For an artist as prolific and prominent as Bruce Springsteen, Glastonbury presented a unique challenge: given that the 140,000 festival-goers did not even know that he was going to perform when they bought their tickets, should he have played the anthems from his early albums that established him as a big artist or should he have drawn on his more modern catalogue, which is more complex but inspires fanatical devotion in a smaller number of fans?
His long set at the top of the bill on Saturday night received a mixed reception on the ground. No one could doubt the commitment of the performance – he was working so hard that at one point he could clearly be seen to be steaming in the cooling midnight air – or the nice nods to the Glastonbury experience, such as swapping his famous heavy leather work shoes for a pair of Wellington boots, but as a performance it seems to have fallen into the limbo of the middle ground, leaving many slightly dissatisfied.
The last slot on the Pyramid stage on Saturday night is a difficult position for an artist such as Springsteen. The fans are looking for a barnstormer to end the day and, for more lyrical performers, the muddy acoustics at the back of the field can leave some audience members straining to follow.
Springsteen played two songs from his latest album: “Outlaw Pete” and the title track “Working on a Dream”, which has received a lukewarm reception, partly because it lacks the fine tang of darkness that is part of his appeal to many fans. But much of the performance concentrated on safe, well-worn tracks, most of which came out before 1985: “Born to Run”, “Thunder Road”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “The River”, where he curiously chose not to sing the powerful last verse.
He worked hard to woo the fans, repeatedly coming down to play standing on a flight case placed just in front of the crush barrier, and taking requests, including “Because the Night”, the song he co-wrote with Patti Smith.
It was a fine concert in its time and place, but one can’t help feeling that Springsteen took the safer line, putting greater emphasis on his older, better-known songs, and in doing so missed an opportunity to introduce some of his newer, more complex music to fans who might not otherwise have heard it. ★★★☆☆