Brisbane Entertainment Centre, March 14, 2013
Who is the best live act in the world today? The likes of Muse, the Stones and Coldplay usually get offered up as candidates whenever the topic is brought up. All valid choices, sure – but what about Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band? Anyone who was at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on March 14 would surely testify that the Boss is up there with the best of them.
Maybe the show (the first of two in Brisbane as part of the Wrecking Ball World Tour showcasing the album of the same name) seemed even better because of the build-up and anticipation. After all, it had been eight days shy of a decade since Springsteen had last played in Brisbane.
That’s a long time in anyone’s books. Bruce Springsteen might seem ageless, but time stops for no one, not even the Boss. Since that last show in 2003 two E-Street members have passed away – Clarence Clemons (the ‘big man’ and the band’s saxophonist) and Danny Federici. Also missing from the lineup from the Australian leg of the tour are Steven van Zandt (off filming his television show Lillehammer) and Patti Scialfa (Bruce’s wife and occasional touring member these days) are also unavailable.
The loss of two key members and the absence of two others would sink many bands, but not the E-Street Band. Reinforcements come in the form of Clarence’s nephew Jake Clemons and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame standing in for van Zandt on guitar. They join Springsteen and E-Street veterans including Roy Bittan (keyboards), Garry Tallent (bass), Max Weinberg (drums) and Nils Lofgren (guitar) in a 17-strong lineup.
An artist who has been known to play for fours hours doesn’t need a support act, and so the first notes of the evening come from the strains of ‘We Take Care of our Own’, the lead single from Wrecking Ball. It is a song that recalls ‘Born in the USA’ in some ways – a stinging rebuke of contemporary America masquerading as a jingoist-anthem. It has got that classic E-Street ‘wall of sound’ and receives a raucous response – this is not one of those shows where people snooze during the new songs.
Plenty of artists play the exact same setlist every night of a tour. Not Bruce Springsteen. He delivers a veritable pick and mix of songs each night, and the first surprise tonight comes barely five minutes in with the second song – a cover of ‘Just Like Fire Would’ by the Saints. They give it the E-Street Band treatment and make it sound like their own. It is a timely reminder that there is more to Brisbane’s musical history than Powderfinger. We have a statue of the Bee Gees at Redcliffe, and they aren’t even from here. Why can’t we get a statue of the Saints somewhere in town?
After a trio of songs that sees live favourite ‘Badlands’ sandwiched between songs from Wrecking Ball, the infectious and instantly recognisable riff of ‘Hungry Heart’ fills the arena. It is the first big hit of the night and the crowd responds accordingly. It is during this song that the show – barely half-an-hour old – enters ‘concert of the year’ territory. Why? Picture a 63-year old Bruce Springsteen high-fiving, hand-shaking and singing his way through the floor of the Entertainment Centre before crowd-surfing his way back to the stage.
It is hard to think of anyone in rock and roll who connects better with his fans than Springsteen. While some artists take their audiences for granted (hello Bob Dylan and Axl Rose!), the Boss revels in doing everything he can to connect with every single person in the building. So much so that it doesn’t feel like Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band playing to 12,000 people. It feels like Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band playing with 12,000 people.
‘Hungry Heart’ is just one of many standout moments. Others include the before-mentioned ‘Badlands’ and ‘Just Like Fire Would’, as well ‘Waiting on a Sunny Day’ (complete with the entire crowd on lead vocals), Cindy Mizell’s powerful vocal solo on ‘Shackled and Drawn’, and Springsteen and Morello trading verses on ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ before the former-RATM axe-man delivers the most blistering guitar solos Brisbane has ever seen.
After Tom Joad, perennial favourite ‘Thunder Road’ closes the main set, but there is plenty more in the tank for the encore. It starts with ‘We Are Alive’ from Wrecking Ball, before a hat-trick of songs that reads like an extract from a Springsteen Greatest Hits CD: there’s ‘Born to Run’, ‘Glory Days’, and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ (with a young mum playing the part of Brisbane’s own Courtney Cox).
There is still one more song to come though – ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’. Half-way through, with Springsteen standing in the middle of the crowd for the umpteenth time, the music stops and he tells us that this is the most important part of the night. Cue a photographic montage to fallen E-Streeters Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici on the big screen. It is exceedingly poignant and the love and respect Springsteen has for his former bandmates is clear. There can be few dry eyes in the Entertainment Centre at this point.
The song starts up again and ends, and with that, the curtain comes down on one of those rare ten out of ten shows. It’s nothing short of perfection. They might be a bit older and slower and some of them might be missing, but Bruce and the band have still got it. His voice has aged well and the tapestry of the E-Street Band is as rich as ever.
Not even the inherent awfulness of the Entertainment Centre or the world’s two most annoying patrons sitting directly behind me (if I ever hear about Ben Barba or the Eels vs. Bulldogs game ever again it will be too soon) can take anything away from an incredible show.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for the next one.
We Take Care of Our Own
Just Like Fire Would (The Saints cover)
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Because the Night
She’s the One
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad
We Are Alive
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out