Of the three official live DVDs from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band released over the past decade — and you can make that four if you count the Live At Hammersmith Odeon 1975 DVD included with the deluxe 30th anniversary version of Born To Run — this is by far the best of them.
Here is why.
London Calling: Live In Hyde Park may not feature the greatest fans' dream setlist ever. Hell, it doesn't even come from the tour that topped most of the recent hardcore wish lists (that distinction probably belongs to the 2007-08 tour behind the Magic album).
But it is the first time the full experience of a complete Springsteen/E Street Band show — start to stop — has successfully been documented on DVD. There are none of the screwy song-gaps of 2001's Live In New York City. Nor is there the disjointed sequencing of 2003's Live In Barcelona.
Rather, what you get here is the full-on experience, before a stadium of rabid British fans screaming and singing their lungs out exactly as it happened. This is about as close as it gets to being there.
It also doesn't hurt things one bit that Bruce and the E Street Band are absolutely on fire here. The first four songs are played at a such a rapid-fire, almost punk-rock sort of pace, they occur as a near blur.
Beginning with a craftily chosen cover of the Clash's "London Calling" and ending with the Born To Run chestnut "She's The One," Bruce and the E Street Band roar through this four-song opening sequence with such a ferocity you'd think they were playing for their very lives. Max Weinberg — who on the most routine of days plays his drums pretty damn hard — pounds the living crap out of the skins here.
Springsteen himself begins the show in a light blue-gray shirt, which by the end of these four songs is half-drenched in his own sweat. By the end of the sixth song, an audibly called-out "Out In The Streets," he is absolutely soaked.
As much as some hardcore fans have vociferously stated their preference for the Magic shows over the Working On A Dream tour documented here, the E Street Band sounds tighter here than at either of the two shows I personally witnessed on the former tour.
That said, the WOAD songs do bring down the energy level just a notch. On "Outlaw Pete," Bruce works the dramatic lyrics for all they are worth — and since he already has the crowd in the palms of his hands, they mostly oblige him. Still, I'll be the first to admit that this song doesn't rank high on my own list of favorites.
But on the title track of WOAD, Bruce works the crowd into a frenzy with one of his trademark fire and brimstone sermons about turning Hyde Park into a "house of love." Needless to say, the crowd eats this right up, and that same energy translates quite nicely on the DVD.
Other highlights here include Springsteen trying to make it back up the stairs to the stage during "Out In The Streets" in time for the chorus. "Keep it goin' Stevie," Bruce cries out laughing. To which Van Zandt replies "take your time." By the time Bruce is back up onstage, he says "are you nuts? Get me a fuckin' elevator…I'm sixty!"
Which brings up another reason why this is such a great concert document. The band seems to be having so much fun onstage, they can often barely contain themselves. During "Glory Days" in particular, Steve Van Zandt is cracking up so much, he can hardly get through his own vocal parts. Bruce himself gets in his own great comedy bit by shouting for "more cowbell."
As the sun finally starts to set on a concert which began hours earlier under daylight, the outdoor setting provides a gorgeous backdrop for a beautiful version of "Jungleland."
Underneath the graying London skies, Clarence Clemons nails the sax solo, as both audience and band are bathed in dramatic blue lighting. On the extras here, there is an equally dramatic scene where smoke rises from Springsteen during a beautifully delivered rendition of "The River" from England's "other festival" at Glastonbury.
London Calling: Live In Hyde Park is a great DVD, which probably stands as the best Springsteen/E Street Band concert document to date. That said, I also have to register my one personal bitch here — and it's a major one.
The packaging sucks.
London Calling: Live In Hyde Park comes in a fold-out cardboard sleeve, containing two pockets housing the actual DVDs. The pockets are so tight, you have to push the discs out to play them, which guarantees that the discs are going to get scratched over time, if not right off. On my very first play, I already experienced some scratch related glitches — on "Rosalita" for Pete's sake — that I've no doubt will only become worse over repeated plays.
Until Sony, Jon Landau, or whoever makes the packaging decisions on these things figures out that politically correct "green" packaging also needs to take the user-experience into account (a digi-pak would have been nice here), I strongly suggest that buyers house the discs outside of the package.
Other than that, I've no complaints with London Calling: Live In Hyde Park. None whatsoever.