Doing a Springsteen
Will the 140,000+ ticket sales prompt some other act to hit the Irish highways and byways?
Now that Bruce Springsteen is back home in New Jersey, having dropped into his local bank once he got off the plane to lodge a couple of million euros from his five night stand in Ireland and the rest of the takings from his European tour, the question turns to who, if anyone, can emulate what he’s just done. Springsteen may have played 28 Irish shows since 1985, but it’s the five shows this month which many agents and acts will be looking at closely.
At a time when ticket sales for everything from festivals (this is likely to be Oxegen’s annus horribilis sales-wise judging by the word out of Punchestown) to standalone shows by superstars of every stripe (there are still tickets on sale for Blur’s gig at Dublin’s IMMA this week, their only Irish and UK show this year, going on the ads), Springsteen’s success in shifting 140,000 tickets is quite a feat. That he did so by doing an Irish tour is even more remarkable.
Of course, there are caveats to this success story. For a start, his 28 appearances here (which include two guest spots with Joe Ely, if memory serves me right) have helped to build the Springsteen brand in Ireland. From that seminal appearance in Slane in 1985, one of those occasions when that hilly field really had the look and feel of an event venue to it, to the post-”Rising” gigs when the fanbase and gig count seemed to rise with every passing year, the growth in Springsteen’s Irish appeal has been quite startling to watch. There are few other acts who’ve been able to come back almost year after year (he played here every year from 2005 to 2009 in three different guises – solo, with the Seeger Sessions Band and the E Street Band) and still maintain demand.
But the real masterstroke in 2013 was to leave Dublin. A Springsteen summer show in the RDS has become a bit of a ritual so moving the circus to Limerick, Cork, Belfast and Kilkenny freshened up the tour itenary for the dedicated fanbase, those who were curious about why so many people were so evangelical about the E Street Band live and the event gig junkies. Cue five sold-out shows and a huge new narrative about Springsteen in Ireland. Certainly, there wasn’t this much fuss about a Springsteen Irish show since that Slane gig in 1985 as all media outlets jumped in to cover the story, leading to more fuss and attention and lots of angst for those who can’t stand him or his fans.
Can someone else really copy what he’s just done? Could Bob Jovi, for example, have played five shows around the country instead of not quite filling Slane? Are Neil Young and Bob Dylan still enough of a draw to do the business like that or have they totally lost everyone beyond the core audience? Are U2 really the only other act out there who could do five stadium shows without breaking sweat? Maybe AC/DC? And, of the new guns, could Kings Of Leon do the business?
But there are several reasons why we don’t see acts of Springsteen’s ilk in places like Kilkenny and Limerick. Tour itenaries are tightly controlled beasts and agents rarely see a possibility for more than one or maybe two shows in Ireland. That means playing the biggest venue possible to maximise the take, which is why the acts tend to play somewhere in Dublin or Belfast (or a big field near those centres) and get out again right away.
There are also very few acts who will feel they have the pull to do what Springsteen has done and most promoters have become very risk-adverse when it comes to this kind of thing. As we saw with the underwhelming turnout for Dylan in Limerick in 2010 and the Eagles’ failed attempt to play Galway in 2009, there’s a reason why promoters are happy when acts stick with the bigger urban centres.
Whatever about any local pent-up demand for more of these shows – there has been much talk in Limerick over the last few weeks about getting an act like Springsteen back to Thomond Park (a brilliant stadium for a gig like this) – the act has to be right to make the show work in the first place and to fill the venue. And such acts are few and far between.
Then, there’s the very nature of those stadium shows. A band like U2 may well be able to pull the crowds – it’s a long time since they played anywhere in Ireland bar the capital so you could imagine the palaver around such shows – but their recent tours have been massive production jobs, with elaborate specs and a lot going on above and below the stages which often rules out a tight venue like Nowlan Park. Remember too that even Springsteen’s Irish tour probably required three different stage builds, which is another additional cost to be taken into account and another reason for hefty ticket prices. A band like U2 could easily do the business were they to strip the show down and do a greatest hits tour. They’d net way more from a provincal run than they would from a night at Croker.
So you can probably expect more acts, especially heritage acts, to head to the country in the next few summers, especially if the promoter and agent think it’s possible to pull 20,000 or more people and make it all add up. There might even be attempts to string a few shows into a tour. But chances are we won’t be seeing a tour of Springsteen’s ilk, an Irish tour where 140,000 tickets are snapped up in a few hours, for quite some time simply because that was truly a once off thing from a once-in-a-lifetime act.