Almanac Music: Springsteen does Springsteen

Hard to get myself up for Bruce tonight.  Coming from work on a typically 37° Perth afternoon, I can’t quite build the anticipation of previous dates.  Going for the fourpeat is always tough – as Hawthorn supporters know.

Our virgin concert experience was The Rising tour in 2003, though my first fumble with Bruce was back in 1974 adding “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” to my ever growing library of new Dylan’s.  The horns and the lush, melodic ramblings captured my attention in a way that the earnest strummers didn’t.

Back to Melbourne again in 2012 for the Wrecking Ball concerts – my favourite because of the extended brass and backup singers.  Bruce meets James Brown.

He found Perth for the High Hopes tour in 2014.  Perhaps regrettably because the Arena has all the acoustics and atmosphere of a basketball hall.  And travelling for an event always gives a heightened sense of occasion.

Now he’s back again after the never ending River Tour of 76 shows across North America and Europe last year.  This was his second show after a 4 month respite, save for a private “thank you” concert for Barack Obama and his staff 2 weeks ago.

Friends who went to the first show on Sunday night had two main complaints.   The anti-Trump dialogue (the “E Street Resistance” sounded a bit 80’s Red Wedge fey) and what they called “new songs” in the first half of the show.  They were in fact “old songs” from the first 2 albums before Bruce became “Born to Run” famous.  But it demonstrated the impossible span of expectations for a performer to meet.

Wednesday started with an 8 piece string ensemble matching an 8 piece E Street Band in an extended “New York City Serenade”.  Springsteen at the Sands?

We seemed to be feeling each other out.  Bruce – ever the tireless Showman looking for the key to lift the work and heat frazzled crowd out of its torpor.

Bruce – 67 going on 16.  We age while he doesn’t.  The front row of the mosh pit that used to wave song request signs now looks to be waving pension cards.  The bouncing boobs now bobble.  The aisles full of blokes with beer trays over our matching bellies.

We all want to be 50 years younger too.  We want some of his monkey glands.  Whatever spring of exuberance, creativity and optimism he taps into.

A half dozen songs in we find it with “Out in the Streets – I walk the way I want to walk”.  “Oh woo a wah ooh” 15,000 voices echo.  That’s better – I’m 50 now.  Then “got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack – I went out for a ride and I never went back…” we all wistfully intone.  He doesn’t even need to sing.  Just wave the microphone while we do all the work, another decade’s responsibilities magically disappear.  I’m 40 now.

Bruce’s laps of the mosh pit are completed with the obligatory crowd surf-while-singing – lurching backwards to the stage.  Halfway across the surf is becalmed, and the SS Springsteen looks like sinking beneath waves of adoring fans.  He looks as fit and trim as ever, so he can’t be too heavy a burden to carry.  More likely that he hit a patch of prosthetic knees and hips that exceed their weight carrying capacity.  Younger arms reach in from the side to assist their parents (grandparents?) and the ship eventually arrives at its stageside dock.

There are no political statements tonight.  Not even any informal ramblings about life.  Nothing beyond the customary band member intros.  “Tonight, you’ve just seen…the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!”

To me, Bruce is letting his music do the talking.  Death to My Hometown marches the robber barons straight to hell.  Wrecking Ball the most poignant use of sporting metaphors to chart the destruction of Giants stadium, industrial jobs and working people’s dreams.

A highlight was My City of Ruins – the first song he wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 – recast as sweet soul lament for loss on an even larger scale.  Could Trump Tower portend more destruction than the Twin Towers?  A great artist has no need for polemic and lets their audience connect the dots.

The thundering bass chord and echoing refrain of Murder Incorporated takes us out of the political and back into the personal myths of cars, gangs and journeys.  “1,2,3,4”; the wave of a hand and quick guitar change is the only thing to demarc the flood of songs.

Blink and 2 hours have passed.  You only know you’re into the encore because the songs are suddenly all from the Greatest Hits package.  There is no exit stage left for a few minute’s obligatory crowd foot stomping to herald a return.  “Born to Run, Thunder Road, Dancing in the Dark etc etc”

To me they sound a little forced and rushed.  An unwritten contractual requirement that Bruce knows most paying fans require.  But the man has recorded 314 songs over his career.  He could do a full 3 hour show every night for 2 weeks without repeating himself.  As Joni Mitchell complained on Miles of Aisles – “no one ever yelled at Vincent ….. paint a Starry Night again man”.  But he does.

Only Jungleland reaches into the sublime for me, but I’m always a sucker for the Magic Rat and Roy Bittan’s sweeping piano arpeggios.

Rosalita calls Bruce home after 2 hours and 40 minutes, a half hour shorter than Night One and all the previous concerts we’ve seen.  We feel oddly short changed, like we more than he, were just hitting our stride and starting to enjoy the party.  Like I’ve just turned 30 again, but the parents have come home early to take away the punch bowl.

My response is not rational.  With any other artist, let alone one as high energy as Bruce, you are grateful to get 2 hours.  And the guy is 67 and coming off a 4 month break.  What were we expecting – Roger and Rafa?

It’s just that Bruce has just set such a high bar for so long, it takes readjusting to not see him breaking new records of creativity and endurance every night.

Bruce and the E Street Band remind me of Hawthorn.  Blood brothers with a ruthless attention to detail.  A tireless, innovative leader who trains you to the minute and expects the exceptional in every performance.

Reality bites.  We had shared in Bruce’s threepeat over recent decades, and it would be churlish to complain about a hard fought semi final loss.

We stand and applaud, demanding “more” to an empty stage for 5 minutes as the crowd recedes.  I’m only 30.  You promised me 20.  Shit, I’ll be 60 again soon enough.

Impossible expectations unrealized – but countless mercies delivered.


  1. John Butler says

    Sounds like fun PB.

    I’d settle for 30 any day of the week.

  2. We went to the first concert. As the paper said it was “subdued”, which was disappointing. No crowd surfing, and I only knew 3 or 4 songs towards the end. I’m just glad we paid the last minute $100 tickets, not the full whack..

  3. PB,
    Extremely enjoyable uses of ageing and reverse-ageing metaphors here. An excellent review, with interesting insights. Thanks.
    I, too, am a little torn. I’m a Springsteen fan, I’m seeing him at Hanging Rock on February 11. But I sense that part of the reason I am going is through obligation…and the fact that Mrs Smokie is a rusted on Bruce freak, and son #3 is coming with us for his first dose of Bruce.
    Having seen him a couple of times previously I reckon this will be my final Bruce show. Without wanting to disrespect the great man, what I paid for these tickets would be the equivalent of seeing three or four local gigs.
    Thanks again.

  4. Beautifully written, PB.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Peter, fantastic write up. Read this with much interest given I will be seeing Bruce for the first time at AAMI Park on Thursday night. Can’t wait.

  6. If I can make a correction PB re City of Ruins. It predates 9/11 and was written about Ashbury Park. It is a stunning reflection on the destructive nature of capitalism. In fact the best version I’ve heard (bootleg) is from the first time it was performed.

    I can’t wait until Thursday and Saturday Melbourne shows. We may not get City of Ruins or Johnny 99 or Jungleland (with the Big Man’s nephew taking on that almighty solo) but we will get a show like no other artist can deliver.


  7. Punxsu.... Pete says

    Whenever I put the Sex Pistols on these days, I’m looking to tap into what’s left of my youth, and I invariably find that the part of me that used to get off on playing air guitar with an anarchic sneer is now someone the other parts of me would inch away from at a party. Damn those other parts of me, because I used to love that air guitar guy … exhausting as he was.

    Great read.

  8. Punxsu.... Pete says

    Actually that comment is better expressed …

    Whenever I listen to the Sex Pistols these days, and I’m looking to tap into what’s left of my youth, I find the part of me that used to love playing air guitar, and used to fit in with the other parts of me, is now someone they’d inch away from at a party. A curse on em, because I used to love that air guitar guy

  9. This is a good article to oil the wheels for upcoming Bruce shows:

  10. Paul Campbell says

    Hi Peter,
    Terrific read and you’ve set the scene for me, as I will see Springsteen (for the first time) in Melbourne on Saturday. While not a card-carrying Boss buff, I’m still a fan and looking forward to it.

  11. Earl O'Neill says

    Hey Peter
    Neat review, I like the ambiguity.
    I’ve long wanted to like Bruce but never really could, not as much as I was supposed to. River and Darkness are great albums that I don’t listen to very often. Greatest Hits cd is on tbe desk before me and I could make a better compilation. I’ve an idea for Dancin that will bring out the wonderful words and go right past the bigtime 80s production.

  12. Entertaining, PB.
    I’m glad yer man made it to Perth. Though as you say, the travelling can add to a sense of occasion.

    What do any of us expect of a live show, I wonder?
    From *our* performers.
    Why would anyone pay these prices?
    What are they paying for?

    To have photos to post on facebook?
    To be *seen* to be there?
    To feel youth? To remember youth?

    Probably to have a great time, without expectations.
    Love it.

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