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Dublin Calling: Herpreet Grewal on Bruce's recent reconnection with his strong Fair City fanbase

July 7, 2024

EDITOR'S NOTE: On this date, back in 1988, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performed their first official Dublin, Ireland concert. (The 1985 Slane Castle show was their first official Ireland show, but it actually wasn't performed in Dublin proper, as many still believe incorrectly.)

Since then, Dublin has become one of the best places on the planet to catch a Springsteen concert. It's even made the short list of cities in which an officially released Springsteen live album was recorded (2007's Bruce Springsteen with The Sessions Band - Live in Dublin, also released as a concert film in DVD/Blu-ray formats.)

London-based journalist and Letters To You contributor Herpreet Grewal, who's attended several Springsteen/ESB Dublin concerts in the past, recently attended this year's Dublin show: the May 19 gig at Croke Park. Below she shares her experience, accompanied by some of René van Diemen's beautiful photographs from the event:

When Bruce plays Ireland, the atmosphere is like that of a long-lost son coming home. That’s exactly how Dublin felt in the days before his show there. As soon as I left the airport, I could see people in Springsteen t-shirts walking around on the outskirts of the city. On the bus into the city, one elderly Irish fan talked loudly on the phone to someone about arrangements for attending the concert.

Bruce had already played gigs in Kilkenny and Cork. Dublin, like the previous two cities, had a bit of a carnival atmosphere in the name of Bruce. I don’t like to exaggerate, but it was certainly true in the city centre. When I left my hotel room for the gig and as I passed through corridors, I could hear occupants in random rooms on either side of me, playing his songs. There were also shop fronts decked out in Springsteen regalia and as I walked to the venue, a number of pubs and cars I passed by were blasting out his hits. Even days later, people on the street outside my window were drunkenly singing "Dancing in the Dark." He is much loved in Ireland, arguably more fiercely than other European countries. One older, rugged Irish man said, “I don’t queue for anyone, but I’ll queue for Brucie.”

Friends coming out of the Kilkenny show had been stunned by that gig. Not only had he come out early with his flat cap and done a soundcheck with a few songs, but the show had clocked in at three hours and sixteen minutes! It was going to be hard to beat that.

The Ireland shows attract many European and global fans. A lot were out in force and had been queuing for the main general admission pit, days before the gig, as usual. One friend who was queuing also had seen the May 5 concert in Cardiff, Wales and was telling me how he had bumped into Bruce there. He unwittingly found himself in the same hotel as Bruce, and as my friend entered the gym, he saw Springsteen right in front of him doing chest presses in his dungarees! He had the courage to go up to him and ask for a photo. Bruce replied, “I am the master of selfies,” and offered to take one.

Others in the queue included Dutch fan Astrid, who said Ireland was a good place for a Springsteen show because “the security is so good,” which adds an element of safety to the whole experience. (As a seasoned Bruce-gig-goer, I can confirm that queues can get nasty and a bit adversarial, if neutral parties aren’t around keeping a bit of order.) Her husband Co added, “The hospitality is so great here [in Ireland,] so it makes us want to come back. It’s like a community in the queue, so it is not a strain at all.” Alissa, who had travelled from France, said, “Ireland has always been a great place to see Bruce; it’s his crowd. It’s different seeing him in an English-speaking country, because everyone knows the lyrics, compared to [a place like] Paris.” She also noted, “It’s very family-oriented compared to other countries. You see everyone from small kids going for the first time and older fans who have seen him a hundred times, and you hear their stories. It’s such a lovely time. You end up knowing people deeply if you queue, and even after a few days the connection is very strong, due to Bruce.”

Sadly, before the show, thousands of fans had been left queuing fifteen minutes into the start of the show. As I had made my way in, I had seen the queues meandering out over the residential roads close to Croke Park, and they honestly made my eyes water. I wondered how they were going to get people in so quickly. Springsteen arrived surprisingly later than I expected. I know that because approximately forty minutes before showtime, fans in the general admission pit started screaming and a few outer layers of people ran to the side fence near the stage. It was Springsteen’s car arriving. Bruce walked onto the stage at 7.13pm with the cheeky, confident smile of one who knows he is loved and who loves them all back with just as much heart, and he enjoyed every minute of this welcome, with his telecaster dangling from his person. Then he launched into "Lonesome Day," followed by "Night," "No Surrender," "Two Hearts," "Ghosts," and "Darlington County."

The tour debut of "Reason to Believe" caused excited yelps from the audience. The last time he played it was in 2016, and it’s a raw, blistering bluesy rendition that gives you goosebumps, as if you’re hearing the lyrics and the music for the first time.

The other tour debut was "My Hometown," which was dedicated to “the Mayor of Freehold who is here tonight." "It’s a big night,” said Bruce in quite an excited tone. Never mind that Paul Rudd, Brad Pitt, or Bono also were in attendance; it was Freehold, NJ Mayor Kevin Kane whom Bruce chose to highlight. Rightly so, as there was a special announcement attached to this shoutout. Again, bringing the attention back to his special relationship with the country and in particular his family’s ancestral village of Rathangan in County Kildare. Bruce was announcing that it would be twinned with his hometown of Freehold, NJ, and the Mayor’s visit was part of a delegation to formalize the arrangement.

The rest of the show was full of themes that have occupied him of late, including how to honour those who are no longer with us. He introduced "My City of Ruins," saying that when loved ones have passed away in life, we have to remember “It’s also what remains with us in our hearts and memories.” Halfway through the song he added, “If we’re here, they’re here with us tonight,” passing on his passion and conviction to us. He ended with a cover of The Pogues' "A Rainy Night in Soho" as a tribute to Shane MacGowan, who died last year. [Springsteen got to visit with the ailing MacGowan in Dublin while in town for the 2023 Springsteen/ESB concerts.] “For Shane. For Dublin. For Ireland. We love you,” said Bruce as he finished the simultaneously jaunty and poignant number.

It was a heart-rousing show - as usual - and just shy of a full three hours, though some fans later told me they were disappointed that he didn’t veer off the setlist or stay for longer as he had in Kilkenny! But I was pleased. It never really matters if I am in the general admission pit or in a seat farther away from the stage; each song reaches me and touches me in the way it always has but also in a new way, in how it applies to my life now. Every show I see as he gets older, and as I get older, I always wonder, how does he do that? Because what he does is beyond time and age really. He’s a human defibrillator for the spirit, reminding us of how to live with the darkness of grief and the hope of a brighter future, and we all leave with our own version of that understanding. That is quite the service to give the world, and one it sorely needs right now.

All photos by René van Diemen; used with permission. Connect with René on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, and/or via email.


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