Luckily enough, I was invited to a conference in New South Wales while Bruce was on tour there and so yesterday I was able to fulfil said dream and see Bruce in, of all places, a winery in Australia!
As if acknowledging the unusual venue, Bruce came out with perhaps the oddest start to one of his shows I've ever seen, as he monologued over a samba beat, talking about waking up in a strange land with lots of strange creatures ("Koalas! Wallabies! Kangaroos"): a land "where all the women are beautiful... all the men are handsome... and all the children are good students". This was interspersed amongst a version of "Spill The Wine" by War.
|Just relaxing on stage, as you do.|
After admitting he had no clue what the fuck he was on about, Bruce then kicked off the set proper with "My Love Will Not Let You Down", which set the tone of the evening perfectly and was a terrific display of the E Street Band's firepower on lead guitar - bigger now more than ever as Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello joined Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zant and of course Bruce himself.
Morello was Springsteen's muse for his most recent studio album, High Hopes, released in January, so of course several songs from the album featured in the set. The title track had a really strong showing, while "Just Like Fire Would" naturally drew many singalongs from the crowd, what with it being originally by Aussie punks The Saints. The album's arrangement of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" also proved captivating as Bruce and Morello duetted and perfectly complimented each other to bring out the drama of the song. I could have done without the part in Morello's solo where everything all went a bit Dragonforce, but Tom's guitar work was still visually impressive.
In my opinion though, "Heaven's Wall" was the best track to feature from High Hopes and was one of the highlights of the set, with the audience obliging to the "Raise your hand" requests in the chorus. The song really created a great carnival atmosphere, and truly brought to light the recent additions to the E Street Band's rhythm and percussion for this tour. To cap things off, every chorus ended with some brilliant guitar showdowns, as Bruce and Steve teamed to try and top the pair of Tom and Nils (hilariously, Bruce revealed that on the record, the solo showdowns are just Tom facing off against himself!)
The other guitarists in the group all got individual moments to get their licks in too. "Seeds", a live favourite from the Born In The USA tour, was very much Nils' baby, and his riffs gave the song a great menacing feel. On the flip side, Bruce's original right hand man, "Little Steven" Van Zant was amazing when revelling in the pantomime of "Ramrod" and showed that he is still second to none in terms of chemistry with the Boss. Equally hilarious was the routine at the song's end, with virtually the entire band bar Roy, Max and the organist lined up on stage, backs to the audience and shaking their tail-feathers for as long as possible. Bruce lasted the longest, naturally.
Despite being in such elite company in terms of guitarists, Bruce himself didn't shy away from doing lots of the leg work on guitar. Always an underrated axe-man, his solos during "Human Touch" were really what drove that song home in a rare outing.
In fact, the entire set was filled with eclectic delights. If "My Love Will Not Let You Down" had me in raptures, I completely and utterly lost my shit when Bruce grabbed a sign from the audience reading "Rosalita" - if there was one song I was determined to see the band play live it was that, so to hear it in all its glory was a huge bit of wish fulfilment on my part. "Radio Nowhere" was a welcome additon to the set, while "Brilliant Disguise" was also another brilliant surprise (OK, I'll get my coat...) that not even a false start or the tiny shower that broke out during it could ruin. It was as if someone decided seeing Bruce in Australia performing something from Tunnel Of Love wasn't surreal enough for me - it had to be raining too.
The biggest unexpected delight in the set for me though, was "Johnny 99", completely reinvented from its stark Nebraska origins into something more akin to a tragi-comedy played with almost a knowing wink, which allowed the E Street horns to really shine on this one - as they had previously in the set on "Seeds" and would do again on the ramshackle "Pay Me My Money Down". Soozie Tyrell was also simply fantastic in this song, her epicness prompting questions of "Who's that buzzard?" from the bloke next to me in a proper culture clash moment. Safe to say I made damn sure he knew who she was when he asked - Soozie for me is one of the band's secret weapons.
Littering the set with such left field gems, it almost felt like Bruce was teasing us throughout the night. I'd read reports of him playing classic albums in full during the Melbourne and Sydney legs of the tour, so to see him collecting fan signs so early, and to then reach an hour into the gig without anything from Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Born In The USA left me highly suspicious. Alas, my suspicions didn't come to pass, but we did get a few tracks from said albums eventually. "I'm Goin' Down" was a real triumph, even if it was preceded by an intro from Bruce that had me convinced he had a bout of heatstroke - his murmurs of "I'm still the same guy" and such did eventually make sense when the song kicked in. Meanwhile, "Badlands" drew the main set to a close.
After the worlds shortest encore break, the band re-emerged to ease us back to life with a beautiful rendition of "4th July Asbury Park (Sandy)" dedicated to much missed organist Dan Federici. Many in the audience cozied up to each other on that one, it was the perfect end of summer song.
Things really kicked into high gear with an excellent one-two punch of "Born In The USA" and "Born To Run", the former in particular going down a storm. Further chaos ensued once "Dancing In The Dark" kicked in, as several ladies in the audience were invited onstage to dance with the band member they indicated they desired with their signs ("Can I tango with Tom?"). The most adorable of which was a girl with a sign reading "I'm only 15 but can I still dance?". Naturally Bruce allowed her to join in, and even gave her his acoustic guitar to strum on during the closing breakdown before the "Hey baby!"s kicked in - others had to make do playing air guitar. Sax-man Jake Clemons was a particular delight during this song, playing his solo one handed whilst do-see-doing with one of the girls invited to dance.
The band's set proper closing with a barn-storming rendition of John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over The World" - during which we got the famous E Street role call (that really reminded you how MASSIVE the band is now) and FIREWORKS which, hilariously, Bruce couldn't see. This was not before Steve once again attacked Bruce with his wet sponge, of course.
With the rest of the band leaving the stage, Bruce lingered to finish off with a pair of acoustic songs. The first, the beautiful "I Wish I Were Blind", was requested by a man in the audience. Bruce asked if hed had a bad break-up, as that's why guys usually request that one but apparently not. "Oh, so you just asked for it as a fan of art?", quipped Bruce. What was staggering was hearing how great Bruce's voice was at this stage of the night, and with no band behind him he had to fill the venue all by himself. It was a challenge he more than rose to, and the rendition of "Thunder Road" which brought the evening to an end was almost beyond belief. If I hadn't recorded this video I might have thought I was dreaming.
This night really was a dream scenario for me. The set - a little shorter than most, but then again Bruce did have two support acts this time - was perfectly pitched and further proof if needed that Bruce would be a dead cert to appear on that mythical Mount Rushmore of rock n roll. This was my second time seeing Bruce and the E Street Band. On this basis, I doubt it will be my last.
- Spill The Wine
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- Death To My Hometown
- Out In The Street
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- High Hopes
- Just Like Fire Would
- Johnny 99
- Heaven's Wall
- Brilliant Disguise
- Human Touch
- I'm Goin' Down
- Pay Me My Money Down
- Shackled And Drawn
- Radio Nowhere
- The Rising
- The Ghost Of Tom Joad
- 4th July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
- Born In The USA
- Born To Run
- Dancing In The Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
- Rockin' All Over The World
- I Wish I Were Blind
- Thunder Road