First Night: Bruce Springsteen, 02 Arena, London

20-12-2007 The Independent par Jo Ellison

The Boss is back in town with classic collection of magic

Taught, wiry, raddled as all hell, Springsteen bestrides the O2 stage with all the confidence befitting a rock deity/blue-collar hero/sex icon/and human-rights campaigner/living legend. The crowd roars.

Who's the Boss? Don't even ask. He's so cool he doesn't even bother saying hello until about 15 minutes in to the two-and-a-half hour set, and not before a roof-raising rendition of "Radio Nowhere" and "No Surrender". "Hello London," he finally concedes. "It's nice to be in this great big space. This really big space. But we're the space killers right?"

Much has been made of Bruce Springsteen's reunion with the E Street Band, and the gutsy, bombastic rock ballads on which he built his early career. Magic, with its breathless combination of crowd-pleasing stadium belters and haunting folksy ballads has been widely hailed as a return to form after the sombre-toned The Rising and Devils and Dust.

For most of his fans, this tour, his first outing with the E Street band in five years, is the real thing, a rare glimpse of that blue-collar boy from New Jersey they first fell in love with back in '75. It may be a freezing night in North Greenwich, but in the hearts and minds of the people gathered here tonight we're just a stone's throw from "Thunder Road".

Personally, I've always preferred the gravel-edged melancholy of Springsteen when it's unfettered by all that sax and keyboard. I loved "Devils and Dust". All that air-punching, geee-tar-bashing and whup-ass gets a bit embarrassing after a while – especially when you're watching a group of men on the wrong side of 40 (and I'm talking about the audience). Somewhere through "Night" I begin to wonder if maybe the experience is just a little too testosterone-fuelled for a girl to really enjoy?

And then, just when I'm drifting along to "Reason to Believe" and considering how lead guitarist Steven Van Zandt appears like a modern-day version of Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho Panza, Springsteen starts up "Because the Night". And I shut up. So too when he follows that with "She's The One". Twenty-three thousand fists punch the air. The sax wails. It's beautiful. A perfect moment of unfettered machismo, and I love it.

Stand out those these songs may be, Springsteen's power to still the crowds with a simple song still inspires awe. When he performs "Magic", the title track of the album, his voice still boasts a range and fortitude that is utterly undiminished after 30 years. The same is true of "Devils Arcade", and the hauntingly lovely youth-and-manhood hymn "Racing in the Street".

But it's the classics that make the day. There's not much in life that can beat watching a live performance of "Jungleland", "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark", played in succession to a capacity audience under the halogen glare of full-house lights. But I did kind of wish it was 30 years ago, and I was seeing it all back in the day, when Springsteen's hair was a little less dyed, the band a little less paunchy, and the sets as long as Springsteen's legendary stamina. But hey, you can't have it all.

Was it magic? You bet it was.

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