And maybe get yourself a heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making— did I mention Viagra-taking? — legendary band.
The stadium-friendly setlist was anchored by an impeccable Born to Run and revival of the Wrecking Ball-tour version of "My City of Ruins." Bruce & Co. took the stage with at least a half-hour of daylight remaining, prompting several poses that emphasized the packed house of 40,000 on the stage's massive rear screen. Tom Morello's feedback kicked off a roiling "We Take Care of Our Own" before Bruce made sure he had everyone’s attention with a feel-good trio of "No Surrender," "Two Hearts" (do Kiwis recognize Steve's Nixonian antics at the song's end?) and "Hungry Heart." Darkness hadn't yet settled in but Bruce pulled off a gritty "The Promised Land" anyway, and Charles Giordano's B3 organ riffs were the spats on a gangster-cool, Nils Lofgren-led "Seeds."
Like the outdoor weekend shows in Melbourne's AAMI Park two weeks ago, the Sunday crowd at Mt. Smart Stadium was noticeably less energetic than Saturday's. That’s not a subjective analysis — Bruce and Steve saw it for themselves at the start of "Death to My Hometown" as they stood waiting to hear the song's wordless refrain come roaring at them like it had the night before. Alas, it wasn't that kind of crowd. They performed undeterred, Bruce beating on his guitar as hard as Jake and Everett were pounding their drums, but a chance for magic was lost.
Tom Morello, who was either shredding or grinning all night, lit a Rage Against the Machine-esque fire during "High Hopes" before "Just Like Fire Would" returned from a one-show absence. Perhaps because a slow number was to follow, Bruce unleashed a "Darkness on the Edge of Town" that did everything but bring rain from the sky. From desperate vocals to guitar licks like thunderbolts he proved without a doubt the blood still burns his veins.
Though played several times during the Australian tour of 2013, the version of "My City of Ruins" that was a fixture of the 2012 world tour had gone unheard in New Zealand until tonight. After testifying to the spiritual salvation of soul music, he dedicated the song to "our friends from Christchurch" who were in attendance, many of whom had tragically lost loved ones during the 2010 earthquake. We remembered, we cheered those "in the house" as Bruce introduced band members one by one, and we sang "C'mon rise up!” to the heavens. When spotlights fell on the empty spaces occupied for so long by Danny and Clarence, Bruce stood with eyes closed facing them like he was willing his fallen comrades to re-appear. It was a special performance of a rarely played tour-de-force [YouTube video here].
Shockingly, "rarely played" is not how you'd describe Born to Run in its entirety, at least in Australasia. As in Melbourne two weeks prior, he followed up a Born in the U.S.A. Saturday show with a BTR on Sunday. This performance was tighter and oftentimes practically identical to the album version. "Thunder Road" was transcendent, Jake owned "Night," "Backstreets" rose and fell on Roy's piano before Bruce and Steve met at center mic and carried it home. Come the old Side 2 and "Born to Run" felt good freed of its encore slot, Kansas City Curt Ramm earned his place in the spotlight with Bruce during a suddenly oft-heard "Meeting Across the River"... and then came "Jungleland." Watching Bruce react to Jake's solo is maybe the most emotional thing 've ever witnessed in 30 years of seeing Bruce perform on stage. He's an entertainer, but it's no act.
You’d be hard-pressed to find two songs that complement each other as well as "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Badlands"; they brought the main set to a fitting close. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and "Glory Days" made the crowd happy (especially those way in the back, whom Bruce instructed "show us your underpants!") but a frantic "Seven Nights to Rock" made Bruce crazy as a cut snake. Racing around the stage to kiss Sister Soozie and Ed Manion, tossing his plastic tray of ice water into the pit, mugging for cameras... he guaranteed himself a restful flight back to the States. "Twist and Shout" closed things out with a gathering on the center thrust that featured Morello jumping up and down like a kid, Cindy and Michelle swaying and smiling, the horn section blowing like a Cuban fire brigade, and Bruce standing atop a monitor like a zombie.
We knew it was time to say goodbye, and at least we got a moment of pure joy to hold onto. Bruce lined everyone up for a final salute to the E Street Band and we soaked it up, unsure of what the future holds but knowing Australia's been the luckiest corner of the Springsteen universe the past 12 months.
Alone with an acoustic guitar and mouth harp he thanked Mahalia Barnes & the Soul Mates and Jimmy Barnes for opening both shows (Stevie joined Jimmy once again) and then asked folks to help out those doing God’s work for the Auckland City Mission. He also thanked New Zealand for a "spectacular welcome" and said "the last two nights have been really overwhelming." Encouragingly, he also said, "we'll get back more often — we promise”.
My advice to those holding tickets for recently announced shows in the States? Savor every moment. The waiting, the buying, the travelling, the queuing, the awkward conversations with the unconverted. You'll come away with new friends for life, new favorite places, a little more soul in your strut, and a perfectly healthy addiction to joy. But you knew that already, didn't you?
Let’s go to the tape: Born to Run was played with such precision and passion that it's hard to imagine a better start-to-finish version. "Seeds" continues to evolve from stadium-friendly rocker to a richer, darker song – I look forward to reliving Giordano's menacing organ. Morello is always technically amazing, but tonight he seemed devilish, and it seeped into his playing. Old stalwarts "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Badlands" vibrated with energy, and I'm curious to see if it comes through in the recording. It's not curiosity that makes me wants to relive "Seven Nights to Rock" — it's my ass telling my brain it wants to shake, and my brain knowing exactly how to make my ass regret being so goddamned pushy.
With that, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band turned an arena raised in the swamps of outer Brisbane into the jazzy, soulful center of a universe every Springsteen fan on this planet — and likely beyond — wished to inhabit. Like a steel-eyed punk playing skee ball at old Palace Amusements he orchestrated a performance of 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle for only the second time in E Street Band history. Many in the crowd of 12,000 were unfamiliar with the album's seven songs and listened patiently. But those of us who'd read the tea leaves on Twitter, who'd dared to dream, who'd called Wild their favorite album across the decades, were rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list kind of night.
And this, the final show of 11 in Australia, all began with a Bee Gees song.
A voice in the darkness started the night by thanking Australians for the support they've shown the E Street Band this year and last before spotlights fell on Bruce and trumpeter Curt Ramm. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Bruce sang a familiar line in an unfamiliar musical context — "Well you can tell by the way I use my walk..." — that was instantly recognizable as a paean to nearby Redcliffe, Australia's most famous musical family, the Gibbs [YouTube video here]. On Twitter, Barry Gibb would write: "Dear Bruce @springsteen, just been blown away by your Stayin' Alive. You brought it back to life. Thank you!" A formally dressed, all-female string section sat on the rise behind Max’s drum kit and provided a proper '70s disco touch. They were excused at the song’s conclusion. Was this why they’d been called into the previous day’s rehearsals?
Oh, the intrigue.
Bruce followed up "Stayin' Alive" with an unlikely foursome of Greetings songs that began with a Steven-driven "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," included "Does This Bus Stop" as another 2014 premiere, and ended with a perpetually rousing "Spirit in the Night." During a much more concise "Growin' Up" rap, Bruce said, "Stayin' alive... How do you stay alive? How do you stay alive inside?" before listing the reasons he’d never cut it as a comic book superhero and his conversations with a certain "Mr. Trusty." Tonight's "Spirit" crowd surf proved fruitful, as Bruce clambered back on stage with a stuffed kangaroo and a mobile phone shoved into his back pocket ("How did it get there? I didn’t feel a thing.")
A brief return to the present in "High Hopes" and "Just Like Fire Would" was then jettisoned for another cluster of songs from E Street Band past, this time the late '70s/early '80s. From a half-dozen signs plucked from GA, Bruce held up "You Can Look" and tore through it uptempo River style. Requests continued with a "Sherry Darling" that showcased Ed Manion on lead sax and a "Save My Love" that dwarfed its appearance in Perth. Finally, "Fade Away" — "Steve's favorite song" — got a tour premier that recalled pork chop sideburns and big lapels but that Springsteen delivered in 2014 with a strong, timeless vocal [YouTube video here].
This set up the cardiac arrest portion of the evening. After prefacing "Fade Away" by saying "we had a lot of plans for tonight but we're just following the signs," Bruce seemed genuinely perplexed as to which direction he should take the show. So he left it up to us. Or, those of us willing to scream for our dream. With visions of a winning lottery ticket dropped into a wood chipper and Bill Buckner flubbing an easy ground ball he asked us to choose between a complete Wild & Innocent or more sign requests. It may have been pure showmanship, but it had me gasping for oxygen as we shouted our response and awaited his judgment. You know full well he played Wild... but I have to admit to seeing my life pass before my eyes.
What followed was exactly what was promised: the rock, jazz, soul and boardwalk bravado of early-'70s Asbury Park as written and composed by an impossibly bold 24-year-old escapee of Freehold. The bedrock of E Street, Mr. Garry W. Tallent, punched up his bass lines like a lanky 20-something, and Roy Bittan veered from jazzy improvisation to piano-stomping rock. Bruce guided the horn section throughout, calling down individuals for solos. As the audience (and Bruce, too) reacted to the sight of Garry and a tuba, Springsteen reminded everyone that "Before we had horn players, Garry Tallent played the tuba" and then led himself, Roy, and Garry through a never-to-be-forgotten performance of "Wild Billy's Circus Story" [YouTube video here].
This left what is arguably Springsteen's greatest album side, the trio of "Incident on 57th Street," "Rosalita," and "New York City Serenade" [YouTube video here]. Each long, sprawling, tale of rebellion and redemption fit like pieces of a sonic mosaic. The string section returned, proving pre-show speculation correct, but nothing could prepare us for the onslaught of feeling their presence brought. It’s an overused term, but "epic" surely describes this performance, on this night, with this group of musicians.
Bruce's initial trepidation at playing Wild no doubt stemmed from the Brisbane crowd's tepid response to earlier old songs, and at the conclusion of "NYC Serenade" — which included a shout of "Only in Australia!" — he immediately went to work rejuvenating a Born in the U.S.A.-hungry crowd. First up, "Darlington County," with Bruce in full arena-prowling mode. Like at last year's Brisbane shows, Springsteen was out exploring walkways and stairwells to inspire Queenslanders to get off their Aussie asses. Bruce's energy was sky-high as he closed the main set with a hail of "Badlands" body blows, stopping briefly to acknowledge the band before hollering "It's too late to stop now!" and cracking open a delicious, ice-cold "Glory Days."
Fan favorites played at fever pitch dominated the encores, with a well-lubricated Eddie Vedder (spotted watching the show in GA from start to finish with Glen Hansard) repeating his Melbourne Night 1 guest spot on a final "Highway to Hell" in Oz [YouTube video here]. Despite closing in on four hours Bruce was far from gassed, and he looked like he could shake the AC/DC classic all night long. When it was done, and the band had taken their final bows, Bruce told the crowd that during the 2013 tour "we could feel the bottom of the Earth moving for us" and thanked Australians for "two great seasons" before promising "we'll be back." After a few words about taking a trip south of Brisbane along the magnificent coastline, and suggesting Aussies keep it a secret, Bruce said, "Last but not least, it’s time for thunder down under" and played one last acoustic "Thunder Road."
Let’s go to the tape: Hard not to see this being the most downloaded recording of the Australian tour. Besides stellar versions of Greetings songs and the entirety of Wild & Innocent, the added strings on "NYC Serenade" alone make it a must. From the sublime to the hilarious, you also gotta check the tape for further explanation of Mr. Trusty. Steven fans can look forward to pronounced contributions during the River portion of the night, especially near the end of "You Can Look" when Brisbane gets worked into his give-and-take with Bruce. I look forward to hearing Eddie Vedder's contributions on "Highway to Hell." Eddie might, too... 'cause I'm not sure he'll remember much of his time on stage.
He might have dreamt about having a righteous band supporting his every move, one that could back him with ease on any damn thing he decided to play, no matter how osbcure... with this Australian leg continuing to be a dream come true. But we'll let him tell it.
"I dreamed I was in a land far away from my home... a land on the very edges of the Earth, populated by strange animals of all kinds: wombats... kangaroos... koalas! Now in this land, all the women were beautfiul. And all the men were very handsome. And all the children were exceptional students! And everyone greeted you in a strange language that sounded like... g'dayg'day'gday!" It was a one-of-a-kind version of "Spill the Wine," the 1970 War single, with a gypsy-costumed Michelle Moore front and center with Bruce and playing her part well, bottle and glass in hand. All the horns came down front for a solo-fest, and is there anything this band can't do? Not even in your dreams, buddy.
"My Love Will Not Let You Down" opened up the throttle, with that quad-guitar front line and Max pounding away, and things really didn't let up from there. Lord help those with small bladders, because there just wouldn't be a good moment all night to slip away and, er, spill the wine. Night 1 here in Hunter Valley may have had a killer first hour, but in terms of both energy and song selection, the second night was relentless. In slots three and four here in ritzy wine country, we got a pair of lest-we-forget stompers about the downtrodden, "Death to My Hometown" and "Seeds." Nils Lofgren tends to mainly get a mention for his dizzying solos, but it bears notice just how much his guitar is the bedrock of a lot of these songs, like the riff he holds down on "Seeds." Following that with "Out in the Street" and an early "Rosalita," for which Bruce slowwwly unfurled a sign, drawing out the drama, they were really reaching out and pulling the crowd in.
We've spent years bemoaning the fact that Springsteen neglects a few of his albums following Born in the U.S.A., so "Brilliant Disguise" into "Human Touch" scratched a big itch (in fact, add in "I'm Goin' Down" as a trifecta for us "bandwagon"-era fans). "We haven't played this one in a while!" Bruce said before "Brilliant Disguise." And I swear to you this is true: on an otherwise dry night, it started to spit rain at the exact moment that Bruce started the final verse — "Tonight our bed is cold/I'm lost in the darkness of our love" — and stopped at the end of the song. Just in case you weren't already getting chills. "Human Touch," after being tentative in Adelaide, was a full-scale blowout. I can't fully make out my notes from this one, all I can decipher is "godsend." Maybe that's enough.
Another rarity began the encore: "This is a song I wrote for a night like tonight. It was our organ player Dan Federici's signature song." In the States, Bruce might save this one for late August, but here in Australia: "So let me get this right — it's the end of summer? Okay..." and into "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." Stretching out the encore to nine songs, Bruce also broke out "Ramrod," "Rocking All Over the World," and for only the second time since the Devils & Dust tour, a solo acoustic "I Wish I Were Blind."
Let's go to the tape: This is one we'll throw on from start to finish, with the start itself being a unique treat. From the "Spill the Wine" beginning, a big night for the E Street Horns: wailing away on "Seeds" as Bruce wrestles with his guitar, mixing solos like Tanqueray and wine on "Johnny 99," evoking the second line on "Pay Me My Money Down." Soozie really shines on harmonies on the back-to-back "Brilliant Disguise" and "Human Touch," and listen for Bruce's intro to "I'm Goin' Down": "I don't think I changed anything... no, it's the same... It's not like I'm a big surprise... I'm the same guy...." On "Sandy," you won't be able to see Bruce's head-nodding, beatific smile, but it should still translate in the music — and be sure to listen to Garry, the last E Streeter still onstage from the second album, whose bass here is as crucial to the song as Charlie's accordion. "I Wish I Were Blind" is another of these stunning vocal performances (like "Surprise Surprise," "This Hard Land, and "If I Should Fall Behind") adding up to quite the solo acoustic playlist from Down Under.
The opening song also highlighted the very welcome return of Jake Clemons. Bless Eddie Manion, who filled in so admirably in Sydney — the only E Street Band show in lord-knows-how-long without a Clemons on stage — but bless Jake, too, for going home to the States and back so quickly to continue his work in the wake of his father's death. He aced every solo tonight, from here to "Bobby Jean" to "Land of Hope and Dreams," when Jakey had one fist in the air, the other beating his heart with what felt like extra passion tonight. Welcome back, brother.
As for passion, there was a great deal of it in the first half of the show in particular. The pace was "balls to the wall," as a friend put it, with a legnthy sequence of some of Bruce's most intense songs from "Badlands" through "Because the Night," incuding "No Surrender," "Murder Incorporated" (for a sign request), "Trapped," and "American Skin" along the way. "Wrecking Ball," after a botched performance in Melbourne, was just loud fast rules. "Two Hearts" felt like the culmination of Steve Van Zandt's determined effort to show the Aussies what they missed last year — he's really been turning on the power when it comes to his harmony vocals these past few weeks, and of course "Two Hearts" is a signature moment. Tom Morello continues to push his solos in enthralling directions: on "High Hopes," Bruce was looking on with genuine fascination, and for "The Ghost of Tom Joad," Morello was down on his knees, twiddling knobs. What a bombtrack.
But as much as the E Street Band was firing on all cylinders tonight, the biggest wow moment came at the start of the encore, with just Bruce onstage, fulfilling a request for "The Wish." He introduced it by talking about giving his mother an iPhone and having FaceTime chats with her while he's out of the country: "She doesn't quite know how to handle the iPhone... so I get a shot of the inside of my mother's nose around 6:30 in the morning." Laughs aside, it was a moving introduction to a moving song. "What I do is, I send her a picture every morning, so she wakes up and it's there," Bruce said, and he used his own phone's camera to take a shot of the crowd to share with Adele tomorrow. Everyone waved. "She'll be happy about that.... This song is absolutely, one hundred percent true."
Mid-song, Bruce took a moment to connect the crowd and his Ma once again. "One of my favorite things about this point in my worklife is, I get to look out into the audience, and I see fathers with their sons, and I see moms and grandmoms, and I see little girls, and sisters... people of all ages. And that was something that my mom taught me: when she was very young, she loved rock music, she loved rock 'n'roll, and her enthusiasm and passion for it rolled over. So, we're just glad to have you coming out, all the different generations, and somewhere out there is the future of rock 'n' roll!" And if that didn't do it for you, surely the next one would, as the E Street Band retook the stage to prove that their masterful performance of "Friday on My Mind" in Sydney, with all its complexities and quick-change chords, wasn't just a fluke.
If you can't cut loose without your juice, or can't get well without Muscatel, good news: we're doing it all over again tomorrow night.
Sydney would actually get to enjoy a doubleshot of hometown hits: later in the show, to start the encore, the E Street Band offered up a rocking take on the 1982 INXS single "Don't Change" [YouTube video]. Who'd have thought Bruce Springsteen would ever cover INXS? Well, maybe after tackling AC/DC it doesn't seem so far-fetched, but still. As usual, he and the band made it their own; there was some "Dancing in the Dark" flavor meets "My Love Will Not Let You Down," with all four guitarists on the edge of the stage, playing the main riff together. The horns joined in, and it sounded magnificent. Again, the crowd was overjoyed and knew every word.
A few other things made this a notable night — Jake's absence, for one. Of course it was readily apparent to anyone looking, but particularly when Bruce called "Come on, Eddie, come on horns!" during slot three (a sign-requested "Cadillac Ranch") and the horns first came downstage. Eddie "Thin Man" Manion was the hero of the day, rushing out to join Bruce at the back of the pit for "Spirit in the Night" and playing every single sax part in the show. Springsteen soon explained: "I want to thank Ed Manion tonight, who is taking Jake's solos. Jake's pop passed away, Clarence's brother Bill, who was in the Marine Corps, played trumpet... another great Clemons musician. We send our prayers and our condolences out to Jake's family. And thanks Eddie!"
And then there was the album performance — after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run in Melbourne, it was time for Darkness on the Edge of Town. Bruce's announcement brought a roar from the crowd, and the sequence did not disappoint. The horns and choir beefed up "Adam Raised a Cain" in a big way, with Bruce taking two solos and numerous fills along the way, beating the guitar against his body at the end. Vocally, he was spot-on, hitting every note of those wordless howls in "Something in the Night." And the rare "Racing in the Street," with Roy's cascading piano during the exquisite coda that was basically a four-minute crescendo, was truly a thing to behold. The whole thing went off without a hitch, like the concert equivalent of a single-take Scorsese tracking shot.
That power and intensity carried through the entire show, through the set-closing "Land of Hope and Dreams" and into the encore, where Manion stepped up once again for "Dancing in the Dark." After the E Street Band took their final bows following "Shout" and were exiting the stage, Springsteen brought him back down front for an extra bow, holding the Kingfish's hand up high — a very well-deserved extra moment of recognition.
And then it was just Bruce — "What can I say? What a good time we had tonight!" — for a couple of intimate, magic moments. The first was an acoustic birthday treat, played by sign request for a young man turning 23. "Twenty-three is... I don't know how to explain that now. Well, 23, for me, was 'Blinded by the Light'! So my brain was pretty fairly scrambled at the time." The song that followed was not, though Bruce had to strum for a bit to "make sure I know it." It was a warm and tender version of "Surprise Surprise" that ought to make any haters think again [YouTube video]. And then one more tour premiere, the closing song from High Hopes and often the closing song from the Devils & Dust tour, "Dream Baby Dream." As in 2005, Bruce started at the harmonium (shipped over recently, we hear, after a full-band version didn't gel) before rising to his feet and beseeching the crowd as the music continued to swirl. It was just the extra shading that this barnburner of a show needed to round it out.
Let's go to the tape: You may have the Promise box, which includes a full-band Darkness performance.... but not with a crowd, not with horns, and not with the E Street Choir, all of which elevate this impeccable album sequence. "Born to Run" will be worth hearing as "the fastest we ever played that motherfucker," even after a restart. The covers, of course, are standouts. And then there's the introduction to "Spirit in the Night," when the "Can you feel the spirit?" query is posed not in the dark woods around Greasy Lake, but in the bathroom of Bruce's hotel room, by the blue light of a computerized toilet seat. "I've traveled around the world quite a bit, I've seen a lot of things in 50 years of traveling.... but I saw something last night in Sydney I've never seen before!" A one-off story if we've ever heard one.
"And in fact... right now?" Bruce admitted to the crowd, "I just got up one hour ago!"
Ah, so that explained it. Springsteen had taken longer than usual to hit the stage after the rest of the band, and with a sheepish grin, saying, "I'm late for my own show!" His voice was ragged for a fair portion of the night — isn't yours, first thing in the morning? — and there were a few goof-ups and miscues. But while he had trouble with his upper vocal range on songs like the "Born in the U.S.A." opener, he was actually in ideal shape for mid-range growlers like "Lucky Town" and a ferocious "Roulette." Steve helped make "Lucky Town" the E Street Band's own, on guitar and great backing vocals, and Bruce truly sold it ("Here's to your good looks, baby..."). As he did "Roulette," an audible — this was his zone tonight, he sang it like he had something to prove.
And then came "Growin' Up," Bruce tying together his story with the song: "All the years when I was waiting to return to my five-year-old habits... you create a fantasy world. It's a dream world, but it's real. And it's living inside of you. I stood stone-like at midnight..." A wonderful performance.
Things were still rocky on "Wrecking Ball" — losing the rhythm for a moment, Bruce explained, "I'm all out of whack, Max!" — but jelled again for a stomping "Death to My Hometown" and the new songs, which just seem to get better every night. Morello's "High Hopes" soloing keeps evolving (he's working the tuning pegs now), and Steve's vocals have become a key part of "Fire Would."
This already felt like a darker show than Night 1 — a Sunday rather than a Saturday night — but a "Lost in the Flood" sign clinched it. It was a powerful, dynamic performance, followed by a spooky visit to Greasy Lake. Bruce went on at length about kids parking there in the '50s and '60s and the Jersey Devil that resided in the woods. He'd started to sketch this story in Adelaide, but here it was fully fleshed-out. And afterward: "Man, I knew I shouldn't have had those drinks before I came out here — got me in storyteller mode!"
Then it was time for a full album sequence. Saturday brought "Born in the U.S.A.," and with "Badlands" burned already tonight, Darkness was off the table... so we were pretty sure what we were gonna get. Again, Bruce talked about doing something special for this return visit and expressed his apprecation for the Aussie love. He said he and the band first came to Australia beginning in 1985, but last year "something happened... you got in our blood in some way." And sure enough: "Born to Run, start to finish, for Melbourne!"
Part of the fun of this album performance was right up top, a rare-for-2014 full-band version of "Thunder Road." All those horns supporting Jake at the end still sound so sweet. Bruce approached "Tenth Avenue" a little differently in the main set, not standing on the piano but instead bringing the horns right back down front. "Backstreets" had the brief "Sad Eyes" interlude; "Night," last played in Cape Town, was a rocket-thrust burst of energy (I'd be happy with this one every night); "She's the One" got into a real groove. And then there was "Meeting Across the River," sheer perfection. Just Roy, Curt, Garry and Bruce onstage, an incredible four-piece combo interlocked and making beautiful music, a real joy to hear (for those not streaming out to the loo — to each their own, I guess).
No "Shackled and Drawn" tonight, but "Heaven's Wall" was a good way to get back to business — short, strong, and to the point. A special guest appearance from guitar tech Kevin Buell brought some extra smiles to the start of "Sunny Day," joining to sing at the mic and count it off before dashing back upstage.
A strong "Land of Hope and Dreams" finishes the main set, as the band buoys Bruce (he's been up for what, now, at least three hours?) and he's clearly determined to keep pushin' til it's undestood. If he hasn't been hitting all the notes, he's been wrestling them to the ground. And heading into the encore, he doesn't want to stop: "I got a note saying there's 20 minutes left... but you can all hitch-hike home, can't you?" The crowd responds, and it's curfew-bustin', booty-shakin' Boss time.
"We Are Alive" comes out for some dearly departed — Bruce talks about getting to finally play South Africa "by the grace of Nelson Mandela," and about Pete Seeger, too. "This is a song about how the dead speak to the living." With the Born to Run sequence having chewed up some encore staples, it's fun to see where he takes things instead: "Ramrod" comes in for a rave-up, and "This Hard Land" wows in the acoustic slot to close. But really, that sort of mixing things up is par for the course right now, with the High Hopes set having refreshingly minimal must-dos each night and the chance for surprises high. Seventeen songs tonight not played the night before, for a total of 49 in Melbourne.
Let's go to the tape: Check out that enormous drum breakdown at the end of "Born in the U.S.A." — Bruce kept twirling his finger and shaking his head as he wouldn't let Max stop. But I'll be most itching to get to "Lucky Town" and relive Bruce's extended outro solo, followed by his blistering vocal performance on "Roulette" and the shaggy dog "Growin' Up." This will be the first officially released Born to Run sequence, so there are moments to treasure like "Meeting Across the River" into "Jungleland." You can't help but focus on Curt's trumpet, for good reason, but be sure to tune in to Garry W. Tallent on "Meeting" as well — these downloads are surely eye-opening for anyone who might not have paid attention to the Tennesse Terror's playing during a show. Listen for a happy accident at the beginning of "Tenth Avenue" as Max starts a four-on-the-floor beat at the same time the horns come in; Springsteen encourages him to keep it going: "I like it! I like it!"
And there's a magical start to "We Are Alive," with Bruce taking the first verse completely a capella.
So you can imagine what that looks like: a stadium full of Aussies ready to party on a Saturday night, a set packed with big crowd-pleasers, all on a temperate evening where the slight threat of rain was blown away early. Sometimes long beer lines might make you nervous about what we used to call the "moron factor"; here it just felt like summer's here and the time is right. And the crowd was pleased for sure: all the lights up, encore style, for "Bobby Jean"... Bruce and Steve mugging like mad out on the thrust for "Glory Days"... "Dancing in the Dark" stretching out as usual with some lucky fans getting a chance to shake their moneymakers. "You guys win for originality," Bruce told two dudes in huge afro wigs (and E Street Fans shirts), having them "bring that sign up here!" It was an enormous photo of Cindy Mizelle, asking her for a dance, which they got.
If some of us felt like the album set took some wind out of the show's sails, well, we looked to be in the minority. But surely we all gotta agree the show had a ripper start, with a favorite special guest: "Hello Melbourne! It's good to be back and see you so soon! We're gonna have some help opening the show tonight, gonna bring up Eddie Vedder!"
Ed's in Oz for a solo acoustic tour, and tonight their schedules aligned just right for him to take in the show on a night off. Wih Vedder and Morello both on stage it was a flashback to Chicago 2012, a little Wrigley reunion, and it kicked just as much ass, as Eddie traded verses on "Highway to Hell" to open and then reprised his duet with Bruce on "Darkness on the Edge of Town." Just as you've seen Morello inspire Springsteen to up his game, Eddie's intensity has the same effect. A killer start. (EV watched the rest of the show from the pit, and at one point he came over to surprise the little girl in front of me with a gift of a guitar pick. Looked like it made her whole family's night.)
Bruce went out on the thrust after "Badlands," where he was absolutely surrounded by signs. Plenty of good suggestions, too, including "Johnny Bye Bye," "From Small Things," "Code of Silence," "Where the Bands Are".... he went with "Seeds" a typically powerful version highlighted by Charlie's organ and big menacing brass.
At the end of "Just Like Fire Would," the band vamped for a while as Bruce collected more signs. Coming into tonight's show, they had played 99 different songs on this 2014 run so far; it was time for #100. Bruce placed a "Mighty Max My Hero" posterboard in front of the drum kit, then held up one for "Jole Blon" to hit triple digits. "Very obscure, very obscure! Key of B-flat, boys!" Hard to believe this wasn't soundchecked, as good as it sounded, with the choir down front and solos from Charlie on accordion and Soozie on fiddle. "Good call!" Bruce said at the end. Next, another sign — "Not so obscure!" — for "Hungry Heart." No crowd surfing here, due to the massive stadium stage, but Bruce gave himself a workout running from one side to the other.
Following the Born in the U.S.A. performance, Bruce went right out to the crowd to pull another sign, for "Factory." It read, "For the thousands who have lost their working lives..." and he took a moment to talk about the song: "My dad, when I was a child, five or six, maybe younger, worked on the Ford line in New Brunswick, NJ... This is a song about work, the meaning of work, and the importance of work in your life." A smart, resonant pairing with "Shackled and Drawn," too.
During "The Rising," a reminder of what's to love about outdoor shows: where I was standing, a breeze kicked up during the "dream of life" section, as if "sky of memory and shadow" wouldn't already deliver goosebumps on its own — just one of those perfect moments. Bruce looked particularly intense here at the end of the song, and from here through the encores, he wouldn't let up. As "Land of Hope and Dreams" closed the main set, he'd clearly found some real fire. The band was inspired to match it, and Jake wailed away triumphantly.
After "Born to Run," Springsteen hollered, "Are you ready to get this party started?!" The joke was that the crowd had been partying for hours already... but then it turned out he wasn't joking at all. From "Rosalita" (there's Bruce and Stevie out there mugging again) through "Seven Nights to Rock," "Tenth Avenue," and "Shout," it was just non-stop, Bruce emitting more and more wattage. A classic example of how Springsteen somehow gets more energized when anyone else would be getting exhausted. Also a reminder that "Dancing in the Dark" in the encore at least gives him a chance to relax with a slow dance, but there was no relaxing tonight. By the end of "Shout" he was running in circles like a dog chasing his tail, crying out "Stop me before I hurt myself!"
Let's go to the tape: More enterprising fans may have already ripped the new live Born in the U.S.A. DVD, but this will be the first official audio release of a live album set. That said, what I'll look forward to revisiting are those two opening cuts with Eddie Vedder, especially Ed's "I'll be on that hill" vocal... Bruce's solo on "Seeds"... "Jole Blon," start to finish... listen for the lyric change in "Born in the U.S.A.": "Forty years burning down the road"... beautiful interplay between Roy and Charlie on "Factory"... and we'll see if the encore's rock 'n' roll rave-up master class holds up without the visuals, but the horns on "Seven Nights" alone should get your attention.
We started with a similar greeting — "I thought it was hot yesterday, what the fuck is going on today?!" — introducing a different classic cover: Martha & the Vandella's "Heatwave," last played in 2009, the band, horns, and singers spread across the lip of the stage. Bruce managed to stick to the setlist for another two songs, "Jackson Cage" with a seamless transition (as we can now say, check the tape) into "She's the One." But after that it was practically a free-for-all. "Backstreets" was an audible, as was the "Cover Me" that followed. "Hungry Heart," too. Crowd surfing back to the stage, Bruce brought with him not only a jaunty red hat, but a sign that brought a third 1992 track to the Adelaide stand: "THIS LESBIAN HAS BETTER DAYS WHEN SHE HEARS BRUCE." He also pulled signs over the course of the night to play "The Promised Land," "Long Walk Home," and "Raise Your Hand."
Wait, "Backstreets"? Yeah, it was a beautiful one, with an abbreviated but spot-on "Sad Eyes" interlude. "Jungleland" later in the show gave us two epics, as well as five of Born to Run's eight songs. Epic is a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely these days... but we're gonna have to apply it to "American Skin (41 Shots)" tonight, too. It was worth every bit of its sprawl, with so many dynamic shifts, Jake's sax answered by a majestic solo from Tom Morello, and everyone playing all-out at the end.
Countless strong moments from individual players. Cindy Mizelle let Bruce play her like a theremin on "Shackled." "Cover Me" had Nils spinning early, as Bruce first challenged him to a guitar duel, then coaxed him to get that centrifugal thing going. It felt like a big night for Jake, who kept coming down from the horn section for spotlight moments: "She's the One," "The Promised Land," "Long Walk Home," "Lonesome Day," "Badlands," and "Jungleland," of course. Stevie, too — there are nights when he doesn't draw attention to himself, but this was a real showcase for his vocals despite no "Two Hearts" or "Prove It," filling in essential harmonies throughout the night. Morello's "Joad" solo gobsmacked as usual, and transitioning from that right into "Badlands" to close the main set really worked.
A world premiere from High Hopes began the encore, as "Hunter of Invisible Game" got its first live workout. Just Bruce himself on the acoustic at first, with subtle instrumentation gradually filling in from Soozie and the horns, Max with brushes, and Bruce coming out onto the thrust halfway through. Very nice — especially considering it was yet another audible — and a very different tone to start the encore from the AC/DC blitzkrieg the night before. Two fun covers in "Raise Your Hand" and "Rocking All Over the World." On the former, Bruce had barely begun the song, standing atop the Professor's piano, when he started laughing: "I broke Roy's keyboard!" For the John Fogerty classic, he called out "Key of B!" and asked, "Have you had enough? Are you tired?... Do you need to throw some shrimp on the barbie?" The place went nuts. It felt to me from the beginning like a generally livelier crowd than Night 1, but it was still a surprise to see everyone, front to back and top to bottom, not only off their Australian asses without needing to be told but jumping up and down: "I like it, I like it, I like it!" And the E Street Band ended their portion of the show as they began, lining the entire stagefront.
For the acoustic pair, Bruce started with "I'll Work For Your Love," the night's third song from Magic, before again giving the last word to "Thunder Road."
Let's go to the tape: When the download is available, I'll be listening in particular for..."You and your lonely sad eyes"; rousing gospel backing vocals on "Better Days"; a moving harmonica and piano coda to "The River," as well as Stevie's 12-string playing throughout; all of "American Skin"; the "courthouse" verse of "Long Walk Home"; Max's killer fills driving "Radio Nowhere"; some cool grace notes from the choir on "Hunter of Invisible Game"; Bruce teaching the horns their part on the fly during "Rocking All Over the World." For the first verse of "High Hopes," Bruce failed to find the right key — no big deal, he laughed it off after realizing he'd been singing too high, but it'll be a good test of their intent to put these suckers out warts and all.
Where else can you go from there except into "Badlands"... and if you thought "My Love Will Not Let You Down" sounded great with three guitars up front, try four. (Later in the show, the rare-these-days "Darkness" would be quite something with four electrics, too.) So things are hot out of the gate, but not necessarily intense — the crowd's into it but laid back, the band is loose and relaxed. When you've got a three-and-a-half-hour, 31-song show ahead, as it turned out, you need to pace yourself.
From there we hit album pods: a couple from High Hopes, Morello playing with his teeth on the title track as the lights strobe and Reverend Bradley pounds away on the conga, followed by four in a row from Wrecking Ball. The lesser-played "Jack of All Trades" was the clear standout here, Bruce telling the crowd, "In the States, for the past seven years, millions of peope lost their homes, their savings, because of the greed and avarice of a small group of people." It's so melodious, Nils and Tom laying weeping guitars over Roy's music box piano, I'd forgotten how much it builds in concert, until you've got Bruce booming the big bass drum as the horns swell, Tom's solo soars, and Curt Ramm comes down stage for that clarion call. A masterful performance appreciated by a respectful crowd, swaying their arms in the air rather than running to the loo.
I hate to say even one unkind word about "Human Touch" — underrated, always welcome, and just one of many from 1992 that the E Street Band can put a great stamp on when given the chance. But this time it took a while to get off the ground, just sort of loping along — until it finally all exploded at the end, someone juiced the volume, and Bruce's mean solo made up for the meandering. (How to fix? Play it more often!) Great to hear Soozie step up for vocals here, reminding us that her voice graced this music before her fiddle did, and I can't wait for the download so we can hear the horns.
"Spirit in the Night" brought the first of several trips around the pit, Bruce hanging out back there for a bit with Jake as someone gave him a beer to chug and another fan tried to chat him up. "I'm working," Bruce stage-whispered, "I can't have a conversation with you!" But he did have a few important things to say after making his way back to the stage and pulling a surprise request sign for "Back in Your Arms."
"One of my great mentors was Joe Tex — songs like 'Skinny Legs and All,' 'Show Me,' 'Hold on to What You've Got.'... Has anybody here ever blown a good thing? [smattering repsonse] That's all? That's impossible — this is Australia! Everybody has! Everybody's been there. It's good... and then you fuck it up. And then you try to fix it. There are several ways to do that. I've found that the best way is to suck it up. You go back, and you simply... you beg, brother!" That led into an impassioned vocal performance, with brilliant E Street backing, particularly by the Professor and the horns.
It's funny to be in a place where we can find ourselves saying things like "'Prove It All Night' with the '78 intro sounded like it usually does'... but here we are, and there it is, and it was great — particularly with Nils's electrifying solo at the end. Not so long ago, going from that one to the introductory strains of "Mary's Place" might be the most deflating transition you could imagine, but not tonight. "Mary's Place" sounded like it was built for this band, with the E Street Horns and Choir really shining. Without the bloat of the Rising tour rendition, with the band stopping on a dime whenever called for, spotlight on Ed "Thin Man" Manion while the band modulates... "Mary's Place" was a surprising breath of fresh air. Used sparingly, it could continue to be. "This Is Your Sword," its first appearance in Australia, was surprisingly strong, too, with less emphasis on the Celtic lilt and more on the muscular drive of the E Street Band. A botched start — "oops, we haven't played this one that much yet!" — but it bodes well for High Hopes material really benefitting the set if Bruce chooses to keep working it in.
Through a drawn-out Stonesy intro to "Darlington County," Springsteen carried a mic stand all the way upstage so he could sing the first verse to those behind the stage. And soon he went the other way, walking the GA circuit to have his traditional moment with Nils at the back of the pit. "Shackled and Drawn" continues to be a showstopper, with the transcendent vocals of Cindy Mizelle, horns down front, Garry singing into his own mic, everybody form a line... what else could you want? "The Ghost of Tom Joad," too, has lost absolutely none of its power for being played every night, Morello throwing himself into his signature E Street performance full-bore.
Of course, if you really want full-bore... welcome to the encore, where an AC/DC reprise had the whole place shouting along and some fans throwing the horns. Who knows if the "Highway to Hell" actually is Highway 9, but Bruce made the connection with "Born to Run," and then kept the theme going with a rare "Ramrod" by request ("Steve! I see a sign!!"). Pretty impressive that they can burn "Detroit Medley" right up top and still have plenty of heights to scale in the encore. Booties were shaken, Landau strapped on a guitar for "Shout," and we even got Bruce hollering, "I'm just a prisoner... of rock 'n' roll!," clutching the mic stand, hauling himself up.
For the closing pair of solo songs, we started with another return to 1992 with "If I Should Fall Behind." Nearly a capella, with just a sketch of accompaniment on the acoustic, the performance recalled "Back in Your Arms" in terms of the breathtaking vocal, but now less Joe Tex and more Little Jimmy Scott, reminding us of the appreciation Bruce has expressed for the jazz singer over the years. A stunner — and an utterly silent Adelaide crowd really drank it in, with another exquisitely delivered "Thunder Road" to wrap up Night 1.
Leave it to the E Street Band to baptise an Australian concert hall — the barely-over-a-year-old Perth Arena — with its first AC/DC anthem. From a pitch-black stage came a guitar riff carved into the DNA of Perth natives and rock 'n' roll fans around the world, a riff forever tied to the menacing vocals of hometown hero Bon Scott. The house lights went up as Max's drums joined the riff, and there it was, the world's greatest roadshow paying homage to Australia's most internationally renowned rock band. Bruce and Steven wore game faces, but Tom Morello looked like a kid who'd stumbled inside the Temple of Rock and was presenting an offering to the gods. (Tom later tweeted his thanks to Perth and gushed, "Opened show tonite in Bon Scott's hometown with muthaflippin’ ‘HIGHWAY TO HELL’. The AC/DC Street Band?!") The song's classic chorus detonated across Perth Arena like the dynamite used to loosen riches buried within ancient Western Australian ground. The E Street Band was leaving town, but not before doing some blasting of their own.
We were running flat out.
Nils was front and center throughout "No Surrender," and Jake brought maximum swagger to "Bobby Jean." Proving there were no hard feelings about being overlooked during the previous night's band roll call, Nils unleashed a "Because the Night" solo that surely violated Western Australian fire codes. "Downbound Train" sounded brand new before an actual new song — "Heaven's Wall" — sent hands reaching for the ceiling.
"Hello Perth! Great to be in the most remotest place on Earth! The mighty E Street Band has come thousands of fucking miles to prove to you tonight that one and one does not make two... before the night is over we will have proven that one and one — in love, in art, in rock 'n' roll — makes three! The mighty E Street Band and the mighty people of Perth — the two of us and you — are about to make three. It's a magic trick, except it's not a trick. So I've had my vegemite sandwich, and all i need to know is... are you ready? Here we go!"
The highlight of the evening for many, and one of the defining moments of the show, came thanks to a sign request of "For You" [audience video]. It was a sublime performance, solo piano on Roy's grand, Bruce singing in a higher range with a vibrato edge, reminiscent of the "If I Should Fall Behind" live clip. It was so good even the band, led by Little Steven, was applauding the performance in the wings.
Equipped with a reticent but warm smile, Bruce surveyed the signs of the crowd below (including my very own, "I flew 14,000 miles, to my 10th country...," but cutting off before my "Drive All Night" request) before his gentle strumming took the rhythm of "Working on the Highway." With the awe-induced still of the small crowd evolving into a rocking dance, the special nature of this rare pre-show became clear as, with a new guitar, Bruce sang Magic’s "I'll Work For Your Love" before closing with "Growin' Up." [pro-shot video here]
South Africa's very own Dan Patlansky performed before the E Street Band began their main set, in what he dubbed "the greatest night of my career." Humbled by the crowd's welcoming reaction, the local guitarist yielded the stage to Bruce's crew who made it fit for E Street, and after a short wait the E Street Band took to their stage to baptise the Gauteng audience in the name of rock 'n' roll. The home of Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg sang loudly the lyrics of "Free Nelson Mandela," which made its third South African appearance as show opener. "Land of Hope and Dreams" appropriately continued this theme. "No Surrender," which featured blistering guitar work from Bruce and Nils, was performed for Springsteen's "first black South African fan."
Energy levels were high as the E Street Band stormed their way through "Seeds" and "Out in the Street," before rain started to fall. As the music intensified, so did the rain... which, as usual, only fueled Bruce's desire to inject fire into the audience in turn. With the rain illuminated by the lights of the stage, it didn’t start to truly pour until after "I'm on Fire" lead Bruce into falsetto territory. A now serious expression and tone overcame Bruce, as he invited Stevie to center stage for the introduction to "The River," expanding on the falsetto of the song before. With an intensely focused E Street Band, "American Skin (41 Shots)" was performed for its third time in South Africa, a location entirely appropriate for its content, and the most distinct performance of the piece since arriving these shores.
A happier Bruce found his way back to the stage with the "raise your hand" chorus of "Heaven’s Wall." With the entirety of FNB's audience raising their hands and voices to Bruce's words, a hard-rocking "Murder Incorporated" led the concert towards the inevitable "Sunny Day." Armed with so many noteworthy, underplayed songs, one wonders why Bruce still relies on this one and its nightly 10-year-olds to inject a smile into the audience when, for example, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" might do the same and provide some variety to boot.
The storm overhead proceeded with such intensity that during the first verse of "The Ghost of Tom Joad," Bruce's microphone cut out. With fans shouting to him from the pit, the ever-on-the-ball Stevie Van Zandt scrambled to find a solution. A number of false starts later, Bruce disappeared for a brief moment into the depths of the backstage before returning to a functioning microphone, able to complete the longest version of "Joad" to date. This rain refused to subside, and with "Badlands" a sodden audience sang the final song of the main set as the band raised their guitars towards the waterlogged skies.
Nelson Mandela and his cause have been the underlying theme of all four of these concerts. Opening his final encore of this South African stint, and with rain falling hard, Bruce reiterated his respect for Mandela and prayer for South Africa to find "peace." With loud cries from the audience, Bruce spoke about how lucky South Africa was to have Mandela "for a lifetime." That the U.S. had MLK who was "killed, never to be replaced," and Malcolm X who was also "killed, never to be replaced," Bruce stated the resilience of the South African people being best demonstrated by the man who "spent 27 years in jail, who walked free, and became President." An emotional performance of John Fogerty’s "Who'll Stop the Rain" was in homage to all those fighting the betrayal of the universally shared "American dream."
A quintessential Wrecking Ball Tour encore followed, and beneath the stadium house lights of one of Africa's largest stadiums, people danced and sang by their thousands. A stripped-down Bruce jumped onto Professor Roy Bittan's piano during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" before leading the E Street Band into one last heart-stopping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love making, “did I say Viagra-taking?!” legendary E Street Band performance of the stadium-rocking "Shout."
Standing alone upon his stage, in routine form, holding the guitar, the prisoner of rock ’n' soul’s smile was radiant. Appearing slightly stunned by South Africa’s response to the E Street Band's long awaited arrival, Bruce reiterated his thanks to all the fans who waited so long, and to whom he promised, "We'll be back." And singing his lullaby — with a collective voice emanating from the crowd, joining Bruce in his final words, for now — the tone was clear. It wasn't a "goodbye" but a "we’ll be seein' ya!" Bruce bowed, smiled, and waved, before disappearing into the backstage, guitar above him, leaving South Africa with a trail of four great concerts behind him (one of which, Cape Town 2, was extraordinary even by his own standards) and a promsing road ahead.
Solo acoustic pre-show:
January 29 / Bellville Velodrome / Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA
The night before, the local audience had come to learn of Bruce’s penchant for request-taking, and signs aplenty floated above the andrenalized faces (including an effective one reading "Play 'Tougher Than the Rest' and I'll give my husband a blowjob"; Bruce played it.) So by the third song, Bruce and Stevie were in the throes of a song usually reserved for the sweat-soaked end of a night, as "Rosalita" infused energy into the audience early. Whereas the tone of the night before was heavily reflective, Night 3 was more like party time. Stevie and Bruce clearly relished the opportunity to perform together out on the center thrust, cutting up and laughing as they would again on "Glory Days" in the encore.
Of course, Springsteen shows are rarely one-dimensional, and a Darkness two-fer maintained that energy in a different sort of manifestation, with "Adam Raised a Cain" into "Something in the Night." On the latter, accompanied by the gentle but permeating piano of Professor Roy Bittan, Bruce carried the song with delicate precision. His silhouette was still, as the might of the E Street Band elevated the performance to even greater proportions. The guitar-shredding "Adam" had showcased Bruce's harder-rocking side; as "Something in the Night” reached its crescendo, the E Street Band had the chance to come together and display the majesty they're so capable of.
Shouting "We've never played this one before," Bruce led the band into the world live premiere of "This Is Your Sword." Like "High Hopes" on the first night, "This Is Your Sword” wasn’t perfect. But even in its introduction, the spark needed to make it a truly great live performance was evident. Among the fans familiar with the new release, the lyrics were sung back with intensity to the stage, where bandmembers brandished their guitars like swords.
As the opening chords to "Because the Night" filled the Velodrome, Bruce took to the microphone: "We're looking for Tommy's brother... Where are you?!" After some searching, Tom Morello's brother was located and invited on stage. Holding a microphone, his brother beckoned his girlfriend to follow him onto the stage, and with the whole E Street Band and thousands of others looking on — and with encouragement from Tom — he dropped to his knee and proposed. Applauding as she said yes, Bruce dedicated the following a pair to the newly engaged couple, "Because the Night" and "She's the One."
A large emphasis during the South African concerts has been placed on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Appropriately, the shows have set a sense of struggle against the liberating power of rock 'n' roll, beginning with "Free Nelson Mandela" on the first two nights. For this final Cape Town show, the E Street Band were led back to the stage for the encore by "consigliere" Little Steven. Famously decisive and directorial, Stevie holds as much ability as frontman as he does Bruce's number two. Stepping up to the mic alongside Bruce, the E Street Band, and guest performer Mos Def, Stevie led the performance of his famous anti-apartheid song, "Sun City," an E Street Band premiere. [Above, from Morello's Instagram: "Mos Def rocked 'Sun City' with The E Street Army in Cape Town. African bro down post show."] was a remarkably effective fusion, with the horns killing it, the singers wailing, Morello claiming a verse, and Bruce clearly relishing getting to revisit lines like "We're stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back!" Repeating the chorus "I ain't gonna play Sun City," that call for artists to stand together in opposition to apartheid, Stevie led the band with confidence and stylish execution. Bruce yielded him center stage, and with the tone of the audience clear, "Sun City" was a performance which resonated unlike most others. [Click here for audience video]
Michelle Moore's soulful voice took center stage following Stevie, for a now-rare performance of "Rocky Ground"; in a country where inequality is still evident and where people are still fighting for their lives, "Rocky Ground" continued the battle cry of "Sun City," making Steve Van Zandt, for one, appear quite moved.
With an abundance of energy, the concert reached its climax as Bruce screamed, "We’re tired! We’re tired!" before adding, "Should we go to Johannesburg? Should we go to Johannesburg?!" The crowd screaming "No! No!" inspired "One more song for Cape Town!" And as “Twist and Shout” finished, a soaked Springsteen took a bow with the E Street Band before they left the stage. Once again, Bruce treated Cape Town to a closing lullaby, telling the local people about his sincere gratitude for "the love, the support, the warm welcome" which he and the band had received, despite the “sharks that wanna bite off your ass! As he promised to return soon, "Thunder Road" allowed the people of Cape Town one last chance to sing with a man they've waited 40 years to see.
Smiling, Bruce shouted "We love ya! We’ll be seein' ya!” before bowing to an emotional crowd and taking his leave. Disappearing into the backstage, he raised his guitar one last time while the original "Free Nelson Mandela" appropriately played the crowd out.
January 28 / Bellville Velodrome / Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA
By the second song, the setlist was thrown to the wind. Request signs were collected, for the first time this year — not one was taken for the South African debut, but now a rocking trio of requests elevated the proceedings to '84 levels of energy: "No Surrender," "Two Hearts" (with Bruce and Stevie adding "It Takes Two," smiling like a pair of schoolboys), and the Tom Morello-stumping "The Ties That Bind." Bruce smiled in his direction with encouragement and shouted "new song!" before delving into the River classic. With the tone set and with an ever-growing momentum, they revisited the title track of High Hopes. Whereas the first night's rendition was rough around the edges, this was a near match to its studio sound, testament both to its recorded authenticity and the band's desire to get it right.
"Trapped" set the mood for the songs to come. Bruce held the crowd in the palm of his hand, building emotion before stripping it all back to a quiet still. With disciplined repetition, the E Street Band beneath a cool purple light built the crowd up and brought them back down, led by a particularly on-form and emotionally charged Bruce. This emphasis on the guitar would maintain, as Bruce gestured to Roy... and from The Professor's first notes of the classic "Prove It All Night" intro, the Bellville Velodrome was transported back to Barcelona 2012, where in turn we had been taken back to 1978, with the revival of this Springsteen pièce de résistance. Bruce stepped forward into the spotlight with his guitar, immediately establishing the moment as an absolute highlight of the night's performance. "Prove It" progressed through musical avenues and alleyways until Nils Lofgren took the spotlight from Bruce, taking a blazing lead of his own as he leapt and spun around the stage while Max pounded out the tempo. The E Street Band was on fire as "Prove It" transformed into “Darkness on the Edge of Town," linked by the powerhouse guitar quartet of Bruce, Tom, Nils and Stevie.
With "Spirit in the Night," the excitement and momentum was more easily maintained than on the first night. Bruce stormed around the venue with Jake in tow, telling us about how we should "Be Shark Smart," and how he had "read that sign from start to finish!" But he wasn't impressed with Cape Town's water temperature. "My balls disappeared before I even entered the water! And I haven't seen them in a day and a half..." There we have the answer to his incredible falsetto during the previous show's "The River." He was, nonetheless, "sure that they'll return."
The underlying strength of the E Street Band's guitarists was again demonstrated when, for the second show running, Bruce called for "American Skin (41 Shots)." At Sunday night's performance, Morello's guitar solo was curiously (and rather disappointingly) curtailed; this night, with Bruce's encouragement and direction, the Nightwatchman took the song and story to another level, his solo lending a truly ethereal quality as the E Street Band and Choir repeated the song's defining lines. Bruce and Tom exchanged a look as the song came to an end, and it appeared to be one of satisfaction.
A raucous "Badlands" concluded the main set, and with the beginning of the encore came a poignant and beautiful highlight. With the passing of the much-loved Pete Seeger just the night before, an introspective Bruce returned to the stage, followed by a respectfully quiet E Street Band. Delivering a brief but impactful eulogy in which he called both Seeger and Mandela "freedom fighters," Bruce reiterated his belief that it was purely by the grace of Mandela, and of Seeger as well, that he and the E Street Band could perform here now. Recalling his appearance at Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration, the now-64-year-old Springsteen smiled and said, "Pete told me then that I still have 'plenty of time,'" before inviting the whole of the E Street Band to join him front and center for "We Shall Overcome." Channeling the conviction of Seeger's life and musicianship (while standing poignantly akin to the famous NYC performance of "Blood Brothers"), the E Street Band paid homage to another comrade who has transcended this life, into the next.
Toward the end of the high-energy encore, the Harry Dixon Loes classic "This Little Light of Mine" had the E Street Choir carrying the gospel to the audience — including particularly soulful vocals from Cindy — while Bruce danced around the stage. It was a well-earned celebration on an emotionally intense night. After the E Street Band took their final bow, Bruce was alone again with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. This time he performed not "Thunder Road" but "This Hard Land" alone, evoking Seeger's spirit one more time before leaving the stage with a smile.
Exiting the heat of the Belleville Velodrome into the warm South African night, Bruce's words rang loud amongst the emotions of the crowd: "Another spectacular show tomorrow night! We'll do it again... but different!”
Appearing on stage last night, amidst the enigmatic darkness of the electric cool of Bellville Velodrome, Bruce Springsteen greeted the people of South Africa for the first time in his long career. Ending a 40-year E Street drought with the simple but long-awaited words "Good evening, Cape Town!," the cool rockin' daddy of New Jersey led his band into a world premiere to mark the beginning of the night's show, along with the 2014 World Tour.
Before the 10,000-strong South African crowd could even fully take in Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's presence, the echoic sound emanating from the stage began to present a song made famous by epitomizing the struggle of South Africa's Madiba. "Free Nelson Mandela" elevated the E Street Band from a touring music group to a band speaking in the language of the very people they were performing to. With Bruce taking lead vocals, accompanied by the soulful Curtis King, the E Street Band began its powerhouse introduction with a song that had everyone singing from the heart. As Bruce would later poignantly state, it was purely by Mandela’s grace that the E Street Band could perform here. As he acknowledged, they had "waited 25 years, if not longer" to finally visit the country of a man obviously respected by people across the world, and as it was clear from the first song onward, that desire was deeply mutual. [Official video here]
With the green light of the stage dissipating to dark, "Badlands" kicked further life into the audience as the E Street Band continued to power up after a few months sans-touring. High Hopes entered the set five songs in, with the title track. Raw and unpolished, its less-than-perfect execution in many ways reflected the down-to-earth ethos of its content. "Spirit in the Night" followed, and one couldn't help but feel that it detracted from the building momentum. This, however, would be forgotten when Bruce told us that the E Street Band "travelled 8,000 fuckin’ miles to play at the Asbury Park Convention Hall!" Bruce could hardly get over how uncannily similar the interior of the two venues are. With a smile on his face and those of the E Streeters, Bruce charged around the crowd followed by Jake Clemons, in familiar fashion. Whereas in Europe "Spirit" is known all too well, for the people of Cape Town it was entirely new; looking across the faces of the crowd, it was clear that Bruce and Jake were hitting all the right notes.
A brilliant performance of "Atlantic City" allowed the E Street Band to demonstrate their musical prowess; it was tight and organized, while also emotionally intense. Bruce's non-scripted repetition of the defining "someday comes back" was as intimate as it was appropriate, with his voice in familiar territory, continuing the theme of our relationship with those who have been lost, and thus in further homage to Mandela. Along with his falsetto during "The River," "Atlantic City" proved to be a highlight of the first show of 2014.
With Tom Morello joining the E Street Band on stage, the famous guitar trio of Bruce, Stevie and Nils is enhanced by a sound as unique as the songs it features on. (At one point, Nils and Tom stood opposite Bruce and Stevie, entering into a blistering doubles guitar duel; Stevie and Bruce played together with a chemistry and fervor which made them look 40 years younger.) "American Skin (41 Shots)" and the brilliant "The Ghost of Tom Joad” feature two of the best guitar solos the E Street Band has to offer. Although curiously "the 41 Shots" solo was curtailed, the core of the song was particularly moving in this setting. As one fan said, Bruce could have named it "African Skin" — emblematic of the shared social problems which have interrupted the bridge between the reality and hope of both the U.S. and South African societies. Similarly, "The Ghost of Tom Joad" was the perfect song for a country home to many still "fighting for a place to stand, a decent job or a helping hand." Indeed, as Springsteen and Morello deconstructed the song to its core and shared the lead vocals, during the famous speech of Tom Joad, Morello pointed at his "Madiba" hat and saluted with Mandela's famous "Amandela!" power to the people salute. One of the defining elements to Bruce Springsteen as a performer is his ability to judge appropriately the mood and tone of a crowd, but also the feelings of their home country. For that reason, along with Morello’s powerful solo which was as animated as it was intense, "Tom Joad" stood out as a masterpiece. With the song finishing, Springsteen and Morello shared a smile reflected on the faces of the crowd below them.
The encore began with a slightly altered rendition of "We Are Alive." Referencing the Sharpville Massacre of 1960, where 69 people died, along with the 2012 Marikana Massacre which killed 44 — both occurring due to the culmination of multiple social issues — Bruce told the crowd that if we listened closely to the "ghosts who walk alongside us," we could hear them. These moments provided a welcome contrast to the songs Bruce played when he shouted "let’s play the hits, boys!" earlier in the evening, although as one considers this being their debut in South Africa, there was a striking balance between sharing with the audience the hits that made the E Street Band famous, along with the songs which best speak to the region's long history. From the perspective of a travelling fan, the special moments of the evening outweighed the "Sunny Day" clichés.
The E Street Band closed with the still-vital cover of "Shout." Bruce himself shouted to the crowd, asking if we were tired yet, and with the answer returning to him in a wall of sound, he worked with the band to finish the job... before returning to the stage himself to sing a lullaby. "Thunder Road" ended a concert which, while rough around the edges, marked the beginning of an ongoing conversation with South Africa; Bruce promised to make the country a "regular tour stop." Music to the ears of fans who have waited a lifetime for this night, with two more in Cape Town to come.
Indeed, the city had been abuzz for several days about a likely Springsteen appearance, and he did not disappoint, arriving at Convention Hall late Saturday afternoon for soundcheck to the delight of assembled onlookers who waved and cheered as he drove by. As the long sold-out main event at the Paramount began, word had spread about Bruce's presence on the premises, and the buzz continued to build as veteran Joe Bonanno’s powerful version of Roy Orbison’s "Running Scared" and sultry Shore favorite Nicole Atkins led off the evening. LOD veteran Joe D'Urso brought out Mike Peters [pictured at top with Bruce] to front his band on The Alarm's "Sold Me Down the River," but it was local DJ Jeff Raspe who truly ignited the audience, introducing Jesse Malin with cryptic comments about his new sound and lineup. Indeed, the curtain drew back to reveal Malin's new band, which now includes a horn section. Leading off with the brand-new ballad "Bar Life" from his forthcoming, as-yet-untitled CD release, Jesse then turned to welcome Bruce Springsteen, who entered from stage left to the delight of the crowd.
Dressed in black T-shirt, jeans, and boots, and sporting a red bandanna around his neck, Bruce anchored Malin's frenetic take on the Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?," contributing a bit of lead vocal here and there but mostly just strumming his guitar and smiling broadly as the band applied the Spector wall of sound treatment to the rousing classic. Following Malin — who was cut a bit short due to time constraints — was another LOD veteran, Garland Jeffreys, whose reggae-tinged set featured material from his critically acclaimed 2013 release Truth Serum. Next up was the frenetic Willie Nile, who also paid tribute to the recently deceased Lou Reed with a cover of "Sweet Jane." Concluding his strong set with the anthemic "One Guitar," Nile once again welcomed his friend Bruce Springsteen to the stage to share vocals along with Mike Peters.
Things then slowed down a bit as the revamped lineup necessitated three acoustic sets in a row, including the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik, whose heartfelt performance included the set-closing "Iris." Peters (who seemed to be everywhere this past week) came out for a brief but powerful acoustic set that concluded with an audience sing-along on The Alarm's "68 Guns," setting the stage for the introduction of Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers.
Leading off with an instrumental jam, the Houserockers — featuring guest saxophonist Ed Manion — welcomed Grushecky to the stage, soon to be followed by a third and final appearance by Springsteen. Beginning with "Adam Raised a Cain," Bruce and Grushecky led the band through an hour-and-a-half set that interspersed Houserockers material like "Talking to the King" and "I'm Not Sleeping" with Springsteen classics like "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The Promised Land," with crowd pleasers "Atlantic City" and "Because the Night" enticing the audience into mass sing-alongs. But the set was not without surprises. Striding to center mic, Bruce playfully taunted the crowd before elaborately rolling up his sleeves to dive into the world premiere performance of "Frankie Fell in Love" (from the just-released High Hopes). It was rollicking and energetic and romantic and fun, and the audience loved it. Also a surprise was the ultra-rare "Hearts of Stone," Manion's sax highlighting an understated yet intense arrangement that delighted longtime fans, though it seemed unfamiliar to some members of the audience.
The lilting pop of "Save My Love" soon had everyone up and rocking, and by the time the opening chords of "Light of Day" beckoned all the performers back to the stage, the Paramount was shaking. Standing at center mic, Bruce led the assembled group though the first half of the song before pausing to introduce his friend Bob Benjamin, the inspiration and founder of the Light of Day Foundation. Bob was presented with a large birthday cake that sported the 2014 Light of Day logo, and he accepted the honor with a brief statement of thanks to the enthusiastic crowd, which responded in kind. Concluding the song, Bruce turned to receive a proffered acoustic guitar, and, once again stepping up to the center mic, he led both performers and the audience through a mass singalong of "Thunder Road." Even a slight muff on the lyrics — he stopped, laughing, as the audience sang the correct lyric back to him — didn't dampen the spirit of the assembled masses, and the evening concluded with thanks from both Bruce and Bob for another successful Light of Day weekend.
Sunday's events included a gospel brunch and three Songwriters by the Sea showcases at various Asbury Park boardwalk venues. Tomorrow's farewell brunch at Toast restaurant on Cookman Avenue concludes Light of Day 14 in the Garden State.
with Willie Nile
with Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers
The last group of audience members was ushered in at 4:45 and watched montages of Fallon's musical impressions from prior shows: Tebowie, Jim Morrison, and what seemed to be the crowd favorite, The Chickeneers. The expected cheers of "Bruuuuuuuuuce" could be heard amidst the applause for these "acts." The audience was encouraged to laugh loud and make some noise, which generated a roar from a few of the Backstreets Contest winners, seated in the last rows of the studio. The warmup emcee chuckled: "And not just from those three!"
The Roots took the stage at 5pm, and by the time they were jammin' on "Jungle Boogie," the band members were dancing on the studio floor like a "bunch of Black Baryshnikovs," in the words of Questlove. Steve Higgins, the show's announcer, took his perch to the tune of "Dancing in the Dark." After Jimmy's monologue and the desk segment of the show (Pros and Cons), the studio went dark in anticipation of what has now become an expected standard routine when Mr. Springsteen joins Mr. Fallon. Speculation varied from a "naked" Jimmy swinging in on a wrecking ball to a duet between Governor Christie and Bossman Bruce.For those who leaned toward Bridgegate, the payoff came as a Born in the U.S.A.-era Bruce sang a duet with himself to the tune of "Born to Run" entitled "Governor Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey’s Traffic Jam" [video]. [Photo below: Lloyd Bishop/NBC]
As the identical twin Bruces exited and prepared for the rest of the show, audience members were asked if they had any big plans for the evening. One woman replied, "Motown!" After clarifying she was headed to the musical and not the city, Questlove let her know that she "wasn't gonna make it... because we just might be here through tomorrow." The crowd cheered, and so as not to disappoint her, the band brought Motown the Musical into the studio and gave us a short performance of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," including choreography. There ain't much The Roots can't do.
At 5:50, Fallon was back at his desk. Springsteen was welcomed with The Roots’ arrangement of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn's "High Hopes." Bruce was garbed in a shirt and vest, perhaps because there was a performance ahead, or perhaps to remain unfettered from pesky zippers. The two joked about their duet together and after Fallon commented on how Bruce's guns put his to shame, he showed footage of the two doing push-ups backstage, Jimmy falling to the floor before Bruce.
Fallon noted the 50-year mark of Springsteen beginning to play music. Bruce spoke about the summer of '64, and a Sunday guitar circle on the beach in Manasquan, NJ. He said he felt like he had died and gone to "Beach Boys Live Album Heaven," and it was his goal to play in that circle. Jimmy asked about the record four-hour show in Helsinki last year, which prompted Bruce to talk about some of the great performances in rock history of shorter duration: "It's not the time in your life, but the life in your time." In discussing the current record, High Hopes, he described the process of old songs needing a home, and this project being the place for them.
Fans participated in the interview directly via Twitter, not all of which made the broadcast. Fallon pulled one question out of the bag which has long been a topic of (semi-serious) debate: ”Is it sways or waves?” referring to the lyric in Thunder Road. Bruce suggested it was there in the liner notes of the record, and when he turned to the audience expecting a rousing chorus in unison, the one "swaves" and mostly silent room caused him to hoot, "Hey, I thought you said these were my hardcore fans!"
Finally, the Band Bench audience members were moved to the performance area during the next commercial break, chatting and waving to the E Street Band as they came out from the wings. Tom Morello and Patti Scialfa were in the house, and Bruce opened the performance with a shout out to Steve Van Zandt, who was absent. Rousing, vibrant performances of "High Hopes" [video], "Heaven's Wall" [video], and "Just Like Fire Would" [web exclusive video] filled the studio. The Roots members were beaming, as was Fallon, crew, and audience at 6:50 when folks departed the studio for home, hopefully with no lane closures.
with the E Street Band and Tom Morello
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