(Mott the Hoople)
This week I have been fortunate enough to see to supreme showmen in concert, both at the top of their game, but each very different from the other.
The first, on Saturday, was Bruce Springsteen, still the undisputed boss, still performing sets for three hours solid – despite approaching his 64th birthday – and still backed by the powerhouse that is the E Street Band.
This time round (the eighth time I’ve seen him since 1980) he played the ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ album in its entirety, including a rendition of ‘Racing in the Street’ that wrung emotions that were only hinted at by the original. The eighteen piece band were as tight as ever, and the stage setting spartan.
At the end of his set, Bruce returned alone to the stage, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica and played a heart-rending version of ‘Thunder Road’ that caused the hairs on the back of your neck to rise. Seventy two thousand people either sang along or simply stood in quiet awe.
On Monday I was unexpectedly offered a ticket to see Robbie Williams at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. While I would never claim to be a ‘fan’ – I certainly don’t fit the standard demographic – the ticket was half-price, and I had nothing planned for Wednesday evening.
The first and most noticeable difference between the gigs was the stage setting; where Bruce’s stage was spartan, Robbie’s was dominated by a fifty foot rendering of his own face. Bruce and his band wandered on stage, while Robbie appeared atop his giant head and then zip-wired onto one of the thrust stages.
The ego has indeed landed!
Bruce wore a simple black shirt, jeans and waistcoat (vest),
Robbie wore a spangly tail-coat, and changed into a an equally spangly jacket during the set.
There were similarities, both bands were really tight and well rehearsed, although while Robbie’s band clearly had a strict, pre-determined set-list, the E-Street Band had to respond to song titles written on cardboard and plucked from the crowd.
Both gigs were effectively a live greatest-hits album, playing to avid fans; hit followed hit and while I was less knowledgeable of Robbie’s back catalogue, the Etihad crowd were word perfect.
Where Bruce’s concert ended intimately, Robbie’s ended with the whole crowd being encouraged to sing ‘Angels’ most waving their smartphones in lieu of lighters, no less emotional, but a very different experience.
So… two showmen at the top of their respective games, two very different concerts, but each equally enjoyable in its own way.
Although bizarrely, my ears were ringing after the Robbie concert, where they didn’t after Bruce.