It was the hottest ticket in town, and Bruce Springsteen proved he could live up to hype with the opening show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Paul Jeeves reports.
The wait is finally over.
After years of false dawns, rumour and speculation and hopes being raised only to be dashed once again, Leeds can now boast a venue which has the potential to attract the very biggest names in the entertainment business.
And if last night’s opening showcase was anything to go by, the future looks bright for the city’s First Direct Arena. Bruce Springsteen, the legendary American singer-songwriter who is so aptly known as The Boss, performed with the E Street Band in the most anticipated gig of the year in Yorkshire.
While last night was publicised as a pre-launch show before Sir Elton John officially opens the 13,500-capacity arena in September, Springsteen’s appearance will always be the one with which the £60m venue’s opening night is associated.
Famed for the length of his sets - the longest of which lasted for four hours and six minutes in Helsinki in August last year – Springsteen welcomed the crowd with a blistering opening salvo of tracks including Roulette, The Promised Land and Hungry Heart during which the 63-year-old veteran performer crowdsurfed.
He welcomed the audience with a simple “Hello Leeds!”.
As a measure of his popularity around the world, the gig in Leeds is one of the most intimate shows that Springsteen will play on his global Wrecking Ball tour. Earlier in the summer, he performed to a 71,000-strong crowd at London’s Wembley Stadium in June and the remainder of the UK and Ireland leg of the tour has taken in well-established - and far bigger - venues.
Tickets for the show in Leeds sold out within minutes when they went on sale in February, and fans have been arriving since last week to ensure that they were able to secure a prime spot. A “golden circle” for just 600 fans was set up in front of the stage, and among those who managed to get a coveted place was Laura Stellin, 29, from Milan in Italy, who was the first in the queue after arriving at the arena on Friday afternoon. She has been staying at the Premier Inn opposite the arena each night before checking in every four hours during the day to ensure she kept her place.
Miss Stellin, a radio assistant who has seen Springsteen more than 30 times as far afield as New York, Paris and Stockholm, said: “It was so important for me to be here. The gig was the highlight, but what I love is meeting so many new friends at each show - I have made so many friendships.”
Much had been made of the First Direct Arena’s sophisticated sound system, and the actual design of the venue which ensures a clear view of the stage for the whole audience. The proximity to the stage ensured something approaching an intimate feel to last night’s concert - which is some achievement for an arena gig.
Julian Soden, 55, from London, travelled overnight from Springsteen’s gig at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to be at last night’s show in Leeds.
He said: “This is such a huge deal for Springsteen fans to see him in what is a relatively small venue. It is also such a huge deal for Leeds, it is an amazing arena. Elvis and Sinatra are no longer with us, but Springsteen really is the biggest artist around.”
The run-up to the show has not been without controversy, however, as many Springsteen fans who missed out voiced their anger that the £65 tickets were being re-sold on the internet for as much as £1,400.
Debbie Skinner, 51, and Reed Hillen, 60, both travelled from America to be at last night’s gig, with their transatlantic trip also taking in Springsteen’s shows in Cork last Thursday and his forthcoming performance in Kilkenny on Saturday.
Miss Skinner, a special needs teacher from Denver in North Carolina, has seen Springsteen as many as 120 times – although she admitted she has lost count. The couple paid £180 for each of their tickets for the gig in Leeds.
Mr Reed, an attorney from Tupelo in Mississippi, said: “I first saw Springsteen only three years ago, but within 10 minutes I was hooked. It is a long way to come, but boy, was it worth it.”
Terry and Yvonne Fossen, from Yeadon in Leeds, also managed to secure a spot at the front. Mr Fossen, who has seen Springsteen 20 times, said: “I have been so excited, and the gig lived up to all our expectations.”