MY CITY OF CHRISTCHURCH
Taking a good look around as the tour moves from Australia to New Zealand
On February 22, 2011, Deon Swiggs felt a weightlessness not normally associated with standing in his Christchurch kitchen at lunchtime. Struggling for balance, he was startled to see the door of his microwave oven fly open and the circular dish inside come flying out. Sidestepping the airborne implement he made his way to the street as dust swirled from collapsed buildings and people around him cried. Three years in the New Zealand military settled his mind and got him thinking about helping others, but tears came nonetheless as the ground cracked and began oozing grey, silt-filled water. Deon was soon knee-deep in a river running down his CBD street, the sinister product of severe liquefaction that would turn everything underground "jelly" and leave large chunks of Christchurch and the greater Canterbury region uninhabitable for years.
That earthquake also killed 185 people.
Tuesday night, a day short of the sixth anniversary of the third-worst natural disaster in New Zealand history, Bruce Springsteen plays his first-ever concert in Christchurch. It comes only days after a fire that raged in the Port Hills section of the city was brought under control, a fire that took the life of a war-decorated helicopter pilot, destroyed 11 homes, saw more than 1,000 residents evacuated, and sent plumes of smoke over the residents of a region who last November experienced an all-night tsunami warning after a 7.8 earthquake that killed two people.
To say Christchurch has earned its ride down E Street is a callous understatement. They've endured catastrophic loss, come together to rebuild, and according to Swiggs, who followed up his creation of the non-profit Rebuild Christchurch community group with a successful run for City Councillor last year, are beyond ready to celebrate with Springsteen.
"Kiwis have a sense of looking after others," he told me over breakfast at a funky café in Christchurch City Central, the part of town most devastated by the 2011 earthquake and a place where the intensity and violence of the ground shaking was among the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. "Everyone's very good at giving, so it will be wonderful for his fans throughout the Canterbury region to be rewarded Tuesday night."
Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand's spectacular South Island and third-largest overall, behind Auckland and Wellington. Home to just under 400,000 people, it's called the Garden City due to a plethora of public parks and tree-lined streets. It's long been a distinctly English city but after the 2011 quake experienced a cultural shift, as workers who'd descended on Christchurch from around the world to contribute to the rebuild chose to remain and add to a nascent immigrant boom.
"For some, this city won't be their city anymore — at least not the one they grew up in," said Swiggs. "It will be much more multi-cultural, completely different. I have no idea what this city will look like in five years, but the opportunities to create something new will be boundless."
This is obvious when wandering the massive construction zone of City Central. Everywhere — literally everywhere — cyclone fences line sidewalks, demolition crews tear at hacked buildings, and construction runs amok throughout what locals call the "four avenues" area of the city. It's an area once densely packed but now mostly home to parking lots (where there was once none), condemned buildings, and businesses struggling to survive through a long, frustrating rebuilding phase of the city's 170-year history.
Driving through one of Christchurch's residential red zones was one of the more surreal experiences of my life: Imagine block after block of a once-thriving neighborhood stripped bare of human habitation. Massive liquefaction destroyed many properties after the quake, and those that remained were bought by the government. The resultant demolition removed every brick, every remnant of hundreds of homes and the history of those who lived within them. Devastating to see, unimaginable to live through.
The symbolic heart of Christchurch, its beloved cathedral, was devastated by the 2011 quake and remains what Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews recently called both an icon and eyesore. Its future is being decided in a public feud between a public wanting a visual link to its past and a church looking to turn the page. Like the giant hole that once represented the place where the Twin Towers stood in Lower Manhattan, the Christchurch Cathedral reminds locals of a moment in time they'd give anything to forget but are unable to leave behind due to squabbling and inaction. Swiggs called Cathedral Square the most critical piece of the reconstruction effort and a place where citizens have long gathered and felt most connected to their city. Its sad, protracted state of decay has kept many from traveling into Central City and feeling like it still belongs to them. When Bruce undoubtedly plays "My City of Ruins" tonight, many in the sold-out crowd of 18,000 will think of the cathedral and pray that it does, in fact, rise up. With haste.
As for Springsteen's first visit to Christchurch, confirmation of the show's resonance came from the very first person I spoke to after disembarking from an overnight flight from Melbourne. As I handed my U.S. passport to an immigration officer in his late-50s, he asked what my business was in Christchurch. I gave him a two-word answer: "Bruce Springsteen." He cracked a smile. When I asked if he was going to the show he gave me a look of quiet confidence so common to Kiwis before saying, "Why wouldn't you?" Like I was foolish to ask. By far my best-ever interaction with border security — another unexpected but unsurprising benefit of tracking the greatest rock 'n' roll show on Earth throughout Australia and New Zealand this summer.
In a taxi driving to my hotel in Christchurch's CBD a barnacled Kiwi driver named Ian provided a laundry list of rebuild villainy — inept and uncaring politicians, insurance company malfeasance, developer greed — that had me staring at long stretches of green suburban streets for diversion. When I finally looked back at him, however, the old man's eyes were moist and I realized he was lost in thoughts of the days immediately following the 2011 quake. He needed no compassion from me; he could have been driving alone having the same thoughts and reaction. There's nothing to say or do beside listen and respect pain you'll never understand unless you've lived through it.
As Ian turned his taxi onto Manchester Street, which runs the length of Christchurch City Central, I found myself lost in thought as well. I hesitate to share because it may come off as pretentious or forced, but the simple truth is my first glimpse at the vast stretches of empty lots and buildings seemingly left to rot reminded me of turning onto Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park back in the 1990s when I moved back to the Jersey shore. Broad expanses of crumbling concrete, ghost signage, partially demolished buildings, skeletal frames of new ones, broad avenues without traffic. It was very early on a Sunday morning, so the lack of human activity wasn't unusual — come Monday the sound of construction crews bombarded from all directions — but the lifeless streets starkly recalled the days when Asbury Park's waterfront was devoid of life of any discernible kind.
Later in the day while walking the city I glimpsed the terribly wounded cathedral at the end of a long street. This immediately conjured the image of the Palace Amusements faded facade sitting at the southern end of Asbury Park's Kingsley Avenue 20 years ago: a deserted footnote of a past, a discarded identity, a reason for visiting long abandoned. The ruins of Christchurch Cathedral stand, barely, in similar fashion. It's genuinely heart-warming to realize in 2017 that Asbury Park — long-downtrodden, bastard stepchild Asbury Park — is now a shining example of urban renewal and offers a hopeful, if smaller-scale, example of how to "rise up" to the good people of Christchurch.
There's no doubt tonight's show by Bruce and the band will provide a shot of rock 'n' roll righteousness to those lucky enough to be inside AMI Stadium. It always does, no matter the place. But tonight's dose will be shared with people craving, absolutely craving, redemption and hope. What better place to find it than on E Street? - February 20, 2017 - reporting and photographs by Joe Wall
FEBRUARY 18, HUNTER VALLEY: HAIL HAIL ROCK 'N' ROLL
Notes: Bruce Springsteen's 2017 Australian Tour came to a close Saturday night at Hope Estate Winery in Hunter Valley. Coming off the scintillating pair of shows in Brisbane, one of the best pairs of shows I've seen this decade, it seemed unlikely that Bruce would match those setlists or performances, considering the Hope show was more of a festival setting. He didn't — but what he did deliver was a totally different show that was excellent and just the right one for the circumstances. The shows in Brisbane (or the Philly of the Southern Hemisphere, as some are now calling it) were played in a tiny arena, whereas Hope Estate is a huge temporary amphitheater with much of the crowd far away on the lawn. And the place is a winery, so there's a fair amount of drinking going on. Throw in not one but two opening acts, Diesel and Jet, and you could not have a more different setting for a show. It was a unique night.
Adding to the atmosphere was the good ol' fashioned Australian rainstorm, which not only showered the waiting crowd with a torrential downpour but later pelted us with large hail! Fortunately, the weather cleared up, and Jet was able to play their set after a brief delay. And then it was Boss time.
With the strings having played their final show in Brisbane, a crisp and appropriate "Who'll Stop the Rain" opened the show. The difference in the type of night it would be was defined immediately when Bruce launched into "Badlands" and then "Out in the Street" to get the crowd going. A sign request followed for "I Fought the Law," played a little tentatively but still a very nice nugget for the diehards. A few minutes later another sign from the crowd brought us "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," the second of three weather-appropriate songs for the evening. The third was Mary's Place — "let it rain!" — which followed "Hungry Heart."
Bruce then unveiled another sign request, this one for major obscurity "None But the Brave" from the Born in the U.S.A. sessions. It was a beautiful performance of the song, the first ever in Australia… and it was met with absolute dead silence from the crowd. So that would be the last rarity of the evening, and from there the show went into a string of big rockers, which were completely effective in getting the crowd up and dancing. The apex of this sequence was the Born in the U.S.A. trifecta: "Working on the Highway, a fabulous version of "Glory Days," and "Darlington County." Nils tore up "Because the Night" as usual, and "The Rising" and "Rosalita" brought the set to a close.
The encores opened with one last sign request. Bill Walsh, all the way from Point Pleasant, NJ, was pulled out of the crowd to play "No Surrender," which was dedicated to Bill's dad — also Bill — who had surgery over the weekend. The crowd ate it up. The audience frenzy built through the regular encore sequence of "Born to Run," "Dancing," "Tenth Avenue," and "Shout" before Bruce launched into "Bobby Jean" to say "good luck, goodbye" to his Australian fans. The band left the stage, and Bruce returned alone with his acoustic guitar and harmonic rack for a lovely solo "Thunder Road."
And with a final wave and "We'll be seeing you," a quite emotional Bruce left the stage, ending a month of shows here in Australia. It's clear he has developed quite an attachment with his Australian audiences after these repeated trips Down Under the past five years, and the feeling is mutual. From this American, I say with deep gratitude: thank you Australia, thank you Bruce, and thanks to all my Bruce compatriots along the way. Let's do it again soon.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 19, 2017 - Reporting and photographs (1,2,3,5,9) by Hal Schwartz - additional photographs (4,6,7,8) by Bill Donohoe
FEBRUARY 16, BRISBANE 2:
CRACKLIN' LIKE CROSSED WIRES Welcome to the inferno. Brisbane has been sizzling through a heatwave for months, and tonight it got a little hotter. The final night of a terrific two-night stand, the show again began with "New York City Serenade." The song has become a sonic talisman for the tour. Roy Bittan's stunning piano work sets the mood as one of Springsteen's most powerful narratives unfolds.
Four years ago, as the Wrecking Ball Tour began, Springsteen crouched at the foot of the same stage and told assembled media that his ticket was his handshake and he would never rely on a show becoming rote. On three tours over four years he has delivered on his promise… and then some.
"Working on a Dream" made its tour debut tonight and was followed by "Roll of the Dice." For the latter Bruce was sans guitar and settled for a tambourine. "I'm making this up as I go along!" he hollered as the band reassessed where to jump in. And when they did — boom, the magic happened.
Calling for E-flat, Bruce was back on the telecaster as the band, with terrific backing vocals from all, kicked into "Jole Blon." Already Bruce was playing like we were two songs deep into the encore. "Long Time Comin'" was next, which Bruce dedicated to his kids. He advised us that, no matter what you do as a parent, eventually children "have their own lives to live [and] their own mistakes to make."
Fifty-odd years ago the Lovin' Spoonful asked a very simple question: Do You Believe in Magic? Of course we do, we're at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Spotting a sign in the crowd, Bruce turned his attention to Nathan, a young teenager asking if he could get up and play "Growin' Up" with the band. Bruce asked two pertinent questions. Did he know the song? Could he play guitar? The answers were "yes," so Nathan got on stage, played like a champion, and sang with a confidence of someone doing 50 gigs a year. Incredible. More magic happens.
Keeping the mood up, Bruce played "Out in the Street," took a sign request for "No Surrender," led a full house sing-along for "Hungry Heart," and body-surfed his way back to the main stage.
Tonight the seats were sold with 360-degree views. Spotting a sign behind him, Bruce called for "Mary's Place." Veering well off an earlier set list, the grand master was calling songs on intuition. Next came a trilogy of songs that embodied joy, nostalgia, desire, loss, and the wonder of the imagination as he performed "Fire," his reworked cover of Elvis Presley's "Follow That Dream," and the masterpiece that is "The River."
When the tour began Bruce assured us the job of the artist was "to witness and to testify." He hasn't let us down on that promise. "American Skin (41 Shots)" and "The Promised Land" were next. (If the well inebriated strangers standing next to me are reading this, "41 Shots" isn't a drinking game).
A double from the "Born in the U.S.A." album came next with "Downbound Train" and "I'm on Fire." "Because the Night" (with Nils's searing solo and Max's wondrous drumming) led into "She's the One" and "Badlands." Hitting the overdrive button, Bruce shook it all down with a version of "Rosalita" that managed to break him up during the Three Stooges routine.
On the previous two tours to Australia, which were his first here since 2003, we saw the band augmented by horns, singers, and Tom Morello. That was fabulous, but, as an alternate, it's been tremendous to hear the core E Street Band in all their sonic splendor.
For the encore Bruce dedicated "Jungleland" to Brett, a Canadian who traveled far and wide and had never heard it in concert. Bruce then added that he'll be seeing Canada soon. Make of that what you will. Maybe it means a gig? Maybe it means he'll be taking the wife and kids on a driving holiday?
With the house lights up it was time for "Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," and "Shout." By now a sense of rock 'n' roll delirium has set in. The band completely hit it out of the park, and the gig will go down in the annals as one of the best that ever happened in the river city.
We want him to go on, but the Boss needs to go home — he has "a cheeseburger waiting" for him… he has "pornographic films to watch on the tele…." But rock 'n' roll prevails, and he does indeed carry on to close the show with a full-band version of "Thunder Road."
An incredible night. The caravan has gone. The rock 'n' roll citadel has left its temporary location. The magic happened. Thank you, Bruce.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 17, 2017 - Sean Sennett reporting - photographs by Bill Donohoe
FEBRUARY 14, BRISBANE 1: A BED OF ROSES Who wouldn't want to spend Valentine's Day with Bruce Springsteen? This week, the citadel of rock 'n' roll has temporarily relocated to Brisbane, Australia. The last time Bruce and the E Street Band played this venue they performed The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle in its entirety… so anything was on the cards.
The set opened with "New York City Serenade," augmented by an eight-piece string section. Spellbinding, this has become one of the signature moments of the tour. The full house was in a particularly joyful mood as Bruce and the band kicked it to a rousing and rare "Lucky Town." Reaching for a sign, Springsteen broke out the tour debut of "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" next. Delivering a "Valentine's Day triple," he offered some sage advice on what can be "the third loneliest day of the year": "Get the flowers on… one shitty rose is all it takes."
"Rendezvous" was stunning and was followed by an equally uplifting "Be True." Next was another sign request, "Back in Your Arms." Professor Roy kicked it off, and Bruce and the band followed. As the song twisted and turned, Bruce gave it his all before confiding, "the band has this all fucked up!" He steered the E Streeters to focus on Nils as the ship was turned around. "We're gonna get our asses into this thing if it kills us," Bruce announced. To say his singing in the final furlong was magnificent would be underselling it. The song was saved, and with great humor Bruce added, "Before you commit suicide, let me play you this next one."
"Better Days," "The Ties That Bind," and "Out in the Street" made a mighty triumvirate. "Hungry Heart" got the collective house singing. Brisbane might have to sharpen up its skills in the pit, but the fans got a crowd-surfing Bruce back to the stage and in one piece eventually.
"Leap of Faith" made its tour debut and was followed by a hypnotic reading of "The River." Watching Bruce on harmonica and Little Steven on acoustic guitar as the song's narrative unfolded was one of the night's many highlights.
With a setlist already littered with rarities and tour premieres, Bruce moved the intensity up a notch with "Youngstown," "Candy's Room," "She's the One," and "Because the Night." Springsteen, as a lead guitarist, is one of this writer's favorites. The bite in his lead lines, coupled with a mix of sparsity and (that word again) intensity, has few peers. His playing on "Candy's Room" was stunning, while Nils left us in awe during breakout pieces on "Youngstown" and "Because the Night." Bruce fell to his knees during "She's the One." If the pit wasn't so packed, we would have followed suit in salutation.
"The Rising" and "Badlands" were followed by "Rosalita" (complete with Three Stooges' mugging). Still in Valentine's mode, Bruce pulled out a jaw-dropping "Secret Garden" that swayed until the band hit a groove. Talk about "you complete me"… what a setlist!
The house lights were up for "Born to Run," which was followed in the encore by "Dancing in the Dark" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." By this stage the night was into interstellar overdrive. We know the Isley Brothers wrote "Shout," and it's been played by a million bands since. But tonight Queenslanders saw the most incredible version of the song performed in this country since the Godfather of Australian rock 'n' roll, Johnny O'Keefe, tore it to shreds with the Delltones, back in the mid-1950s.
Tonight delivered pretty much everything you'd expect at a Springsteen gig. Hits, rarities, requests, and a man and his band who are prepared night after night to go out on a limb and create magic. With his James Brown-style cape at his feet, Bruce urged us to join him on Thursday night for "another spectacular." Thank you, brother. We'll be there.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- Updated February 15, 2017 - Sean Sennett reporting - photographs by Bill Donohoe
DON'T YOU LOSE HEART... EVERYTHING'S ON SALE!
To celebrate fine romance this Valentine's Day, get 14% off everything in the Backstreet Records shop! For your sweetie or yourself, every last bit of Boss merch we carry is on sale. Discount will be applied at checkout when you enter this coupon code:THROWROSES. This rare across-the-board sale only lasts through Friday night.
Happy Valentine's Day from Backstreets — we wish each and every one of you a happy rendezvous high on a mountain of love. - February 14, 2017
THE MASSACRE REVISITED: FIRST TRACK FROM STEVIE'S SOULFIRE Little Steven releases his own version of "St. Valentine's Day"
If you've been busy assembling a Valentine's Day music mix for your beloved, Little Steven (pictured above in an image from the hilarious but NSFW 2012 Lilyhammer Valentine's Day greeting) has arrived just in time with a special addition for your heart-shaped music box. Click here to download or stream "St. Valentine's Day" from the music service of your choice.
Each version of "St. Valentine's Day" offers a wonderfully unique interpretation, including the newly released version by its writer. Little Steven's recording features grand Spectorian orchestral production, Disciples of Soul-style horns and Stevie vocally channeling his inner Bob Dylan. A lovable labor of love for sure. - Updated February 14, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting
FEBRUARY 11, HANGING ROCK: SIGN OF THE RAINBOW There is no more complicated concert event in Australia than a show at Hanging Rock in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria. Why? Because the hillside that on this day was crammed with 20,000+ people, food trucks galore, merch stands, and, of course, a massive stage, is normally empty. M-T. Nada. It gets built, it gets filled with concertgoers, it empties out, it gets taken apart, and kangaroos return to eat the grass and perhaps catch a buzz from so much spilled booze.
Such a massive, one-off production comes with risk. Will the weather hold? Will people drive an hour north of Melbourne en masse to see a show? Will the main act provide a performance that justifies so much time and effort? Will everyone tolerate the epic gridlock that follows a massive gathering in woop-woop land? To quote the bloke from Freehold: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Tonight's show was a triumph. An event in the best sense of the word. Everything clicked. Bruce, band, crowd — even the elements aligned: Rain seemingly triggered by the opening chords of an acoustic "The Promised Land" produced a rainbow that brought cheers. Ever hear a crowd of people over the age of ten cheer a rainbow? Me neither. Like the tour's previous high at AAMI Park a week ago, this show wasn't about rarities or reflection ("New York City Serenade" went unplayed for the first time). This was a stadium special on a glorious Saturday in bushland. The best of Australia, the best of the U.S.A., united in song, fuelled by camaraderie and cold beer.
Thankfully the rain didn't last as long as songs with "land" in them, as Bruce followed the quietly rousing opener with full-bore boot stompers "American Land" and "Badlands." He let out a long, loud yell at the end of "Badlands" that surely shook the burrows of local wombats and made people nod their heads in silent agreement: "'Badlands' in the number 3 spot? It's gonna be a corker."
Bruce seemed especially eager to mingle with the crowd tonight and did so with gusto when joined by Steve for River feel-gooders "Out in the Street" and "Two Hearts." Sign-picking resulted in the first cluster of Greetings From Asbury Park songs to be played since the tour's opening night in Perth three weeks ago. Bruce held his guitar aloft waiting for Roy's piano to begin "Growin' Up" before telling the tale of how he came to own an $18 guitar from Western Auto Parts on Main Street in Freehold. As he'd never seen $18 at that point in his 14-year-old life, it required Springsteen to get a job ("I've never worked an honest day in my life. For 67 years. Life is good.") but was inept ("I started to play that thing so fucking terribly I couldn't stand myself.") and so practiced guitar poses instead ("You had to look good.") Bruce ended the familiar tale with a line appropriate to the Hanging Rock sky as twilight flittered: "When you hit the right note and you get reborn under a rainbow, it sounds like this…." Blessed was our baptism by six-string.
After dedicating "Blinded by the Light" to "the Gudinskis" — a reference to the family of Hanging Rock concert promoter Michael Gudinski — Bruce pointed out how "Blinded" was "my only #1 song, and I didn't have it." Because Manfred Mann's Earth Band had changed a line from "like a deuce" to "like a douche — that's why they had a hit." Bruce completed the Greetings trio with "Spirit in the Night," hollering, "Hanging Rock, are you in the house?!"
Another sign not only caught Bruce's attention but made him "salute that young man" who crafted its bawdy message: "I'm Goin' Down Down on Someone Tonight." Bruce's body language was circa 1985, but the 2017 version of the E Street Band played the gritty rocker with a richness that bordered on reinvention. What stayed the same — what always stays the same — was the protagonist's desperation ("You know what the Boss man likes") to get good with his girl.
Bruce went on walkabout during "Hungry Heart," his ventures up a riser behind front GA giving him panoramic views of the Macedon Ranges and throngs sitting on Hanging Rock's gently sloping hill. "Wrecking Ball" continued a blue-collar run of songs that included another "The River"/"Youngstown" hammer blow (Garry stretching "The River" with jazzy bass) and a hillbilly "Johnny 99" featuring Steve's death row guitar cries and Jake's cowbell clank. Realizing he had the wrong guitar for "Working on the Highway," Bruce yelled "Take it Max!" before fetching the correct acoustic from Kevin. His mic stand at the lip of the pit gave him trouble throughout, but Bruce kept the pace, swaying and smiling like a man about to steal your wife.
Thing went full Reagan-era retro with a delirious "Glory Days" that had Steve playing to what Bruce called "the Little Steven fan club" near the stage as the crowd bellowed every word. Bruce started "Because the Night" as he did at the last Sydney show, repeating "Take me now…" several times before kicking the song into gear. Nils was his usual energetic and upbeat self all night, but here he got to howl at a rising full moon with a typically jaw-dropping guitar solo. By now twilight was fading into night and "The Rising" cast the band in a familiar orange and red glow, "Can't see nothing in front of me…" delivering its nightly, numbing chill.
How to follow the prayer-like "Rising" in the ancient mountains of Victoria, a place where the ghosts of our planet's oldest civilization linger in every gum tree and jagged hilltop? With a joyous song about a young man with a big advance, a woman who plays blind man's bluff and a father who never… did… understand. "Rosalita" had Bruce spinning in circles like it was 1978 and Steve mugging like Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano in Lilyhammer. With Jake beside them at the lip of the stage, the three hammed it up for the hundredth time, Jake's boyishness perfectly complementing the knuckleheaded tomfoolery of Bruce and Steve's Moe and Curly routine and it was all fresh and funny, still a ridiculous testament to rock 'n' roll rebellion. And still my favorite main-set closer.
Bruce plucked a sign for "Jungleland," and it was proven again that the bigger the stage, the higher Jake Clemons rises. His visage to the right of Springsteen as he plays the most famous sax solo in rock 'n' roll history is statuesque, the trance he puts himself in unbroken until Bruce gives him a hug at the solo's end. Jake's an impossibly modest man for a musician of so many talents, but tonight's "Jungleland" offered inarguable proof of his continuing ascension to E Street Band legend.
The good people of Oz Harvest got a shout from a thankful Springsteen before he turned the key and "Born to Run" rumbled to life. A passing shower brought him out to the stage's edge to shut his eyes and feel the rain as women climbed on men's shoulders in preparation for "Dancing in the Dark." (A tip from this Backstreets reporter: If you have a once-in-a-lifetime shot at taking a selfie on stage with Bruce Springsteen during a show in front of thousands of people, get it right the first time. Chasing Bruce around the stage in a doomed attempt to reposition yourself for a second go-round makes you look silly.) Bruce went on another extended walkabout for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," and "Shout" had hands flying and asses shaking.
With a hearty "one more for Hanging Rock," Bruce jangled the opening chords to "Bobby Jean" and brought this high-wire spectacle of a day and night to a close. Or so we thought. Shooting a look from the rear of the Hanging Rock stage we've seen so many times before — a look that says "What do I have to do for you people?" — Bruce grabbed an acoustic and harp gear from Kevin, made his way back to center mic, and played a "Thunder Road" lullaby to a sea of smiling faces and smoldering full moon. People hugged, people cried — ten minutes after Bruce left the stage I passed a man still staring at center mic, his face awash with tears — and we all exulted in the glee of another promise fulfilled. Next stop: Brisbane.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 13, 2017 - Joe Wall reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen
FEBRUARY 9: OOOOOOH, I WANNA SYDNEY 2 Other than the tour opener in Perth, which featured a remarkable string of seven songs from 1973, this Aussie tour has been notable for Performance Intensity over Setlist Eccentricity. Die-hards will chew your ears off expressing their preference for the latter, but ten seconds of any night's "Badlands" settle the argument for the former. To speak the language of my Aussie brethren, many of whom spend summer in a cricket coma, this second of two shows in Sydney was a bloody beauty all-rounder. Setlist old-timers like "The River," "Because the Night," and "Rosalita" absolutely smoked, while a twosome of "Rendezvous" and "Be True," a pair of late-'70s gems never before played on Aussie/NZ shores, blew the minds of hardcore fans both for their appearance and back-to-back placement in the set.
Lights down at 7:50 brought the familiar routine of the Cooper & Koo strings filing in, the band walking out to cheers, spotlights on Roy and Bruce, and The Professor launching "New York City Serenade." The low-key grace of "Serenade" makes its follow-up the barometer for a crowd's energy, and "Lonesome Day" exploded both onstage and off. "My Love Will Not Let You Down" had the pit bouncing and the band surrounding Max as he pounded the song to a rousing close.
Bruce got caught up in "Spirit in the Night" to the point where he had to run through the lyrics ("Where was I? Janey said hey little brother…") after sprawling on the lip of the stage and wooing a besotted rail-hugger while Jake played sexy sax. The now-standard communal portion of the evening — "Out in the Street" into "Hungry Heart" — found Bruce smiling broadly and mugging with fans on the floor and front sections' edges. I sometimes look at Springsteen at times like this and see a guy who's just woken up far away from home, threw cold water on his face, scarfed down a bowl of cereal, and found himself at the center of an adoring maelstrom. Bruce Springsteen may be the only man on the planet to whom surfing over a crowd is as everyday as going for a surf in the ocean before breakfast. (In Australia, at least.)
The night's first sign choice was a sixer (more cricket terminology for you — it equates to a home run). "Adam Raised a Cain" had been played sporadically during the 2013 and 2014 tours, but without a horn section its blazing guitar assault was unobstructed, and on this version Bruce wielded his Fender like a dagger. "The River" kicked off a staggering trio of songs about lost dreams and belief, belief in a better way out. The gorgeous falsetto of "The River" gave way to the menace of "Youngstown," a menace taken out and given a hiding by the first sublime Nils solo of the night. Bruce called for "The Promised Land" next, and the pit responded like convicts on a jail break.
A sorta, kinda familiar thundering of Max's drums (I'm one of those jerks who calls out what's about to be played like some kid's going to hand me a giant stuffed panda as a prize) opened up into "Rendezvous." The band would be forgiven for flaking rust off this concert rarity, but it was fully fleshed, a keepsake from the Darkness era shown its jangly due. Bruce called out for another beloved cast-off next, and "Be True" sounded equally robust, Clarence's roaring sax finale played with exuberance by Jake. Bruce took a refreshment break at the song's end, giving us all a few moments to digest the unlikely double shot of outtake/B-side bliss.
Much of that refreshment got sprayed into the air at the count-off for "Working on the Highway," a hip-swaying olive branch for Aussies bemused by the previous rarities. Next, Roy's piano intro to "Because the Night" charged the crowd ,and Bruce, alone in a spotlight, ratcheted the tension by repeating "Take me now…" in slow succession. There's a metaphor for the pent-up release that followed, but as this is a family publication, I'll refrain from detailing it.
Lots of hopping in the pit during another fired-up "Badlands." While not a word of politics was uttered on this night — "American Land" was not played for first time since show four in Adelaide — "Badlands" vibrates with resistance, another arrow in Bruce's crammed quiver. A raucous and ridiculous "Rosalita" closed the main set, with Jake, Bruce, and Steve doing their Three Stooges thing at center stage, the 44-year-old tune showing not a hint of grey or shaky legs. Just fun.
After telling Sydneysiders "we love your support so far from home" and singing the praises of Foodbank NSW, the band unleashed "Born to Run" and it was party time. With the house lights up and most (sigh) of the crowd on its feet, Bruce broke out another beloved song from the late '70s and smashed a fierce "Detroit Medley" that heaved and shook with River-era abandon.
By the time another jubilant "Shout" was in full force he stopped, bent over, and asked the Sydney crowd "Are you calling my name?" Like Anthony Alexander Andrew "Big Daddy" Zerilli, Springsteen's Italian immigrant grandfather who'd greet his young grandson with a mighty "BAAAARRRRRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE" from his Freehold throne, we called out from all corners of Qudos Bank Arena with a thundering "BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE" of our own.
After "Bobby Jean" seemed to close the show, Bruce reappeared with an acoustic guitar and harp gear and played a simple "Thunder Road" that tamed the crowd into singing along at Bruce's tempo. It was a gentle ending, at 10:40, on a night that grew hotter with each song, Bruce's unrelenting pace driving the band and audience like a deranged stoker heaving coal into a steam engine, our locomotive hurtling down a joyous track. That locomotive travels next to Hanging Rock, an hour's drive north of Melbourne in the Macedon Ranges. A full moon will be out. You have been warned.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 10, 2017 - report and photographs by Joe Wall
WHAT WILL YOU DO AFTER THE TOUR, STEVIE? Lots of fun SVZ news this week — let's start with a Stateside gig coming up next month for Little Steven and his Disciples of Soul. They'll play for The Rock and Roll for Children Foundation, headlining a benefit for the NIH Children's Inn on March 18 at the Filmore in Silver Spring, MD. Details and tickets here. And check out that Disciples line-up above, with a horn section featuring the Absury Jukes' Stan Harrison and E Street Orchestra players Eddie Manion and Clark Gayton.
On the recording front, Stevie posted on Twitter that he's got an album of originals he'd given away — "Me covering me!" — ready for the spring.
Yes I have. In fact I just did it. Me covering me! Songs I've written or co-written for other people. Should be out April/May. Stay tuned. https://t.co/eJ0NpnNYJQ
And finally, as NJ.com reports, Steven wil not only receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Rutgers in May, he'll also deliver the keynote commencement address for the university's Class of 2017.
Rutgers locked in Van Zandt last spring after he was the number one choice of a committee of students and faculty that recommended a commencement speaker, university President Robert Barchi said. The committee accepted nominations from the study body before making a selection, according to Rutgers.
"He was the students' choice, as well as the committee's choice, so I expect that this will be looked on very positively by the students," Barchi said.
STRAIGHT OUTTA SUNDANCE: PATTI CAKE$ GETS A BOOST FROM BRUCE
Some Springsteen news out of this year's Sundance Film Festival: Patti Cake$, from writer/director Geremy Jasper, opens and closes with River outtake "The Time That Never Was." On the surface it would seem like an unusual selection for a movie about an aspiring rapper — Patricia Dombrowski, also known as Killa P and Patti Cake$, played by Danielle Macdonald (above) — but the titular character is an underdog, blue-collar musician from Jersey. And we're always glad to see a new showcase for an undersung Springsteen track like this one. A Sundance attendee tells us: "In my opinion, it's the best use of a Bruce song since Philadelphia."
Patti Cake$, also starring Bridget Everett and Cathy Moriarty, is the latest film produced by Chris Columbus, who has a history of Jersey Shore music in his movies (and, as he recently shared with Backstreets, not in his movies). After its Sundance premiere, Patti Cake$ was picked up by Fox Searchlight for release later this year. - February 9, 2017
NEW BILLBOARD Q&A WITH JON LANDAU
Landing at #66 on their music industry 2017 Power 100 List, an "annual ranking of executive excellence," manager Jon Landau speaks with Billboard about his 42-year relationship with Bruce Springsteen and the current State of the Boss. As for what might be next, Landau keeps it close to the vest: "We've got some great ideas and surprises we've been kicking around — and I can't tell you anything about them." But it's an interesting Q&A, particularly if you're interested in "the nature of our approach," and the conversation covers Born to Run, touring, Trump, and even the B Street Band.
FEBRUARY 7: HAVIN' SOME FUN IN SYDNEY, NIGHT 1 OF 2 A commonly held perception of Australia's two largest cities — by Aussie blokes, at least — is that Sydney's the girl you'd take to Vegas, Melbourne's the one you'd take home to momma. Following a torrid show in Melbourne Saturday, Tuesday's first of two in Sydney had Bruce and the band seemingly poised to sweep Australia's glamour capitol off its feet with a grand gesture or two.
Nope. What we got were three hours of steel and smoke, heart and bone. Another fat-free extravaganza included one Aussie tour premier — Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" — and 27 tried-and-true scorchers. Sydney was soaked by massive rainstorms throughout the day, so temperatures were manageable outside, but by the time Bruce swung the "Wrecking Ball" the pit radiated with bouncing, perspiring bodies. It may not have been the most youthful of crowds, but tonight's energy was intense on the floor and in scattered chunks throughout the 21,000-capacity arena.
Though now sporting a different corporate moniker, Qudos Bank Arena is the same facility Springsteen played in 2013 and 2014. To my ears it's home to a dense, vibrant sound that beats every other venue on this tour and turbocharges a band hitting on all cylinders. Every nuance of the multi-textured and moody "New York City Serenade," back in its opening slot after falling to tenth and ninth at the two outdoor Melbourne shows, commanded attention, from Roy's piano firestorm to Bruce's acoustic licks to Cooper & Koo's searing, soaring strings. Steve stood in his familiar spot with arms crossed and eyes closed at the start, praying to the garage rock gods or perhaps meditating on the night's post-show dinner spread. Garry's bass floated above, below and behind it all. At the halfway mark of this 14-show summer tour of Australia and New Zealand, "Serenade" remains a high point creatively and emotionally every night and will be long remembered after the lads and lass have left these shores.
"American Land" again featured Charlie and Roy on dual accordions — has any band in the history of rock 'n' roll had a double-barreled accordion attack? — with Bruce yelling, "Sydney let me see you! Turn the lights on!" before flying a now-necessary flag of solidarity with immigrants of all stripes. A trio of "The Ties That Bind," "No Surrender," and "Out in the Street" summoned a comradery of the converted, with Nils and Bruce converging on guitars and Steve, of course, bringing his street soul. Bruce reached into the crowd for a "My Love Will Not Let You Down" sign and smoked it (the song, not the sign) and seemed genuinely hesitant to crowd surf during "Hungry Heart." A meandering route to the iron grip of Jake Clemons proved his hesitancy prescient.
Another sign brought bar band standard but rarely played "Long Tall Sally." Written and recorded more than 60 years ago, has any jukebox tune ever kicked off with less ambiguous lines than "Gonna tell Aunt Mary 'bout Uncle John / He claim he has the misery but he's havin' a lot of fun"? Looking at Steve throughout, Springsteen might well have been harking back to their days playing the church basements and parking lots along Route 9 before moving up to the bars of Asbury Park in the early '70s. "Gonna have some fun tonight…." As usual, no one was having more fun than Adele's son himself.
A blistering "Wrecking Ball" kicked off the night's most intense stretch. "Darkness on the Edge of Town" made only its second appearance in Australia in 2017 before a one-two of "American Skin (41 Shots)" and "Youngstown" spoke more truth about modern America than a year's worth of cable news and "The Promised Land" both benefitted from and contributed to the arena's energy. Bruce made an unabashed appeal for that energy before "Mary's Place" — "Sydney, make me feel your spirit right now" — before unleashing "Candy's Room" and "She's the One" on a suspecting and highly worked-up crowd.
This night's blue-collar ethos reached its height with a pair of Born in the U.S.A. songs, "Downbound Train" and "I'm on Fire," that both featured synthesizer solos from Roy. Bruce stood rock still throughout "I'm on Fire," sweat dripping from his left arm and hand, the E Street Band stripped down to Nils, Max, Bruce, Roy and Garry. Bruce called out Nils at the end of "Because the Night" for a solo that had him spinning and our neck hairs standing on end. On any given night anything can happen at a Springsteen show, but instead of a one-off setlist rarity or special guest, tonight's impossible-to-predict happening was a performance of "The Rising" that — you know where this is going — brought tears to my eyes and had the pit levitating. No individual element made it so. It was a group effort that included band, crowd, and ghosts of those lost. Just another tiny miracle that's not listed on your ticket but is included in the price of admission.
"Badlands" made this old man jump in place and then this Aussie tour's revelation — a joyous, reborn, ecstatic version of "Thunder Road" — had Bruce and Jake racing from opposite ends of the stage to slap raised hands to close the main set. Bruce touted those doing God's work at the Foodbank of NSW before Soozie's violin introduced a beautiful, shadowy "Jungleland." This slower version featured Max banging a ride cymbal slowly with one hand while crushing a snare drum with the other. Jake stood tall and still, resurrecting Clarence's herculean solo while Bruce kept time with his right hand. The usual encores got everybody dancing, and "Bobby Jean" brought the show to a heartfelt close at 10:50.
The day's downpours meant air thick with the smell of eucalyptus greeted us as we left the arena. After tonight's joyride with a finely tuned E Street Band and madly grinning Springsteen at the wheel, it felt like we should have been breathing in Turnpike tollbooth deep in the swamps of Jersey.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 8, 2017 - Joe Wall reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen
SPRINGSTEEN PHOTOGRAPHER ROUNDTABLE IN PRINCETON, MARCH 5
Next month in Princeton, NJ, many of our favorite photographers — including Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Barry Schneier, Frank Stefanko, and Pamela Springsteen — will talk about their adventures photographing Bruce Springsteen over the years, dating back to 1972. The March 5 panel discussion, moderated by Bob Santelli, is in conjunction with the GRAMMY Museum's traveling exhibition Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey, currently on display at Princeton's Morven Museum.
Morven Museum & Garden has theBruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey exhibit on view trough May 21, surveying Springsteen's career with 42 photographs as well as video interviews with the artists behind the cameras. - February 7, 2017
SAVE TILLIE UPDATE: PALACE AMUSEMENTS ARTIFACTS IN PERIL
"Demolition by neglect" as Palace wall murals deteriorate
Twenty-nine historic artifacts protected under an agreement between the City of Asbury Park, its waterfront developers, and a state agency have deteriorated over the past two years to the point of losing visual and structural integrity, according to a conservator who recently inspected the artifacts.
The inspection identified three wall murals that have lost "significant" paint and are "beginning to lose their detail," and 26 metal letters that are rusting and in danger. Included on the endangered list is the Tillie wall mural, one of Asbury Park's most iconic images, long associated with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
FEBRAURY 4, MELBOURNE: YOU KNOW WHAT WE LIKE, BRUCE
I am drinking blessedly cold beer in a noisy venue down the road from AAMI Park. It's a little past midnight, 90 minutes after Bruce Springsteen and Jake Clemons were the final E Street Band members to bow together and leave AAMI's stage. The place is ripe with good-looking men and women in their summer clothes. A DJ is spinning a mix of hip-hop and obscurities, typical hipster soundtrack. A space for dancing in front of the DJ is vacant. Suddenly, like wolves howling at the scent of blood, a "Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh" "Badlands" chant arises. The DJ, aware of a need to appease the howlers, drops the needle on "Hungry Heart," Max's drums popping like the fireworks that ended this second and final Melbourne show. People in River Tour 2017 T-shirts converge on the dance floor from every corner of the bar, a full-throated "Got a wife in kids in Baltimore, Jack" obliterating all other sounds.
The DJ wisely follows with "Dancing in the Dark" before setting loose a force he clearly doesn't understand: "Born to Run." I join the jubilant throng and behave in a manner better suited to a Misfits mosh pit. My cohorts and I scream words of longing and desperation like we're possessed by the Jersey Devil itself. We smash into one another, screaming to the ceiling, laughing with joy. We're not drunk. We're not seeking attention. We're at the mercy of a lingering force too raw to be tamed. A young blonde I've never seen before throws her arms around me, a temporary Wendy holding on for dear life, both of us charged by nearly three hours of a superhuman Springsteen. "Tramps like us!" we shout, free and wild, wanderers in a blast zone searching for survivors of the E Street apocalypse, "Baby we were born to run!" Temporary Wendy kisses me as we part, the DJ fades the song, and our wolfpack disbands. The whole experience surreal, a dream, a possession. But it happened, and none of us will ever forget it.
Which is a perfect way to describe night two in Melbourne. A you-had-to-be-there performance, one not defined by setlists or duration or letters home. A night in which a woman gasped "What's he doing?" when Kevin gave Bruce a fresh guitar late in the show, a thought no doubt shared throughout Melbourne's rugby stadium. What's he doing? He's blasting expectations, again. He's replacing cynicism with glee, again. He's shaking his ass so we shake our collective asses, again. He's pushing the boundaries of a 67-year-old rock 'n' roller, again. He's sweating like a motherfucker, again. He's playing a catalog we know with religious fervour yet blowing our minds with songs' intensity and set placement, again. And doing it in a way that feels like it's never been done before, like we're the beneficiaries of a miracle cure that's been smuggled through customs in the form of a New Jersey troubadour with a rockin' band.
Most shows unfold in vivid sections, but tonight felt a 27-song medley. Bruce took the stage in a River-era sky blue shirt at 7:50 and got straight into it with "American Land" No intro, no speeches, just a rumbling haymaker to the jaws of those blinded by bigotry. Gentle strumming from Nils gave "Lonesome Day" a janglier tone before a pounding "My Love Will Not You Down" hinted at the guitar theatrics to come. Springsteen's shirt was already ready for wringing by the time a sharp "Out in the Street" had him asking "Where's the girl who wants to dance with the Mighty Max?" As the crowd pointed at the wannabe dancer, Bruce said, "Well, come on up and dance with the Mighty Max!" Fourth song of the night and Max had a visitor on his riser — this was not a Serious Show. This was a Fun Show.
Further proof was manifested by Bruce taking signs from the crowd for the first time on this tour. First up was "Sherry Darling," which when followed by "Hungry Heart" made for the ultimate River singalong trio. Jake was caught unaware shortly before his "Hungry Heart" solo and had to sprint — the man can move — to the walkway behind the front GA to play beside Bruce. He didn't quite get there, but then no one could catch Bruce on this night. Like a boxer who sees the next punch coming, he anticipated the crowd's mood and either met or challenged it with each song, rarely taking more than a few seconds between songs.
He must have moved too fast for himself when, after holding up a sign for "This Hard Land," he strapped on a harp rack and began playing "This Hard Land" harmonica, but from his guitar came the intro to "Glory Days." Realising his mistake he laughed, yelled "C'mon Steve," threw the harp offstage and took out any regret on his guitar. Mid-"Glory Days," out on the center thrust, Bruce looked at Steve and asked, "Is it lunch time? Is it sexy time? Is it ass-shaking time?" With Steve in full goombah mode, Springsteen looked at the crowd and said with purpose, "It's also Boss time." This was "Glory Days" from its mid-'80s heyday. At its conclusion Bruce congratulated the crowd — "well done!" — and advised us to "sit those tired asses back down."
A full-band "This Hard Land" then finally made its 2017 tour debut and began a remarkable string of songs that brought a fever pitch not yet seen through five shows on Australian soil. Bruce tackled the lyrics to his beautiful ode to brotherhood with slightly off phrasing but cleared the slate with a blistering harmonica solo. Then began the now-familiar routine of elegantly dressed string players — on this night Cooper & Koo, the all-female string section that debuted with Springsteen at the 2014 Wild & Innocent album show in Brisbane — taking their seats behind the stage, Bruce standing at center mic with an acoustic guitar and pointing to Roy to begin the magnificent intro to "New York City Serenade." Maybe it was the heat or maybe there was magic in the night, but after hearing the song four times on this tour and adoring every second of its string-ripened glory, it finally cracked me open and brought tears to my sunscreen-smeared face. I wasn't alone. Throughout the pit eyes glistened. I'm not a fan of the massive video screen behind the band, but the interplay of busily sliding arms and Bruce's solitary form is enhanced by projection. The song ended with Bruce once again repeating "He's singing" while cool mist floated through blue spotlights across the stage.
Bruce always surprises — it's why we keep going back — but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely way to roar the E Street Band back up again than with Roy's piano intro leading to Springsteen's tour de force guitar work on the '78 version of "Prove It All Night." Where "NYC Serenade" was Bruce's definition of an epic in 1973, only five years later the stripped-down Darkness on the Edge of Town gave rise to this cherished, slashing-guitar rendition of "Prove It." Heard back-to-back they were a masterclass on Springsteen's precocious rise in the '70s from boardwalk poet to street-racing, working man gunslinger. It also had Steve drop his consigliere role and smash a monster solo.
As in Adelaide, an intense "Trapped" rose from a deeper place and offered a cathartic chance to scream our heads off. Bruce showed his voice can still muster the bile required for "Youngstown," and Nils — incomparable, note-perfect Nils — took care of the rest. Bruce shouted to the band as the song ended, and I saw Roy waving his hand over his head to the rest of the band. What did it mean? "Cover Me." By now the pit was a roiling mass that Bruce whipped into a froth with a merciless guitar solo. "Yes yes yes yes yes," he said to his band when it was done.
"Death to My Hometown" spread the band across the stage like a holy noise army, Bruce once again spitting the line "No dictators were crowned" like a bug had just flown into his mouth. He next wandered to the lip of the pit, his shirt completely soaked through, for "My City of Ruins." After asking if "the spirit was in the house tonight," he guaranteed its presence with a reminder of what we've lost — "And that change was made uptown now" sung over and over, Clarence looming in our hearts like he once loomed to Bruce's right — and a preacher's admonition to rise up and pray for peace.
From Sunday church to Texas desert we went as Max immediately kicked up a beat and Bruce growled, "Well buddy when I die throw my body in the back," and we were high-tailing it to the "Cadillac Ranch." Solos from Steve, Nils on pedal steel, and Soozie on fiddle flavored the River rocker with a touch of crackling country and western, but no matter — this was all Texas barbecue. "I'm Goin' Down" started with an examination of the State of the Springsteen Household that had Bruce mimicking his limited appeals — "But… but… but… but" — versus the blunt instrument that is Patti's "Who the fuck do you think you are?" Ground to dust, Bruce captured the essence of marriage with a final, pathetic, "You know what I like, honey."
No song generates debate within the Springsteen community like "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," but hell, tonight it was all hands on deck: the audience wrenched the keys from Bruce and Steve as they struggled to get it going and just did it themselves. With Bruce and Steve flailing on acoustics while Nils and Garry stood on either side offering advice, the crowd got out jumper cables, attached them to their vocal cords, and began signing the song's melody en masse. Vroom vroom went the guitars and off we went, Steve flashing an embarrassed smile and Bruce saying "Thank you!" when it was time to shut it down.
On a night of highlights, the final three songs of the main set — "Because the Night," "Badlands," and "Thunder Road" — may have been the pinnacle of a mountain we've been to many times before, only this time we pushed to a higher summit. Exhausted, we shook the ground with sore feet and punched the air with arms wet from sunscreen and sweat. Bruce played the bulk of "Thunder Road" on the lip of the pit, the man and the guitar he learned how to make talk just above us but the music planted deep inside one and all.
Bruce thanked everyone for coming out to the two shows in Melbourne and for supporting his music, adding Australia is "the last place on Earth I can get a beer on the house." He praised Feed Melbourne for doing God's work and once again read a list of countries represented in the pit. "We salute you!" launched a standard six-song encore that included a manic "Seven Nights to Rock" and… well, a manic everything. When my friend asked, "What's he doing?" I knew exactly what she meant. By the time Steve draped the "Boss" cape over him and Bruce pantomimed walking off stage, you almost wanted him to do just that, to take a load off, to make himself a sandwich and relax. Nope. Another crazy-ass "Twist and Shout." We twisted. We shouted. We watched in awe. Until the song ended, and fireworks again burst over AAMI Park, the band took their bows and walked offstage and we could finally confirm with others that what we'd just witnessed was truly as good as it felt.
It was 10:35, and there were no doubts. Shit may indeed be fucked up as he said Thursday night, but not in this house, not on this night. This one bound young and old, hardcores and newbies, bogans and hipsters, Hawks and Magpies. This one sent everyone out into the night as apostles, convinced they'd seen the show to end all shows… until Tuesday night in Sydney, when the ashes of Saturday night will be whisked away and the fire lit anew. Exactly as it's always been.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 5, 2017 - report and photographs by Joe Wall
FEBRAURY 2, MELBOURNE: A LETTER HOME
Sixteen songs into an at-times-shambolic first stadium show of this Australian tour, Bruce Springsteen leaned heavily on his mic stand above the pit of Melbourne's AAMI Park and spit out four words that tied up the state of our world in a tight, profane bow: "Shit is fucked up." He repeated those words in a cartoon voice — "shitisfuckedup, shitisfuckedup" — at least temporarily shrugging off the burden of progressive spokesperson here on "Mary's Place" and confessing to an adoring crowd that on this cool summer night "the E Street Band needs some Aussie spirit."
He got it, and he and his band of brothers and a sister responded with a breakneck, 13-song homestretch that ended with "Twist and Shout" and a sky full of fireworks. Following the band on this tour has reminded me of the days when many Americans survived the antics of the Bush/Cheney administration by tuning into Jon Stewart for a nightly balm of topical laughs and/or outrage. So far in Australia Springsteen's reacted to the fucked-upness with statements of solidarity and blistering fightin' songs in combination. Tonight we got the latter and a little bit of the former, but mostly Springsteen taking the piss out of Donald Trump's latest antics during a phone call/tantrum with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which dominated the day's news.
Walking out at 7:30 sharp, Springsteen strapped on an acoustic guitar and said, "We stand before you (as) embarrassed Americans tonight… We're gonna use this to send a letter back home." He went straight into a quick version of 1962's "Don't Hang Up" by R&B group The Orlons ("Don't hang up like you always do/I know you think our love is true"). It was a zippy little poke back at an administration seemingly hellbent on destroying American goodwill around the world — with Steve, Roy, and Garry laughing to his left — but not the most rousing kickoff for a crowd laced with bandana-and-white-t-shirt-wearing guys ("They're cute," wrote Bruce in Born to Run) and looking-for-a-dance girls.
Bruce hollered "We come from a land of immigrants!" over Max's rolling beat as the band rollicked into "American Land," but it was like starting a car in third gear. Of course it felt right — especially to this American ex-pat with Irish ancestors who passed through Ellis Island — but whether it was Melbourne's bright twilight, or AAMI Park's rugby pitch dimensions, or a bad platter of sushi backstage, the normally roaring E Street Band was a bit tempered.
It didn't help when Bruce went on walkabout during "The Promised Land" and had to run up the ramp at song's end — had me thinking of Hyde Park's "Give me an elevator! I'm fucking 60!" back in 2009. The man can work miracles, but like all of us, he ain't getting any younger. "Glory Days," "Hungry Heart," and "Wrecking Ball" were all stadium-friendly rockers that popped but didn't sizzle.
And then came the piece de resistance of this tour to date, "New York City Serenade." A strikingly attractive eight-piece string section took the stage for the first playing of the song outside the opening slot, and the need for stadium histrionics ended. Roy's plaintive piano flooded the stadium and we all eased into a gentle bath of sound. An honest-to-god breeze swept through the pit as Bruce crooned "He's singing…" over and over, the strings giving wing to the pleas of the song's narrator as Bruce whispered poetry over Garry's basslines. In my notepad I wrote, "puts all previous songs to shame." A bit harsh, but on the ground, that's how it felt.
A stretch of brilliance followed. A slow-boiled "Atlantic City" erupted in a hard, head-banging finish. "Johnny 99" honky-tonked to Nils's pedal steel and Jake's cowbell. "Murder Incorporated" began with a malfunctioning guitar (Bruce yelling, "Hang on Steve… I got it!") but compensated with Bruce's first solo of the night. Springsteen flashed a little windmill guitar to close a stomping "Death to My Hometown," the line "No dictators were crowned" once again growled with outlaw menace. Finally, all thoughts of early clunkiness were erased by a perfect, chilling "The River" that Bruce's falsetto turned into a séance on the banks of the Yarra.
A pair of questions broke the spell: "Are you in the house tonight?" and "Are you ready for a house party?" to begin a transformative "Mary's Place." Bruce dangled from his mic stand and, alluding to the band's hiccups earlier in the night, confessed, "Tonight is the night for fucking everything up." After the previously mentioned succession of "Shit is fucked up" quips and "You got to bring us up tonight," Bruce bent low and shushed the crowd from just above the pit. He went silent, seemingly waiting for defiance. "Don't be Brooocing me right now," he said. "I don't want to hear any fucking Brooocing right now." That brought the spirit he was asking for, and soon "Mary's Place" had patio furniture in the swimming pool and the neighbors calling the cops.
Thus began a race to finish that long-time concert attendees will recognize as the sort that leaves your face sore from continuous smiling. Snicker if you like, but if a run of roadhouse rockers "Darlington County" and "Working on the Highway," sultry sing-along "I'm on Fire," carnal "Because the Night" and blistering "Badlands" don't put a grin on your puss, well, I can't help you, son. When Springsteen released "Badlands" in 1978 there was no way he'd imagine the prescience of "Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything," but there it was, capturing present-day concerns better than anything he's written since. "Land of Hope and Dreams" similarly embodies a world of opposition and a way out of despair, and when played after "Badlands" to close the main set offered a cathartic prayer for our times.
After a salute to Feed Melbourne and shout-out to the 21 nationalities represented in AAMI Park's pit ("Those Italians follow me wherever I go!"), Springsteen stood at center mic alone and introduced an acoustic "Long Walk Home" by saying, "I wrote this during the Bush administration, guess it still applies." However tragic that may be, the song offered wisdom we can only pray America heeds: "That flag flyin' over the courthouse / Means certain things are set in stone / Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."
"Born to Run" continued its run as all-time-greatest stadium anthem followed by a "Dancing in the Dark" that saw Bruce dance with a woman holding a "Dance with this nasty woman - Love Trumps Hate" sign. Everything about her was magnificent. You think you've heard every variation of "Shout" until on this night Bruce repeated "Listen to me…" over and over until it morphed into a showdown between James Brown and Sam Cooke. And then, with a mighty "We know you can shout, but can you twist?" Bruce discovered he had the wrong guitar for "Twist and Shout"; Kevin popped out with the right one, and Freehold's favorite son thrashed a version of the first song he ever learned to play on guitar, with some "boogaloo" piano from Roy and a look of ecstasy on his mug. At 10:20 pm he closed night one of a two-night Melbourne stand by saying "Tell your friends we'll be back for a Saturday night extravaganza!" as fireworks hailed over AAMI Park.
It may have been an embarrassing day to be an American in Australia, but as rockets' red glare mingled with Southern Hemisphere starlight it was a great goddamned night to be a Springsteen fan in the city of Melbourne.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 3, 2017 - Joe Wall reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen
DON'T HANG UP, DONTCHA DO IT!
With a phone call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Preisdent Trump the major news of the day in Australia, Bruce Springsteen opened his first night in Melbourne with "Don't Hang Up," the 1962 hit by The Orlons. Taking the stage with his acoustic guitar, Bruce said with a laugh, "We stand before you embarrassed Americans tonight... We're gonna use this to send a letter back home." It was a rollicking solo acoustic performance before Max's rumbling "American Land" drums kicked in and Springsteen shouted, "We come from a land of immigraaants!" In the encore, Bruce noted that there were 21 different nationalities in the pit and performed an acoustic "Long Walk Home." Full notes to come. - February 2, 2017
WHAT IS THIS LAND AMERICA, SO MANY TRAVEL THERE Once more, "American Land" reflects modern immigration
In Adelaide, Australia this past Monday, after publicly expressing his and the E Street Band's opposition to "the Muslim Ban," Bruce Springsteen sang a version of "American Land" with one small but very important lyrical change. He shouted "the Muslims!" while singing his list of those who "come across the water a thousand miles from home." (Click here to hear the January 30 Adelaide performance of "American Land." The lyrical change can be heard at the 2:26 mark.)
Springsteen recorded "American Land" first with his Seeger Sessions Band in 2006 and later for a Wrecking Ball bonus track in 2012. While it always has been a song that implicitly supports the struggles of modern immigrants by celebrating the courage and diversity of immigrants from long ago, it's been quite some time since the song's lyrics specifically referenced any major latter-day immigration issues. The closing verse, with "They're still dyin' now," has typically been the extent of it.
In fact, you'd have to go back more than a decade to when Springsteen first started performing the song in June 2006. Watch the official music video below of Springsteen and the Sessions Band debuting the song publicly at Madison Square Garden on 6/22/2006. At the 2:59 mark, you'll hear Springsteen sing the line, "...the Puerto Ricans, illegals, the Asians, Arabs miles from home...."
Days later, after only one other public performance of it, that line got replaced and hasn't been sung again since. It's most likely, however, that this change was made for reasons much more musical than political (though perhaps Bruce also quickly realized that Puerto Ricans have been declared officially as "U.S. citizens," despite their historical and ongoing disenfranchisement, since 1917.) All politics aside, the wordiness of the original line simply seems very difficult to sing, and certainly it's difficult for many to hear it clearly enough to be understood, let alone discussed and debated.
Of course, since its 2006 debut there have been many lyrical changes in performances of Springsteen's "American Land" to accommodate many specific audiences through the years. (See the "American Land" entry at SpringsteenLyrics.com for a good, detailed rundown. The lyric change from Portland, OR 3/28/2008, incidentally, is priceless.) Nevertheless, for whatever reason(s) the song hasn't had a post-2006 specific lyrical reference to large groups of modern-day immigrants and their struggles before Monday's Adelaide performance. Given the current political climate, it wouldn't be surprising if references similar to the one made at Adelaide appear in at least a few upcoming performances of "American Land." - February 1, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting
JANUARY 30, ADELAIDE: HEY, HEY, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Before Monday night's show, fans in Adelaide fans were discussing which songs belonged on Bruce Springsteen's perfect protest setlist. They should have just waited for the show, as nothing we came up with could beat the mastery of song arrangement that he delivered. From the first notes to the last, every selection was carefully thought out to deliver a message to us, to America, to the world. The songs are familiar, the words aren't new, but their placement in relation to other songs and the intensity of their delivery are what made this a hard pressed, condensed diamond of a show.
"New York City Serenade" opened the show once again with a visiting string section, with particular emphasis given to the words. "Listen to your Junkman, all dressed up in satin, walking by the alley" — a metaphor for an America that was sold on a promise of a quick fix, a drug of glittering promises that turned into an alternative truth. As the string section left one side of the stage, the accordions came on the other and Bruce made this proclamation:
Tonight we want to add our voices to the thousands of Americans who are protesting at airports around our country the Muslim Ban and the detention of foreign nationals and refugees. America is a nation of immigrants, and we find this anti-democratic and fundamentally un-American. This is an immigrant song!
With that, "American Land" launched the show that will surely be known as the Adelaide Protest Show, Bruce's musical call to action. The words "the hands that built this country we're always trying to keep out" delivered the first shot straight over the bow. "The Ties that Bind" and "No Surrender" drove home the message that we are in this together. The line "had to get away from those fools" was delivered with a sneer. As an American who chose to vacation in the farthest location from the U.S., I could certainly relate. Bruce dedicated "Trapped" next to "the detainees." And then the song that starts each and every time with a line delivered like a benediction, "This is 'Land of Hope and Dreams.'" Bruce paused for effect after "This train carries saints and sinners" to add "This train carries immigrants!" And bells of freedom ring. I looked over the crowd and saw a young girl watching with tears streaming down her face. Later a line in "Youngstown," "We gave our sons to Korea and Vietnam and now we wonder what they were dying for," made me wonder how many more tears will be shed.
"Something in the Night" wasn't on our fan line protest song list, but it should have been. This is the one that gave a voice to the voiceless all those years ago. The stage went dark, one by one the musicians dropped off, until all that was left was one man, one voice, with a heartbeat drum telling a story of tragedy and anguish, finishing with a howl of pain and frustration that we all felt.
A moment of levity came when Bruce spotted a quartet in the audience dressed like the Honeymooners of '50s TV fame holding up a sign request for "Brown Eyed Girl." Bruce laughingly explained the show to the Australians and then invited them on stage. Hilarity ensued as Ralph Kramden took over the piano while Ed Norton shared (one might say wrestled with Bruce for) the microphone. Alice and Trixie sang back up with Little Steven. This unplanned performance perfectly into the show narrative, tapping into the collective memory of the '50s as a time of American greatness — that is, unless you were a woman, black, gay, or poor.
The protest rally continued with "Murder Incorporated" and a particularly strong "Death to My Hometown." Jake Clemons poured all of his youthful passion into the bass drum in accompaniment to Bruce's emphasis on the "robber baron" line.
As "Racing in the Street" began, Bruce raised his guitar up and held it for a long moment, like a general leading his troops to battle; it was a musical call to arms. The lyrics captured the frustration of being powerless, the rage of a young man, a desire for something more that ends in either quiet despair or desperate action. A lump rose in my throat at the words "wrinkles round my baby's eye"; it causes me to wonder if we are too old for this fight. Haven't we already won these battles? Despair slips in, but it is met with the swell of piano notes, music so beautiful my soul aches. "Tonight my baby and me are going to ride to the sea" — the soul of America waking up; the sound of our voices being heard like never before — "and wash these sins from our hands." Action, not desperate at all but calculated. We aren't too old for this fight, we have seen it before, and we will not back down. Our voices roar from the National Mall, from JFK, from Main Street America to Adelaide Australia.
The rest of the show hammered home the message: this is our fight, this is our call to action. "The Rising," when we stood united; "Badlands," with the Aussie asses up out of the seats and fist-pumping against a rich man who would be king; the sing-along "Thunder Road," the set's closing statement and still an invitation to join him. He's not backing down from this fight, and we never should.
The encores began with a dedication of "If I should Fall Behind" to Brady, from his mom in memory. Bruce performed solo, his voice and guitar the only sound in the crowded arena. It was a pure, heartfelt expression of love that surrounded us and lifted us up, a prayer of beautiful harmony and promise. We are in this together.
Before moving on to the ecstatic encore, which brought guest Richie Sambora to the stage for two songs, we had the words of the original fight song, "Born to Run," ringing in our ears. "I wanna guard your dreams and visions," Bruce sang. I heard someone in the crowd say, "this is the first time I have felt happiness since November ninth," and the feeling on this night was that Bruce Springsteen would guard our American dreams and visions — he has and always will.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- January 31, 2017 - Brenda VanHorn reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen
Following the standard "New York City Serenade" opener in Adelaide on January 30, Springsteen
reached immediately for his 2006 track "American Land":
Tonight we want to add our voices to the thousands of Americans who are protesting at airports around our country the Muslim Ban and the detention of foreign nationals and refugees. America is a nation of immigrants, and we find this anti-democratic and fundamentally un-American. This is an immigrant song!
Several pointed selections later ("The Ties That Bind," "No Surrender," "Land of Hope and Dreams"), Springsteen dedicated "Trapped" to the detainees. - January 30, 2017
WORKIN' THE FAST LANE
Springsteen and the E Street Band may be playing on the other side of the world, but it doesn't seem we'll have the same kind of lagtime between performance and recording availability that came with the 2016 European tour. As of this weekend, the Australia / New Zealand 2017 live series from nugs.net has already begun. On Saturday, less than a week after the January 22 tour opener in Western Australia, that Perth 1 show went onsale at live.brucespringsteen.net. Digital files (mp3/lossless) are available for download now, with HD files imminent and pre-orders being taken for CD. - January 29, 2017
JANUARY 27, PERTH 3: WESTERN AUSTRALIA KNOWS WHAT TIME IT IS
You can tell a lot about a show by how Bruce Springsteen greets the audience at the start. For his last of three nights in Perth, he went with, "GOOOOOOOOD EEEEEEVENIIIIIIING WEEEEESTEEEEERRRN AAAAAAUSTRAAAAALIAAAAAAA!!!" So… we were in store for a house party? Absolutely: nearly three hours of pure, unbridled, uncut, undiluted, undistilled, and un-fucking-believable rock 'n' roll, the best house party the world can offer, one that felt like it spanned lifetimes while lasting "only" 2:45.
And here I thought an opening (post-"NYC Serenade" of course) couldn't get any more scorching than night two, but along comes Bruce to outdo himself again with "Night." Does any other song in his arsenal establish as breakneck of a pace? "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" kept it going, Bruce and Stevie reprising their guitar duel, ahead into "Cover Me" and "Radio Nowhere." Australians seem to love his newer material, inspiring Bruce to engage in a deafening "I just want to hear some rhythm" call-and-response with the crowd.
This time around, the Aussies had no choice but to stand, especially when Bruce whipped out a rare mid-set "Glory Days," and especially when he bellowed, "Can we get these folks in Perth dancing? Can we get them asses out of those seats?!" By the time everyone was waving their arms to the end of "Hungry Heart," it felt like we had already hit encore-level bedlam… just seven songs in (I know I was an encore-level, sweaty mess).
"The River" momentarily and hauntingly slowed things down before they went right back to setting their guitars ablaze with "Youngstown" (two lengthy Nils solos are always better than one), "Murder Incorporated" (another Bruce-Stevie guitar face-off), "Johnny 99" (there are few superior talent showcases for the entirety of the E Street Band) and "Ramrod" ("Ramrod" and "Glory Days" in the main set? It was just one of those nights). You had to love Bruce and Stevie's banter: "What time is it? I don't got no watch. I'm so damn jet-lagged I don't know what fucking time it is. Does Perth know what time it is?! Do you know what time it is?!" Yes, they did. "That's goooood." At song's end Bruce thanked the crowd as if they were done, and I don't think anyone would've gone home unhappy. We were less than 90 minutes in.
But no, there were so many more highlights to burn through, including the first-ever Down Under performance of "Drive All Night," transcendent as always. Those who predicted a third night in a small venue might be treated to full River performance weren't dead-on, but there were more songs from the album here than the previous two nights. Bruce introduced a balls-to-the-goofy-wall "I'm Goin' Down" with an odd little story about how he tends to get in fights at home that end with him being asked, "Who do you think you are?!"
The energy did not wane for even one second all night long, straight up. I can't remember the last time Bruce and the Band were in such high spirits from beginning to end. And the crowd was with them every step of the way; the pit even mirrored an eyes-closed Bruce raising his hands and then crossing them when he sang, "May I feel your arms around me / May I feel your blood mix with mine" during "The Rising." That was a first for me, as was the crowd continuing the "Badlands" chant from the mid-song breakdown, over the final verse, through the coda, and into a gorgeous "Land of Hope and Dreams."
"Backstreets" and "Seven Nights to Rock" were encore highlights, as was Bruce's mid-"Shout" E Street Band litany: "Do you have kangaroos in this part of Australia? Good, then on your drive home, if you see a spare kangaroo, I want you to pull over by the side of the road, get out of your car, and tell them you've just seen…" — you know the rest.
When walking out of MetLife 3 this past year, many concurred that Bruce had very few other three-night stands that could compare. Yet in classic E Street fashion, his very next three-night stand — less than 10 shows later — every bit matched those now-legendary Jersey evenings. No records were broken for show length, but you know what they say about quality over quantity. As usual, right when diehards believe they've witnessed a culmination of sorts, Bruce just dials it up even further. Fifty-eight different songs over the first three shows of this Summer '17 Tour — that's more than most bands get to on an entire tour — and they looked like they could've kept going for hours more. Indeed, it seems like glory days will never pass this band by. In Bruce's own words: "We swore forever friends… that was the deal, right?" Cue the waterworks for the remainder of the encores (at least for me).
If this start is a sign of what's to come, then get ready, Eastern Australia and New Zealand — the righteous fire of E Street is coming for you, baby.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- updated January 28, 2017 - Steven Strauss reporting - photographs by Bill Donohoe
Thanks for 3 amazing nights, Western Australia! Perth was rockin' tonight!!! #summertour2017
STARTING MONDAY: JAKE CLEMONS WEEK ON E STREET RADIO
While Jake keeps rocking with the E Street Band in Australia, E Street Radio is gearing up for Jake Clemons Week, spotlighting his new album Fear & Love. Jake's new Guest DJ session will air on Monday, when he'll play and talk about his favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. Tune in for that premiere on January
30 at 4pm Eastern, repeating throughout the week. Jake will also be going track-by-track on his new album, introducing each song. Plus, all week the channel will air "Jake Era" concerts at noon and 8pm, kicking off on Monday with Jake's first full performance with the E Street Band, at the Apollo Theater in 2012. Listen to E Street Radio on SiriusXM channel 20. - January 27, 2017
JANUARY 25: A ROCKET RIDE FOR PERTH 2
"Every night's different." So we say to the eye rollers, naysayers, unbelievers, anyone who questions our devotion to E Street. "Sure it is," they respond in voices thick with unanointed attitude, "but how different could it be — same band, same venue, songs he's been singing since the Nixon administration? Seriously mate, why do you do it?"
Tonight is why we do it. The mysterious ways of Bruce Springsteen's mind and soul that leave us guessing and then gasping for breath. Pre-show prognostications turned ludicrous by a guttural "1! 2! 3! 4!…" and the promise of redemption on the hood of an old Dodge, sipping beer in the soft summer rain. Thinking replaced by feeling, the familiar made celebratory. Our incessant quest to figure this guy out, to know what's coming over the rise, always falling short but our expectations consistently being exceeded.
Tonight was a drag race. A feint in the form of Official Show Opener "New York City Serenade" before a cascade of lights, roaring engines and a rocket ride down rubber-blackened tarmac began with "Prove It All Night" and continued to genuinely rousing show closer "Rosalita." Whatever we thought we were going to get got ditched like dead weight. Out of 26 songs, a remarkable 16 were not played during Sunday's Aussie Tour 2017 opener.
And that number 26? This was a concert of economy, a concentrated treat, fat-free and vastly entertaining. Much will be made of its length — lights down at 7:45, Bruce proclaiming "The E Street Band loves ya!" at 10:35 before departing — but this night's sustained energy (and perhaps very hot summer temperatures) demanded an earlier-than-usual exit.
Whereas Sunday's show featured Springsteen's most direct proclamation of opposition to an incoming presidential administration, tonight's was nearly spoken-word-free. For however much he let the songs themselves speak his truth, Springsteen also seemed looser, more at ease, and spent a lot of time reaching down into the crowd, holding hands, high-fiving, and most obviously concluding "Hungry Heart" with a ride-of-a-thousand-fingers courtesy of eager pit denizens. If Sunday's show was in response to external forces, the intrusion of the wider world, tonight's existed solely within the comparatively small confines of Perth Arena. By expressing solidarity with the "new American resistance" on Sunday Bruce had done his job as a leader of progressive politics in the U.S., but tonight he let his rock 'n' roll do the ass-kicking on the other side of the world.
Springsteen had a better crowd tonight, too, either the result of it being Australia Day Eve or that tickets for this show were the first to go on sale and sell out quickly. It's always encouraging when an anonymous collection of string players receive applause as they take their seats on a darkened stage. That enthusiasm was rewarded with another jaw-dropping "NYC Serenade," its grandiose piano and strings contrasting beautifully with Springsteen's collection of romantic tragics from a long-ago time and place. His newfound devotion to this song continues to shock and thrill in equal measure. Bruce applauded his string section and shook their hands as they left the stage.
After a hearty "Good evening, Western Australia," rubber met road with a rollicking "Prove It All Night" that delivered guitar face aplenty and a pulsing face-off between Bruce and Max. In what would prove typical, Bruce gave no pause before slamming the band into higher gear with a galloping "My Love Will Not Let You Down" that had Nils and Steven flanking Bruce for a noisy and nostalgic triple-shot of six-strings.
"Two Hearts" had Steve making like a butcher in a pork store, the crowd savoring every slice of ham, before an aerobic "Wrecking Ball" helped burn it off. An exuberant "Out in the Street" was followed by ten songs — ten — not heard Sunday night, starting with "Hungry Heart" and ending with an audibled "I'm on Fire." Highlights included a Rising two-fer of "My City of Ruins" and "Mary's Place" (after shushing the crowd Bruce laughed and confessed to "fucking up the words even though they're right in front of me"); a Sessions-style "Johnny 99" (in which Steve was caught unawares for his guitar solo as Bruce busted his chops with "c'mon, Little Steven, c'mon," the favor returned when Bruce's solo made Steve laugh out loud) bookended by jackhammer renditions of "Atlantic City" and "Murder Incorporated"; a typically rousing "Death to My Hometown" (Bruce spitting the line "no dictators were crowned"); impressive audience participation during "The River"; and an overwhelming chorus of female voices singing along to "I'm on Fire."
The show's breakneck pace continued with another trio of songs played without pause — "Because the Night," "The Rising," and "Badlands" — before a gorgeous "Thunder Road" had Bruce strolling the lip of the stage and an increasingly charismatic Jake Clemons invoking the soaring spirit of Clarence, a feat he'd duplicate with a torrid "Jungleland" solo that led to an embrace with Springsteen at center stage. Bruce's voice froze up halfway through "Born to Run" but recovered during a cape-less "Shout." A full-throttle "Rosalita" ended this drag race of an evening with Bruce looking as content as a winning driver with $25 of prize money in his back pocket and a cooler of cold beer in the trunk. Not a bad way to end a hot night in Western Australia.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- January 26, 2017 - report and photographs by Joe Wall reporting
OH MY SWEET PHILADELPHIA
Ryan Adams, takin' it to the Streets:
A video posted by Ryan Adams (@misterryanadams) on
- January 26, 2017
"WITNESS AND TESTIFY… OBSERVE AND REPORT"
Prior to the Australian opener, Bruce talks with press in Perth
Bruce Springsteen the E Street Band are in rehearsal mode. They're on stage in the virtually empty Perth Arena when the side doors open and twenty-odd journalists from a variety of news outlets are led inside. This kind of meeting with the media has become something of a ritual for Bruce when he plays Australia.
As the press look on, the band impress immediately with a reading of "New York City Serenade" that is performed with a full string section. Then it's on to a rousing "Land of Hope and Dreams." Bruce leads the band through an alternate attempt at the ending, and they segue into a rather appropriate take on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." When the music stops, Bruce gestures for the assembled media to move closer and "come forth with your inquiries."
With Donald Trump's inauguration less than 24 hours old, in Perth, one of the most geographically isolated cities on earth, Bruce admits that home feels "a long way away." He lets us know that, despite the distance, "Our hearts and our spirits are with the millions of people that marched yesterday, and the E Street band are part of the 'new resistance.'"
An early question from one reporter asks what responsibility "the arts" have in these turbulent times.
"The arts' responsibility is always the same thing," Bruce says while crouching at the foot of the stage. "It's to witness and to testify… that is the basic job of the E Street Band. We observe and we report… we witness and we testify. And, hopefully, through doing so, we lift people up and hopefully inspire people in tough times. That's been our job for 40 years, and it will continue to be so."
Bruce admits that he was "up late" and watched only "some" of the inauguration.
"Plenty of good people voted for Donald Trump on the basis of something I've written about for 30 years," he explains. "The deindustrialization of the United States, globalization, and the technological revolution have hit many people very, very, very, very hard."
"A certain recovery that happened in the United States didn't really get down to a lot of those folks. I think it makes it sort of easy pickings for a demagogue, which I believe Donald Trump is, [to make] some very, very powerful statements. I hope it's a success, I hope he can bring some of those jobs back. I hope a big infrastructure program happens, I hope people get hired… I hope he keeps some of his promises."
The last time Bruce was in Australia he covered a host of Australian bands with impressive results. Anyone who was there in 2014 won't forget his versions of The Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind," AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," The Saints' "Just Like Fire Would," INXS' "Don't Change," and a Marvin Gaye-like reinvention of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." So, will there be any more?
"We did that once. I'm not sure we'll do it again. I never know exactly what's going to happen until we start rolling. [It] was a lot of fun. We haven't learned any so far… [but] then we didn't learn any until we got here last time [laughs]."
And what about that treasure chest of rarities and outtakes from the River sessions and beyond?
"We pull them out every once and a while," says Bruce of those selections. "[The show will] pick up where we left off in the U.S.A. [a few hours later the band play a mix of tracks that, among other things, go way back to Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle] and the set will develop as we play down here. It's funny to pop those [songs] out and surprise people once and a while."
The question of his memoir, Born to Run, comes up and a journalist enquires how its publication and insights into his psyche might now impact his performance.
"Hopefully the idea of the book is… that it deepens [my] relationship with [my] audience. That has been my pursuit since I started [playing] and it continues to be so today. I'm trying to keep that conversation about life in general… [writing about] things that matter to me and hopefully matter to them."
"Martin Scorsese once said, 'It's the job of the artist to get the audience to care about your obsessions,' and to meet you in the middle and see what you have in common. I think the book will deepen the concerts and people's relationship with our band."
So was writing the book as cathartic as writing a song?
"[It] was as equally satisfying. I didn't start out with any big intentions. I just wrote about some of the things that happened to me that I thought my kids might be interested in many years down the road, about my job… it ended up being a very satisfying project. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I hope I communicated it well."
And will the book have an impact on his future album projects?
"I'm always looking to make an album I haven't made before. It might affect some of the projects I get into in the near future. I've got an album I've recorded, but I've been busy doing other projects, so I'll just wait.… "
The"rich man in a poor man's shirt" lyric is offered up by another journalist who asks, "How easy is it to be Bruce Springsteen?" Bruce's deadpan response — "It's pretty easy" — draws a big laugh from the room before he settles into a more considered answer.
"I have to say, you're always questioning yourself. That's what the artist is supposed to do. You're filled with some doubt, but that's good. A degree of being self critical and understanding where you came from, and the contradictions in your own work, make you a better artist. That's what I aspire to."
The affection Bruce feels for his Australian audience is mutual. This run, which takes Bruce and the band across the country, is seen as "round three" in a stunning series of shows that played out in 2013 and 2014.
"About three tours ago we seemed to hit something down here," Bruce admits. "We've always had a good time, but [then] we got something that felt like a deeper relationship… a deeper connection with our audience. Suddenly, it got very exciting, and it'll be a regular stop on our tours from here on in. We've got a dedicated audience down here, and it feels great."
A few hours later the band are back on stage and the room is full. "New York City Serenade" opens the show. When it concludes, the string section departs, and Bruce thanks us for coming before leaving us in no doubt where he stands regarding Donald Trump and the times we live in.
"The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. But we're a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America — and in Melbourne — who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare, and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance."
Welcome back, Bruce.
- January 24, 2017 - Sean Sennett reporting - photographs by Duncan Barnes
JAN 22, PERTH 1: "WE ARE THE NEW AMERICAN RESISTANCE"
And on this night in a city either protected or cursed by the tyranny of distance, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the Perth Arena stage at 7:55 pm and went to battle. A great shadow had passed over the world since they'd last gathered under New England stars in September. Over the course of a herculean media blitz for his Born to Run autobiography, Bruce had let fly with wilting opinions about the man now ensconced in the Oval Office, had performed acoustically in support of the Hillary Clinton campaign and farewelled President Obama and his staff with a private show at the White House. All of this however, had been done on someone else's stage. Tonight, from the mighty bastion of E Street, the cannons were aimed squarely at the forces of hate and division back in the States. The bombardment lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes, victory declared on the jubilant faces of Aussies who'd come for a River show but got gobsmacked instead by a rock 'n' roll reckoning.
For the tenth show in a row Roy's strident piano kicked off the elegant and timeless "New York City Serenade" and in the words of fellow fighter Joe Strummer, war was declared and battle come down. Bathed in blue and perfectly still, Bruce hushed images of early-'70s Manhattan while the 2017 E Street Band recalled the remarkable maturity of the musical gypsies who cut the track in 1973. As is now standard, an impeccably dressed eight-piece string section showered grace on an audience expecting raw six-string power. Familiar lyrics — lyrics spray-painted on the souls of the old bastards who've followed Bruce over lengthening lives — were reset, a simple "Sometimes you gotta walk on" suddenly invigorated by the spectre of protest marches in the States following Trump's inauguration.
As a final denouement of strings brought the masterpiece to a close, Bruce cheerfully thanked his guest musicians as they left the stage and cut to the heart of the matter:
"The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. We're a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men who marched today in every city in America — and in Melbourne! — who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance."
And the cannons roared with an immediate barrage of "Lonesome Day," "Darkness," and "No Surrender." Rockets red glare, indeed.
The adrenaline rush of these stalwarts also brought to mind Springsteen's response to a question posed by Mark Maron on his WTF podcast about whether Bruce had written anything specifically addressing the rise of Trumpism: "I've got a lot of songs that are about it right now… they're there already. I work from the inside out; in other words, I'm inspired by something internally and I make a record based on what I can write about at a given moment. Sometimes it ends up being topical, sometimes it doesn't. We've got a good arsenal of material right now that we can go out and put in service." Perhaps a younger Bruce would have elucidated on this point between songs, but it seems the older Bruce gets, the more impatient he is to put a maximum number of songs in service every night. Lucky us.
In case Bruce's declaration of solidarity with a new American resistance wasn't enough, the playing of only two songs from The River at an arena bursting with River-themed merchandise proved the good intentions of a feel-good retrospective had been kiboshed for the topical. "Out in the Street" started with a bang but ended abruptly when a lukewarm-at-best crowd response seemed to faze Bruce. He chuckled afterwards, acknowledging to the band his unexpected abandonment. It's at this point I hesitate to mention the crowd's enthusiasm because Aussies are, on the whole, less boisterous concert attendees than others around the world. But, aside from hearty pit disciples, this crowd was comatose for 75% of the night.
This American ex-pat was having none of that, however, especially when "Land of Hope and Dreams" rolled into the station. I was lucky enough to have heard its creation while sitting on the sand outside Asbury Park's Convention Hall, so this song always beats from within, but tonight it was a right cross to the face. Everyone on stage seemed to grow a couple inches in anticipation of the fight to come — this train was taking no prisoners. Get on or get the fuck out of the way. Steven's mandolin, Jake's sax, Max's kit, Bruce wailing "Bells of freedom ring," all indicative of a reckless conductor hurling his iron horse down the tracks. A song reborn for an uncharted age, Bruce's on-the-nose lyrical alteration "This train… carries immigrants!" a hammer blow to those who would vilify the historical lifeblood of the U.S.A.
The so-called time machine of songs from 1973 that answer all fans' dreams (well, almost all… there's always someone pining for "Queen of the Supermarket") followed. "Bus Stop" had Bruce contorting like a carnival barker hectoring passersby. "Growin' Up" featured the giddy confession of a 14-year-old Springsteen who "had nothing… but needed something" and so was soon mowing the lawn of his Aunt Dora for 50 cents an hour so he could buy the "cheapest guitar" in town. Once purchased he discovered that while he couldn't play it, he could pose with it — and pose he did, that 14-year-old outcast morphed into a 67-year-old windmilling rock god.
This story is hashed out hilariously in his autobiography, the lawn mowing job proving inadequate and leading to a house-painting gig across the street from Aunt Dora's house. Under different circumstances the Born to Run book would be hailed as a Rosetta Stone to understanding a guy we've all spent too much time analyzing from afar, the blood and bones of songs we like to say "define" our lives actually defined by the guy who wrote them. This "Growin' Up" tale certainly invited a plug for the book but unsurprisingly, there was none.
On "Spirit in the Night," Bruce plucked a cider from a fan who offered him four cans ("Is this for the whole band?") and then chugged its contents back on stage to Max's thunderous prompting. "Lost in the Flood" completed the Greetings portion of the night with head-banging oomph and the night's first blistering guitar solo from Bruce.
What followed may have once been considered a Holy Grail but is now, blessedly, practically commonplace: three Wild & Innocent songs in a row. "Kitty's Back" shined a spotlight on Charlie, Jake, Roy and an extremely hip-looking Garry and ended with Bruce and Steve injecting the sprawling tune with psychedelic guitar work. "Incident" followed. A full-on, blown-out "Incident." Gorgeous, melancholy, rousing and on this night offering a soothing "Good night, it's all right" to a world waiting for shit to go down. Roy's long outro guaranteed "Rosalita" and the folks in the pit getting Bruce, Steve and Jake up close and goofy.
Big finish, big applause, and bam… "The Ties That Bind," the second and last River song of the night. The song melted from E Street Band heat, a furious rendition that set up rousing redneck rockers "Darlington County" and "Working on the Highway." Bruce handed the mic to Nils to sing a "Darlington" refrain, his high-desert vocals an absolute treat; while on walkabout, Bruce pointed his guitar at the band from the rear of the pit and orchestrated the intro to "Highway," a song fuelled, fired, and finished by Max's slapping snare. This double shot of swagger ended with the harmonica intro to "The Promised Land," another song rebooted by current events. Bruce punched the air a la "Jungleland" during Jake's solo, and the crowd, buoyed by the two previous Born in the U.S.A. songs, found its legs. Bruce stalked the stage like a revival tent preacher, shaking his right arm in rhythm to words written 40 years ago but that fit in with the new American resistance just fine, thank you.
The brilliant 2016 release American Band by Drive-By Truckers features a song called "What It Means" that includes these lines: "If you say it wasn't racial / When they shot him in his tracks / Well I guess that means that you ain't black / It means that you ain't black." Fighting words, for sure, and yet mild compared to the raw and ferocious "American Skin (41 Shots)," tonight played at a quick pace but with aching intensity. The image of the lone African-American on stage — and quite frankly, possibly the only African-American in Perth Arena — with his hands up throughout the song nearly broke me in half. As he played the song's sax solo, I began to dread him finishing the solo and returning to his place beside Charlie and putting his hands back up. When he did, and his arms rose far over his head, my heart genuinely sank. Nils ripped a solo that screamed for mercy, the song ended, and Jake's hands fell. Gut-wrenching.
"My Hometown" followed, another song made fresh by the autobiography. On "Candy's Room," a Bruce solo circa 1978 began a roar straight out of Wall Speedway that continued with "She's the One," "Because the Night" (featuring another searing Nils solo), "The Rising," and "Badlands." Signs had been ignored up to this point, but after taking bows Bruce strapped on an acoustic and pointed at a sign asking for "Blood Brothers," an en masse request for a fan named Matty who'd passed away. After running through the chords a few times in practice, Bruce played the song standing perfectly still, locked into the words, perhaps lost in emotion, perhaps not, but playing it like he was standing before all of those he's lost and seeking their blessings.
After this gift of a performance the show rocketed through encore favorites "Born to Run", "Dancing in the Dark," and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" before "The Boss" cape came out for a spectacularly campy "Shout." "Bobby Jean" ended the proceedings at 11:20 with the crowd on its feet, tired and happy. A clarion had been blown, the battle commenced, a shot heard 'round the world. On Wednesday night in Perth, the reckoning continues with night 2 of 3. "So walk tall… or baby don't walk at all."
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- updated January 23, 2017 - Joe Wall reporting - photographs by Joe Wall (2) and Bill Donohoe (the rest)
BENEFIT AUCTION INCLUDES 4 VIP TIX TO ANY OZ/NZ SHOW
Bidding is open now for a special package of four tickets to the Australia/New Zealand concert of your choice. Of course, you actually have to get yourself
there... but the lot comes with quite a few perks, including prime location, backstage tour, a meal in the artist commissary, and, oh yeah, a meet-and-greet with Bruce Springsteen.
The auction benefits both The Kristen Ann Carr Fund and Musicians on Call; head to kacf.meteorapp.com to place a bid.
- January 21, 2017
THE VIEW FROM DOWN UNDER: KING B IS BACK
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's 2017 tour of Australia
and New Zealand begins on Sunday. The warm-up
has already begun.
- January 19, 2017
MR. SPRINGSTEEN GOES TO WASHINGTON
Bruce thanks POTUS and staff with farewell concert at the White House Last week, two days after Barack Obama's farewell address to the nation, Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Bruce Springsteen returned to the White House's East Room to give a farewell of his own to the President and his staff, with a 15-song acoustic performance. Patti Scialfa was there as well and contributed vocals to two songs. The set was crafted to be highly thematic, Springsteen meeting the moment by drawing from more albums than you can count on both hands. His choices ranged from trusty classics "Thunder Road" and "The Promised Land" to rarities like "My Father's House" and "The Wish." A longtime Backstreets reader was there in the East Room and reports for us.
The January 12 event, which feels like a fever dream now, was a thank you for current White House staff with a full eight years in the Obama Administration. We lined up at the southeast gate, behind the Treasury building, and they started letting us in a little after 7pm. There was a lovely reception in the State Dining Room for an hour or so. The vibe in the room, and all night, was very familial. The crowd consisted of people who had worked together for years (I'd estimate 200 or 250 in attendance), and it was nice to see many happy reunions and farewell hugs. There were no special celebrity guests or anything — just staff folk and their significant others. No sign of the President until later. After about an hour, the doors to the East Room were opened, and we filed in to take our seats in rows.
The President and First Lady were announced, and they came in from the Green Room to take their seats front and center. POTUS was in a suit and FLOTUS in a typically stylish tailored black gown, nothing overly formal. Patti Scialfa was already seated in the front row, next to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Then Bruce was announced and came in from the Green Room himself in dark jeans and a very typical Bruce outfit otherwise (tight dark vest, shirtsleeves, bracelets, etc.). Kevin Buell was set up stage right with a tech area to tune and feed various acoustic guitars to Bruce throughout the night. Pete Souza was seated in the front row to the stage-left side; he was up and down and around the room all night taking photos (and also singing along silently to all the songs).
It was a dream of a setlist. Bruce opened with a very brief note of thanks to the President and the staff who were being honored before launching into "Working on the Highway." That opener led into an incredible "Growin' Up" for a lively start, but not much of the set was so upbeat, with haunting readings of songs like "My Hometown," "My Father's House," and "Devils & Dust." The mood in the room the whole night — both reception and concert — was not exactly somber, but it wasn't festive, either. It was elegiac, I'd say. There was a clear sense of something ending, both with the conclusion of an adventure for the staff and the silent presence of the coming political transition. Bruce's demeanor was definitely in line with that overall vibe.
Springsteen spoke between most of his selections, talking about politics a bit before "Born in the U.S.A." and calling it a "protest song," one that had been misunderstood before and would be misunderstood again. Before "The Wish" he referenced the President's own family and talked about how he'd written this one for his mom, who now had dementia, but had taught him so much "about how to be in the world." Bringing Patti up for "Tougher Than the Rest," Bruce talked about the example set by the President and First Lady through the tough years of the Administration and dedicated this one to them. Patti remained onstage for "If I Should Fall Behind."
"Long Walk Home" — pause a moment and consider this recent masterpiece actually being performed in the White House — was preceded by commentary about being in a difficult moment and maintaining optimism. And then a masterful final pairing of "Dancing in the Dark" and "Land of Hope and Dreams." There was no gap between these two, as Bruce segued right from one to the next. "Dancing" did get almost somber and dark in a way that I've always thought those lyrics merited. The song has some of my favorite Bruce lines, actually, and this was the performance of a lifetime, wrenching and taut, with self-doubt and anxious fire on full display. "Land of Hope and Dreams" was the perfect, fitting closer.
A few final words of thanks from Bruce, and then President Obama hopped on the stage. He thanked Bruce in turn — something to the effect of, "he's been with us for some time now, performing his craft to show his support." But POTUS mostly focused on thanking the staff and their families for all they'd given and given up, "missing kids' soccer games," etc. He wrapped up fairly quickly. Then FLOTUS and Patti took the stage as everyone clapped and the two couples spoke privately among themselves. POTUS led the foursome off the stage and back toward the Green Room, and out they went.
The crowd filed back out into the Cross Hall for some final mingling before the Marine escorts started shooing us toward the coat check and out into the warm winter night. We were among the last folks out the door, and as we strolled up East Executive Avenue toward Pennsylvania, we saw Bruce and Patti walk out of the East Wing toward their car. We were by the northeast gate as they pulled out. I gave a modest "BRUUUCE" and received a nice wave from both Bruce and Patti from inside the car. Outside the White House, you'd have no idea any event had been going on. The street was quiet and empty.
I have seen Bruce Springsteen a lot of places: front row at MSG, rehearsal at Convention Hall, summer runs at Giants, the last show at the old Giants, a surprise appearance in a shopping mall, 2004 Vote for Change, second row at the Lincoln Memorial in 2008, arenas all over.... But this one was a real personal thing, this thing for staff who sacrificed so much over the last eight years. It was a humble, quiet gesture from Bruce to say thanks to President Obama, the staff, and their families. No pomp, no ceremony, no press. Just the man, the guitar, and the songs.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- January 18, 2017
GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK: LIGHT OF DAY WINTERFEST 2017
Originating as a birthday party for artist manager Bob Benjamin in 2000, the Light of Day (LOD) effort has always existed as a positive, dynamic force for change. And since its humble beginnings, LOD seems to grow and transform itself each year — existing first as a single benefit concert, then a week-long run of shows, and now playing a dual role as an ongoing international entertainment series and an advocacy and support network for those affected by Parkinson's. As LOD's focus has grown and shifted, so has Benjamin's own focus, as the disease has, over the years, again and again asserted its dominion over his body. Each year, the soft-spoken New Jersey native has issued a brief statement on the state of the movement, weaving in details from his own personal health issues. And each year, despite these setbacks, Benjamin has remained staunchly positive and forward-looking.
But in 2017, LOD's dual roles as entertainment and advocacy organization have been challenged as never before. With the looming threat of substantive changes to a national healthcare system that, despite significant improvement, had sometimes seemed at odds with the struggles of Parkinson's patients and their loved ones as well as the profound post-election feelings of despair and dread that seem to have settled on much of the country at large, the LOD Winterfest in Asbury Park seemed not to be the usual celebratory extravaganza, but instead welcome respite from what some have called "the new abnormal."
Bruce Springsteen, himself a frequent part of the LOD movement since its origins but this year between in a whirlwind book tour and a trip to Australia, was not a part of this year's festivities. Given this scenario, LOD 2017 could have succumbed to the pressure of lofty expectations. Instead, this year's shows in the New York/New Jersey region proved consistently engaging, inspiring and often transformative. Beginning with a celebration of Clarence Clemons' birthday at The Cutting Room in New York City and winding up with a series of acoustic songwriter circles at venues along the Asbury Park boardwalk, the LOD Winterfest 2017, while mostly relying on its core team of performers, gave attendees just the sort of "comfort food" performances that fans hungered for.
The New York event on Wednesday welcomed LOD newcomer Jake Clemons to the fold with a special show highlighting the release of his new CD Fear & Love [see our recent interview], while the Thursday night Asbury Park kickoff at the newish venue House of Independents was anchored by raucous performances by San Francisco's Chuck Prophet (another newcomer) and veteran LOD artist Willie Nile. Friday night saw both the induction of a new group of Asbury Angels at the Stone Pony and a mesmerizing performance by guitar wizard Albert Lee at McLoone's Supper Club. Saturday afternoon featured the return of the popular Asbury Underground music series, which showcases local artists like The Sunday Blues and Arlen Feiles in popup-style performance spaces in downtown Asbury Park, an inspiring History of Protest set by Shannon McNally and friends, and the ever-popular Asbury Blues showcase at the Wonder Bar, which this year featured standout performances from local veterans JoBonanno and Billy Walton.
But it's the Saturday night event billed as "Bob's Birthday Bash" that has always been the centerpiece of the LOD movement, this year headlined by Jake Clemons [above]. While there may have been fewer national names on this year's bill, their absence allowed standout up and coming Asbury Park bands like The Battery Electric and Remember Jones and Jersey Shore legend Bobby Bandiera to all but steal the show. Indeed, while longtime LOD participants like Nile and Jesse Malin[top] performed raucous, crowd-pleasing sets before a packed house later in the evening, it was the beginning of the lineup that engaged and inspired early arrivals, and which the late-comers may come to regret missing. Even the night's "walk-in" music — provided by Italian acoustic septet The Fireplaces — was engaging and imaginative....
- January 17, 2017 - Lisa Iannucci reporting - photographs by A.M. Saddler
B STREET BAND WITHDRAWS FROM INAUGURAL CELEBRATION
Move "based solely on respect and gratitude" for Bruce and ESB
The B Street Band's scheduled performance at the upcoming Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala has generated a storm of national news, from New York to Los Angeles, particularly given Bruce Springsteen's clearly articulated feelings about President-elect Trump.
In the wake of the brouhaha, the B Street Band has decided to pull out. Founder Will Forte contacted Backstreets to let us know that, after playing the same New Jersey gala in 2009 and 2013, this one "will no longer will be happening"; he provided us this statement:
With deepest apologies to our fans and the New Jersey Inaugural Ball committee, the B Street Band is withdrawing from performing at this year's inauguration Gala.
Our decision is based SOLELY on the respect and gratitude we have for Bruce and the E Street Band.
Bruce's music has been the foundation of our livelihood. The B Street Band would not exist without the talents of Bruce and our E Street brothers.
We are most grateful to these rock legends and look forward to many more years of emulating and performing the Forever Music, of Bruce Springsteen.
The B Street Band was actually hired for the event back in 2013, long before anyone had a clue who would be inaugurated. As Forte told Rolling Stone: "We're a non-political band... It's not about the candidate or who was elected; it was about the office of the presidency. I was performing for that. C'mon, we're a bar band. It's got nothing to do with politics whatsoever.... The way it's portrayed in the media is that Trump hired us for the inauguration. I don't have any dealings with Trump at all! It's just a New Jersey gala."
To see where the long-running tribute band will be playing — and they typically have a busy schedule — visit bstreetband.com. - January 16, 2017
TENNESSEE TERROR TO TOUR
A year ago, Garry Tallent was gearing up for the release of his first solo album, Break Time — and shows in support of it, too, until the River Tour put his own plans on hold. But after the upcoming January/February trip to Australia and New Zealand, it will once again be break time for the E Street Band, and time for Tallent to get back to his own business.
Garry has just announced a series of spring dates, from April 21 in Edwardsville, IL to May 16 in Richmond, VA, including a stop at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park along the way. Garry's songs on Break Time should be a blast to hear live — check out the album on vinyl or compact disc if you haven't already — and grab your ticket! - January 15, 2017
SPRINGSTEEN ON "THE ALCHEMY OF YOURSELF AND THE AUDIENCE"
With the E Street Band's return to Australia a little more than a week away, The Guardian has a new Q&A with Bruce Springsteen. Lots of talk about making a connection with the crowd, the mindset required for playing large venues, and the differences from one concert to the next: "Every show is so organic. I’ve never played two shows that are the same, in all the years we’ve been playing. You’re dealing with the alchemy of yourself and your audience, and that’s a swirling, changing experience from moment to moment. I go out and I both guide and allow myself to be guided by the audience."
Bruce is also "happy to report that the E Street Band is still filled with people who actually like one another. We may not have everything in common, but there’s a deep mutual respect and I believe a real love between the band members that projects from the stage and is very real."
LITTLE STEVEN TALKS TO MOJO ABOUT HIS FUTURE PLANS
In October, while he was in London to play with the new Disciples of Soul at Bluesfest, Little Steven met Keith Cameron of Mojo magazine at his city-centre hotel for a career-spanning interview, which occupies six pages in the February 2017 issue. It's illustrated with nine archive photographs and two more taken at the time of the interview by noted UK photographer Tom Sheehan.
Among the subjects discussed were Stevie's early musical influences, his work with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, his ongoing membership in the E Street Band, his relationship with Bruce Springsteen, the Sun City project, and his plans for re-activating his long-dormant solo career. Those plans include a new album, a tour, and the re-release of his back catalogue, all of which is currently out of print.
"I just walked away from my career, it was short-sighted of me," he said. "I'm getting back to where I left off, connecting with my first album (Men Without Women) again... I just feel it's time to come back. There are other things that I've done that are quite substantial... Bruce at this point seems more comfortable touring every other year, so if that continues, I'm gonna come back and tour every other year. He's not gonna tour for 2017 (apart from Australia and New Zealand), so I will."
Those who attended the already-legendary London show with the Disciples of Soul witnessed a powerhouse performance of material Little Steven wrote for the Asbury Jukes and numerous songs from his solo albums, all of which deserve to be unearthed and made available to old and new generations of fans alike. If his touring plans come to fruition this year, the opportunity to catch his new band in full flight should not be missed. Just don't expect the shows to be as long as Bruce's recent marathons.
"These things don't happen overnight, you gradually get there," he said. "You're doing a job. The work ethic is what's foremost in your mind. And you follow the leader. He has infinite mentality when it comes to the stage. He's very comfortable there. I think it's always been a bit of a sanctuary for him...He's very inspiring. And he pushes the envelope. I appreciate that, 'cos I'd never do it in a million fucking years! No way. Not for four hours. That's two of my shows. Any Bruce fans coming to my show might be disappointed, 'cos I say 90 minutes is fine!"
Grab the February 2017 issue while it's still on newsstands, or read the interview online at pressreader.com. - January 13, 2017 - Mike Saunders reporting
WHAT IF MOUNTAINS FALL?
Last night at Light of Day NYC's
"Celebrating the Life and Birthday of Clarence Clemons," Jake Clemons performed a lovely acoustic "You're a Friend of Mine" for his uncle's 75th. Watch above, and read our new interview with Jake here. - January 12, 2017 - video by Mitch Slater
LETTING GO OF A LIFETIME OF FEARS
Talking Fear & Love with Jake Clemons
It's a big week for Jake Clemons. Tonight, he'll celebrate his Uncle Clarence's 75th birthday at the big Light of Day NYC show, part of a bill for the occasion that also includes Willie Nile, J.T. Bowen with the Sensational Soul Cruisers, LOD stalwart Joe D'Urso & Stone Caravan, and more.
This Friday, January 13, bringsFear & Love, Jake's first full-length album (the follow-up to his 2013 Embracing Light EP) and his first release since signing with BMG.
Saturday night, he'll play for Light of Day again, this time for the "Bob's Birthday Bash" main event in Asbury Park.
Tonight's LOD concert at The Cutting Room, "Celebrating the Life and Birthday of Clarence Clemons," will be Jake's first date in support of Fear & Love, but not his last. "We're still kind of getting ideas as to what the best way to do that is," he tells Backstreets, given a trip to Australia with Bruce Springsteen is on the agenda later this month, "but there will absolutely be a tour for this at some point."
Jake spoke with Backstreets editor Christopher Phillips about the forthcoming Fear& Love, about the communal experience of music, from living rooms to stadiums, and about both literally and figuratively stepping into his uncle's shoes.
ON HIS 75th BIRTHDAY, HONOR THE LEGACY OF CLARENCE CLEMONS THROUGH HARD ROCK HEALS
In 2009, the Big Man of the Year Award was established, with Clarence Clemons himself receiving the inaugural award. Each year since, the award has been given to a musical luminary who embodies the values of generosity and service and the passion to help others, reflecting Clarence's legacy. Recipients include Bernie Williams, Lady Gaga, Steven Van Zandt, Darlene Love, Jake Clemons and Paul Schaffer.
Today, January 11, 2017, Clarence would have turned 75 years old. To commemorate and celebrate the occasion, the Big Man of the Year organization has launched a new campaign with the Hard Rock Heals Foundation, with the goal of raising $75,111 for Hard Rock Heals in Clarence's honor.
Simply text "BigMan" to #243725 and make a donation or pledge.
This Text to Give campaign will run for the next 90 days, starting today. There are no costs taken from this donation — 100% goes straight to Hard Rock Heals to support community-based music programs.
If you're unable to text or prefer not to, you can support the campaign online at bidpal.net/bigman.
The Hard Rock Heals Foundation exists to improve lives through the healing power of music, providing grants and assistance to individuals who share that goal. Partnerships with like-minded, music-centric organizations allow Hard Rock Heals Foundation the opportunity to improve lives and promote wellness.
Clarence always believed in the power of music and how important it is for children in particular, and his long relationship with Hard Rock International makes this a fitting relationship for his legacy. Because of that conncection, the Estate and Family of the Clarence Clemons fully support the Hard Rock Heals Foundation, joining fans aound the world in this fitting celebration the life of the Big Man, continuing Clarence's efforts of using music to make the world a better place.
Happy birthday, C. Still too big to die.
- January 11, 2017
MONMOUTH U. TO BE HOME FOR THE OFFICIAL SPRINGSTEEN ARCHIVES
At tonight's "A Conversation With Bruce Springsteen" event at Monmouth University's Pollak Theater, right up top came a major announcement. Before Springsteen and interviewer Bob Santelli took the stage, Monmouth President Paul R. Brown told the audience:
"I am very eager to share with you some incredibly fantastic, exciting news. Bruce Springsteen and Monmouth University have entered into a partnership, to establish the Bruce Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music. Monmouth University is now the official repository for Bruce Springsteen's written works, photographs, periodicals, and artifacts. Needless to say, this is an exciting moment for Monmouth University as we celebrate one of America's most distinguished artists and, of course, a native son of the Jersey Shore."
- Santelli, Springsteen, and Monmouth University President Brown - photograph by Danny Clinch
The partnership will add Springsteen's own papers and materials to the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection already housed at Monmouth, which began as a Backstreets undertaking in 2001 to preserve essential historical documents from throughout Springsteen's career with contributions from fans all over the world. We're thrilled that Springsteen has chosen to greatly enhance and broaden the scope and purpose of the Collection with his own invaluable contributions to create the Bruce Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music.
"As long as I don't go off my meds and rob a bank and fuck the whole thing up," Bruce quipped tonight. "Then it'd just be the Center for American Music."
A press release states that the Archives "will preserve and promote the legacy of Bruce Springsteen and his role in American music, while honoring and celebrating icons of American music like Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Frank Sinatra, and others. The expanded partnership will help to more deeply integrate the history and inspiration of American music into the curriculum and research experience at Monmouth. It will also serve to bolster an already highly successful music industry program at the university, one of only nine university affiliates of the GRAMMY Museum."
The conversation that followed between Springsteen and Santelli — a Monmouth alumnus and executive director of the GRAMMY Museum — kept the focus local, centering on Springsteen's early years with his various bands on the Jersey Shore, and covered subjects not touched on in Springsteen's many other recent interviews. More on that to come. - January 10, 2017
MY UNCLE SAM'S RECORD COLLECTION A Christmastime visit to hear unreleasedSpringsteen music at the Library of Congress You can probably think of quite a few ideal places to experience Springsteen songs, from in the car with the windows down to elbows on the stage. It's doubtful that a government office building would be high on your list. But when that's the only way you can hear these songs, it's a different story. Take it from Shawn Poole:
Last week, on one of my vacation days between Christmas and New Year's Day, I took a roadtrip to spend an afternoon in Washington, DC, listening to some unreleased Bruce Springsteen recordings that most fans, myself included, have never heard before in any form. The recordings are part of Springsteen's U.S. Copyright filing records and, since these records are legal public documents, they are available for public "inspection" — including listening on headphones to the submitted recordings themselves — through the Library of Congress' U.S. Copyright Office (located in the Library's Madison Building, just across the street from the main building.)
Among the recordings available for the public's listening pleasure are the 1995 recordings "Between Heaven & Earth" and "Blindspot," and the 2001 recording "I'll Stand By You (Always)." The last of these got some renewed attention recently, since Springsteen was asked about it during his recent visit to London. Bruce confirmed that he wrote and submitted the song for possible inclusion on the soundtrack for the first Harry Potter film. (Click here for director Chris Columbus's version of that story.)
Many enterprising Springsteen fans have seen these titles show up in an online copyright search, but there's a vast difference between seeing the words on a screen and hearing the work itself in your ear. I've known for a few years now that it's possible to arrange to hear unreleased recordings like these in the nation's capital, but until last week I never got around to doing so (mainly because you just can't do it as a spur-of-the-moment thing; more on that later.) As a fan of the Harry Potter books and films, however, reading again about Bruce's Potter-connected song inspired me to finally arrange the trip to Washington and hear that song and some other unreleased Springsteen music for myself. It made for quite a nice Christmastime treat.
While none of what I heard is on the level of legendary long-unreleased Springsteen material such as "The Promise," "Roulette," or "Murder Incorporated," these recordings nevertheless remain very interesting and often beautiful "roads not taken" in Springsteen's career. Should he ever get around to issuing a Tracks 2 set or similar project, any or all of these tracks certainly would merit inclusion.
Below are my notes on each of three tracks I got to hear last week, along with their copyright registration information for your reference, should you care to arrange your own visit. Instructions for doing so are below as well.
"Between Heaven & Earth" (Registration Number/Date Pau001840753/1995-04-07)
The first pleasant surprise I encountered upon hearing both this track and "Blindspot" was that these 1995 tracks definitely are not outtakes from the sessions for The Ghost of Tom Joad, as some fans (myself included) have presumed previously. Given the strong hip-hop elements in each recording, it is much more likely that these tracks were part of Bruce's "lost" hip-hop-influenced album of the mid-1990s.
"There's a record that we recorded, mixed and didn't put out," Springsteen said on E Street Radio back in 2013. "Bob Clearmountain mixed it, spent a lot of time on it… didn't put it out. That was, like, '94. And it still intrigues me. I still go back to it. There are still things on it that I really like, and I may go back to sort of say, 'Okay, well, why...?' Sometimes it's timing, you know. There was a particular reason that I didn't put out that group of music. Sometimes the timing just doesn't feel right for that kind of record."
"Between Heaven & Earth" is a ballad that features a hip-hop-style drum track and synthesizer wash a la 1994's "Streets of Philadelphia," with some electric guitar added to the recording's fade-out, presumably played by Bruce. (No musician or production credits were included with any of the copyright records I inspected.) The lyrics are focused on the difficulties of maintaining a marriage and family life, with imagery that includes children and a home's kitchen. The recording also features some nice double-tracked backing vocals from Bruce, using the falsetto voice he was developing at that time.
One other thing I should note here is that all of the tracks I inspected last week were submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office on cassette tapes. Oddly enough, the 1995 cassettes are high-quality Denon Metal cassettes dubbed by New York City's Masterdisk, while the 2001 track was submitted on a plain old Maxell UR normal-bias cassette. All of them have held up very well, however, and their sound quality is still pretty damn good even in this digital age (especially when played back on the U.S. Copyright Office's professional equipment on headphones, which is how you have to listen, of course. You also can bring your own pair of headphones if you prefer to do so.) It helps greatly, of course, that each of these tracks is a fully finished professional studio recording. There is no rough-mix, bootleg-level sound to be found here at all.
"Blindspot" (Registration Number/Date Pau001840769/1995-04-07)
Like "Between Heaven & Earth," "Blindspot" features a hip-hop-style drum track, synth wash and an electric guitar solo, though this track's solo is more prominent and extended. The rhythm track on "Blindspot" also features the sound of a male shout repeatedly sampled in the same manner that James Brown's and Bobby Byrd's shouts were sampled in Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock's 1988 hip-hop classic "It Takes Two." The lyrics focus on the troubling aspects of interpersonal relationships as well, exploring the darker aspects of our own personalities that can make forging and maintaining our relationships so difficult. Just as everybody's got a hungry heart, so does everybody have a blindspot. Bruce also uses a lyrical image similar to one found in Jackson Browne's "Your Bright Baby Blues" (from The Pretender, produced by Jon Landau) where the singer feels like he's flying at first, but then realizes he's actually on his knees.
"I'll Stand By You (Always)" (Registration Number/Date Pau002604935/2001-06-13)
This is the only track I "inspected" for which the cassette recording was accompanied by a printed lyric sheet (though absolutely no photography, recording or copying of any of the materials, lyrics, etc. is permitted during the inspection process.) I've placed the word "Always" in parentheses because the title of the copyright record and the handwritten title on the cassette both include the word "Always," while the title on the typed lyric sheet does not. In any case, this is a beautiful little ballad, clearly from the perspective of a parent singing lovingly to a child. The track features piano, synthesizer, and a simple, metronomic drum part. Bruce contributes more multi-tracked falsetto backing vocals, too. There are no specific Potter scenarios in the lyrics, a few ghosts and goblins appearing in a nightmare notwithstanding, but the telling of stories of heroes fighting evil, in order to assuage and comfort a child's fears and insecurities, is a theme embedded throughout.
After the song was rejected for use in the first Harry Potter film, Bruce allowed tropical/salsa music star Marc Anthony to record a version of "I'll Stand By You (Always)." After much pre-publicity from both Sony and Anthony himself that his version of the song would appear on his album Mended, the song was never released in any form by either Anthony or Springsteen. When asked about it in London a few months ago, Bruce said, ""It was pretty good, it was a song I wrote for my eldest son, it was a big ballad that was very uncharacteristic of something I'd sing myself. But it was something that I thought would have fit lovely. At some point I'd like to get it into a children's movie of some sort, because it was a pretty lovely song." Having now heard it myself, I have to agree.
If you're interested in arranging your own visit to hear these recordings (and in the process feel like a Springsteen-scholar mix of Indiana Jones, Woodward & Bernstein and Mulder & Scully all at once), here's how to go about doing so:
Plan ahead: Appointments must be scheduled, and you should submit your request to visit at least six weeks in advance. This will give the Copyright Office staff time to process your fee and acquire/prepare each item you request, which is not stored at the Library of Congress itself, but at an off-site location. Only after all items are acquired and ready for inspection can your visit be scheduled. To start this whole process, first send an e-mail message to email@example.com listing the title and registration number/date of each record you wish to inspect. (The specific Springsteen-related information you'll need is listed above.) You'll soon receive a reply explaining what steps to take next.
Allow plenty of time for your visit: The U.S. Copyright Office is open only on weekdays, Monday through Friday (except holidays), from 8:30am - 5:00pm. You'll want to have at least an hour or two to listen (and re-listen) leisurely to this music. And if you bring along some friends (see below), everyone will need a chance with the headphones — again, no speakers here. If you don't already have a Reader Identification Card, you'll also need additional time to first acquire one, which could take a while on especially busy days. While no photography, recording, or copying is permitted, taking notes is fine; notes may be reviewed upon request by Copyright Office staff to ensure compliance with the regulations that protect all copyright holders. It's worth saying that every staff member with whom I interacted before and during my visit was polite, pleasant and very helpful.
Share the wealth (and the expense): There are fees involved in having Copyright Office staff acquire each requested record and arrange for your visit. These fees must be paid in advance. Listening to all of the recordings listed above will cost you a total of $200, but you can decrease this cost substantially by splitting it among a few friends who are interested in joining you for the experience. I was permitted to bring up to three additional people with me during my visit. That worked out to just $50 per person: well worth it, from this fan's perspective, for a chance to hear a set of very interesting Springsteen tracks that currently are unavailable any other way. - January 5, 2017 - report and photograph by Shawn Poole - special thanks to Erica Ingram and Denina Scott at the U.S. Copyright Office
"A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN" AT MONMOUTH U Bob Santelli will interview Bruce onstage next week, tix on sale tomorrow
A week from tonight, Monmouth University will welcome Bruce Springsteen to its Pollak Theatre stage for an intimate conversation on his career, moderated by Robert Santelli. The event will be held on January 10 at 7:30 p.m., with a very limited number of tickets being sold tomorrow: all tickets are $75 each and will be sold online only, starting at noon on January 4 at tickets.com/se/monmoutharts.
Monmouth University, one of just nine university affiliates in the world of The GRAMMY Museum, has served as the home of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection since 2011. Monmouth's location in West Long Branch, NJ, just steps from Springsteen's birthplace and the place where "Born to Run" was written, make it a natural home for the collection, which comprises nearly 35,000 items from 47 countries that range from books and concert memorabilia to articles and promotional materials. It serves the research and informational needs of music fans, scholars, authors, and others with a serious interest in Bruce Springsteen’s life and career.
Santelli, the executive director of the GRAMMY Museum and former Monmouth University professor, is also a Backstreets associate editor and was our longtime Shore correspondent in the '80s and '90s. Given Santelli's deep local roots, and Springsteen's first such interview appearance on the Jersey Shore, we anticipate especially rich conversation about the early days of his career in the area.
Tickets for the January 10 event are limited to two (2) tickets per household and will be available for pick-up when the doors open for the event only, no exceptions. Patrons must present their government-issued identification along with the credit card used to purchase the tickets at the time of pick-up. Tickets are non-transferable and will not be sold at the venue box office or by phone. Visit tickets.com/se/monmoutharts for event details and to purchase tickets. - January 3, 2017
LOCK THE GATES!
Springsteen didn't come to the garage; the garage came to Springsteen. Regardless, it's a momentous occasion having Bruce sit down with Marc Maron (comic, conversationalist, guitar freak, vinyl hound) for episode 773 of the long-running WTF, one of the first and best interview podcasts around. Maron, who is "genetically New Jersey" — he was born there, and his grandparents used to live in Asbury Park — paid a visit to Springsteen's home studio just before Christmas, and the episode went live today. "Just two Jersey guys hanging out, talking about dads, depression, fear, fulfillment and the future. Bruce tells Marc how and why he constructed 'Bruce Springsteen' and what he's learned about the struggle we all go through to become who we really are." Listen at wtfpod.com or subscribe through iTunes. - January 2, 2017
2017 CALENDARS ARE HERE Plan ahead for the new year (or for the hoildays) and grab the new official Springsteen calendar for 2017.
In stock now!
Backstreet Records is the mailorder division of Backstreets, delivering Springsteen merchandise to fans for more than 25 years. We carry numerous collectibles, tour shirts, books, magazines, and imported CDs and records.
The world's best selection of Springsteen collectibles, all available by mail.
The "ultimate celebrity selfie" at Springsteen's Sydney show [Sky News]
Stevie joins Hoodoo Gurus onstage in Oz [Syndey Morning Herald]
Maren Morris on Springsteen [RS.com]
Rutgers Class of '17 to get Stevie Van Zandt as graduation speaker [NJ.com]
The B Street Band's Scrapped Inauguration Setlist [newyorker.com]
We also post all known concert dates for some of our favorite Jersey Shore (and Shore-adopted) musicians:
Joe D'Urso... and more.
For more information on upcoming shows such as these, check out our Concert Calendar.
Many from the Springsteen community banded together to preserve this Asbury Park landmark.... and Tillie has now been saved!
Check our Save Tillie page for the latest developments.
THE SPRINGSTEEN SPECIAL COLLECTION
Organized by Backstreets in 2001, this storehouse of Boss books and magazines is the largest such collection outside of Bruce's mother's basement. Thanks to the generosity of fans around the world, total holdings are now well over 15,000. But the collection is by no means complete.