(In excess? Some of the E Street frontline for Don't Change at Sydney)
This time of year is, as most fans would know, Springsteen Australian Tour Season, even if disappointingly not this year. Maybe next? Maybe never again. Who knows? But there’s no reason to go without completely.
Wind Back Wednesday lands mid-season a decade ago when, after half a lifetime (it seemed) without being spotted here, Mr B. Springsteen was back for a second tour in a year. Two? Good god. And with a band big enough to challenge the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Good god.
The previous tour had featured paroxysms of joy at the mere fact of it happening, waves of adoration at each stop, and a rather special moment at Hanging Rock. Top that! said 2013. This one then had something more to live up to. So, did it?
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 a 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 a 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.
Friday on My Mind
Out in the Street
Just Like Fire Would
Spirit in the Night
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Land of Hope and Dreams
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Surprise Surprise (solo acoustic)
Dream Baby Dream (solo)