The Almanac’s favourite performer, Bruce Springsteen, is half-way through his second tour of Australia in 12 months. This time he has taken in Perth and Adelaide that were left off his earlier tours in 1985 (Born in the USA); 1997 (solo for Ghost of Tom Joad); 2003 (The Rising); and 2013 (Wrecking Ball).
The Avenging Eagle and I took in his Perth show last Friday night at the new Arena (home of the soon to be NBL-winning Perth Wildcats). Going in I had 2 thoughts in mind:
Why do I love Springsteen so much?
Is 2 shows in a year too much and will familiarity reduce the impact?
AE and I had flown to Melbourne to see the 2003 show (at Etihad) and 2013 (at Rod Laver Arena). I have only seen a few acts 3 or more times in my life – Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris and Paul Kelly. And they were mostly 10 years apart (minimum 5 years). First in their bloom; then prime and recently in their enduring maturity.
I kept telling myself that Bruce is 64yo so there may not be many more opportunities to see him in Australia, but I wondered if I was tipping over into obsessive fandom.
I looked at the Set List and rave reviews from the first Australian gig on Wednesday night. It was like a greatest hits package plus the most outgoing songs from the recent High Hopes and Wrecking Ball albums. How do you top that?
Bruce’s answer was simple and obvious – if ignored by me. Do something completely different.
When you have 17 original albums dating back 40 years you have a catalogue of 269 recorded songs. Friday in Perth was going to be angry Bruce; oddities Bruce; howling Bruce; ‘Rage against the Dying of the Light’ Bruce. Some thoughts:
How had I never heard “Just like Fire Would” by Brisbane’s Saints until Bruce resurrected it with amazing horns added? I knew their stuttering “(I’m) Stranded” that took The Who and added some contempt and venom, so the Sex Pistols had something to copy. But where had “Fire Would” got lost in 80’s FM radio? I checked out the original on You Tube and the melody and chord changes were always compelling if understandably less polished. It’s better than “Friday on my Mind.” Long may it enrich Chris Bailey’s superannuation and launch a thousand Skyworks soundtracks.
The opening 30 minutes was a tear through angry, lesser known tracks from early albums. But he got me when the volume went down for fan request/signs songs – “Girls in their Summer Clothes” from Magic made into a poignant acoustic waltz followed by a similar treatment for the rare “Save my Love” from the Darkness at the Edge of Town outtakes.
He captures your heart and then tears it out with an electrified “Atlantic City” (from the acoustic Nebraska) and blood curdling versions of “Youngstown” and “Murder Incorporated”. I am beaten into submission and mesmerised in wonder.
Bruce is sort of like Stevie J or Nat Fyfe. Just when you think you have seen all the ways he will dazzle and beat you, he pulls another one out of the bag. Except he doesn’t miss from straight in front on the big stage.
The rest of the concert is a sublime, intoxicating blur. “Pay me my Money Down” is a New Orleans Mardi Gras stomp that parades most of the band around the Arena concourse, complete with multi-coloured parasols. Crying, heaving, dancing then laughing.
Bruce is a singer, and a songwriter and a rock star. But on stage he seems as much a choreographer; a movie director or a band leader like Basie or Ellington – shifting up and down his big band’s tempo with a wave or a nod.
Toward the end the lights go up and the staged drama becomes a unified footy crowd cheering a big win on a Sunny Day in September. There are no Bruce/Patti duos to tug the heartstrings on this tour. So his main foil is Little Steven reprising his mug shots from The Sopranos and Lilyhammer. Bruce juts out his jaw and Stevie rolls his eyes and they are 12yo’s emulating Moe and Curly from The Three Stooges.
Raging against the dying of the light. Reliving the joys of youth to push back the diminishing future we all share in late middle age.
The Isley Brothers/Beatles “Twist and Shout” is shaken up as it was with Sir Paul at Wembley last year. We are all 12yo now and nothing can hurt us. I gaze down to the lower concourse where the line of disabled wheelchairs are being twisted and shouted by delirious carers and their reborn occupants.
Moments to hold onto. When there is no yesterday and no tomorrow. Tonight we all have wings and angels looking over us. The E Street Band vacates the stage, and just when we think we are going home there are 2 solo closers. “I’ll Work for your Love” is down tempoed from Magic. It’s a song like “If I Should Fall Behind” that has personal significance for AE and I from the times when we lowered our sails to wait out the gales and reefs of marriage. Hands that were clapping joyously moments ago are now clasped tight and moist.
“Thunder Road’ is the final final closer and “Mary’s dress waves” for the thousandth time. And she is just as I remember her on the porch in our early summer meetings.
The majesty and power of the songs make analysis feeble. But I answer my questions with the thought that Bruce is the 16yo boy who never gave in to the implausibility of his dreams. He heard Orbison and Elvis and James Brown and Merseyside in his head and in his ears; and believed there was a montage that he could create where one and one made five.
And he has. And he never stopped trying. And working. Or gave into the easy fame and the soft options.
So now one and one make ten; and he’s working on twelve.
Bruce is a coach and inspiration, as much as he is a breathtaking entertainer and creative force. As a famous coach said – in rock and roll “just don’t think; DO”.
Let us know your experience of the Springsteen tour and the impact his life and music has on you.