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Isle Of Wight Festival

Seaclose Park, Isle Of Wight, June 22-24

Isle Of Wight Festival

"I’ve seen champions come and go,” sings Bruce Springsteen. “So if you got the guts mister, yeah, if you’ve got the balls/If you think it’s your time, then step to the line...” ‘Wrecking Ball’, the title track of Springsteen’s latest album, is a rare example of The Boss boasting. With rumours of four-hour sets on his recent dates, the question this weekend is: Can anyone bring it to Bruce?

Example, a man with Springsteenian levels of crowd commitment, the bosh pop Mr Motivator, is game for a bash on Friday. Subtler but just as confident in her stagecraft is Lana Del Rey, who’s putting ‘erratic’ behind her and owning her shtick these days. From national anthems to national treasures, Elbow are made for dusk, their swimming loveliness building to the arms-aloft testifying of ‘One Day Like This’ as the light fades. “The sun is going down,” says Guy Garvey. “A whole world of magic and mysticism is opening up for you lot.” Indeed it is, for here comes the one man who could seriously challenge Bruce’s title: Tom Petty. His set – among his first in the UK for 13 years – is a breath-snatching ride. The rapport between him and his Heartbreakers is astounding. A stormy cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ lets out their gnarlier side, guitars roiling as Petty tears around the stage, brandishing his mojo maracas. It all ends, too soon, with the glorious, giddy ‘American Girl’. Somewhere, you can imagine Bruce squinting at a live broadcast, muttering: “Damn, Petty. So we meet again.”

Saturday is Pop Day, and Labrinth, Stooshe and Tinie Tempah bring fizzying, colourful vigour to the early afternoon, culminating in a huge main stage crowd for Jessie J, a compellingly, deeply uncanny creature. A pop star of the more lovable variety is perma-bouncing Katy B, who debuts a new song – the old-school garage flavoured ‘What You Came For’ – in the Big Top. What Biffy Clyro lack in bounce, they make up for in FIRE. White-boiler-suited in tribute to Pete Townshend during The Who’s 1970 performance at this festival, their ferocious set is lit by jets of blue flame, burning red teardrops falling from the rigging, and most importantly, three new tracks. ‘Modern Magic Formula’ is pounding, playful, grungey. ‘The Joke’s On Us’, a staccato riffer with a heavy-bassed, post-punk flavour. ‘Victory Over The Sun’ has a halting, uneasy rhythm that breaks out without warning into stabby anger, Simon Neil admonishing: “I can only make you see the moon/You can touch it, but it’s up to you”. Reaching in vain for the moon as they close Saturday are Pearl Jam. It’s more a fans’ set than a hits set, and while the likes of ‘Given To Fly’ and ‘Even Flow’ have serious grunge grandeur, attention lags at points. As Vedder bids goodbye, he asks us to “say hello to Uncle Bruce for us”. The man knows his place.

Spector, in the Big Top on Sunday, do not. “Hello, Isle Of Man!” booms Fred. Banter aside, they’re greeted with genuine love, and come ‘Never Fade Away’, there’s a man on his beshorted knees in the mud, gesticulating at the tented heavens. “Are you going to see The Vaccines later?” Fred asks mischievously. “I haven’t heard much of their stuff, but I hear it’s quite good.” Justin and the boys’ new stuff, back on the Main Stage, is indeed quite good. ‘No Hope’ is brash and in-your-face, ‘Teenage Icon’ a classically Vaccines scrappy romp. The heavy, menacing ‘Ghost Town’, though, offers tantalising glimpses of new musical territories.

If there was ever a man to be unruffled by opening for The Boss, it’s The Chief. Screaming along to ‘Little By Little’ is the perfect warm-up for the anthem-avalanche to come, though Noel Gallagher seems more concerned with the England game, dedicating ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ to any Italians in the crowd. Careful, Noely G – Bruce’s grandfather was from Italy, and that’s one fight no-one this weekend can win. From the instant the E Street Band bound on, Bruce Springsteen grinning like a demon, it’s all over. ‘Badlands’ begins a very different set from his fan-pleasing, casual-baffling Glasto epic. There’s plenty from the angry, rollicking ‘Wrecking Ball’, and for all the righteous ire of these songs, the devastating force of Bruce’s charisma when they’re played live makes them euphoric, unifying experiences. As the sun goes down a trio of ‘Atlantic City’, ‘Because The Night’ and ‘Working On The Highway’ kick things up several gears.

When it starts getting really ridiculous is when he casually drops ‘Born In The USA’. Then ‘Born To Run’. Then bloody ‘Glory Days’. THEN ‘DANCING IN THE DARK’. It’s madness, and we can only pray for the neural circuits of the lucky girl dragged onstage to play the Courteney Cox role as Bruce tries on her white kitty-cat ear-flapped hat for size. “We’re gonna leave you with a folk song!” he bellows at the end of a dizzy three hours, covering, as The Who did on this island in 1970, ‘Twist And Shout’. It’s the most glorious fun ever. The E Street Band rock on, and on, and you never want them to stop. But they do. And then Bruce gives a wry grin. You didn’t think that was really it, did you? “ONE. LAST. TIIIIIME!” he screams, and the crowd scream with him. In their hearts and his, he will be playing for them, loving the moment more than anyone’s ever loved anything, until the Earth plummets into the sun. That’s why he’s still The Boss. So don’t be frontin’.
Emily Mackay

This article originally appeared in the July 7th issue of NME

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