14 Feb 2017

Review: Bruce Springsteen at Hanging Rock

From RNZ Music, 10:37 am on 14 February 2017

Show: Saturday 11 February, Hanging Rock, Mt Macedon, Melbourne, Australia.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, who play two shows in NZ next week, are currently touring Australia and the concerts there are a good indication of what Kiwis might see and hear.

Fans arrive dressed in a variety of tour t-shirts going back to the 70s and 80s, t-shirts that in many cases have got a bit tatty and tighter over the years. Many people bring large signs requesting songs ranging from 1973 right through to recent material.

The 14 Australasian shows, branded the Summer ’17 Tour, are effectively the Down Under leg of the 2016 'The River' tour which went through the US and Europe last year.  But, while the concert I saw at Hanging Rock north of Melbourne over the weekend did include a few songs from the River, there were more tracks from Springsteen’s iconic Born to Run and Born in the USA albums and even three from his first album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, released in 1973.

Bruce took the stage by himself for a solo version of 'Promised Land', maybe a nod to the picturesque, country venue, surely a welcome change from stadiums.

Bruce Springsteen audience and venue at Hanging Rock, Melbourne

Bruce Springsteen audience and venue at Hanging Rock, Melbourne Photo: RNZ / Matthew Finn

Then the E Street Band joined him and they leapt into 'American Land', a clear message to someone back in the U.S. about the contribution immigrants, including a New Jersey singer with Irish, Dutch and Italian ancestry, have made to building that nation.

Then, appropriately given the location, yet another “land” song, 'Badlands' with the first guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, a first sax solo from Jake Clemons and Bruce off the stage and down in front of the mosh pit as the crowd chant “da da da da, da da da da” over and over again.

After some River classics, during which Bruce and Steve Van Zandt admired the perfect rainbow that had formed behind the crowd, Springsteen introduced a tour first: 'Blinded by the Light', the first track on the very first Springsteen album. He laughed that to this day it’s still his only US number one single - when covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. He nailed the complicated lyrics, as did many in the crowd who also knew them word for word, and they aren’t easy.

Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt

Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt Photo: RNZ / Matthew Finn

They also know the opening verse of 'Hungry Heart', which is just as well because Bruce didn’t even bother to join in till the chorus.

“Can you feel the spirit?” he called to the crowd before 'Spirit in the Night', also from that first album. By now the crowd, and the band, and Bruce, were certainly feeling the spirit and they rocked and danced and sang for nearly two hours.

Including Bruce there were just nine on stage, the brass section and backing vocalists that accompanied him on past tours down under aren’t here this time, neither are guitarist Tom Morello nor long-time band member, and wife, Patti Scialfa.

'Rosalita' wrapped up the first part of the show with Bruce suggesting to the crowd that they stop the car on the way home and tell a kangaroo that they’ve just seen “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, viagra-taking, death-defying, legendary E Street Band”.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Photo: RNZ / Matthew Finn

Bruce’s one long dialogue (there’s always one story) was about raising the cash to get his first guitar. It cost 18 dollars and he had to take on a lawn mowing job for 50 cents an hour to get the money to buy it. Other than that he claimed he’s “never worked an honest day in my life. And it feels good!”

When he finally had enough money to buy that guitar he said he held it and then played it and it sounded… terrible! Well since then of course he’s learned how to make it talk. And he’s also learned how to perform live, highly energetic concerts, night after night on long tours, capture crowds and attract an army of fans, many of whom travel vast distances to see him perform time and time again. There were fans at this concert who are going to all 14 shows in Australia and NZ, including a couple of friends who’ve travelled from Yorkshire and will have notched up their 63rd and 100th Springsteen concerts by the tour’s end in Auckland.

Fans arrive dressed in a variety of tour t-shirts going back to the 70s and 80s, t-shirts that in many cases have got a bit tatty and tighter over the years. Many people bring large signs requesting songs ranging from 1973 right through to recent material.

Bruce Springsteen and audience

Bruce Springsteen and audience Photo: RNZ / Matthew Finn

Back to the concert. He may claim he’s never done an honest day’s work in his life but Springsteen toils hard when the band returns almost immediately and stretches the show towards the three-hour mark with what has become a fairly consistent encore – a hushed crowd during 'Jungleland', audience members pulled up on stage for 'Dancing in the Dark', all venue lights on full when 'Born to Run' has the crowd fist pumping, photos of deceased band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici on the large screens during 'Tenth Avenue Freeze Out' and a cover of the Isley Brothers 'Shout' which has everyone dancing.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band Photo: RNZ / Matthew Finn

As the band finally leaves the stage Bruce turns back to the crowd as if to suggest “one more?” and he ends the long night with a solo version of 'Thunder Road'.

So what will he play in NZ? Don’t expect anything local like the cover of 'Royals' that thrilled the Auckland crowds in 2014. But the Christchurch show, begged for by South Island fans that year and now scheduled in this tour on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the February quake, should see emotional versions of 'My City of Ruins' and 'The Rising'. Other than those and the reasonably predictable encore he has a huge body of work to choose from – by my count the eight shows so far have featured about 75 different songs.

When he last played Auckland he said “Thanks, we’ll be back”. And he is, but he’s 67 years old and he and the band have been touring together on and off for over 40 years. This could be the last chance to see them in New Zealand.

So dig out that old t-shirt, make that request sign, swot up the lyrics of 'Hungry Heart' and get ready for a long show and a great night out.

Here’s the Hanging Rock setlist

The Promised Land (from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)
American Land (The Seeger Sessions, 2006)
Badlands (Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)
Out on the Street (The River, 1980)
Two Hearts (The River, 1980)
Growin’ Up (Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, 1973)
Blinded by the Light (Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, 1973)
Spirit in the Night (Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, 1973)
I’m Going Down (Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Hungry Heart (The River, 1980)
Wrecking Ball (Wrecking Ball, 2012)
The River (The River, 1980)
Youngstown (The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995)
Johnny 99 (Nebraska, 1982)
Working on the Highway (Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Glory Days (Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Because the Night (Released by Patti Smith in 1978)
The Rising (The Rising, 2002)
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, 1973)

Jungleland (Born to Run, 1975)
Born to Run (Born to Run, 1975)
Dancing in the Dark (Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (Born to Run, 1975)
Shout (Isley Brothers cover)
Bobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Thunder Road (Born to Run, 1975)

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