Friday, March 21, 2014

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Allphones Arena Sydney 19 February 2014

At this point we start to recognise that Bruce, or someone close to him, has a fair working knowledge of Australian rock history. Not necessarily a deep one, but with The Saints turning up in the setlist on a regular basis through Just Like Fire Would and nods to AccaDacca earlier in the tour you’d have to put a tick in the box beside general awareness.

Highway to Hell kicked off proceedings in Perth, which, if I recall correctly (and I’m not inclined to check) was Bon Scott’s home town, and they did it again to start the first show in Melbourne, another city with a reasonable AC/DC connection.

So you might not be surprised to find Friday on my Mind kicking off proceedings in The Easybeats’ home city, but it runs a little deeper than that.

There was an interview in (I think) RAM magazine where Bruce rated it as one of the all-time great rock songs, said he’d love to play it live but had a monstrous degree of difficulty in figuring out the guitar part. That would have been back in the days when guitar duties were shared between Bruce and Miami Steve, who’s not the greatest technical exponent of guitar intricacies or between Bruce and Nils Lofgren, who’s considerably more proficient.

But with (count ‘em) four guitarists available on stage and Soozie Tyrell if you happen to need a fifth, maybe some of those issues disappear.

In any case it was an ideal opener, and following it with Out on the Street, which seems to have been his attempt to have been his attempt to work the same territory (according to this interview with, of all people, Molly Meldrum, when I wrote it I was trying to copy one of my all time favourite songs, “Friday On My Mind” by the Easybeats … In my town, there was a particular place you drove to on Friday that was filled with teenagers and “Out In the Street” was my attempt at that writing about that image but with a Beatles type structure) definitely kept the vibe going, as did Cadillac Ranch. Those two aren’t exactly obscurities, but they’re not numbered among the obvious suspects for the set list rotation either.

Which is more than you can say for High Hopes, Just Like Fire Would and Spirit in the Night. The first two, however, are both on the new album, with The Saints’ cover apparently (I don’t listen to the radio) picking up airwave exposure. I could have done without either or both of ‘em, but if Bruce is going to preface Spirit with another reminiscence about something or other, that’s fine with me.

This time around it was an exposition about toilet technology he claimed to have never seen before, and the man is obviously a rather talented story teller. In any case there are a couple of aspects that spring Spirit into the usual suspects particularly, as was the case here, in a setting that allows him to crowd surf back to the stage while Jake wails away on sax. Jake wasn’t actually doing the wailing this time, having returned to the States following a family bereavement, but Ed Manion worked the same territory just as well.

Kinda corny once you’ve seen it a couple of times, but it still gets you in. Regular rituals and all that.

And when we’re talking regular rituals, with Born in the USA and Born to Run getting go to whoa run throughs in Melbourne, you’d probably figure Darkness on the Edge of Town for the same treatment here. I hadn’t really been overwhelmed by the decision to run through BitUSA, though I was probably one of a very small minority in that regard. BTR is slightly different because there are tracks there that don’t quite qualify as the usual setlist suspects (Night, Meeting Across the River) and it does have the title track, She’s the One and Jungleland.

But if I’d had to pick an album to get the treatment I would definitely have gone for Darkness. Like a shot. For one reason. Candy’s Room. But we’ll get to that, won’t we?

For all the glorification of America and things American, there’s a grimness lurking under the veneer, and we’ve got some of the same here, which makes the bookends of Badlands and Darkness as appropriate in this time and place as they were when they were written in the mid-seventies.

So we start with an incendiary Badlands, always a concert favourite, run the angst quotient up to the max with an angry Bruce guitar solo for Adam Raised a Cain and drop things back a tad as pianist Roy Bittan shines on Something in the Night.

And then there’s Candy's Room, a perfect statement of obsessive lust. Every time I hear that rattling rustle on the cymbals …

But it’s the sequencing and the light and shade that makes Darkness such a great album. After that howl of lust things drop back to everyday life and quiet despair for Racing in the Street and the reading here was magnificent, the instrumental ending stately and immaculately paced.

From there, The Promised Land offered the usual affirmation, always a concert highlight because if you’re the sort of person who goes to Springsteen shows you do believe in the promised land, don’t you. And you’ll roar out the chorus with the rest of the believers. Anticipation of hope out of despair is what it’s all about, but the frustration and mixed emotions of everyday existence are still there, as Factory reminds us.

Streets of Fire was committed and fiercely intense, Prove It all Night for my money did, especially during Nils Lofgren’s solo and Darkness on the Edge of Town wrapped things up neatly.

And to think we weren’t that far past half way through the show…

Darlington County balanced things up nicely after the intensity of Darkness, but it was a momentary thing. It did get Bruce off into the stalls eating potato chips and skolling beer but Shackled and Drawn delivers a reminder of what we’re still up against.

Which brings us to Waitin' on a Sunny Day, which, to be honest, I wish it didn’t. Sure, it’s a joyous little singalong, and you can get a certain amount of interest seeing if you can spot the kid Bruce is going to grab out of the pit to have a sing. But it’s becoming formula, and while it gives the crowd a buzz I wasn’t sad to see it missing from the first show in Melbourne.

There are probably those who feel much the same way about the Morello factor in The Ghost of Tom Joad, but it’s obvious that Bruce and Tom have a message, and it’s fairly pointed when Morello points to the Aboriginal flag on his shirt around the line about if there’s someone struggling to be free

It’s an activist song, and played with an activist rage and intensity.

And it’s entirely appropriate to follow it with the anthemic Land of Hopes and Dreams.

That was it for the main set, but time wasn’t up yet. Take a bow, line the four guitarists out across the front of the stage, count the band into a chiming riff and watch the gradual recognition as the pincers realise they’re getting the INXS signature tune Don't Change.

Actually, you can hear the recognition on the recording, and it’s a bloody good reading. As stated earlier, Bruce obviously has a fair working knowledge of classic Australian rock.

The house lights were up for Born to Run and, for once, something went wrong on stage.  The band were in full flight and suddenly the wheels fell off. Don’t know why, but Bruce called a halt, they started again, got it right and the song was followed by the announcement that it was the fastest version ever. Or words to that effect.

But they still weren’t done. There isn’t a whole lot you can say about Dancing in the Dark and
Tenth Avenue Freezeout once you’ve seen the routines a couple of times, but they get the crowd up and moving and Shout  maintains the frenzy, which is what you want at the end, isn’t it?

But if that side of things seems stage managed (and it certainly is) there’s room for spontaneity.

There’s a bow, the band depart and Bruce appears, acoustic guitar and harmonica brace in place. Fine, we’re in for This Hard Land or something. Can’t be The Promised Land, that was on Darkness.

But wait. There’s a sign requesting Surprise Surprise, for Eddie, who’s just turned twenty-three, the age at which, Bruce reminisces he’d just written Blinded By The Light, noting my brain was fucking scrambled at the time. And with Surprise, Surprise we’re still not done. He hasn’t done the Food Bank public service announcement, and he’s got to play something after that to finish off.

Actually, after a remark about the song, you’d think Blinded By the Light might get a guernsey, but no, they wheel out a pump organ and it’s Dream Baby Dream, a mesmerising reading built around looped notes that gradually built until Bruce stepped away from the keyboard and let the machine do its thing as he belted out the lyrics. Stunning.

Friday on my Mind
Out on the Street
Cadillac Ranch
High Hopes
Just Like Fire Would
Spirit in the Night

Darkness on the Edge of Town run through:
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Candy's Room
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove It all Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town

Darlington County 
Shackled and drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Land of Hopes and Dreams
Don't Change
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freezeout
Surprise Surprise
Dream Baby Dream

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