Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Allphones Arena Sydney 18 March 2013

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 

I didn't check the time when The Stones' Big Boss Man boomed out across the Allphones Arena, but I'm reliably informed it was 7:25, and a mistake at the end had me thinking we'd had a show that clocked in well over three hours, but the times on display in the Olympic Park station and a subsequent check on the phone suggested a running time around the two and three quarter hour mark.

That might have made it the shortest of the three but what it dropped in time it definitely made up for in sheer oomph.

It also put the kibosh on any notions that someone backstage had been watching the audience filing in and saying Hang on, they're not all in yet.

Or maybe someone had been and Bruce decided enough was enough.

In any case, the three song opening salvo had each title getting a first airing for the tour. American Land was a belated St Patrick's Day offering, and had me reflecting how much Bruce's current style, repertoire and modus operandi has been shaped by The Seeger Sessions album and extensive touring. That has probably been obvious for a while, but American Land and the mid-set Pay Me My Money Down helped underline it.

But it's not all new direction, and a Prove It All Night had the long term fans roaring along before a sign request produced Adam Raised a Cain. Bruce actually grabbed two placards from the pit, returning the one that produced Adam, and stowing the other, seemingly for future reference or souvenir purposes. It'd be interesting to know what was on the orange Day-Glo one...

Things seem to have settled down into a regular pattern as far as the next bit is concerned, with Wrecking Ball and Death to My Hometown holding down roughly the same slots each night once the opening salvo is out of the way.

There's obviously a point being made, and once it had been it seems there's a recognition that things need to be lightened a bit, and Hungry Heart certainly did that. The crowd roared out the first verse, Bruce took a wander along the side around to the walkway behind the pit and surfed his way back to the stage.

This section of the show seemed to be heading into formula territory with My City of Ruins delivering the regular remembering the old faces and acknowledging the new routine. Working the front of the pit Bruce found another youngster, got a quick acknowledgement of the relative youthfullness of the identified party and seems to have settled into grabbing them for a singalong in Waitin’ On a Sunny Day.

Spirit in the Night seems to have grabbed a regular mid-set spot, and had the silence for those who are no longer with us bit, and from there, with what seemed like a couple of formalities out of the way things headed off towards let's loosen things up territory with High Hopes, Youngstown and (the one I'd really been waiting for) Candy's Room.

High Hopes works very well, Youngstown rocked with righteous anger and frustration and segued quickly into that characteristic drum pattern that signifies an impending visit to Candy's Room, which soared the way it should do and morphed very nicely into She's the One.

As Bruce started a your butt is going to start moving of its own volition rap after StO I thought we were in for another Open All Night, which had been my highlight of the previous show. That didn't eventuate, but a rousing Pay Me My Money Down worked the same sort of territory and made for a more than adequate substitute.

From there it was back to set piece territory, with Shackled and Drawn a regular inclusion that needed to be followed by something lighter. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day certainly fits the bill in that department, and the slightly different angle this time around gave a head on view of the interaction that got the singalong kid onto the walkway in front of the pit.

You can't help wondering how long this one will continue, and while you can spot it coming it's the sort of thing that's guaranteed to deliver a roar of approval from the audience. Calculated? Quite possibly. A bit of fun? Quite definitely.

It's also the cue that we're heading into the succession of heavy hits that's going to round out the main set, and this time around that started with The Rising, delivered another powerful Springsteen-Morello double act on The Ghost of Tom Joad and ran out through Badlands, Thunder Road and Born to Run.

The encore bracket (Seven Nights to Rock, Dancing in the Dark and the seemingly inevitable Tenth Avenue Freeze-out wound things up rather nicely.


American Land

Prove It All Night

Adam Raised a Cain 

Wrecking Ball

Death to My Hometown

Hungry Heart

My City of Ruins

Spirit in the Night

High Hopes


Candy's Room

She's the One

Pay Me My Money Down 

Shackled and Drawn

Waitin' on a Sunny Day

The Rising

The Ghost of Tom Joad


Thunder Road

Born to Run


Seven Nights to Rock 

Dancing in the Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Brisbane Entertainment Centre 16 March 2013

Sunday, 17 March 2013

I've had people tell me I have a drinking problem, and I’ll reluctantly concede that (maybe) it's quite possible I do, but there's no way known I'd be leaving my seat during a Springsteen concert in a shout for shout quest for rum and coke. Years ago we had a coaching trinity in the local school cricket fraternity, where the third member, assuming himself to be the Holy Spirit, adopted the moniker Rum and Coke, but in the presence of a performer as messianic and downright riveting as Bruce Springsteen I would have thought sitting tight and taking in every detail was almost mandatory.

That taking in every detail enters considerations because the dude beside me, apart from the regular excursions to the bar, spent a great deal of time doing something that seemed to involve tapping away on a miniature keyboard on his smart phone. I'm not sure what it was, though it may well have been something involving Twitter or some other social media engine, because I was absorbed in taking in every detail, wasn't I?

And from the start of High Hopes, recorded for a Greatest Hits or similar package a fair while back there was plenty of detail to note, particularly given the much better perspective you get from looking down on the stage.

High Hopes was followed by a rousing and robust Promised Land, the seemingly obligatory when it's the title track of the current album and the label for the whole tour shebang Wrecking Ball, and Death to My Hometown, which was certainly rousing and delivered with passion aplenty, but I hope it gets a rest in Sydney on Monday night.

Out in the Street went down rather well in all quarters, while My City of Ruins and Spirit in the Night are another couple of tracks that look like candidates for every show status. City works well in the wake of recent events, and Spirit gives an opportunity for the Clarence/Jake thing, so I'm not objecting on either front.

In any case, how can you object when Bruce follows those two set pieces with Incident on 57th Street, The River, Atlantic City and Open All Night?

The first three of that quartet were merely great, but the rock and rolling Open All Night was, for me anyway, the highlight of the evening. It rocked, it rolled, it swung and it boogied set to bust without quite managing to actually do so. Bust, that is. It certainly delivered in spades on all other fronts. Great stuff.

After that, Darlington County and Shackled and Drawn might have been a let down, but they roared along just fine, maintaining a definite momentum into Waitin' on a Sunny Day where we got one of those moments that would probably look corny, fake and showbizzy in other hands, but worked beautifully here.

Earlier in proceedings during the soul interlude in My City of Ruins Bruce had been working the front of the stage when he'd paused midstream in a monologue about continuity to ask a kid who must have been right there in the front row how old he was. Eleven was the reply.

Bruce’s response? And we'll be doing this (or still doing this or words to that effect) when you bring your eleven year-old son to the show! Fine, fair enough, a bit of hyperbole perhaps, but it's a nice thought.

Now, midway through Sunny Day he hauls this kid up (maybe not the same kid, but if it wasn't there were two in very close front row proximity) and hands him the microphone. The kid's not going to be chased down by competing record companies any time soon, but he had a go, delivered a rather ordinary performance, and nobody minded because all the rest of us were probably just as bad. But it worked...

It was good to hear Racing in the Street, which is one of my favourite Bruce as everyday dude with a passion songs, and Badlands was another one I'd been hoping for that hadn't gained a guernsey on Thursday night. Tom Morello was a bit more subdued than he'd been on Thursday night, but really cut loose on The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Land of Hope and Dreams brought the main set to a stirring close. I would have liked to have been on the receiving end of one of those rock'n'holy roller raves Bruce has been known to deliver in LoHaD, but it didn't happen, so there you go.

A girl down the front had been brandishing a Blinded by the E Street Light sign all night, and that seemingly influenced the selection that opened the encore. Conversation revealed it was her favourite track, and she liked to dance to it, but Bruce had already decided to embark on a solo acoustic rendition, claiming to be unsure whether he could remember it and suggesting he'd probably stuff it up.

Again, like much Bruce's shtick, you might see this sort of thing as contrived and acted out, but if it is he's a mighty skilled contriver, and a better than average actor. A bit of finding his way, a visual oh yeah, that's it, and he was off into a reading that certainly looked unplanned.

There probably wasn't anything unplanned about the three song salvo that followed, though. Born to Run is one of those ones everybody probably expects to hear, and the encore is probably a good place to hear it, Bobby Jean was a fairly obvious choice when you're looking for a good time rocker to help wind things up, Dancing in the Dark is another of the obvious suspects and you can't help thinking Tenth Avenue Freeze-out is the finale of choice these days, with its opportunity to remember Clarence and Danny, so you can't really complain about getting it twice.

The remembering the ghosts that walk beside us bit didn't get the silence I seemed to recall from Thursday (I was sure it had happened but maybe it was my imagination) but that just underlines the variability of the Springsteen setlist.

There's a definite appearance of planning, and you'd have to reckon the set list is carefully planned in advance, delivering a variety of songs people sort of expect to hear (given the size of the back catalogue you can't include them all and have time for the other elements) along with a couple from the latest album, a few that reflect current concerns and a couple that are there for the hard core fans who do multiple nights and are looking for an obscurity or three.

At the same time, while everything's probably planned out, with the basic structure possibly being done well in advance, there's a definite appearance of a willingness to throw away the script and fly by the seat of the pants if the mood strikes.

As I remarked in my look at Thursday night's show, back at the start, I'd had slight and momentary misgivings about the wisdom of going for three in a row (not that there's much chance of getting to non-sequential multiples when you live where I do) but those had been pretty well blown away by the end of Thursday night.

Now, faced with the prospect of a single remaining show I'm regretting I didn't (at least) book a seat for Sydney Two. After the show on Monday those regrets will probably have multiplied, and next time I'll definitely be looking at more than three. Given my other tastes you might think that Bruce is a little close to the mainstream, but based on two shows and the prospect of a third, Bruce goes on to join Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson as next time I'm going to the lot of 'em candidates.

Neil Young's in there too, of course, and hopefully the next time Bruce and Neil tour they'll do so with sufficient separation between tours so certain old fogeys can rest and recuperate between tours as well as between shows...


High Hopes 

The Promised Land 

Wrecking Ball

Death to My Hometown

Out in the Street 

My City of Ruins

Spirit in the Night

Incident on 57th Street 

The River

Atlantic City

Open All Night

Darlington County 

Shackled and Drawn

Waitin' on a Sunny Day

Racing in the Street


The Ghost of Tom Joad

Land of Hope and Dreams 


Blinded By the Light (solo acoustic) 

Born to Run

Bobby Jean 

Dancing in the Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Brisbane Entertainment Centre 14 March 2013

Friday, 15 March 2013

In some ways, I guess, you might expect a juggernaut to take a bit of time to get moving. Inertia and all that, a need for time to gather momentum.

I wasn't completely blown away by the first couple of numbers in last night's Springsteen show, and it may have had something to do with the fact we're looking at a fifteen piece outfit coming off a three month break between tours. Takes a little bit of time to get things meshing tightly together and all that. I guess it happens.

Then again, it might be me. There were a couple of non-Bruce elements that impinged on the opening salvo from a quite magnificent outfit, and maybe it was more a case of Hughesy getting himself into the swing of things rather than Bruce and company needing time to get the gears meshing in the required manner.

I'd arrived in plenty of time, noted the existence of what looked like queues for the GA (non-seated) part of the house, and encountered an acquaintance from years back who has gone on to carve out his own little niche in the Music business. With the show allegedly due to start shortly after seven Watto cast an evaluatory eye over the situation and remarked that they'd be pushing to get things away on time.

In any case I was inside and seated comfortably before seven, watching from my space on the floor, trying to figure out why I wasn't where I thought I was supposed to be and wondering how long it was going to take to have them usher the crowd to their allocated seats once they'd deigned to leave the bar. By seven-thirty most of the crowd were in and seated, but there seemed to be a bit of coming and going. I hoped no one was watching and saying "Hang on, they're not all in yet."

That coming and going also reminded me that I really should have bought water on the way in. Do it now? Go back out, snaffle a bottle and probably miss the start? Be forced to negotiate my way back to the seat in the middle of the row past people out to max out their concert enjoyment? Naah. Sit it out and wait.

Lastly, having decided from the Neil experience that a seat in the banked sections on the side wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as people made their way to the allocated seats on the floor I realized there were going to be visibility issues once people in front started to stand.

Later checks on the seating arrangements delivered a clear distinction between A Reserve Lower Circle (Section 11) and B Reserve Floor (Section S11) that obviously hadn't been obvious when I booked the tickets three months back.

In any case, regardless of what actually caused the impression that things took a while to get moving, it doesn't matter because four numbers into the set everything was rocking along quite wonderfully in a set that ran to a good three hours.

Sirens blaring and everything bar the kitchen sink thumping and blaring along, We Take Care of Our Own was probably a predictable choice for an opener, but given that three month break (or the other factors, take your pick it's six of one and half a dozen of t'other) I had a definite sense of things not quite meshing the way they should, and following it with a cover of The Saints' Just Like Fire Would might have been a nod to one of Brisbane's most noted bands but wasn't likely to set the arena into paroxysms of ecstasy.

It's not as if The Saints are a household name in these parts and I, for one, wasn't familiar with the track, what with All Fools Day slipping past my guard back in what I've been known to label The Wilderness Years. When you're talking iconic Brisbane songs they aren't exactly thick on the ground. It might have been interesting to see an E Street version of I'm Stranded, but you wouldn't be holding your breath. Maybe the three guitars doing an acoustic Cattle and Cane, but that wouldn't have worked coming after We Take Care of Our Own, would it?

Wrecking Ball was starting to get things together, but when they launched into Badlands any bugs that had been there from the start had seemingly sorted themselves out and I was resigned to the fact that it was going to be an up and down sort of show depending on what the substantial section of the crowd in front of where I was sitting was doing and which part of it was doing it.

Now, I realize you've probably got no business sitting at a Bruce concert, but if you're going to put seats into a flattish area you either need a bit of a slope or else they shouldn't be there at all. End of story.

Badlands, however, was where things really got themselves together and from that point there was no (or very little, unless you were inclined to dwell on the start) looking back. You're possibly not inclined to roar along with We Take Care of Our Own early on (though you may well be doing so later), and Wrecking Ball's in much the same boat, but the anthemic Badlands, well, that's different. A chorus that begs you to give voice to the frustrations, and there was a goodly bunch of throats around the auditorium that did.

Having loosened things up that way, Death to My Hometown worked better than its Wrecking Ball colleagues had done earlier, and Hungry Heart got the voices roaring again. Not the sort of thing you'd have been looking for if you were taping the show, perhaps, but as far as getting the audience in is concerned...

There was a heartfelt introduction to My City of Ruins, referring to the natural disaster of Hurricane Sandy, and Spirit in the Night jived and gyrated along, working that R&B groove for all it was worth and bringing Jake Clemons into the spotlight role formerly filled by Uncle Clarence.

Clarence's passing brought its share of anguish at the time, and continues to do so as the encore demonstrated, but the most significant issue that came out of it was how to fill the sizeable hole he'd left in the stage presence. Replace one man with another and you're bound to get comparisons. Replace one man with something demonstrably different (a relative as part of an enhanced brass section) and you're adding some different sonic possibilities. Make the horn section something that's individually mic'ed rather than blowing into a fixed object and you've got further possibilities in the visual dynamics department.

It was around Spirit in the Night that those matters became a bit more evident as far as Hughesy was concerned, and The E Street Shuffle reinforced the same conclusion. Around this point in the show there was the first of a number of references to The E Street Band as a show band, and Bruce seemed quite determined to emphasize what I took to be a reference to the bands that worked the Irish circuit from the mid-fifties through to the end of the seventies and provided the inspiration for The Commitments in the movie and the Roddy Doyle novel.

I'd seen passing references to this particularly Irish phenomenon, but a wander over into the Wikipedia suggested an outfit based on the internationally popular six or seven piece dance band with a repertoire that ranged from rock and roll and country and western songs to traditional dixieland jazz ... Irish traditional and Céilidh music.

Usually comprising a rhythm section, lead guitar and keyboards augmented by a brass section, this isn't, from where I'm sitting, a million miles away from the E Streeters anyway, and when the Wikipedia goes on to refer to the fact that they usually played standing up, rather than sitting a la the earlier Big Bands, and created momentum by playing while stepping, dipping and bopping in the manner of Bill Haley & His Comets, and the more successful bands toured Irish clubs located in Britain, the United States and Canada.

Later comments in the lead up to The Apollo Medley made it quite clear Bruce and his Jersey Shore confreres spent a lot of time studying the great soul and R&B performers. looks like his Irish ancestry might have exposed him to something that didn't have quite the same cachet but is increasingly coming out in his more recent work.

There was definitely something familiar about the everybody lined out across the front of the stage routine that became a recurrent sight through the show and had a certain uncannily familiar je ne sais quoi about it. On subsequent reflection I'm inclined to put it down to a substantial dose of the Michael Flatleys...

That's not a put down, by the way, more an identification of what looks like a deliberate decision to add an element that definitely works in the theatrical sense.

Theatrics weren't quite as much to the fore during Jack of All Trades, which was one that got the crowd off their feet, but they were back up for Murder Incorporated and a very rocky Johnny 99. It was easy to pick the opening of Because the Night, and equally easy to roar along, and as the band headed off into She's the One I started wondering whether we might get some of the didgeridoo meets Bo Diddley beat Bruce used to favour in the seventies in the old Mona > She's the One medley back in the (bootleg) day.

Shackled and Drawn had things back in Celtic show band mode, and Waitin' on a Sunny Day had the audience participation factor right up where the tapers would prefer it wasn't before the Apollo Medley (basically, in this incarnation The Way You Do the Things You Do > 6345789) delivered an exercise in working the crowd for all it was worth. Having studied at the feet of a few masters, Bruce delivered a master class of his own.

The Rising rose and roared, Tom Morello came to the fore with some stunningly atmospheric guitar work on The Ghost of Tom Joad and Thunder Road brought the main part of the proceedings to a close in a suitably robust fashion.

There were a number of candidates for inclusion in the subsequent obligatory encore that had already appeared in the evening's set list, and We Are Alive mightn't have seemed an obvious candidate to kick off the encore proceedings, but I thought it worked rather well, with a bit of Bruce storytelling leading into the number itself. In these situations I think it pays to have them sit down and regather the strength before you get 'em back up on their feet again.

And that back up on the feet again is what you want to wind up an evening, isn't it?

Born to Run, Glory Days and Dancing in the Dark might all be likely candidates for the encore, and you might be looking for something less obvious if you're a gnarled veteran of multiple shows over numerous tours, but if Bruce decides to go with the more obvious candidates at my first show, that's fine with me. I'd been waiting something like thirty years in the wilds of North Queensland to break my Bruce duck, so whatever appeared first time around was fine with me.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-out as the closing track was, however, a master stroke, producing Bruce’s third foray into the crowd, images of Clarence and Danny on the big screen and delivering a master class as a great performer worked the audience into where he wanted them to wind things up.

I'd be lying if I denied that, around a minute and a half into We Take Care of Our Own, I wasn't having some misgivings about the wisdom of signing on for three shows, but Badlands took care of that, thank you very much, and I'll be out there bright and early for Saturday's show and on to Sydney.

We Take Care of Our Own
Just Like Fire Would
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
Hungry Heart
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Murder Incorporated
Johnny 99
Because the Night
She's the One
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Apollo Medley
The Rising
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Thunder Road
We Are Alive
Born to Run
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Neil Young: Brisbane and Sydney March 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

For a while, fool that I was (and, arguably, still am) I was thinking two Neil Young and Crazy Horse concerts would be enough.

Predictably, they're not, though any attempt to increase the NY/CH quotient would result in an automatic reduction in the Springsteen allocation over the next week or so. Sure, I could have headed on to Melbourne for another two shows during the week and weaken in my resolve to avoid winery shows on the weekend, but that'd rule out the two Bruce shows in Brisbane. Oh well...

Looking at these matters in the cold hard light of rational reality, you might think two Horse-driven shows are at least one more than necessary, and on a strictly rational application of logic you might have a point.

I landed in Brisbane pretty sure of what I was going to be getting.

Over the years, watching these matters from a distance, there's an invariable wow, he played that! factor on the first show or two of a tour, but after the second, or maybe the third assuming you're looking at something lengthier than a ten-show swing across Australia and New Zealand, things are more or less set in stone and there's not much room for variation.

In other settings, with other musicians, you might find a bit of variation in the set list, but when we're talking Neil and The Horse you might as well forget it. "They all sound the same," some Frenchman in the crowd called out in 1996, producing a Neil riposte suggesting that it's all one song.

Which it is. Neil dons the harmonica brace for Heart of Gold and Twisted Road, and heads over to sit behind the piano (the upright piano, which explains the girl carrying the guitar case) for Singer Without a Song but for the rest of the just under two and a quarter hours it's fairly obvious what you're going to get.

Anyone walking out of one of these shows and lamenting the absence of the hits either failed to notice the & Crazy Horse on the ticket, or hasn't realized the significance of the two words after the ampersand. This is the behaviour Rusties (members of the on-line aggregation of Neil fans a.k.a. The Rust list) and Winterlongers (the Australian subset thereof) characterize as HoGTT territory.

And if you are, in fact, a Heart of Gold Toe Tapper who wants a set list heavy on Harvest, Comes a Time, Harvest Moon and Silver & Gold you either don't shell out the bucks for a Crazy Horse show  or, having realized your mistake, cop it sweet and exercise due diligence next time around, because, somehow, I don't think Neil's going to be changing his modus operandi Horse-wise any time soon.

But if you're there for loud and electric you're almost guaranteed a good time.

That almost comes with a nod in the direction of well, you do realize he'll be playing a selection of his most recent stuff, don't you?

Assuming you've got all those bases covered (loud, electric, will contain recent material so there's not much room for older material) you're almost certainly in for a good time, from the opening chords of Love and Only Love to the last squalls of feedback at the end of My My Hey Hey and on through whatever Neil decides is going to constitute the encore this time around.

Love and Only Love, from where I'm sitting is close to the ideal opener in these circumstances, driven by a solid riff that allows the quartet to stretch a bit and blow whatever cobwebs might be in the vicinity away. That, I think, is an important consideration. Crazy Horse, in all it's ragged garage band glory, doesn't sit in the virtuoso I practice two to three hours every day, man sphere, and they need a chance to loosen up and find the groove. Love and Only Love certainly allows them to do that.

With the preliminaries out of the way, the groove located and the beast warmed up it's sort of into Greatest Hits mode for Powderfinger, which mightn't have been an actual hit, but occupies a significant place in Neil's epic repertoire. A nod to Rust Never Sleeps, and a classic song that's an almost perfectly self-contained saga.

From there Born in Ontario occupies the same sort of role as its cousin brother Homegrown, delivering a chunk of stomp along groove that equates to a bit of light and shade after Powderfinger in the lead up to what you'd have to describe as the first real set piece on the show.

Walk Like a Giant comes across pretty strongly as one of the centre pieces on Psychedelic Pill, but on stage it reveals a sense of rage that doesn't quite come across in the studio version. That's most obvious towards the end when plastic bags and sheets of newspaper start drifting across the stage as Neil and Old Black deliver squalls of sonic assault that equate to the end of the world as we know it.

That's my take on it, anyway. Walk Like a Giant takes the inner rage Neil mentions in Ontario and turns it into an apocalyptic vision that's diametrically opposed to the old T.S. Eliot not with a bang, with a whimper. It seems, as far as Neil is concerned, we're not going quietly into the night....

The environmental apocalypse gets another airing in Hole in the Sky, one of two so far unrecorded numbers in a fairly small setlist, and it may stay unrecorded because it may only exist as a wind down from what went before leading into an acoustic mini set in the middle of proceedings. Lyrically, it's a case of There's a hole in the sky and not much more, but the Horse harmonies help it work in ways a more verbose statement mightn't.

Both nights the appearance of the acoustic guitar and the neck brace produced a fairly hearty roar, suggesting the presence of a healthy contingent of HoGTTs and a strong hint of finally, here's something we know. Predictably, something we know turned out to be Heart of Gold, which might have been something but probably didn’t equate to much if you’re coming out of HoGTT Territory.

From there we got Twisted Road, another one I could have done without but can appreciate the reasons for its existence and inclusion in that particular slot.

And it's obvious there is a certain amount of thought that has gone into the presentation for these shows. Neil obviously wants a piano song in there, otherwise the piano wouldn't be there, and Singer Without a Song is going to be it. Seat him behind the old-fashioned upright on stage right, however, and he's out of sight of a fair section of audience. Billy Talbot's on stage to deliver some harmonies, and Poncho Sampedro has an acoustic guitar around his neck, but there's not much visual interest there. In that setting an attractive girl carrying a guitar case adds something. At least that's the way it looked from where I was sitting.

With the quiet bit out of the way the volume went back up for the second set piece, the quite magnificent Ramada Inn, like Walk Like a Giant one of the centre pieces of Psychedelic Pill, twenty minutes of thunder leavened with the harmonies on the And every morning comes the sun bit. HoGTTs can moan all they like about unfamiliar material and the lack of the likes of Down by the River, Cortez the Killer and Like a Hurricane, and, admittedly it would be nice to hear them, but when Neil can still produce something that's this good I, for one, won't be complaining.

Your mileage may vary on this, but the thirst piece highlight comes in the form of the mildly notorious Fuckin’ Up, which has been a regular part of the setlist since Ragged Glory and has evolved into an interesting piece of staged presentation that really takes off if the right people with the right gestures are in Neil and Poncho's line of sight. There was a fairly substantial Winterlong contingent along the rail, and they were right into goading and gesticulation mode, which made for some interesting visuals on the big screens on either side of the stage.

Not that they were looking at the big picture, of course.

After Sydney I ran a remark about his moment of prominence past the inimitable Stub King and got a Was I? In return, which of course explains why he ended up on the screen in the first place. It's fairly obvious Neil and Poncho are having fun with the current version, and that, I suspect helped shape what followed.

I've heard my share of concert recordings over the years, and most of them have been fairly light on for the on stage repartee, but something has changed over recent years.  Where once you might be lucky to get anything beyond a couple of How ya doin?s, the time machine sequence that leads into Cinnamon Girl is positively verbose, with wry remarks about those in the audience who wouldn't have been there yet as far as Zuma and Tonight's the Night are concerned.

Cinnamon Girl rocked, My My Hey Hey did likewise and you really got a sense of the mount of fun Neil and the Horse are having on stage when it gets to the obligatory encore. Perth had Roll Another Number, Adelaide got Like a Hurricane and I would have been happy to see LaH reprised in Brisbane or Sydney.

Instead, in Brisbane they led off with Opera Star (not played since the European tour in 2001) before heading off to Roll Another Number, while in Sydney two chords were all I needed to recognize Prisoners of Rock & Roll, which segued nicely into Opera Star.

Looking back, you might be inclined to think, despite Hughesy's enthusiasm, that one show is about enough, but with the interval between Sydney and the time this review makes its way onto the blog and into the Reviews section of the website there's one additional factor that suggests it's a case of too much Neil isn't nearly enough.

I refer, of course, to Wednesday's show at The Plenary, with Cortez the Killer, Dangerbird, Barstool Blues and Sedan Delivery turning up in the set list in a show that ran close to three hours.

Neil's inclined to the predictable once things have started moving but that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to stay that way. After two quite stellar shows you might be disappointed to have missed one that sailed right off into the stratosphere, but that's the way things are.

Should Neil be headed back this way with The Horse in tow, Hughesy's going, come hell or high water. Now for a triple serving of Bruce...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Los Lobos "By the Light of the Moon" (4.5*)

 If you want to be pedantic it’s actually their fifth recording but (and it’s roughly contemporaneous with the La Bamba soundtrack) but it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that we’re bordering on the old difficult third album syndrome hereabouts, but there’s a bit more to it than that. After the quantum leap from ...And a Time to Dance to How Will the Wolf Survive there’s an inevitable question of where next, and the answer mightn’t sit too comfortably with those who’d like a repeat of last time, thank you very much.

Things certainly kick off in familiar territory with One Time One Night, but a listen to the lyrics reveal a darker undercurrent running beneath an age-old song about the home of the brave/In this land here of the free and the difference between rhetoric and reality. That’s my reading, anyway, as Hidalgo and Perez take a look at the landscape, don’t particularly like what they see but mask the disappointment behind a lively slice of roots rock.

T-Bone Burnett and Cesar Rosas share the writing credit on the gritty Shakin' Shakin' Shakes, which bops along quite merrily, and makes a pleasant contrast to what’s happening on either side of it. Hidalgo and Pérez are back in the spotlight for Is This All There Is? directing their scrutiny towards a supposed promised land that fails to deliver and leaves tired souls with empty hands asking whether there’s anything around that doesn’t constitute disappointment. Cesar Rosas steps up to the microphone for the traditional Prenda Del Alma, a heartfelt romantic ballad with Hidalgo’s accordion swirling away in the background.

While on the surface All I Wanted To Do Was Dance comes across as smoky R&B there’s a touch of social commentary under the surface, and Rosas, whose assigned writing role seems to involve supplying the hopping and bopping antidote to the darker Hidalgo/Pérez material, is back with Set Me Free (Rosa Lee) which rocks along just fine.

The social realism’s back to the fore, as you’d guess from the title, in The Hardest Time, a portrait of loneliness and domestic despair, a topic you might have thought was being explored further in My Baby's Gone, but it’s Cesar Rosas with a  Chicago blues before the trio of Hidalgo/Pérez compositions that wind things up and present what looks awfully like a statement of the Los Lobos world view.

If you take the first of them, River of Fools at face value, there’s nothing on Earth that’s going to save you from the evils and general meanness that surrounds you, particularly, I guess, if you’re Hispanic and operating on the margins of The Mess We're In. We’re in it and there’s not much chance of getting out of it in this life,  the Tears of God will show you the way/The way to turn.

There is, I think, a definite progression in the emerging Los Lobos catalogue. ...And a Time to Dance was, to all intents and purposes, an introduction (obvious, but a point that needs to be made), a dance album that reflected the environment the band had been working to earn their bread and butter. Once they’d hit that wider stage How Will the Wolf Survive? took those elements and fleshed them out with doses of “this is where we’re coming from” (in other words, continuing the theme from the first one) and “this is what we want to say,” exploring the edges of the social issues and harsh realities of life in the Hispanic community while maintaining the R&B-flavoured rock framework.

By the Light of the Moon takes that a step further, introducing a contemplative side that delivers light and shade to the mix as they head towards more overt social and political comment. In that sort of environment they still need the good time material, and in those circumstances Cesar Rosas’ role is a vital element in the mix. You could point towards this as displaying a “curiously divided soul” but I’m more inclined towards a deliberate intention to leaven the topical exploration of social issues surrounding working-class people who see the notional promise of America passing them by.

Those last two tracks may be leaning towards wishing and hoping but there are, after all, circumstances where wishes and hopes, along with a strong dose of faith is all you’ve got.

Todd Rundgren "Faithful" (4*)

Todd Rundgren’s seventh album is another example of the positive side of the era when you needed to get up out of the armchair (or whatever) and physically manipulate the source of your listening pleasure (assuming you weren’t listening to the radio)...

While 1976 was comfortably into the cassette era, the medium you used when consuming your taste in music was still a two-sided affair, something that delivered possibilities you don’t get with the everything on one side CD or the carry your music collection in your pocket MP3 device. The need to turn the item in question over to continue listening delivered some interesting possibilities when it came to sequencing content.

The mid-seventies, with the artistic torpor that had settled in after the heady days of the late sixties when, literally, anything was possible was a prime time for revisiting the artist’s roots, often, in the cynic’s view of things, because the artist didn’t have enough new material that was good enough to stack up into a viable recording project. You can cite any number of examples, from Bowie’s Pin-Ups, to Bryan Ferry’s solo works, The Band’s Moondog Matinee and John Lennon’s Rock & Roll, and there have been any number of similar efforts over the past forty years but Faithful takes the task of replicating your influences a step further than most, matching a side of almost perfect recreations of '60s classics with a side of new material that’s obviously influenced by the other side but is also the product of another decade’s worth of experience.

Of course, there’s also a fair degree of exhibitionist behaviour in there as well, what with the look ma, see how close I can get to original masterpieces, aren’t I a clever boy? factor that you suspect was lurking below the surface. Rundgren, one notes, originally shot to prominence as a studio whiz-kid who could also write and play a bit.

So, setting out with the intention to deliver faithful reproductions that amount to replicas of the originals, your mileage is going to vary in accordance with your inbuilt why bother? factor. Most of the replicas would have coincided nicely with the origins of Rundgren’s early band, The Nazz, and the Yardbirds’ Happenings Ten Years Time Ago or The Beatles’ Rain would quite possibly have turned up in the Anglophile outfit’s very early set-lists.

Those renditions would have been pretty standard fare for Stateside garage bands with Anglophile tendencies, and given his status as the jingle jangle voice of his generation it’s no surprise to find Dylan’s Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) finding its way into the mix, though it mightn’t have been one of the most obvious suspects.

On the same basis, once he’d been elevated to blowing his countrymen’s minds after unrecognised years on the chitlin’ circuit, Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9 would have found its way into the average garage band’s setlist assuming the guitarist could get his fingers around Jimi’s licks, and if you were looking towards the look ma, aren’t I a clever boy? factor as far as classic 1960s psychedelic-era songs that needed to be replicated by a studio whiz kid are concerned Good Vibrations and Strawberry Fields Forever would be pretty close to no-brainers.

According to Rundgren the motivation behind all this was to treat the material as if it was classical music, with the pieces being performed without much departure from the magnificent original, and that’s pretty much what Rundgren achieves here. Close enough to be impressive, just different enough to have you recognize that it isn’t The Yardbirds, Beach Boys, Jimi, Bob or the Fab Four.

Proceeding from there to the original material, there’s a clavinet at the forefront of the hard-edged, heavy-rocking Black and White with flashy guitar grooves combining with layered harmonies to deliver a punchy slab of power pop, and Love of the Common Man matches a straightforward chorus with an intricate vocal arrangement to produce something that’s sunny and very close to lighter than air, infectious stuff that’s quality pop.

It’s at this point that some of us start scratching our heads and wondering why he bothered with the covers on the other side, and there’s a partial answer in When I Pray a sort of bossa nova singalong with a catchy ya ya yo chorus that heads across into what sounds awfully like mockery. One I suspect will be getting the shuffle treatment after today...

The sunny pop is back on Cliché, which works a bit better than the previous track but doesn’t quite get back up to Common Man territory,  with a strong melody, the trademark intricate harmonies and a sweetish, if clichéd ending. The album’s showpiece, however, comes in the seven and a half minute analysis of the meaning of The Verb "To Love", a lush, slow-building Philadelphia soul ballad that teeters on the edge of becoming overblown and probably needs something like the guitar based rampant pro-vegetarian propaganda of Boogies (Hamburger Hell) to round things off before the album ends.

Recorded with a four-piece Utopia (in this version, Roger Powell, keyboards; John Siegler, bass; Willie Wilcox, drums), Faithful comes across as mildly schizophrenic, impressive enough to remind the listener of Rundgren’s ability to write, arrange and record quality straight-up pop songs as well as the major artistic statements he seemed to be heading towards in the wake of Something/Anything.