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GROOVES: Soundgarden, Springsteen and Simon, and the deafening sound of silence

Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen performing at Hard Rock Calling

Published: 19 July, 2012

WHAT Hard Rock Calling does best is bring along consistently great American headliners they know won’t fail.

In past years we’ve had Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, The Killers, Springsteen, the list goes on.

This year’s trio were Soundgarden, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon.

What HRC doesn’t do so well is have a feeling for the kind of support acts that will go down best in the UK.

So, we found, most of the focus fell on the headliners, with many confessing they weren’t familiar with the majority of the earlier acts.

While Wireless the previous week seemed to understand its crowd better, cramming the programme with big-hitters throughout each day, Hard Rock’s strength comes in the consistent quality of their veteran headline choices, the near-guaranteed quality and the knowledge that the crowd is inevitably just that bit nicer.

I didn’t witness one pint of anything being thrown into the crowd on the latter days.

For those of a certain age, the early 1990s was a moment.

For those that little bit older and more cynical, it was a time when a majority of inferior bands aped a minority of superior ones. But when has that not been the case?

So to Soundgarden on Friday, one of the superior bands, led by shaman-like singer Chris Cornell.

Support act Black Stone Cherry were (are) awful, the bass was so high for The Mars Volta that it vibrated my brain, and you know Iggy’s gotten old when his pecs have become little man-breasts that jiggle unpleasantly on the huge screens as he gyrates and slithers.

Cornell doesn’t have man-breasts.

That’s a fact.

Soundgarden take to the stage to Searching With My Good Eye Closed and, for two hours, we’re treated to pretty much everything decent they ever committed to acetate.

Superunknown, from back in 1994, was a career peak both commercially and, arguably, artistically. With the rain lashing down intermittently, it’s this record’s hits that provide the biggest crowd-pleasing moments.

Black Hole Sun did come, but it didn’t wash away the rain.

On Saturday, Springsteen, with his rolled-up sleeves and waistcoat, managed to maintain the look of a grafter, and that he is.

So much has been said about the final half-hour of his show that the first three incredible hours have almost been eclipsed.

The Boss loves his job, his band and his fans, and indulges each in excess.

He wants to jam every night and his permanent smile betrays the fact that this is so much more than a job for him.

We’ve complained about dodgy sound at Hyde Park before, but if there were any defects, and I’m not sure if there were that night, Springsteen’s vocals cut through them all.

Those outside the barriers enjoying the show for free later told us the sound was crystal clear to them.

Springsteen’s dedication to his equally devoted fans is obvious.

He remembers the ones who follow him, at one point picking out a guy who’s been traipsing around the world with a banner calling for an obscure track, pointing out he remembers the man from Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, and telling him London was his lucky night.

The teary fan looked about to explode. No wonder so many turned up at noon to bag a place at the front. Springsteen spent much of the show wandering down to meet them, interact, bring up onstage a girl offering to be his Courtney Cox for Dancing In the Dark and a schoolboy to sing along with him at another point.

It didn’t matter if his songs weren’t all familiar, his visible thrill was infectious and his lack of ego ensured every member of his E-Street Band is not only named but their personalities shared and skills highlighted.

Through the night he brought on Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello for some dextrous guitar-work, John Fogerty, and Paul McCartney for the final of his encores – I Saw Her Standing There and Twist & Shout – before the set was brought to an abrupt end when the plug was pulled.

Most headliners were scheduled to go on at 7.45pm but Bruce wanted to start at 7pm.

He ended more than three-and-a-half hours later and would have gone on jamming until 11pm given half the chance.

Some younger, higher-charting acts would do well to learn from his generous, giving approach to true musicianship.

Sunday was a gentle end to the weekend.

Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo recreated Graceland under not quite African skies, but slightly sunny English ones instead.

Simon began with a few early tracks including 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, before bringing on Jimmy Cliff on full form.

Cliff ran through The Harder They Come, Many Rivers to Cross and Vietnam with Simon making a low-key contribution.

Then Ladysmith Black Mambazo filed out with their bright smiles, magical harmonies and shiny white trainer dancing.

The sound was crystal, Simon remained understated, giving time to celebrated South African trumpeter Hugh Masekele, who led a tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Hyde Park was transformed into one huge multi-generational party as grandparents danced with grandchildren, elderly couples with each other and little kids danced in their own world.

The favourites were all there: Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, You Can Call Me Al, Homeless, as well as Simon throwing in a few oldies, commanding an awed hush for The Sound of Silence and The Boxer.

The only minor disappointment was his choice of encore. Having exhausted the huge Graceland anthems, Simon, who came back onstage twice, opted for the more downbeat Still Crazy After All These Years, perhaps too mellow of a note to end on. But, then again, mellow was the perfect way to end the weekend.


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