Maybe it’s the statement of a jaded old cynic but I can’t help thinking the presence of not one but two opening acts in the tour’s largest venue had as much to do with the tour’s bottom line as it did with a desire to break an emerging act to a wider audience (Dan Sultan) or acknowledging a reunited musical icon (Hunters & Collectors).
News that H&C were getting back together for the Melbourne shows on the Springsteen tour probably helped sell out the first show, which in turn meant a second became a possibility, but the thirty-odd dollar differential between roughly equivalent seats in Melbourne and Sydney multiplied by the thirty-two thousand or so probably comes to a fair bit more than the two opening acts collected for their afternoon appearances.
I must admit Dan Sultan didn’t do a whole lot for me, delivering around fifty minutes of what I thought of as heavy murri thunder that rocked along but didn’t hit any peaks as far as I was concerned. I wouldn’t be going out of my way to catch his set the following night.
The Hunters, on the other hand, rocked out, hit a couple of peaks and warmed things up nicely, if warmed up is the appropriate terminology given an hour or so before the headliner hit the stage.
I’d been half expecting a repeat of last year’s setup, where Bruce’s pre-show playlist went out over the PA with Big Boss Man signalling the emergence of the Brucester, but here we had nothing over the PA with upswells of crowd noise as those in the pit sighted something that might signal the start.
Having checked out set lists from Perth and Adelaide I wasn’t that surprised to find things heading off on the Highway to Hell, and if I’d checked the Melbourne gig guide I mightn’t have been surprised to find Eddie Vedder on stage roaring out the chorus and participating in the verse action.
I saw a suggestion somewhere that it was delivered with all the zeal of an encore, but, really, that’s what you’re always likely to get at the start of a Springsteen show. Get that accelerator straight down onto the floor and don’t let it up too much unless you’re looking to add a little light and shade dynamics.
Vedder was still on stage for Darkness on the Edge of Town, which maintained the momentum nicely and once he was gone there was a second set piece in the form of a Badlands that brought Jake Clemons into the spotlight. On the recording, you can hear the roar as he does.
The recording also gives a sense of the audience involvement and having got them in the temptation would be to hold ‘em there. But it’s early on in a three hour show, and these things require some pacing, so he’s off onto a relative obscurity in the form of a gritty Seeds that rocks along mightily with a killer horn driven groove.
There’s another set piece section as Max Weinberg rides the cymbals and percussionist Everett Bradley hits the front of the stage for High Hopes complete with the old Hendrix chews the strings bit in Tom Morello’s nod solo and an audience singalong in Just Like Fire Would.
And then, for me, the highlight. We know Bruce does sign requests. Has been doing so for a while. Mixes things up very nicely, but Jolie Blon? Holy dooley!
Very obscure, very obscure! remarks Bruce as he takes the sign. The drums roll, and then they’re off into a remarkably concise reading of a track originally cut for The River and then hived off to a Gary U.S. Bonds album. Remarkably, given the obscurity, he still gets the audience singing along. Not that the chorus is difficult, you understand, but getting the best part of thirty thousand people singing along to something they’ve never heard before takes some doing.
Don’t believe me? It’s right there on the recording, as is the roar as another sign delivers Hungry Heart, followed by the crowd sing along at the start. And it’s not that far below what it was for Jolie Blon.
I could, on the other hand, have done without the go to whoa run through Born in the USA, though there were probably thirty thousand people out there who’d disagree. Depends what you’re there for, and I’m there for the surprises and the view of proceedings which is kind of difficult when you’ve got three boogieing women in between you and the stage.
There were some audio distortion issues through Born in the USA, and they’re there on the concert recording as well, but nowhere near as prominent as they were on the night.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and most of my objection to running through the album lay in the notion that it’s heavy on what you might term the usual suspects, tracks that turn up in the set list on a regular basis. Consulting my matrix, however, reveals just about everything except Dancing in the Dark, Bobby Jean, Darlington County and Glory Days has had a single airing at the seven shows I’ve attended to date.
But no one else was objecting.
There was the predictable roar of recognition as they started into Cover Me and Darlington County, and Working on the Highway kept the trio in front of me boogieing.
I’ve never really rated Downbound Train, and again I guess I was in the minority, but I'm on Fire simmered nicely and No Surrender was gloriously triumphant. Bobby Jean maintained the momentum, I'm Goin' Down went as the script suggested it should, and Glory Days was back in the gloriously triumphant singalong mode.
Which brought us to the haul ‘em up from the pit to dance on stage bit and Dancing in the Dark. It’s another one of the regular rituals that get spiced up occasionally. This time the spicing came in the form of a couple of cross-dressers in Afro wigs hauled up to dance with Afro’d backing singer Cindy Mizelle. I guess it takes all kinds, but according to Bruce it’s Only in Australia.
But if there was a highlight in the album run through for me it arrived in a beautifully austere reading of My Home Town. It also set things up for what could only be interpreted as a political statement as Bruce grabbed a sign requesting Factory for all the workers in the car industry who have lost their jobs.
We didn’t just get Factory. There was a Bruce reminiscence about his father’s days working in the Ford plant in Brunswick New Jersey back when Bruce was just a little tacker, a broadside at the reckless and greedy people who tipped the world into turmoil during the Global Financial Crisis and a meditation on the meaning of work and the importance of work in your life before calling for the song in the key of F.
After that, Shackled and Drawn came as absolutely no surprise and an impassioned The Ghost of Tom Joad worked the way it doesn’t (quite) on the High Hopes album. It usually does, but coming off what had gone before it seemed to have a little extra zing. So, for that matter, did The Rising and Land of Hopes and Dreams.
By this point, we were well and truly in the building to the climax stage of the show. Heaven's Wall continued to do that, and the house lights were up for Born to Run. Not that it made a lot of difference to band or audience. It definitely didn’t make any difference to me, not when the track was followed by Rosalita and Moon Mullican’s Seven Nights to Rock and rock they certainly did.
They were three hours into the show when they started into Rosalita, time, as far as Bruce was concerned, to get the party started. Rosalita and Seven Nights were certainly the goods in that department, and while the Tenth Avenue Freezeout video montage had the regular tribute to Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici it was a joyous celebration rather than sombre reflection.
Shout wound up the main proceedings with Bruce possessed by my 30-year-old self and invoking memories of Johnny O’Keefe (at least as far as Hughesy was concerned). There are definitely worse forms of demonic possession.
Unlike the multiple encores last time around, the end of the main set and subsequent public service announcement was followed by a single track, an acoustic guitar and harmonica solo rendition of Promised Land.
And that, boys and girls, was that.
Highway To Hell (With Eddie Vedder)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (With Eddie Vedder)
Just Like Fire Would
Born In The U.S.A.
Working On The Highway
I'm On Fire
I'm Goin' Down
Dancing In The Dark
Shackled And Drawn
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Land Of Hope And Dreams > People Get Ready
Born To Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Seven Nights To Rock
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out