BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND
AAMI Park, Melbourne Australia – Saturday February 15 & Sunday February 16, 2014
If it was not enough to have Bruce Springsteen deliver one of his classic albums in its entirety, the fact that he actually delivered two made his Melbourne shows something that audiences will long remember.
Springsteen’s two nights here will probably go down in legend. Years from now, people will no doubt talk of them in the same way that those who were at the Rolling Stones’ Kooyong shows in 1973 mention them in hushed tones as if being it had been a religious experience.
On Saturday evening Springsteen launched into the entire Born In The USA with no fanfare, just the thought that he enjoyed it here and that he did not want to do ‘the same thing twice.’ On Sunday, he preceded Born To Run with a short dedication to the Melbourne audience and the expression that he wanted to offer them ‘something special.’
Of course, just about every Springsteen show is ‘something special’ – so special, in fact, that it might soon become necessary to have to Best Concert categories: one for Springsteen and a separate one for other acts!
Over two nights, in front of 32,000 each concert, Springsteen and his massive band soared through 62 songs, including an album in its entirety each night, and a grand total of 7 hours and 10 minutes on stage! Those are, I think, the longest set lists most of us have ever witnessed. Maybe Elvis Costello did a 30-song set one night here many years back when the encore was longer than the main set! The only show comparable in length that I have seen was Philip Glass’s four-and-a-half hour Einstein On The Beach – and that was an avant-garde opera!
It is astonishing in itself to see a 64-year old musician spend more than 3 hours on stage each night with unflagging energy; but when every show turns into what he himself calls a ‘spectacular’ it is difficult not to believe that you are watching perhaps the greatest American entertainer since Elvis Presley (and if you had asked me on Sunday evening I would have said he is greater than Presley!)
The superlatives flow freely when trying to describe a Springsteen show but for me that was not always the case. (We Australians are hard to impress). Until eight years ago I would have hardly classed myself as a rabid disciple. Though I did see him here at The Showgrounds on his first Australian tour in 1985 and I did own every album he made, buying them on imported vinyl from the start of his recording career when he was unknown here.
Then two events converted me: a couple of road to Damascus experiences, if you will. In 2006 I saw Springsteen with the Seeger Sessions Band in New Orleans at the first post-Hurricane Katrina Jazz & Heritage Festival. It was the most emotional concert I have ever attended and it still affects me when I think about it. Springsteen articulated the thoughts of so many of the locals and the concert became something of a catharsis for the city. (He even put on an early morning show to the workers at the festival). In contrast, Dylan played at the same festival and never said a word to the audience.
Then in 2009 I was at one of the closing nights of Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and watched as more than 80,000 hometown fans sang the words to every song – which normally would be incredibly annoying but in this case was inspiring. Springsteen was not just a musician on the stage – he was one of them.
I had never been able to understand Americans fanaticism for The Grateful Dead, probably because I never saw them in concert, but now I could understand the way fans felt about the man they called The Boss. (The documentary Springsteen & I shows this perfectly as well).
I realised that Bruce Springsteen is more than just an entertainer and more than just a symbol. He has transcended rock ‘n’ roll to become the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of tens of thousands of fans. He might be singing ‘Born In The USA’ but he could just as easily be singing ‘Born in Australia’ – so many of the experiences are shared.
The way in which Springsteen interacts with the audience is also extraordinary. He will respond to a sign held high and choose someone’s mother from the audience to dance with or invite a young child up to sing.
As he walks among the audience there is an almost quasi-religious element as fans reach out to touch him. In fact, ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ segues into ‘People Get Ready’ and the backing singers enter to make it sound as if we are in church.
Which all sounds very highfalutin doesn’t it? But a Springsteen show can engender those thoughts because you know that you are seeing someone exceptional. Is he too good to be true? Well, unlike so many other entertainers, so far he has not let his fans down.
Over two nights Melbourne got to witness the two sides of Springsteen. On Saturday, the entertainer was in full force. On Sunday evening, the serious rock ‘n’ roller entered the fray. Both delivered different sets with different dynamics but reached the same conclusion.
Saturday’s show opened with AC/DC’s thumping ‘Highway To Hell,’ featuring Eddie Vedder as guest vocalist. It is a measure of the thought that Springsteen puts into the show that he chose a song by an Australian band to open, as he had done in Perth – but there were more Australian connections to come.
Vedder stuck around for ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ and then the band launched into ‘Badlands’ and not long afterwards The Saints’ ‘Just Like Fire Would’ appeared to make the second local reference (and also no doubt to make writer Chris Bailey happy). Then perhaps the most unusual request of either night appeared in the Cajun classic ‘Jolie Blon’ which Springsteen himself said was ‘very obscure.’
Springsteen’s first excursion into the audience then came during ‘Hungry Heart’ but, later during ‘Dancing In The Dark,’ he responded to a sign that read ‘Is A Dream A Lie If It Don’t Come True?…….Dance With My Mum’ and lifted a woman from the audience to dance with him.
On this evening Tom Morello played the sort of role that he did last year on tour and took centre stage for ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ featuring his wild guitar solo. But this time, Steve Van Zandt is back in the band and would not be overshadowed, especially on a rousing version of ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’ which was followed by Moon Mullican’s ‘Seven Nights To Rock’ (which both Nick Lowe and Lil’ Band O’ Gold have also recorded and played). Guitarist Nils Lofrgren was also given his place in the spotlight earlier on ‘Cover Me’.
Morello has certainly given the E Street Band a new and different lease of life but sometimes you get the feeling that there might be one too many electric guitarists on stage as part of the 18-piece ensemble. Still, somehow the enormous band managed to be heard clearly despite the dodgy football stadium acoustics that marred the set of support act Hunters & Collectors.
The evening finished with ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ – and its tribute to Clarence Clemmons and Danny Federici – and then the Isley Brothers ‘Shout’ which was also a hit in Australia for local rock legend Johnny O’Keefe.
Springsteen returned for an acoustic version of ‘Thunder Road’ and left quietly, in total contrast to his entrance three hours and twenty-three minutes earlier!
Sunday evening it was Springsteen the serious rocker on stage. There were no guests on stage for the opener of ‘Born In The USA’ and then the band bounded into ‘Badlands,’ ‘Lucky Town,’ and ‘Roulette.’
Then Springsteen assumed storytelling mode, backed initially only by Roy Bittan’s piano, to introduce ‘Growing Up,’ as he talked of his childhood sitting up all night as a five-year-old at his Grandmother’s house watching late night television shows and sleeping until the afternoon. The punch line being that he was never very food at school but now he has a job where he gets to sit up late and sleep all day!
Another five song bracket included ‘Death To My Hometown.’ It is a song that would have connected with those who had driven up from Geelong (the regional city that has seen thousands of motor industry jobs disappear or about to do so) and one wonders if Springsteen put in the set because of that.
Then Springsteen sat on the stage framed by a solo spotlight to relate the tale of the mythical Jersey Devil prior to ‘Spirit In The Night,’ adding, ‘I shouldn’t have had those drinks backstage, I’m in story telling mode.’
It was nearly 80 minutes and 11 songs into the set before he made his first foray into the audience for the night as ‘Spirit’ ebbed and flowed with a backing chorus that saw it turn into a gospel workout.
Springsteen then told the audience that he had enjoyed being here so much over the past year that he wanted to give them something special. “We’re going to do Born To Run from start to finish,” he said to huge applause.
Indeed, it was something special and over the next hour Springsteen and the E Street Band cut loose on what is sure to be on of the highlights of the current Australian visit. It was an absolute tour de force and the second time I have been fortunate enough to see him perform the album (the last time was in 2009).
As the refrain of ‘Jungleland’ echoed out across the stadium I could not help remarking out loud, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this!’ It doesn’t.
Another eleven songs including the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist & Shout’ (to match ‘Shout’ the previous night) and ‘We Are Alive’ (dedicated to Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger) stretched the concert out to just ten minutes short of four hours.
It is hard to describe the power of a Springsteen concert to someone who has not been to one but as I watched and felt that I had experienced something extraordinary I recalled a similar experience in New Orleans a dozen years ago.
It was at a gospel church service in Treme that lasted all of four hours, had the entire congregation singing and clapping (and some falling to the floor talking in tongues). It was a remarkable display of faith.
So it is with Springsteen. You either believe or you don’t – but if you do you feel a lot better!
SET LIST – SATURDAY FEBRUARY 15, 2014
1. Highway To Hell (with Eddie Vedder)
2. Darkness On The Edge Of Town (with Eddie Vedder)
5. High Hopes (The Havalinas)
6. Just Like Fire Would (The Saints)
7. Jolie Blon (Harry Choates)
8. Hungry Heart
9. Born In The USA
10. Cover Me
11. Darlington County
12. Working On The Highway
13. Downbound Train
14. I’m On Fire
15. No Surrender
16. Bobby Jean
17. I’m Going Down
18. Glory Days
19. Dancing In The Dark
20. My Hometown
22. Shackled and Drawn
23. The Ghost of Tom Joad
24. The Rising
25. Land Of Hope and Dreams
26. Heaven’s Wall
27. Born To Run
28. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
29. 7 Nights To Rock (Moon Mullican)
30. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
32. Thunder Road (acoustic)
SET LIST – SUNDAY FEBRUARY 16,2014
1. Born In The USA
3. Lucky Town
5. Growing Up
6. Wrecking Ball
7. Death To My Hometown
8. High Hopes
9. Just Like Fire Would
10. Lost In The Flood
11. Spirit In The Night
12. Thunder Road
13. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
16. Born To Run
17. She’s The One
18. Meeting Across The River
20. Heaven’s Wall
21. Waiting On A Sunny Day
22. The Rising
23. The Ghost Of Tom Joad
24. Land of Hope and Dreams
25. We Are Alive
27. Bobby Jean
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Twist and Shout
30. This Hard Land