This was two and a half hours of unrepentant guitar abuse; a sonic mindfuck of epic proportions orchestrated by an uncompromising genius who, even at 67 years of age, was at the very peak of his considerable powers.

There was an element of theatre to the night, with roadies dressed in white laboratory coats rushing maniacally around the stage to the sound of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life prior to the opening as they yanked on a set of chains to reveal two towering amps.  This should have set the tone for the evening, yet there were pockets of the audience who clearly hadn’t grasped that this was a Crazy Horse gig and not the acoustic performance they were inexplicably expecting.  Within five songs folk who were dressed as though they were attending the Theatre Royal for an operetta were walking out, while some were quick in letting the rest of us know that “this is fucking shite, Neil!  Fucking shite!”  I was left unsure of how there could be such a complete lack of understanding that this was Crazy Horse and that the acoustic hits would not be present.

The majority of the crowd was in rapture, however, as Old Black and Crazy Horse set about their business in decibel shattering fashion.  The guitar was bone crunching at times with screeching and meandering jams during songs which often topped the 15 minute mark.  Ramada Inn was the benchmark in that respect, a magnificent spectacle which took the set out of an acoustic mid-point with Heart of Gold and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and into its raging climax.

With Cinammon Girl, Powderfinger, My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) and Fuckin’ Up also amongst the highlights, they provided the sweet sugary rush which rewarded the lengthy toffee chewing.  It’s understandable why a Crazy Horse show isn’t to everybody’s taste and how it can be a difficult endurance test, but ultimately it is worth the effort.