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 They were nervous times, and we were all frisked by security as we walked into the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, an outdated venue even back then.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

Comments

comments