Director: Chris Hilson
Film Editing: Thom Zimny
Still the Boss
Springsteen’s most recent eyebrow-removing live documentary is evidence that the aging process may be purely theoretical. “IS THERE ANYBODY ALIVE OUT THERE?” he shouts all of 12 minutes into the show, throwing down the gauntlet to the behemoth Hard Rock Calling Festival audience with a crazy-eyed boxer’s glare that’s part statement of purpose and part fuck-you to the AARP Magazine cover. London Calling: Live at Hyde Park then explodes open with its ace in the hole: Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt tearing into the Clash like two scuzzy-looking punks thirsting to prove themselves, which is, of course, profoundly insane. By the time London Calling was shot in June 2009, Springsteen and the E Street Band, most loitering around the parking lot of 60, were firing on all cylinders, inventing more cylinders and then firing on those too, laying waste to festivals and towns huge and small with three-hour sweat-fests highlighted by nightly Stump The Band requests delivered via creative poster boards (the DVD’s: the Young Rascals’ fest-ready “Good Lovin’”).
The Hyde Park set is essentially a live greatest-hits comp from the years-long tour that sandwiched the releases of Magic and Working on a Dream, heavy on touchstones like “Badlands,” “She’s The One” and “The Promised Land” but with a solid enough smattering of semi-rarities to satisfy the Internet message-board people. There’s a pounding version of Bruce’s cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped,” a seething revival of the mid-’80s boss-man face-smack “Seeds” (“Well I swear if I could spare the spit I’d lay one on your shiny chrome, and send you on your way back home”) and upgrades of the Nebraska track “Johnny 99” (rockabilly) and The Ghost of Tom Joad standout “Youngstown” (massive and looming).
Nobody onstage has the remotest business looking as profoundly invested as they do (only the near-70 Clarence Clemons is allowed part-time seating arrangements): Springsteen screech-drags his guitar across the mic stand, sweats through everything he owns, reanimates a Stephen Foster song for the recession (“Hard Times Come Again No More”), finds a 10-year-old to sing the chorus of “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” dons a black cowboy hat while indulging his terrible eight-minute spaghetti Western “Outlaw Pete”) and brings out the visibly mind-blown Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem for “No Surrender.” As my 6-year-old proclaimed in an especially lively crowd shot: “Whoa.”
“London” sports 28 songs but closes with two bonus tracks: A performance of “The River” from Glastonbury noteworthy for its memorable image of steam literally rising off of Bruce Springsteen, and “Wrecking Ball,” written to commemorate the band’s stint closing down Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It’s a B-side but a fierce one, all spit and defiance in the face of the mean march of time (“Take your best shot/ Let me see what you got/ Bring on your wrecking ball”) and it could serve both as a fierce, fitting coda to the old stadium, or, if you’re the sort of person who might read into such things, the band itself. Until then, though, this is as alive as it gets.