Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Adelaide, Monday 30 January 2017

Chatting to the neighbours during the interval between when you take your seat and the start of the show continues to bring out interesting bits and pieces.
As I took my seat high up to the right of the stage, there seemed to be an array of seven or eight objects that may well have been music stands over on the other side of Mighty Max’s drum kit.
I'd already exchanged pleasantries with the youngish bloke on my way, and, working on the principle but his eyesight was probably better than mine, asked him if you could see anything over there, and, If he could, what do he reckoned they might be.
He wasn't sure at first.
And, a while later, he was convinced they were. and, in between, the discussion brought forth a couple of interesting points.
I'd explained that the presence of music stands suggested a string section, which in turn suggested in New York Serenade as the opening number.
Predictable questions about whether I'd been to Perth and where else I was bound on the tour elicited my now well-polished account of the day when the tour was announced.
I’d headed for the other end of The Little House of Concrete,  expecting that the news would form the basis for continuing negotiations.
Of course, The Supervisor’s response (So, of course, you’re going) might have rendered ongoing negotiation unnecessary, but it definitely produces interesting reactions when the exchange is recounted to third parties.
Here, the bloke on my right turned to his missus with a did you hear that?
The response from his better half (though one might question the better under the circumstances) was interesting.
The duo are Adelaide-based and would be doing three shows this tour.
But her response, not to put too fine a point on it, was along the lines of I can’t stand him. But I love my husband, so I go.
The odd glance across that way during the show suggested someone with a toothache.
And she’s going to both shows in Melbourne.
Love is, indeed, a strange affliction.
Equally interesting was the opinion from the unaccompanied woman who claimed the seat of my left. She was a definite fan who, for previous shows in Adelaide, had been seated behind the stage.
She reported the view from there was good, Bruce and company gave them plenty of attention, and there was room to dance.
They were cheaper, too.
But they’d sold out quickly, So she had landed where she was.
Equally interesting were the developments in the song count on Hughesy's matrix.
Depending on whether you count a full band rendition of The Promised Land and a solo acoustic version as separate entries in the song matrix (I do, they fit into completely different and almost diametrically opposed vibes) the song count either reached or passed the hundred at this show in Adelaide.
Passed means you count Darkness On The Edge Of Town as two separate entities depending on whether Eddie Vedder was on stage. I used to but, in hindsight, the presence of someone other than Bruce roaring a verse into a microphone and adding that one more voice to the chorus doesn't materially change the timbre of the performance.
Adjustments to the matrix will be made shortly but the key point here is that account has cracked the ton.
I had a suspicion it might when American Land followed the now routine opening New York Serenade. The odds shortened when the band roared through an impassioned Trapped.
Both songs were pointedly dedicated to those detained under the new American president’s trumped up border security grandstanding.
Bruce's introduction to American Land is worth citing (as reported in Backstreets):
Tonight we want to add our voices to the thousands of Americans who are protesting at airports around our country the Muslim Ban and the detention of foreign nationals and refugees. America is a nation of immigrants, and we find this anti-democratic and fundamentally un-American. This is an immigrant song!
But that, along with the pointed introduction to Trapped, were the only two overt political references that I've picked up over three nights.
There have been, of course, plenty of less direct ones.
The other two new additions emphasise points already made elsewhere.
One, The Ties That Bind, was yet another indication of the depth and breadth of the catalogue of Springsteen can draw on. He's probably played it a number of times in Australia, but not at a show I've attended.
The same t\point applied when he opened the encore with a moving, almost heartrending rendition all if I Should Fall Behind.
That song, back in the 1999 tours, featured repeatedly in an entirely different setting.
At that point, it was a statement of communal East Street solidarity with each of the lead personalities (Patti Scalfia, Little Steven, Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons) taking a verse and chorus on their own, and each was delivered with a slightly different intonation.
I know, because I've heard the bootleg tapes.
The Adelaide rendition came with a pointed dedication.
So that made two additions that could hardly be described as surprising.
Unexpected, perhaps, but not as a complete surprise.
Which brings us to another inclusion in the matrix, a cover of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.
This one underlines the you never know what you're going to get side of Bruce fandom.
The story goes something like this: sometime during Darlington County, or possibly earlier in the piece, Bruce spots a cluster of people in fancy dress.
There also seems to have been a sign involved. And the whole thing links to a 1950s sitcom called The Honeymooners.
The long and short of it was that the group ended up on stage, mid-set, with one of them taking over the piano stool from Prof Roy Bittan. What ensued (you'll find video here) might not have been one of the all-time musical highlights, but it certainly provided an element of light relief in the middle of a performance that returned to regulation mode with blistering performances of Murder Incorporated and Death To My Hometown.
Earlier, the now regulation opener had been followed by a crisp bracket of songs that had not featured in the two previous shows but underlined the political theme, Land of Hope and Dreams and an incendiary Trapped.
From there,  we got what amounted to a greatest hits/ semi-obvious suspects mini-set (Spirit in the Night, Glory Days, Hungry Heart) and a return to earlier themes with Wrecking Ball and Youngstown. Something in the Night was semi-sombre, Darlington County rocked along nicely, and the light relief that came with Brown Eyed Girl contrasted nicely with the impassioned duo that followed.
But the absolute highlight, for Yours Truly was a magnificently moody Racing in the Streets.
The main set finished with a series of knockout blows: Because the Night, which I am rapidly coming to consider one of Bruce's all time greatest songs; a She's the One that might have been prompted by signs in the pit; and semi-obligatory readings of The Rising, Badlands and Thunder Road.
The almost direct segue from the main set into the encore wasn't as obvious this time around as the house lights went down, the band left the stage and Bruce delivered the aforementioned stark reading of If I Should Fall Behind.
everyone returned for the regulation run home through Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, the obligatory 10th Avenue Freezeout, Shout, and, finally, Rosalita.
It was, not to put to find a point on it, a fine show for the aficionado and, almost certainly, a sign of more good things to come.

New York City Serenade
American Land
The Ties That Bind
No Surrender
Land of Hope and Dreams
Spirit in the Night
Glory Days
Hungry Heart
Wrecking Ball
Something in the Night
Darlington County
Brown Eyed Girl
Murder Incorporated
Death to My Hometown
Racing in the Street
Because the Night
She's the One
The Rising 
Thunder Road
* * *
If I Should Fall Behind (acoustic)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

True Springsteen & The E Street Band, Perth Friday 27 January 2017

There are times when I wonder how people like the dude from backstreets.com does it.

Actually, when I stop to ponder the question, I'm pretty sure how he manages to come up with the quantity of purple prose you'll find here.

It's just that he seems to be able to do it night after night, tour by tour.

It's probably down to practice and access, both to people behind the scenes and the statistical minutiae of performances over the last 45 years.

Hughesy, of course, doesn't have access to either and is left, not quite grasping at straws, trying to wrestle impressions and half realised hypothesis into something readable.

In that task, talking to the neighbours helps. This time the gentleman on my left and his partner were in for the first Bruce show and, it seemed, not entirely sure what they were in for.

That was the way it looked in the preconcert conversation, though one suspects Mrs Next Door had more than a passing acquaintance with much of the material.

Actually, a glance down the set list reveals a number of numbers you'd expect people who listened to the radio through the 70s and 80s to be familiar with.

Cover Me, Glory Days, Hungry Heart, The River, I'm Goin’ Down, Because the Night, Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark and Bobby Jean all fit into that category.

They are songs you would have expected to get a guernsey when it comes to setlist selection.

But here are the play counts from Hughesy’s nine Springsteen shows to date: Two, Four, Five, Three, Two, Three, Nine, Nine and Five.

So, two of them have turned up every night, as you'd expect them to, since they are probably Bruce's biggest hits Down Under.

But the odd glance aside suggested Mrs Next Door wasn't unfamiliar with most of what emerged in the set list. Maybe she had access to all the albums but hadn't managed to get to a show before this one.

In hindsight, I should have asked where they were from.

And at the end of the show, when I asked for an impression Mr Next Door indicated an understanding some people’s need to attend multiple shows.

Memory, of course, is an unreliable conveyance but I was pretty sure I had it right when I turned to the neighbour at the end of Hungry Heart and pointed out that everything between the opening New York Serenade and his crowd traditionally sings the the first verse favourite wasn't on the playlist last time.

If I was the sort of person to check these things on-the-fly I would've realised but tonight's show delivered my first Radio Nowhere, and, later in the piece, my first Drive All Night.

That was interesting since both of them were, I thought, likely candidates to turn up somewhere along the line. It just took them nine shows to do it.

Unlike the dude from backstreets.com, I do not have access to the statistical resources that allow him to report that Drive All Night was making its southern hemisphere or to remark that three night runs in the one city are a relatively rare occurrence.

Which raises an interesting point. A look at the set list from both nights suggests a clear separation between the main set and the encore.

Didn't happen.

Both nights, the house lights went up at the end of the main set (in this case during Badlands or Land of Hope and Dreams) and stayed on for the duration.

The impression I got from my neighbour on Wednesday was that the general admission pit in Perth doesn't quite have the energy level you find elsewhere. He would have been down there if he'd been able to pick up two tickets before they sold out, so I assume he knows what he speaks.

He and his wife will be in general admission in Melbourne on Saturday.

And throughout the two nights, there was a decided lack of intensity in the applause between numbers. By and large, it rarely roared and generally faded fairly quickly.

Under those circumstances, one suspects a band who have left the stage might have had difficulty coming back, so the treat everything as one long set probably makes sense.

But then, if the crowd is relatively reserved, why the three night run in Perth?

There are, I suspect, two obvious answers.

First, because it's Perth, and touring acts tend to stick to the east coast. It's hard, after all, to justify the expense of shipping an international act and everything that comes with them back and forth across the Nullarbor. So they either play Perth on the way into Australia, or the way out.

Stands to reason, doesn't it?

Second, because it's Bruce, who has demonstrated the ability to sell out a venue the size of the Perth Arena at least once, probably twice, and in this case (and last time, if I recall correctly) three times.

Last time, Adelaide also got two shows, and the second show in Melbourne was announced so late in the piece that I almost missed getting a ticket.

And, when I did, it was very close to the back row up in the nosebleeds.

What questions about second and third shows, on calls and levels of enthusiasm are secondary considerations. We are, after all, there for the music, and Bruce has failed to disappoint on any of the nine nights I’ve seen him so far.

At the same time, I don't recall having been struck by the intensity of the performance as the band ruled through Night and Saint, and even Cover Me arrive with far more passion than one might have expected for what I've always regarded as a fairly nondescript mid-tempo radio-friendly rocker.

Radio Nowhere fairly burned with intensity, and if the four song salvo wasn't prompted by some niggle or irritant, it certainly got the energy level up to where it needed to be.

And that's where it stayed for the duration.

New York City Serenade (with strings)
It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Cover Me
Radio Nowhere
Glory Days
Hungry Heart
The River
Murder Incorporated
Johnny 99
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Death to My Hometown
Drive All Night
I'm Goin' Down
Because the Night
The Rising
Land of Hope and Dreams
* * *
Born to Run
Seven Nights to Rock
Dancing in the Dark 
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Bobby Jean 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Perth 25 January 2017

Lying in bed, after around six hours’ sleep and an early morning delve into the Internet to seek out the set list, for some reason I could not help thinking of one of the innumerable cat related memes out there in cyberspace.
You've probably seen the one with the blow by blow run through a cat's day, side-by-side with a similar exercise detailing the dog's reaction to the successive events in his daily routine. 
The cat delivers a misanthropic commentary delivered from the regulation aloof point of view, laced with snarky comments and statements about the inherent injustice in the feline-human balance of power.
In contrast, each new event on the doggy day is greeted with capital letters, an abundance of exclamation marks, and a vocabulary largely comprised of wow, my favourite, and the best thing ever.
Now, I'm not drawing any comparisons between the other however many thousand fans who packed into the Perth Arena last night and the canine fraternity. 
These remarks are an attempt to figure out, in retrospect, why my reaction when the bloke next door asked what I thought was along the lines of I think it was the best show I've seen.
That's strange, because my previous show, in Brisbane at the end of the2014 tour, has, in some circles, been described as the greatest Springsteen show ever. 
On the surface in last night's performance, there was nothing unusual that stood out. 
Nothing that could even vaguely be tagged unexpected
Apart from a little slip half way through Mary's Place where The Boss forgot the words, sang the wrong verse, and admitted he had stuffed things up. 
It didn't affect the performance, though, and the actual slip was so slight that the average fan, caught up in the moment may well have missed it if Bruce didn't point it out.
And, on the way out of the arena I couldn't help thinking that he'd run a tad under the three hour mark rather than landed in the territory between three hours and three and three quarters.
THe only thing that even vaguely resembled a surprise came after Roy Bittan’s piano flourishes kicked off New York Serenade. 
The stage lights came up to reveal a string section, but that would not have been a surprise if I had delved into descriptions of Sundays show, which featured the same opener and probably included and identical string section.
The other thing that was clearly obvious from the get go was that this tour features a well trimmed, hard-core E Street band. 
No Tom Morello. 
No backup choir and percussionist. 
The four or five piece sports section is gone, and Jake Clemons handles all those duties on his lonesome ownsome.
But who knows? 
Some of those missing elements from the last two tours could be cooling that their heels stateside, waiting to fly out to join the tour’s east coast component.
Or, alternatively, Bruce has made the package affordable for the Australian promoter by reducing the cost of accommodating of transporting the expended E Street Almost Orchestra.
Interestingly, this nine piece version rocked just as hard, and possibly harder, then the 16 or 17 piece outfits from the previous tours.
Equally interesting is the fact that in between Hughesy’s initial quest for last night’s setlist and this point of his review, this note appeared on backstreets.com.
Night 2 of 3 in Perth may have been shorter, under three hours, but a vastly different set: 16 songs not played opening night including "Wrecking Ball," "My City of Ruins," "Murder Incorporated," and "Death to My Hometown.”
Readers seeking an abundance of purple prose and a plethora of photographs are pointed towards the source of that quotation. 
Once the reviewer has delivered on his “more to come” there will be a far more detailed account than anything you will find here.
So, some impressions from a quick run through the set list. 
First, after reports of explicit political statements on Sunday, last night Bruce said practically nothing. He delivered the standard food bank appeal in an identical almost word for word version that had Western Australia instead of the other state or city identifiers I've heard elsewhere.
Second, it seemed the whole set list was preordained. 
Three or four songs in, I was about to remark to my right-hand neighbour that signs requesting songs were conspicuous by the absence. A few turned up later in the piece, but they were vastly outnumbered by requests for dance space on the stage beside various E Streeters.
Third, there was no sign, not even an inkling, of Waiting on a Sunny Day and the show was much better for it. While the sight of some kid living out his or her inner rock star goes down well with the crowd, it also sucks the momentum built up through the rest of the show right out of the reader. 
Bruce and the band inevitably and invariably restore it, of course, but last night they didn't have to.
Fourth, My Love Will Not Let You Down, which I have not experienced in concert before, absolutely rocked. As did Mary's Place, the other addition to Hughesy’s Springsteen Song Matrix.
Fifth, as Bruce and the band stormed through the songs that deal with the factors that brought about the Trump ascendancy (particularly Death to my Hometown) they did so with a fire that rendered further political commentary basically unnecessary. 
Atlantic City may not have sat under that “political songs” banner before, but last night it definitely seemed to. Actually, it was probably there all along without anyone noticing until the landscape changed.
And that, I think, is that for the first of nine shows on my version of Summer ’17 Down Under.

The setlist:
New York City Serenade (with strings)
Prove It All Night
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Two Hearts
Wrecking Ball
Out in the Street
Hungry Heart
My City of Ruins
Mary's Place
Atlantic City
Johnny 99
Murder Incorporated
Death to My Hometown
The River
Downbound Train
I'm on Fire
Because the Night
The Rising
Thunder Road
* * *
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out