Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Allphones Arena, February 19, 2014
It’s a communal thing. A two-way street. A give and you shall receive understanding we all grasp, on stage or off.
It’s why this night is not really like any other night. It’s not just Bruce Springsteen, it’s not even just Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band; it’s them and us as one sweating entity.
That roof-raising exultation in the soul-rousing, gospel power of Land Of Hope And Dreams or the way there’s open sky hope out of grimness in Badlands? We are part of the reason for it, pushing with this 17-piece band that leads but shares rather than dominates.
The hushed air and quiet despair of Racing In The Streets? Everyone holds their breath and lets it through so it can reach that little bit further in you. That ripple of excitement as the opening notes of INXS’s Don’t Change are recognised? It washes from the floor to the stage and then returns, doubled, as the song runs free like some galloping brumby.
Notes from the moshpit: When the appallingly trim and taut Springsteen (“I’m sixty-fucking-five”) makes first foray into the audience and on to the ramp midway down the room there’s lots of touching. “I squeezed his biceps,” said an excited local songwriter. “It’s so big.”
It is a big band and not everybody is needed all the time – Five guitars? Who does that? – but what’s fascinating is how everybody is committed all the time. There’s no dropping off in the brass section in a quiet part, no aimless strumming during a solo.
Everyone has a role, an element they contribute, whether it is a look they exchange, a gesture to the crowd, Steve Van Zandt’s presence as the benign consigliere, Eddie Manion taking all the sax solos in the forced absence of Jake (and of course, Clarence) Clemons as if he’d always done them, the solidity of Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan or the verve and fire of Nils Lofgren’s out of nowhere solo in Prove It All Night.
Notes from the moshpit: There’s a couple who have taken the fandom thing to the point of naming their children after their favourite song’s characters. “Our daughter is Mary, our son is Danny,” their sign says. “Please play Frankie.”
Among the scrawled and smudged text in a notebook worked heavily for three hours, one word leaps out regularly and clearly: energy. The energy of Max Weinberg who at first looks super solid and powerful, then becomes the unrelenting and unequivocal base on which all flourishes, all side trips, all explosions spring from.
The energy that Tom Morello – not a universally appreciated addition to the E Street Band – has added: a pointed edge, a dirtier layer and, in The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a thrilling power.
And of course, the energy of Springsteen himself who runs, grabs, falls, rises, engulfs, invites, sweats, is carried by us and in turn carries us, right to the voice-and-harmonium intimate closer of Dream Baby Dream.
Notes from the moshpit: After Springsteen falls back into the mosh to be carried, crowd-surfing, to the stage, people rush from everywhere to be part of it, to lay on hands, to, frankly, grope. That excited local songwriter returns beaming. “I just grabbed Bruce Springsteen’s arse ... it’s so firm.”
In Melbourne they got Born To Run and Born In The USA albums played in full mid show. Can’t complain about those crowd pleasers. But there’s a gasp through the room when the wished-for full run through of Darkness On The Edge Of Town - the diehard’s choice, the album which has that classic Springsteen motif of hope-out-of-grimness – is unveiled. For some here it’s already bucket list item ticked off.
Notes from the moshpit: There’s a couple of Wiggles down here, quite a few musicians and a bunch of ABC TV faces, as excited as anyone. One of the ABC mob has a hastily fashioned sign: “It’s my birthday. Dance?!”. It really is her birthday but she’s not one of the chosen during Dancing In The Dark and comically stamps her feet in disappointment.
Moments later though she’s punching the air during 10th Avenue Freeze-Out, sharing a grin with the three tall men in front her, throwing back the heat and laughter the band (still agog at the pace at which they had played Born To Run) are giving off. Lost in it. Together.
It’s a communal thing. A two-way street. A give and you shall receive understanding.
Setlist: Friday on My Mind Out in the Street Cadillac Ranch High Hopes Just Like Fire Would Spirit in the Night Badlands Adam Raised a Cain Something in the Night Candy's Room Racing in the Street The Promised Land Factory 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 Hope and Dreams * * * Don't Change Born to Run Dancing in the Dark Tenth Avenue Freeze-out Shout Surprise Surprise (solo acoustic) Dream Baby Dream (solo)