Mid-way through Glory Days, song 24 on the 28 song setlist unfurled in front of a sell-out 65,000 capacity crowd at the second of his brace of BST Hyde Park headline shows, Bruce Springsteen looks across to his faithful lieutenant Little Steven, sighs, and says, "Steve, I think it's time to go home."
Drawing upon his wealth of late-career acting experience in The Sopranos and Lilyhammer, Stevie Van Zandt, drapes an arm over his friend's shoulder, his facial expression one giant question mark, and replies, "Say what?"
Springsteen drops his voice to a theatrical stage whisper.
"I said, I think it's time to go home."
Van Zandt now looks even more confused.
"I'm telling you," Springsteen hisses through gritted teeth, a petulant sulk creasing his face, "they're going to pull that fucking plug again! They're going to pull that fucking plug again!"
It's an in-joke that the majority of the 65,000 fans gathered here this evening understand. When Springsteen first played Hyde Park, back in 2012, some Westminster Council jobsworth decided to switch off the PA when a two-song encore with surprise special guest Paul McCartney crept beyond the event curfew, leading an enraged Little Steven to label England "a police state". Tonight, leaving nothing to chance, Springsteen and The E Street Band take to the stage for the penultimate BST Hyde Park festival show of 2023 at 7pm sharp: what follows is over three hours of live music which sparks pure euphoria throughout the royal park.
"I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
It's now 49 years since music writer-turned-producer-turned-artist manager Jon Landau wrote once of the most famous arts reviews of all time after witnessing Bruce Springsteen perform at Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Harvard Square Theater. The following year, Springsteen's third album, Born To Run, roared into the Billboard Top 10, confirming the emergence of the 25-year-old New Jersey-born singer/songwriter as a major new voice in American music. He's barely put a foot wrong since.
Tonight, from the first moment Springsteen plants his oxblood Docs on the Great Oak Stage, he's working the 'room' like a pro, making all present feel personally invested in the journey that lies ahead. Switching up the set from that played 48 hours previously, the night begins not with a Springsteen standard, but with an album out-take, My Love Will Not Let You Down, recorded in 1982 during the Born In The USA studio sessions, but unreleased until 1998, when it emerged on the Tracks box set: that its greeted as if it's a worldwide number one single is indicative of the level of devotion Springsteen commands.
Not that he's taking anything for granted here: by the end of song two, the fabulously energetic Pogues-style protest song Death To My Hometown, there are already beads of sweat streaming down his face. Next up, No Surrender, with its classic opening lyric - "Well, we busted out of class, had to get away from those fools. We learned more from a three-minute record baby, than we ever learned in school" - is the first of six Born In The USA cuts aired (no title track or My Hometown tonight, unlike on July 6), and a superb, soaring Ghosts is the first of three selections from 2020's Letters To You. A Darkness On The Edge Of Town mini-suite - Prove It All Night, the title track and The Promised Land - follows, and though the rain pours down, the atmosphere in Hyde Park is joy unconfined.
As the set rolls past the two hour mark, and into the first encore section, the mood is elevated further. With his crack band at peak power, a stunning Born To Run tees up a Born In The USA mini-set - Bobby Jean, the aforementioned Glory Days, complete with some hilarious synchronised posing and prancing from Springsteen and Van Zandt, and a glorious, wildly-received Dancing In The Dark - and as the cameras pan across the audience picking out twenty-something and thirty-something women perched on their partner's shoulders every face is shining with happiness. Cheesy? Possibly, but a better party anywhere on the planet than right here, right now, is impossible to imagine.
For the second encore, Springsteen takes the stage alone, strapping a harmonica around his neck as he thanks London for "two great nights". Then the traditional cries of "Brooooooooce!" give way to an awed silence as the 73-year-old begins a solo acoustic I'll See You In My Dreams. "When all our summers have come to an end," he sings softly, "I'll see you in my dreams. We'll meet and live and laugh again."
It's a beautiful, emotional end to a special evening, and we can only hope that The Boss has many more summer nights like this to share, here and around the planet, for live music doesn't get more transcendent than this.