Concert Review: Paul McCartney

Suncorp Stadium, December 9, 2017

It seems like the world has gone to the dogs these days. Don Burke has been outed as a sex pest, the president of the USA drinks 12 diet cokes a day, and there are lunatics out there doing stuff like this. Stop the world please, I want to get off.

On Saturday night though, the world was good again as I joined 40,000 of my closest mates to see Paul McCartney perform at Suncorp Stadium as part of his One on One tour. Walking back up Caxton Street after the show, I had a thought: thousands of years of human history and I got to be alive at the same time as Sir Paul freakin’ McCartney and see him play live. Maybe things aren’t so grim after-all.

I’ve been waiting for this concert ever since I first got into the Beatles (easily the greatest band ever despite what some killjoy hipsters claim) back in high school. Lots of people had been waiting even longer–McCartney last played Brisbane with Wings in 1976, and hadn’t been back since (the New World Tour visited Australia in 1993 but skipped Queensland… tsk tsk, Paul).

The wait finally came to an end on Saturday, with the instantly recognisable opening chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ signalling the start of a three-hour, 40-song journey through the McCartney songbook, spanning from the Quarrymen through to 2015’s ‘FourFiveSeconds’, with 26 (!!!) Beatles songs and half a dozen Wings songs along the way.

Speaking of Wings, the concert proved again just how good their best songs were (just ignore this atrocity). An explosive ‘Live and Let Die’ (literally explosive... there were enough fireworks and flames shooting out of the stage to defeat ISIS) was arguably the highlight of the night, while songs like ‘Band on the Run’ and ‘Jet’ went shoulder to shoulder with the Beatles classics.

Each Beatles song made Suncorp Stadium a time machine back to 1960s Liverpool. Paul’s band have been playing with him for 15 years, and they’ve nailed the Beatles sound in a way that would make George and John proud. Paul himself sounds pretty damn good for 75 as well. He might not be able to reach the odd high note but he’s still got it and sounds better than many performers decades younger.

There was plenty of Liverpudlian humour and story-telling throughout the night. At one point he pulled out a ukulele-George Harrison’s ukulele, no less-telling us how George gave it to him before plucking his way through an emotion-charged ‘Something’.

There were shoutouts to other characters from the Beatles universe as well. John was there in spirit with a snippet of ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘Here Today’, the song Paul wrote for him after he died. ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ was prefaced with a story about how the Beatles gave the song to the Stones to record – it became their first hit single. ‘My Valentine’ was dedicated to Paul’s current wife, Nancy, while Linda was eulogised with the gorgeous ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’.

Songs like ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ took us right back to the early days of the fab four, Sgt Pepper songs got the live treatment they always deserved, while the crowd became a choir for ‘Hey Jude’ as a sea of waving mobile phone torches lit the stands up like a starry night.

Strangely, while most of the crowd were singing along during ‘Hey Jude’, the bloke behind me (who seemed permanently pissed off all night) looked about as stoked as someone queuing at the post office to pick up a parcel. You don’t have to go apeshit mate but at least tap your foot or something to show you aren’t clinically dead. PS. standing up during the encore isn’t a war crime.

But that’s enough talk about Mr. Grump. A monumental eight-song encore finished the show, beginning with ‘Yesterday’, taking in ‘Get Back’, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ (complete with an impressive pipe band), the near-metal ‘Helter Skelter’ and concluding with ‘Golden Slumbers / Carry the Weight / The End’ from the Abbey Road medley.

Those last words from ‘The End’–“and in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love you make”–has there even been a better lyric to finish a concert with?

It’s 24 years since Paul last came to Australia. If he waits that long again, he wouldn’t be back until he’s 99. I know it’ll likely be the first and last time I’ll ever see him. I am happy with that. Number one on the concert bucket list, seeing Paul McCartney live: completed it, mate. 

Setlist

A Hard Day’s Night
Junior’s Farm
Can’t Buy Me Love
Jet
All My Loving
Let Me Roll It
I’ve Got a Feeling
My Valentine
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
You Won’t See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
Blackbird
Here Today
Queenie Eye
Lady Madonna
FourFiveSeconds
Eleanor Rigby
I Wanna Be Your Man
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Something
A Day in the Life / Give Peace a Chance
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude
Yesterday
Get Back
Mull of Kintyre
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Helter Skelter
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

Album Review: Noel Gallagher – Who Built the Moon?

If you listen to Noel Gallagher’s third solo album hoping to hear ‘Wonderwall’  or ‘If I Had a Gun’ redux, you’re going to be disappointed. There is nothing like that on Who Built the Moon?—there are no stadium-filling anthems, no recycled Oasis offcuts… nothing for the parka monkeys.

Instead, you will find sounds including a ringing alarm clock, a French musician playing a pair of scissors, and a tin whistle sampled from an obscure sixties pop song (“don’t try and Google it, it’s beyond obscure, you’ll never find it”, says Noel, but dig deep enough and you will).

Some of Noel’s most interesting music has come when he’s deviated from the script and tried something different (his collaborations with the Chemical Brothers or the piano-driven ‘AKA… What a Life!’ to name a couple of examples). While he teased us with flourishes of experimentation on his first High Flying Birds records, both still had Oasis’s fingerprints all over them. On Who Built the Moon? he’s broken out of the shackles completely to create something entirely different.

Much of the credit for this lies with the album’s producer, David Holmes (an Irish DJ and Producer – you’ve likely heard his work on film  soundtracks such as Ocean’s Eleven and Logan Lucky), who persuaded Noel to enter the studio without any songs in tow, and to build the album from a clean slate. Writing and recording this way allowed Holmes to put Noel back on track whenever he ventured too close to familiar sounds.

In a recent interview Noel told Rolling Stone magazine how he would sometimes play songs in the studio, only to have Holmes to stop him and say, “That sounds a bit like Oasis… try something different.” It seemed to work, with Noel recalling that, “Eventually, something different would come.”

The result is an album that is rich, diverse and intriguing, but not as immediately accessible or enjoyable as its predecessors. It is an album that needs time invested in it before it clicks. Thankfully, when it does the pay-off is solid.

The album opens with ‘Fort Knox’, a surging, psychedelic instrumental that Noel has likened to Kanye West’s ‘POWER’, before ‘Holy Mountain’, a song more contagious than the bubonic plague which sounds like Plastic Bertrand singing Ricky Martin in the style of Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ (I told you this album is different!).

The unexpected influences don’t stop there, with Noel also citing inspiration from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Can and Blondie. Touring with U2 has obviously rubbed off, too — the gorgeous ‘It’s a Beautiful World’ (complete with a spoken word French monologue) has some serious Acthung Baby! vibes, while another highlight is the New Order-esque ‘She Taught Me How to Fly’, complete with guitar notes that Bernard Sumner would be proud of.

The record-crate digging and experimentation doesn’t always work, though. Different’ isn’t always synonymous with ‘good’, and there’s the occasional miss,  like the plodding ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’.  Similarly, while the two instrumental interludes on the second half are pleasant enough (and do work well in the context of the album), part of me wonders if another ‘If I Had a Gun’ might have added more to the album.

To that point, one of the best songs on the album is one of it’s more conventional Noel Gallagher songs, ‘If Love is the Law’, a joyous affair resplendent with sleigh bells and strings.

Ultimately, Who Built the Moon? is a better album than the sum of its parts suggest. It isn’t Noel’s best collection of songs. But as an end-to-end piece of music, it is his best solo record to date and a resounding success.


Best songs:
Holy Mountain, She Taught Me How to Fly, If Love is the Law

Album Review: Liam Gallagher – As You Were

The last time I saw Liam Gallagher he was on stage with Beady Eye (his post-Oasis band) at the last ever Gold Coast Big Day Out. A scorching Queensland sun and a lifeless crowd of a few hundred people completed the scene. Knebworth, it was not.

Not long after, Beady Eye quietly disbanded, to no one’s great sadness. From there Liam went into a long hibernation, punctuated only by a messy divorce, a solitary live performance (singing ‘My Generation’ with Roger Daltrey on a British television show) and the occasional ‘potato’ insult directed towards his brother via Twitter.

While all this was happening, Noel released a number one album, wrote a song with Paul Weller, recorded one with Johnny Marr, and sold out concert arenas. Together their opposing fortunes set a narrative of Noel as the talented, clever one, and Liam as the hooligan has-been.

it was not a solid foundation from which to launch a solo career. Even an Oasis obsessive like me began to doubt whether ‘Our Kid’ had it in him to make it as a solo artist.

I am pleased to say that my doubts have been extinguished by Liam’s debut solo effort. As You Were is a fine record, and the best thing he’s been involved with since Oasis’ Don’t Believe the Truth came out 12 (!!!) years ago. The reward has been commercial success: not only did As You Were top the UK charts, it outsold the rest of the Top 20 combined. For good measure it’s also the highest selling vinyl LP of the last 20 years. As far as comebacks go, it doesn’t get much better.

When I reviewed Beady Eye’s BE, I saved my biggest criticisms for the songwriting and lyrics. I wrote that Liam would benefit from having someone else writing for him. My crystal ball must have been on point that day, for Liam has brought in professional songwriting help on  As You Were.

“I can’t write those fucking big songs”, he told NME earlier this year. “I’m limited. My verses are up there, but I just can’t do that next bit.”

Scrolling through Oasis fan forums, some have criticised the decision to bring in hired help. They’re talking bollocks. Sinatra barely wrote a song in his life.  Most of the few songs Elvis wrote were shit. The Stones wrote one song on their debut LP. Good enough for them, good enough for Liam. Besides, he’s still written six of the songs on the album (with co-writing credits on four more).

The first song released from As You Were was ‘Wall of Glass’. Written by enough people to fill a Toyota Camry (including Greg Kurstin, the Adele hit-maker), it’s slick and punchy with a radio-friendly sheen. The opening song on the album—and one of its best—it is a statement of intent announcing the return of one of the last remaining rock n’ roll stars: “you were sold a one direction / I believe the resurrection’s on”.

Elsewhere, highlights include the reflective, post-divorce ‘Bold’ (“you’re ticking all the dickheads off, you know what I mean?”, says Liam), the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-style acoustic stomp of ‘Greedy Soul’, and the delicate and heartfelt ‘Paper Crown’ which features the best Liam vocals on the album.

There is a noticeable dip in quality on the second side of the record. ‘I Get By’ and ‘You Better Run’ are Beady Eye level plodders, while the pleasant ‘Chinatown’ struggles to be taken seriously with its awkward lyrics (“well the cops are taking over / and everyone’s in yoga” … err, what?).

Fortunately, the run home is saved by the last three songs, the Stones/late-Oasis sounding ‘Come Back to Me’, the dreamy ‘Universal Gleam’ (a bit of a ‘Tender’ by Blur rip-off, but hey – Noel’s been nicking tunes for years), and the most anthemic song on the album, ‘I’ve All I Need’, which should have been released as a single.

There’s another stand-out song buried away in the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition. ‘Doesn’t Have to be That Way’ sounds like Liam Gallagher fronting Tame Impala, and should definitely have been on the main track list.

All in all, As You Were represents a spectacular career resurrection for Liam Gallagher. While it may not be a perfect album—the second half is too patchy for that—it is undoubtedly (and unexpectedly) a great one. Put it this way: Noel has his work cut out to top it when he releases Who Built the Moon? next month.

Welcome back, Liam.


Best songs:
Wall of Glass, Paper Crown, I’ve All I Need

Concert Review: Midnight Oil

Big Pineapple Complex, Sunshine Coast, October 14, 2017

I was too young to see Midnight Oil the first time around (they broke up in 2002), so when I heard they were playing at the Big Pineapple as part of their Great Circle reunion tourI was keen as a bean to grab a ticket. 

Having said that, as the rain tumbled down all Saturday, watching Netflix and staying dry inside started to become more appealing. Rain and outdoor concerts mix together about as well as Pauline Hanson and Halal Snack Packs, and as I drove up the Bruce Highway I didn’t know whether to expect a ‘raining at Glastonbury’ vibe or more of an Apocalypse Now-style muddy hell.

A post shared by Scott Russell (@scottrussell_1) on


Luckily it was the former. I hadn’t seen a concert at the Big Pineapple before, but walking into the venue it was immediately impressive. A huge, outdoor festival-style amphitheatre, with a big stage down the front which the band had had emblazoned with an extract from the UN Declaration of Human Rights:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Not your typical rock concert!

Midnight Oil have invited different support acts to each leg of the tour, and with Jebediah and the Living End the Sunshine Coast crowd had lucked in (Brisbane got just one support act: the Jezebels).

I am not as familiar as I should be with Jebediah, but the Aussie alt-rock icons had the crowd rocking before the Living End came out and made me realise I’ve probably been unfair to them.

I think because they turn up at the opening of a garage door (is it just me or does it seem like they play literally every festival ever?) I’ve become almost immune to their existence. Seeing them in a field with half of the Sunshine Coast head-banging to ‘Prisoner of Society’ was a reminder how good they are live.

It was seriously bloody wet by the time the Oils took the stage. They began with the crunching industrial riffs of ‘Redneck Wonderland’, with frontman Peter Garrett cutting the shapes he’s famous for (fun fact: the Big Pineapple sits in an electorate where 23% of people once voted for One Nation. Redneck wonderland indeed..).

It was absolutely pissing down, and a near slip slowed Garrett’s dancing a little, but he still got right out amongst it in the rain, telling the crowd that “the more it rains the more we’ll stay to play our set” – or go down to the pub to finish it if the electrics fail.

The first half of the set was mostly album cuts and minor hits, with highlights including ‘On the Borderline’, ‘Dreamworld’ (“this one’s for you, the Queensland song!”), and ‘When the Generals Talk’. Garrett sounded note perfect on them all. It could just as easily have been  1997 as 2017.

The band came to the front of the stage for an acoustic set (highlight for me: ‘Short Memory’) before finishing the main set with ‘Read About it’,  ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Forgotten Years’. Before ‘Blue Sky Mine’ came a little spiel about stopping the Adani coal mine:  “Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, and say I love my country that much I’m gonna stick my neck out for it.”

Garrett’s political career might be over, but Midnight Oil are still very much activists. As well as Adani, there was talk of the Great Barrier Reef, the Traveston Crossing Dam (the construction of which Garrett blocked as Federal Environment Minister), anti-Abbott and Hanson ad-libbing, and at one point, a giant ‘Yes’ for Marriage Equality logo on the big screens.

(Side note: I saw Macklemore play ‘Same Love’ at the NRL Grand Final in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, and no one booed. Or if they did, it was drowned out by cheers. Same deal with the ‘Yes’ logos at Midnight Oil. It you can promote marriage equality at a Rugby League match or in a field outside Nambour without being howled down, then the argument’s already been won. Sorry Tony).

After ‘Forgotten Years’, droves of people had started to make a dash to the car park (always amazes me how many clueless people leave before encores – come on people, they aren’t going to reform and it play ‘Beds are Burning’!). I hope they turned around when the band returned to play an encore with a trio of their biggest hits: ‘King of the Mountain’, ‘Beds are Burning’,  and ‘Power and the Passion’.

During ‘Power and the Passion’, Hirst launched into his trademark drum solo, thumping a rusty corrugated iron water tank that the band have been dragging around on tour.

Corrugated iron, torrential spring rain, the Big Pineapple, the Oils… you couldn’t get more Aussie if you tried!

 

Setlist

Redneck Wonderland
Lucky Country
Sleep
Back on the Borderline
Safety Chain Blues
Dreamworld
Truganini
No Time for Games
My Country
When the Generals Talk
Short Memory
US Forces
Kosciusko
Only the Strong
Read About It
The Dead Heart
Blue Sky Mine
Forgotten Years
King of the Mountain
Beds Are Burning
Power and the Passion

10 of the Best – Paul McCartney


I try not to think about the damage concert tickets have inflicted on my bank account over the years. I prefer reminding myself that by spending the equivalent of a small African nation’s GDP on tickets I’ve been able to tick off most of my concert bucket list. But one name–the name at the top of the list–has eluded me: Paul McCartney.

The reason he is top of the list is because he was the best member (yeah, you heard me right!) of the best band ever.

His music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. The first album I ever owned was Off the Ground, which I got on cassette for my seventh birthday. Growing up, Dad would often play not just Beatles albums, but also Wings Greatest and Venus and Mars. I remember being about ten years old when some school mates came over and I put ‘Penny Lane’ on my Sanyo stereo and declared it my favourite song. They thought it was total shite, but I’m so glad to have grown up with good music in the house (although mum we could have done without the relentless Celine Dion albums at dinner time).

It’s 24 years since I got that Off the Ground  tape, which is also as long as it’s been since McCartney last toured Australia. He was meant to in 2002,  but cancelled after the Bali bombings. Since then… nothing. World tours came and went, Australia never on the itinerary. As the years passed I began to accept it would never happen and I’d have to be satisfied with seeing Ringo Starr a few years ago.

And then came the announcement last month that Paul’s One on One tour will be coming to Australia, stopping in Brisbane on December 9. I’ve got my ticket!

In anticipation, here at my top ten McCartney songs (Beatles, Wings and solo) in chronological order. The only rule is Paul either had to have written either all or most of the song.

We Can Work it Out (The Beatles, non-album single, 1965)

It’s cheating a bit including this one (it’s a Paul song but John helped finish it), but I couldn’t leave it off because it’s a favourite – one of those perfect, timelessly enjoyable Beatles pop songs. Even your Beatles-loathing nan probably likes it. A folksy, acoustic song clocking in at just over two minutes long, like many good pop songs it is deceptively simple. There’s a waltzy bit at the end, while the optimistic title belies the exasperation of the words (especially Lennon’s: “Life is very short, and there’s no time…”).

Hello Goodbye (The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)

Released as a single with Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ as the B-Side, ‘Hello Goodbye’ couldn’t have been more different (incidentally ‘I am the Walrus’ is probably my favourite Lennon-penned Beatles song). Devoid of the psychedelic sounds that characterised the Beatles during the recording of Magical Mystery Tour, the contagious melody and nursery-rhyme lyrics (“you say yes / I say no / you say stop / I say go go go”) instead add up to pure fun. Best enjoyed via the accompanying promo video with the band decked out in their Sergeant Pepper outfits.

Hey Jude (The Beatles, non-album single, 1968)

Paul wrote ‘Hey Jude’ for John’s son Jules (“… [Jude] sounded a bit better”) while Lennon and first wife Cynthia were going through a divorce.  It would spend nine weeks at the top of the US charts, and also held the record for longest-run time for a number one UK single until Meat Loaf came along to do anything for love. The first half with Paul and piano is of course gorgeous, but it’s that four minute fade-out coda full of “na-na-na-nas” and gravelly Paul vocals that make it the best singalong song ever.

Back in the USSR (The Beatles, The Beatles, 1968)

Opening with the sound of a Vickers Viscount jet taking off from Heathrow, on ‘Back in the USSR’ Paul borrowed the title from Chuck Berry’s ‘Back in the USA’ and parodied lyrics from the Beach Boys—if they’d grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain (“those Ukraine Girls really knock me out”). The opening track on The Beatles, the passing years have added a layer of hipster Communist chic that has only added to its appeal.

Helter Skelter (The Beatles, The Beatles, 1968)

Written to try to out-do the Who’s ‘I Can See for Miles’ (which Pete Townshend had proclaimed the Who’s “loudest, rawest, dirtiest song”), Paul suceeded with a song so brutal that after one take Ringo, his fingers covered in blisters, threw his drumsticks across the studio. Heavy Metal a decade before the genre was a thing, ‘Helter Skelter’ received unwanted infamy from Charles Manson but has since been reclaimed by McCartney as a staple of his concerts.

Get Back (The Beatles, Let it Be, 1970)

Originally conceived to satirise late-sixties anti-immigrant sentiment, ‘Get Back’ morphed into a song referencing ‘California Grass’ and gender-bending over bluesy Lennon guitar. A Beatles song for Stones fans, ‘Get Back’ was typical of Let it Be’s more rock and blues sounds. The last song on the last album the Beatles ever released (but not the last they recorded), it finishes with audio of John at the infamous 1969 rooftop concert:  “I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” 

Jet (Paul McCartney & Wings, Band on the Run, 1973)

I think it’s fair to say that Paul McCartney and Wings didn’t always get things right (there is NO excuse good enough to explain the existence of this). They were at their best though playing the type of rock music to fill football stadiums. ‘Jet’, from 1973’s Band on the Run, fits into that category. At different times Paul has said it was written about either a black Labrador or pony that he owned. In the context of the lyrics, neither explanation makes any sense. All I know is that it is scientifically impossible to listen to this song without shouting out the ‘JET!’ parts.

Band on the Run (Paul McCartney & Wings, Band on the Run, 1973)

What’s with Paul and stitching multiple songs together? (e.g. Side Two of Abbey Road).  The title track from Wings’ best album is really a medley of three songs linked by lyrics about imprisonment, freedom and escape. The first part, a despondent, Beatlesy-sounding ballad, precedes a funky mid-section before a finale section laced with triumphant lyrics over acoustic guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Eagles record. A three-part epic, ‘Band on the Run’ has grown in stature to become the third most-played song at McCartney concerts.

Venus and Mars / Rockshow (Paul McCartney & Wings, Venus and Mars, 1975)

The third Wings entry on this list. How many I can get away with before I turn into Alan Partridge? ‘Venus and Mars/Rockshow’ is another conjoined McCartney song (what’s with him and shoe-horning multiple songs into one?!). Written from the perspective of being in the audience at a concert (“sitting in the stand of a sports arena / waiting for the show to begin”), the ‘Venus and Mars’ part is really just a short folk warm-up act for the ‘Rockshow’ headliner which is a stadium rock song. It’s a bit dad rock (probably a popular song amongst the tucked in polo shirt community) but it’s also fantastic. Iconic album cover, too.

Calico Skies (Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie, 1997)

Paul authored many of the Beatles’ best acoustic songs (‘Yesterday’, ‘Blackbird’), but one of his best is ‘Calico Skies’ from 1997’s under-rated solo album, Flaming Pie. The accompanying video, which opens with Paul by himself playing guitar next to a campfire before cutting to  him in the studio sitting with late wife Linda, gets me every single time (“I will hold you for as long as you like / I’ll hold you for the rest of my life”).

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, February 14 & 16, 2017

My first Bruce Springsteen concert was on March 25, 2003, five days after the start of the Iraq War. They were nervous times, and we were all frisked by security as we walked into the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, an outdated venue even back then. 

I was in my final year of high school, where being a Bruce fan had hardly put me at the centre of coolness. My mates either didn’t know who he was or thought he was a bit crap and something your dad might listen to.

Actually my dad did listen to Bruce Springsteen, which is how I became a fan in the first place. The Boss soundtracked many evenings in our home (The Ghost of Tom Joad, The Rising and Greatest Hits  albums especially), and it was with mum and dad that I went to the show.

Bruce Springsteen

The concert was unbelievable, with a contagious energy that tore through the crowd like a bushfire. Hearing songs like ‘Born to Run’, ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Badlands’ played live with the passion and fervor of Bruce and the E-Street Band had me completely hooked. Straight away I went from casual fan to fanatic.

February 14

14 years later, I find myself back at the Entertainment Centre, twice in one week for my fourth and fifth Springsteen concerts (I’ve previously written on this blog about the 2013 and 2014 concerts) as part of his Summer 2017 tour across Australia and New Zealand.

I’m older, Bruce is older and the E-Street Band are older, but some things haven’t changed. I still have to explain to people who the hell ‘The Boss’ is, although now they’re office colleagues instead of  schoolmates.

The first shows falls on Valentine’s Day, and begins with Roy Bittan tinkling away on the ivories, signalling the opening strains of ‘New York Serenade’ from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Backed by a string section, it’s a gorgeous reminder of the lashings of blues and jazz that sometimes appeared on early Springsteen songs, although I think a song like that works better later in the set in lieu of a more energetic opener.

Next comes ‘Lucky Town’ from the album of the same name, before a run of rarities: ‘Janey Don’t Lose Heart’, ‘Rendevouz’, ‘Be True’ and, because it’s Valentine’s Day, ‘Back In Your Arms’. The latter (from 1998’s Tracks compilation of B-Sides and unreleased songs) stretches out for 15 minutes and forms the backdrop to a Bruce Springsteen Valentine’s Day monologue. “Get your flowers on”, he says. “Don’t forget the flowers! One shitty rose is all it takes!”.

Four non-album tracks in a row blunts the momentum just a little, but not for long as ‘Better Days’ sets the course for a journey through the Bruce Springsteen archives, featuring the likes of ‘Hungry Heart’, with Bruce crowd-surfing over the pit, the shotgun wedding and recession of ‘The River’, and ‘Because the Night’, during which Nils Lofgren lays down a blistering solo while spinning around in circles on the spot.

Once Nils stops spinning, the main set comes to a close with ‘Badlands’ (still in my opinion the best live Springsteen song. The album version is good but it goes up to 11 when they play it live), ‘The Rising’ and the ultimate E-Street party jam, ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’.

The encore begins with another Valentine’s Day special. ‘Secret Garden’ with its lush, orchestral synths is played live by the band for only the sixth time. With the crowd bathed in pink lights, it’s a lovely way to start the encore.

‘Dancing in the Dark’ is up next (festuring audience members invited up on stage to dance with the band, a staple of Springsteen concerts and a nice throwback to the song’s video clip), before signature anthem ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’. The latter features a big screen montage of fallen E-Streeters Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici and a saxophone solo by Clarence’s nephew Jake who himself has become a fan favourite after first stepping in for his uncle five years ago.

By now, every one is on their feet (“get off your asses!”) in time for a stomping cover of the Isley Brother’s ‘Shout’ and ‘Bobby Jean’ from Born in the USA to finish the night and release the Bruce faithful into the night.

February 16

Some artists criss-cross the globe and play the exact same songs night after night after night. Not Bruce Springsteen. The setlist changes every night (and during the night too!) sometimes catching the band off guard as they suddenly have to play a song for the first time in 30 years. With sign requests, deep album cuts and live covers, any concert you could hear any one of the 300 plus songs he’s recorded.

He doesn’t disappoint at the second Brisbane show, playing 15 different songs (!!!) that we hadn’t heard on Tuesday night, adding up to 41 unique songs over two nights from 14 different albums.

After starting with ‘New York Serenade’ and ‘Working on a Dream’, it isn’t long before something amazing happens.

Bruce spots a sign in the audience held up by a teenage fan. “Missed school”, it reads, “in the shit now, can I play ‘Growin’ Up’ with you?”.

“You know this song? You know it on guitar? Come on up!”, Bruce says, before sharing vocals and guitar duties with the youngster. He does know the song. Perfectly, actually. I told you you never know what you’re going to hear at a Springsteen concert.

(I saw something similar a few years ago at a Neil Finn concert. He’d held his microphone out to the crowd and picked up the voice of a bloke who happened to be a trained opera singer. Next minute this random bloke is up on stage delivering a mind-blowing version of ‘Fall at your Feet’ while Neil plays along on piano. It was stunning.)

The next day I read on Brisbane Times that this kid had been on stage with Bruce before, so maybe it wasn’t as random as it seemed. Credit to my (notoriously cynical) father for picking up at the concert that it was probably planned.

Even if it was completely scripted, it was bloody brilliant, and revved the crowd up for a set that added songs like ‘Fire’, ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘No Surrender’ that we didn’t hear on Tuesday.

The encore is a little different too, this time starting with the epic ‘Jungleland’ and finishing with ‘Thunder Road’, the perfect somg to end two nights of Springsteen in Brisbane.

Bruce Springsteen was 25 when he wrote ‘Born to Run’. He’s 67 now, but somehow defies time; somehow seems to get better with age. But it’s most just about him, it’s Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, and they’re all still at the top of their game. You won’t find a better live band on earth.

Setlists

February 14

New York City Serenade
Lucky Town
Janey Don’t You Lose Heart
Rendezvous
Be True
Back in Your Arms
Better Days
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Hungry Heart
Wrecking Ball
Leap of Faith
The River
Youngstown
Candy’s Room
She’s the One
Because the Night
The Rising
Badlands
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Secret Garden
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)
Bobby Jean

February 16

New York City Serenade
Working on a Dream
Roll of the Dice
Jole Blon (Harry Choates cover)
Long Time Comin’
Growin’ Up
Out in the Street
No Surrender
Hungry Heart
Mary’s Place
Fire
Follow That Dream (Elvis Presley cover)
The River
American Skin (41 Shots)
The Promised Land
Downbound Train
I’m on Fire
Because the Night
She’s the One
Badlands
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Jungleland
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)
Thunder Road

Concert Review: Guns N’ Roses

QSAC Stadium, February 7, 2017

After Guns N’ Roses finally went nuclear in the 90s (the entire band were either fired or quit – except for Axl Rose), Elvis headlining Glastonbury seemed more realistic than the Gunners ever getting back together. 

But if ever there was a year for the impossible to become reality it was 2016 – yes, the year of Trump and Brexit was also the year that the GN’R nightrain hit the tracks again.

And so, last Tuesday night at Brisbane’s QSAC Stadium I found myself watching Axl, Slash and Duff sharing a stage in this city for the first time ever (“Guns N’ Roses” had visited Brisbane before, but the quotation marks are there for a reason; they were really Axl Rose solo shows under the GN’R name).

OK so it isn’t the complete classic lineup – there are some notable MIAs meaning it’s more of a blend of eras: The ‘classic’ trio of Axl/Slash/Duff joined by Dizzy Reed (keyboards) of Use Your Illusion vintage, Richard Fortus (guitar) and Frank Ferrer (drums) from the Chinese Democracy years, and new member, Melissa Reese (keys, synths, backing vocals).

Old school GN’R alumni Izzy Stradlin (guitar) and Stephen Adler / Matt Sorum (drums) are absent, but hey, considering Axl once said “not in this lifetime” about a reunion (incidentally, this is called the Not in this Lifetime tour), we’ll take it.

gunsnrosesbrisbane

But anyway, you haven’t come here for a Guns N’ Roses history lesson, have you, so I’ll cut to the chase and answer the question: is 2017-Guns any good?

Yes. Very good.

Sure, Axl looks less like the sinewy, whippety rocker of yesteryear, and more like a melted candle (with oddly white teeth), but he can still scream like a banshee. There might be the odd high note missing, but he sounds better than he has for a long time.

His vocals, together with the Slash-Fortus twin guitar attack and the tight rhythm section come together for a massive sound that fills the cavernous QSAC.

Some concerts have one or two ‘holy shit’ moments where the audience collectively loses it and a sea of mobile phones emerge. This was full of those moments.

The opening strains of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Axl bathed in a sea of light tinkering away at the ivories on ‘November Rain’. A NYE’s display worth of fireworks during a climatic ‘Paradise City’. Slash’s guitar solo segueing into that iconic ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ riff. It’s basically a live greatest hits show set to fireworks.

The set is dominated by Appetite songs, glued together by half a dozen UYI tracks, two songs each from GN’R Lies and The Spaghetti Incident (Duff taking vocals for ‘New Rose’), a trio of covers and oddly, three songs from Chinese Democracy. 

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when Axl told Duff and Slash they’d be playing Chinese Democracy songs (for those not in the know – these were recorded years after Slash and Duff had left in bitter circumstances). It probably went something like this:

Axl: oh yeah, we’re playing Chinese Democracy songs on the tour.

Duff: err no.

Slash: no.

Axl: we are or this tour’s over.

Somehow though, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Better’ and ‘This I Love’ make it onto the set list. They’re decent songs from an album better than it’s given credit for, but they’re also songs no one wants to hear and for most they’re no more than the chance to grab a drink.

Despite this olive branch from Slash and Duff, I am not sure if Axl and Slash have really patched things up. They’ve said in interviews that they have, but theres no chemistry between the two. During Axl’s band intros, his tone is decidedly flat when he introduces ‘… Slash’.

Who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. Maybe everything is fine. Maybe it isn’t and they’re just tolerating each other for the money?

Honestly though, 2017-Guns N’ Roses are so good it doesn’t even matter. After two decades of acrimony and controversy, the Not in this Lifetime tour finally lets the Gunners’ music do the talking again.

Welcome back fellas.

Setlist

It’s So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Better
Estranged
Live and Let Die (Wings Cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory intro (Johnny Thunders cover)
New Rose (The Damned Cover)
This I Love
Civil War (with ‘Voodoo Child’ outro)
Coma
Guitar Solo (Slash)
Speak Softly Love (Theme From The Godfather, Nino Rota Cover)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Used to Love Her
Out Ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
November Rain
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain
Patience
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Paradise City