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

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