Almanac Music – Springsteen in Europe 2023: Pilgrimage (Part 1: Music)

 

 

 

In 1974 I had a small sleep-out in an Adelaide share house with a half dozen high school mates. Just started work and part time uni. What money wasn’t spent on beer was my fortnightly pilgrimage to the Muses book and record store on Grenfell Street where they had US Rolling Stone magazine and high quality, thick imported vinyl. Australian vinyl had the quality and texture of a disposable plastic picnic plate.

 

My school mates were Ballroom Blitz types. My uni friends smoked weed and were into Yes and King Crimson prog rock. I still liked The Who and scoured Rolling Stone record reviews for the next Bob Dylan. I’d worn out Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde – but his new stuff since the ‘motorcycle accident’ sounded like a reedy Johnny Cash (which I now take to be genius). In his place I’d piled up albums by Willy ‘Mink’ Deville, ‘Little’ Stevie Forbert and even English types like Graham Parker and the Rumour.

 

But there was this skinny kid out of New Jersey called Bruce Springsteen whose Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle captivated me most with it’s theatrical vistas and dense jazzy/R&B overlay on rock and roll. I recently read he’d got high praise from Dylan at the time – “kid sure uses a lot of words”. But it was the density of a young man with a lot to say splattering sounds on a canvas that captivated me.

 

A decade later in Kalgoorlie a young Mary (nee Avenging Eagle) was struggling with health, blokes and breakups and found ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by a now muscled Bruce as her emotional anchor.  Took another decade or so for all these planets to align but in the late 90s footy and Bruce were some of the first things we found in common. Driving up to her place and playing him loud on the car stereo with the doors open while we introduced ourselves on the front porch. Mary’s dress swayed………..

 

Forward another two decades and we had reached that comfortable life stage where bucket lists could be contemplated, afforded and fulfilled if only Covid would leave us alone. We’d hardly even been interstate since 2017 and time was slipping away. We’d seen Bruce twice in Melbourne (memorable) and twice in Perth (unmemorable thanks to the appalling acoustics of the Arena) – but tying Bruce and Mary’s Croatian homeland together had always been the dream trip of a lifetime. 

 

He’d hardly been anywhere either in the last 6 years with a long running one-man Broadway show, an autobiography and series of podcasts with Barrack Obama on race and culture in America his main creative outputs.

 

Mid 2022 there’s been a couple of new albums Letter to You (fun rock and roll and personal reminiscence) and Only the Strong Survive (little known soul classics). Now a US/European mega tour announced with the full E Street Band filling much of 2023 with a relentless concert schedule.

 

We’re off. Bruce will be 74 in September; I’m 68 this week and Mary is………

 

 

Looking back on the Zurich concert in early June and the Vienna concert in mid July it seems that not only have we been on a pilgrimage but so is Bruce. Not just a pilgrimage to new places and seeing old friends again. But also a homage to those that shaped us.

 

Some Bruce fans have criticised it as a Greatest Hits tour with ‘just’ 3 hours of a tightly regimented play list (“he used to play nearly 4 hours and have a different play list every night – what’s the matter with the guy?”)

 

I prefer to see it as his Greatest Heroes tour. The concerts seem to be shaped in brackets that nod not only to his own musical legacy, but to the artists, sounds and friends that forged it.

 

The first five numbers are pumping rockers to get the crowd and band energy up. ‘No Surrender’. ‘Ghosts’. ‘Prove It All Night’. ‘Letter to You’. ‘The Promised Land’. ‘Out in the Streets’ and 50,000 are right into it – arms waving and ‘wahoohahoohoo-ing’ in unison to the chorus. In Zurich it takes a few numbers for his voice to loosen up and the top range to kick in. Its a hot night and it takes a while for the E Street team of veterans to get going. In Vienna the 35 degree heat of the day drops late afternoon as a storm off the Alps brings a breeze and cooling rain just south of the stadium. 

 

Some Gods part the clouds, Bruce gathers them to the delighted relief of fans and band.

 

Now it’s Elvis and Hank Williams time with a couple of country rockers in ‘Darlington County’ and ‘Working on the Highway’. He’s got the guitar up high around his chest and the hips sashaying in tribute to the man who turned him onto music as a 7yo glued to the TV watching ‘Hound Dog’ on the Ed Sullivan Show.

 

Then it’s jazz with a 15 minute ‘Kitty’s Back’ that starts out with him in mumbled Tom Waits bar voice then morphs into extended solos by every band member. Now he’s Count Basie up front conducting piano, sax, organ, trumpet, doowop solos as even the backup players get to show their licks. The tempo builds until he’s Frank Sinatra swinging Kitty by the end. For me it’s a concert highlight that shows the versatility and virtuosity of both songwriter and band.

 

Jazz gives way to R&B and soul with a spooky dramatic ‘Nightshift’ the only cover for the night. The  Commodores tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson that Bruce revived on his latest album. Bruce shares vocals and front of stage with black backup singer Curtis King. To me he’s sharing the stage with a movement as much as a man. Bruce often pays tribute to the R&B sound and stage presence that his sax player ‘The Big Man’ – the late Clarence Clemens – contributed that differentiated E Street from a thousand other bands and singers.

 

Mary’s Place’ a personal favourite in our house – lifts the mood while calling the faithful to prayer. ‘The River’ a sombre aching reminder (built around his sister’s early married life) of how quickly adolescent dreams can suddenly give way to the harsh realities of work and responsibility. 

 

We’re into the beating heart of this Tour now with its only long monologue. He used to do a lot of impromptu ones but now he’s got a focussed message to convey -delivered precisely with German subtitles in Vienna. It’s the story of ‘Last Man Standing’ the central song off Letter to You about the first band he joined The Castilles in 1965. The endless promise of youth – then standing at the hospital bedside of lead singer George Theiss 50+ years later and realising he would soon be the last Castille. 

 

Death’s final and lasting gift to the living is an expanded vision of this life itself”. *

 

 

 

The song alone on acoustic guitar – not pitying but reflective and affirming. It morphs into Backstreets a long time crowd favourite with the band gradually joining back in. It’s a soaring aching anthem that I’ve heard a hundred times and still don’t know the lyrics – but 50,000 of us know the languid “whoaohwoahwoah out on the backstreets” chorus and the heartfelt teenage promises it conveys. 

 

Even an earnest middle-aged Bruce can’t sermonise and reflect all night (check out the Obama podcasts Renegades to hear that side of him).  #

 

The band smashes straight into the hit song ‘Because the Night’ he wrote for Patti Smith in 1978 but never released himself.  We’re into the big anthems now – ‘She’s the One’; ‘The Rising’; ‘Wrecking Ball’; ‘Badland’s and I get to see Mary’s dress sway one more time in the epic ‘Thunder Road’ that concludes the first act. The pretence of an encore is more an excuse for old men to draw breath for a couple of minutes as they soak up applause before blasting into the party hits that conclude the show – ‘Born to Run’; ‘Bobby Jean’; ‘Glory Days’; ‘Dancing in the Dark’. 

 

There’s not a warm seat in the house with 50,000 standing, twisting, shuffling and arm waving in whatever way their chiropractor permits. To be fair the mosh pit has plenty of swooning girls in their summer clothes and delighted kids on parents shoulders. The median age is way higher than the arithmetic average. 

 

Bruce concerts always conclude around ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ an autobiographical song about meeting Clarence and the band’s formation. It’s a great sing-along song and the video backdrop of members past (Clarence and Danny) and seminal moments evokes plenty of wistful smiles. Bruce the Showman adds some theatrical touches with a James Brown shirt tearing intro (amazing septuagenerian pecs) and later joins guitarist friend Stevie for 3 Stooges nyuk/nyuk mugging and watch tapping/head shaking ‘we don’t wanna go home’ moments. Choreographed but great fun and eventually the band exits one by one leaving only Bruce and his acoustic guitar.

 

His concluding ‘See You in My Dreams’ a ‘Moon River’ for the modern melancholic. 

 

 

 

The overall impression is of a proud father enjoying immensely one last family reunion. Proud of the body of work he’s created over a lifetime. Proud of the loyal family of performers who recreate it nightly with greater craft and precision – if not energy – than ever. Proud that he can still enjoy his work 56 years on – so it seems that it’s never been work. 

 

 

https://www.springsteenlyrics.com/lyrics.php?song=lastmanstanding_2023-05-07

 

# https://brucespringsteen.net/news/2021/renegades-born-in-the-usa/

 

 

More stories from Peter Baulderstone can be read Here.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Rick Kane says

    Brilliant PB! How incredible to see Bruce in Zurich and Vienna underlined by the love/bond you and Mary share, just magnificent.

    This tour looks amazing, and fingers crossed he returns to Australia with it. Having seen every Springsteen Australian tour and at least 6 of them being in my top 20 concerts of all time I can’t hardly wait.

    Thank you for taking us on your personal ride and the shows in Europe. And I trust the rest of your European adventure has been as fulfilling.

    Cheers

  2. Ian Wilson says

    Wow Pete what an experience! I’ve only seen The Boss twice, about 30 years apart from each other but both just as memorable. In that stadium setting it still feels like he’s singing right at you. I reckon he never has a break in those 3 hours+ because he would seize up otherwise! Unbelievable energy and passion. Hope the trip continues to be as much fun. Cheers

  3. Great stuff PB. How terrific to see him in those exotic locations so that text and context can merge and create something magical? Really enjoyed your recount of these concerts. Hope to read more of the trip you and Ae are clearly enjoying.

  4. Great stuff Peter, The Boss is amazing in concert.

    I love how he is popular throughout Europe where English is not their first language.

    Did you see Damien Hardwick, he is in Europe to watch Bruce. He thought he would enjoy it more in Europe as he could have a dance without anyone watching him.

  5. Well done PB, youse are on a trip, a musical journey, to savour. Bruce still going strong after 56 years, and you’ve caught up with him still performing at his peak.

    I always enjoyed Patti Smith’s version of ‘Because the night’. I wonder if there’s a recording out there somewhere of Bruce performing it, if not you’ve experienced something extra special.

    Graham Parker, and the Rumour of ‘Hey Lord don’t ask me questions’ fame were one of those fine UK new wave bands of the late 1970’s. If you were onto them in 1974 that is very prescient.

    Glen!

  6. Shhh Rodney. Noone’s supposed to know about my secret negotiations for Dimma to coach the Eagles next year! Thanks anyway.

  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Great read PB!
    I bought ‘Born to Run’ in 1975 based upon the hype that Bruce was the next Bob. So the first time I heard Bruce was when I actually put the record on the turntable and played it. I was suitably impressed. The only other album of Bruce’s I bought was ‘The River’ which I liked a lot.
    I’ve only seen Bruce live once and that was in New Orleans at JazzFest in 2014 and we were a mile away from the stage, thankfully huge video screens enabled a view of him performing. Part of that concert involved BS playing with a jazz band and singing some old jazz/blues standards eg ‘When the Saints….’ etc. He certainly gave 100% with his performance.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Nicely done, PB. I enjoyed your sharp and interesting perspective on Springers and his work, particularly the context of him now being late in his career.

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