Friday, March 21, 2014

Bruce Springsteen Down Under 2014: Some Preliminary Remarks

There are, I guess, two approaches to writing a concert review, and another two when you’re looking at a run of four shows by the same artist over a relatively short period of twelve days.

As far as the review goes, you can set out to set things down while they’re fresh in your mind, or, alternatively, give yourself a big of time to reflect and analyse.

With four shows in twelve days there’d be a definite case for doing an all-in-one assessment, and another for looking at things on a show by show basis.

There are acts out there where all in one would definitely be the way to go, given a reluctance to shake things up too much, but that’s not the case with Mr Springsteen, as a glance at the accompanying song matrix might suggest.

Actually, where Bruce is concerned, there’s room for both approaches since there are common elements in a show that varies significantly from night to night.

As far as fresh in your mind versus reflect and analyse later is concerned, there are a number of factors this time around that run against the fresh in your mind option.

With a show that runs between three and four hours, kicks off significantly after the notional seven-thirty start and is followed by an hour-long trip back to the accommodation you’re not going to manage too much on the night apart from transferring your scrawled set list into a digital format. Late nights usually mean late rises, and having company with you tends to rule out too much writing activity in the morning if the someone has an itinerary of their own that needs to be attended to.

So it’s much easier to do the fresh in your mind bit when you’re travelling solo. It also helps to have the accommodation reasonably close to the venue, something that never applies when you’re talking Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

Sydney Entertainment Centre or the State Theatre, on the other hand, have very good options right in the neighbourhood, so you can spend the hour that would otherwise be devoted to the commute on recording the details.

So there are a couple of reasons for a significant time lapse between action and recollection, without the new wild card that enters the equation as far as Bruce is concerned.

Until this year you could obtain what have been termed magnetic memories or digital diaries of shows you’ve attended, but that meant waiting for a stealth taper to make their recording available and then waiting to arrange a copy of it.

Not any more. From the start of the High Hopes tour, it’s possible to purchase a digital download of most Springsteen concerts. Ideally, it should be all Springsteen concerts, but one notes the Unavailable beside the second Melbourne show.

Bruce’s Official Store notes that: There are some instances when a live show will not be recorded. The live recordings available for purchase will have the price for that recording shown next to them. Recordings will be available for purchase 2-4 Days after the show.

 At $A11 for the MP3 version and $17 for the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) of a three and a half hour show that’s pretty reasonable.

It also adds another little cash cow to the bottom line, converting something that’s more than likely done for archival purposes into another revenue stream. With set lists appearing reasonably quickly and an obsessive fan base that would run somewhere around a hundred thousand copies of a show that had an interesting setlist.

And Bruce shows always have an interesting setlist, which is the reason Hughesy’s show count is up to seven.

Actually, as I’ve remarked at length in these parts and elsewhere, that count should be up around the dozen mark, or fourteen if I’d decided to head across The Ditch to Auckland.

That pales into insignificance beside the really devoted (and cashed up) fans, where the show count runs up into the hundreds.

The approach that different artists take to their set lists has been a matter of some interest to me over the years, and with Bruce it presents a particularly interesting little bundle of contradictions. For a start he manages to be, simultaneously, professional and spur of the moment improvisational.

We know there’s a setlist.

There has to be, otherwise there’d be no point in having someone tape sheets of paper to the stage in front of the spots occupied by the (count ‘em) four guitarists, bass player and violinist Soozie Tyrell. One assumes there’s something similar for the other dozen players a little further back.
And it’s probably safe to assume three more things.

The first one is that what gets taped down on the stage is an actual setlist, more than likely listing a specific sequence of songs, possibly with a question mark or a /sign after some things that aren’t quite set in concrete.

One assumes Bruce has come up with this based on some notion that serves as a mental organiser, like the album shows this time around. In any case, he knows what he was thinking when he set that out, and it’s safe to assume he’s open to flexibility if a better idea comes up or things aren’t working out as expected.

The second assumption that seems safe is that the support crew has the technology to either deliver the details of any song that has ever been done by Bruce and Band, or do that for any song after a particular point in time. You might guess that some of the really obscure early material hasn’t been documented that way. It seems equally safe to assume that there’s some form of prompt available to remind everyone about the way that one goes.

On that basis you’d figure there’s almost nothing that’s totally out of the question, but some things are more likely than others.

Third, now that we’re talking downloads there’s an extra justification for shaking things up. Not that it’s a prime consideration. Over time there’ll be some form of data about the actual patterns in the sales of downloads.

You’d guess that the four album shows from this tour would have been big sellers in that department, and since the Born to Run show in Melbourne is unavailable at the moment, that’s the most likely candidate for another album show.

Or maybe The River spread over consecutive nights.

The notion that you might shift x number of copies of an album show doesn’t mean you’re going to get one, and it doesn’t rule out album shows in the future if that album has already been done.
And the same way, it seems safe to assume that the shows that include, say, Highway to Hell, Friday on my Mind, Don’t Change and Stayin’ Alive will probably have more appeal than ones that don’t.

That doesn’t explain why they were played, but it does mean there’s a reason to throw in a new cover or dig up a genuine obscurity.

But in any case this run of four shows has made for a genuinely interesting experience and I’ll be looking to repeat the exercise next time Bruce is oiut this way.

And it’s safe to assume he’ll be back.

Two tours in two years mightn’t mean he’ll be back to make it three out of three at the start of 2015, but we know a Bruce tour down under can turn a profit, so the promoters will be happy to bring him back.

And, of course, the northern hemisphere winter raises its own issues as far as the logistics of touring are concerned.

So it seems safe to assume there’ll be at least one more tour down this way unless there’s some significant health issue or other disruptor. The big questions involve when, where and how many can Hughesy get to? Multiple nights in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth provide an excuse to head there for a couple of days, n’est ce pas?

So, over to the show by show recount.

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