Friday, February 17, 2017

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Brisbane Entertainment Centre 16 February 2017

The train out to Boondall hadn't quite reached Fortitude Valley when I looked out to the right and realised that the basement of a building just over there must have housed Brisbane’s legendary Red Orb disco back in the sixties.
Back when The Purple Hearts were Brisbane's answer to the Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things.
That got me thinking.
I'd noted somewhere along the line that Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show had gone out from the Hard Rock Cafe at Surfers Paradise on Wednesday. 
Subsequent online checking revealed that it goes to air on a Sunday, so at the time of writing that there is no way to check the actual details, but the thought process went like this:
There is every possibility the contents would include something with a direct link to Brisbane. 
The Saints, possibly. 
 Or The Purple Hearts, if Mr Van Zandt wanted something a tad more obscure.
There were, I think, three Purple Hearts singles, one of which (You Can't Sit Down) had been part of the E Street Band repertoire. 
A quick heck on BRUCEfanatic revealed it had been played relatively recently, twice in 2012 and three times in 2009, out of a total of 30 appearances in setlist stretching back as far as 1975.
I floated the theory past The Rug Man, who’d slotted himself into the seat behind mine on a reasonably packed commuter service. He conceded it that was a possibility but would not go any further than that.
Which is wise, because with Bruce you go to expect the unexpected.
What you get, though, under the label of unexpected, is the unanticipated result of the thought processes of someone who is writing (or rather, improvising) a spur of the moment agenda within fixed parameters with which the rest of the world is, unsurprisingly, not entirely au fait.
So, needless to say, You Can't Sit Down failed to get a guernsey.
And, at the last city show of the Australian leg of this tour, you might expect something like the tour's greatest hits, a setlist starting with New York City Serenade that wound up with the regular features.
That would probably do if the sole object of the exercise was to send twelve or thousand fans out into the night around 10:45 with the echoes of the de rigueur encore echoing in their ears.
In between those semi-compulsory elements is where you expect to find the odd surprise. 
Under those circumstances, you might anticipate a collection of numbers drawn from the set lists of the previous eight shows. 
Sort of like, hey folks these are the ones that we dug playing as surprises this time around.
But, of course, you don't get that either. 
What you do get is a situation where the official set list had Hughesy adding five numbers to the song matrix, which now contains 119 selections played over 16 shows. 
We’ll be back to that point and related matters even at the post-tour wash up that will be posted after I return to the physical, rather than the metaphorical, Little House of Concrete.
So, five new additions and a surprise, non-sign request version of Jole Blon, which might have turned up and set list twice last year but still hardly counts as standard fare.
And you can throw in, on top of that, a version of Growing Up which may not have been exactly the way it seemed at the moment. 
On the surface, it looked relatively straightforward. 
There's a kid in the audience with a sign about skipping school asking whether he can get up onstage and play guitar on Growing Up
Bruce supposedly spots it, gives things a moment’s consideration, puts a what do you guys reckon? to the audience, receives the required approval, and the teenage kid gets his moment in the rock'n' roll spotlight.
Like the rendition of Brown Eyed Girl in Adelaide, the whole thing goes off with the smoothness that might suggest to a cynic the whole thing was staged, but who cares?
It was a great little vignette that added an intriguing dimension to another outstanding show, the kind of stuff people will use in years to come to tag Brisbane #2 2017.
Brisbane #1 was, of course, the night he played all those special songs for Valentine’s Day.
This one will be the night when he got that kid up to play guitar on Growing Up.
And why not? 
It looks cool, worked better than you might expect it to, and gave everyone in the audience oodles of warm fuzzies.
But as I made my way out of Central Station on the way back to the hotel, I ran across the Rug Man again. 
He had a distinct impression that the whole thing was staged.
I was sitting way too far away to have picked it up, unless, of course, I happened to spot it on one of the big screens, but Rug Man reckoned the kid was wearing a wire.
If it was true, it meant he had an in-ear connection to the sound monitors, so he could hear how things sounded. That, in turn, meant he must have been given it at some point before he clambered onto the stage.
But, of course, we'll probably never know. 
There may well be some confidentiality agreement that would preclude the kid going out and divulging the details.
It away, it reminded me of stories about The Man in Black, a semi-legendary figure from, I think, 1999 tour. 
This guy was apparently dispatched to find dedicated fans sitting up in the nosebleeds and offer them el primo, much better, seats.
That happened for a while and then seemed to stop as if the practice lost the desired effect as the stories started to circulate.
Now, there is no way I will ever know for sure, not being someone who is going to take large chunks out of the day to go through the arcade rituals associated with Bruce’s pit procedure.
But it seems fairly obvious that either Bruce himself or some dedicated underling reconnoitres the queue around the time the wristbands are handed out.
We've had several references to different countries represented in the pit tonight, a rapid-fire recitation of nationalities that needs data from somewhere if it's not reasonably well-founded guesswork.
So it might have gone down something like this. 
The kid, along with his sign, is lined up along with everyone else for the GA lottery. 
Bruce or his representative spots the sign, with its reference to skipping school. 
Well, that bit has to be true. 
He's a school-age kid, and it is well and truly within school hours. 
Whoever it is sidled over on the quiet, asks if the kid would really like it to happen, and things are set up from there. 
They're called it even be a little mini rehearsal during the soundcheck, just to get a better idea of whether this thing is likely to fly.
But who knows? 
And, in a way, who cares?
Unless, of course, you're a fan with a burning ambition for something or other seeking a way to achieve it. In that case, I hope Hughesy’s unfounded speculation hasn't spoiled it for anyone.
But there is no reason why my hypothetical postulation should spoil it. 
Because a couple of things seem to be self-evident.
For a start, these things only happen once in a while, and they only happen when the opportunity presents itself.
Second, if they are going to happen at all, it will be because Bruce has decided it's a good idea.
Third, once the opportunity has presented itself after Bruce and company decide it's a good idea, and it's prearranged, and there's a rehearsal required, tha will provide a mixture of a safety net and a get out clause. 
Running through the idea in private, or at the sound check, gives everyone involve the opportunity to say, Sorry, this hasn't quite worked out the way we thought it would.
And, after that, if the participants need to be wired into the sound system, that's going to make it all sound better.
But although in Brisbane show #2, 2017 may go down in Bruce mythology as the kid on stage to play the guitar and sing on Growing Up show, that wasn't main, or, indeed, the only highlight.
Once the audience had received the now customary Serenade, the next mini bracket of four songs, the spot where Bruce is wont to slot in an obscurity or two, got four of them. 
Working on a Dream was a pleasant surprise, Roll  of the Dice was another one, and Long Time Coming had been.
It had been coming, in fact, for two-and-a-half years, a long time for a solar significant enough to be included on Chapter and Verse, and, just before it, Jole Blon went within a whisker of making Hughesy's night.
And, after Growing Up, we got that little mini bracket of crowd pleasers. 
Out on the Street, No Surrender, Hungry Heart and Mary's Place were there, more than likely, to tick a few boxes and make sure the crowd went home having heard a few of their favourites.
But then we were back with the semi-obscurities. 
If Fire didn't make my night, it was only because we'd already had Jole Blon
After that, Follow That Dream was a bonus as we segued into the sequence of career highlights and show-stoppers that bring you to the point where the house lights are up, the asterisks appear in the set list, and you realise you've landed right slap bang in the encore.
Jungleland may have got an airing in Perth and Sydney and at Hanging Rock, but there was allegedly someone in the pit who'd been to many shows without hearing it. 
That was probably true, but even if it wasn't the selection worked brilliantly as a lead into a close to stock standard encore bracket.
And a full band Thunder Road was an almost perfect way out of it.

New York City Serenade (with strings)
Working on a Dream
Roll of the Dice
Jole Blon
Long Time Coming
Growin' Up
Out in the Street
No Surrender
Hungry Heart
Mary's Place
Follow That Dream
The River
American Skin (41 Shots)
The Promised Land
Downbound Train
I'm on Fire 
Because the Night
She's the One
* * *
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Thunder Road

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