Concert Review: The Killers

Hisense Arena, Melbourne, May 6, 2018

You need to be a big band to fill an arena for a concert. To fill it two nights in a row you need to be huge. Three sell out nights… well, you have to be absolutely massive, especially if you’re a rock band in 2018. But that’s exactly what the Killers did over the weekend, filling out Melbourne’s 10,000 capacity Hisense Arena three nights in a row as part of their Wonderful, Wonderful world tour. 

As the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings file into the venue (having endured the tight security that’s seemingly now part of seeing a major concert in Melbourne), Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders kick off proceedings with a  short set of Nick Cave or The National sounding songs that don’t cut through the crowd chatter at all. It just isn’t the right sound for a night like this.

Next up is Alex Cameron (who incidentally co-write five songs on Wonderful, Wonderful), with a sunnier indie-sound and cheeky faux-ego that is a much better fit. The crowd in particular like Cameron’s “saxophonist and business partner” Roy Molloy (more about him later). They only play five or so songs, but it’s enough that I make a mental note to listen to them later on.

Some party tunes to prime the crowd between Cameron and the main event would have been nice but instead we wait for half an hour before the Killers emerge, with Pink Floyd-ish instrumentals segueing into the brooding ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’. It isn’t the most obvious song for a band like the Killers to open with, but it works, building anticipation and hinting something big is about to happen.

The party starts for real with the next song, ‘The Man’. The Vegas Strip comes to Melbourne as confetti rains down and front-man Brandon Flowers struts around in front of enormous triangular video screens emblazoned with neon cowboys.

It’s all very impressive. This is a no expense spared production, with lasers, pyrotechnics and wall-to-wall video screens filled with images of everything from the Nevada desert to  geometric hearts and even boxer Mike Tyson.

As for the band, Flowers is a magnetic front-man with an incandescent smile and endless stamina marking him out as the rockstar love child of the Energizer bunny and a Vegas showman.

He fist pumps and prances around the stage all night, but it isn’t enough for some around me in GA who seem motionless and disinterested, even during  songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’. It’s no fault of the band. If the Killers playing a Hot Fuss classic isn’t enough to make you at least tap your foot, well sorry but I don’t know what to tell you..

The set has a real ‘Greatest Hits’ feel to it, with 14 singles from across all five studio albums featured. Obviously the new album is well represented, with five songs, but I’m particularly happy to hear a few older favourites of mine: ‘The Way it Was’ from Battle Born and ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘For Reasons Unknown’ from Sam’s Town (still their best album if you ask me).

During the latter a teenage fan from the crowd is invited up on stage to drum. It’s good fun and the crowd love it although I’m going to be selfish here and say I wish they’d got him up for another song instead of one of my favourites.

The main set comes to end with ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and a giant “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” singalong as red, white and blue streamers fall down onto the crowd.

A few minutes later Flowers returns to the stage in a gold metallic suit and aviators (it’s like a mashup of George Michael and the Tin Man) for an encore that begins with ‘The Calling’ from Wonderful, Wonderful, a song that recalls the better parts of Queen’s Hot Space.

A cover of Men at Work’s ‘Who Can it be Now?’ is next, with Alex Cameron again returning to stage along with a now shirtless Molloy on saxophone, who for some reason increasingly reminds me of this video. It’s kind of fun, but for a band with much better covers (such as this or this), it does feel out of place in the encore.

Any doubts about the song choice are immediately obliterated the moment ‘When We Were Young’ begins. A pyrotechnic waterfall provides the backdrop as the crowd scream out the words before the arena lights up with lasers for—what else—‘Mr Brightside’. That one even manages to jolt the most comatose punters around me into life.

Flowers disappears into the night (it’s all a bit ‘Elvis has left the building’), leaving the last word to drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr (the only other original band member touring these days), who delivers a volley of drumsticks into the crowd—or as he calls them, “flowers”, this being the “third date” with Melbourne. All that’s left then is the now-traditional closing message: “oh… and remember to tell all your friends”.

With that, the house lights come up, a floor ankle-deep in confetti and streamers the only thing left behind from one of the greatest arena rock acts in the 21st century.

Setlist

Wonderful Wonderful
The Man
Somebody Told Me
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Shot at the Night
Run for Cover
I Can’t Stay
Smile Like You Mean It
For Reasons Unknown
Human
Tyson vs. Douglas
A Dustland Fairytale
Be Still
Runaways
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
The Calling
Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work cover)
When You Were Young
Mr. Brightside

Concert Review: Arctic Monkeys

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, May 6, 2014

The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys play was on their first Australian tour, eight years ago. That concert at the Arena can’t have lasted 45 minutes – they only played about 12 songs, barely stopping to breathe – but it was so frantic and so thrilling that it remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.

I was at the Tivoli a year later too, this time seeing the group support their follow-up album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. That concert reached the same stratospheric heights as the first, but by the next two (Perth Big Day Out 2009 and at the Riverstage in 2012), much of that spark had gone. They were not bad, but the energy and intensity, fuelled by songs about scummy men and topshop princesses, had gone firmly M.I.A.

Even though I absolutely dig their latest album, those less than stellar shows (as well as some recent comments by one of their overseas supporting acts criticising their live show), meant that I barely gave the concert a second’s thought until I walked through the Brisbane Entertainment Centre doors. After all, as the band themselves once said, anticipation has a habit to set you up ….

I’m happy to say that my lack of enthusiasm was misplaced. It’s official. Alex, Nick, Jamie and Matt have got their live mojo back. It might have taken 3 albums and 5 years, but they’ve finally been able to make that transition from thrilling 1,000 people in a tiny little club venue to captivating 10,000 in a cavernous arena like the BEC.

But before Arctic Monkeys, Perth’s Pond play a short support set. If you’ve not heard of Pond, they are like a ‘druggier Tame Impala’ – the Tame Impala connection coming as no surprise given Pond’s lineup includes two past or former Tame Impala members. Most of the under-18 crowd are still outside slurping on post-mix cokes, but those inside are treated to a set laden with Sabbath-riffs and ‘Lucy in the Sky’ psychedelia.

After a short break, those huge, almost hip-hop sounding beats of ‘Do I Wanna Know’ fill the Entertainment Centre as giant lit-up ‘A’ and ‘M’ letters pulsate in the background and the crowd erupts. Turner starts singing … Have you got colour in your cheeks? Do you ever get that fear that you can’t shift…. adding to the absolute cacophony of noise. Already – in literally seconds – it’s obvious this is a return to form. They’re here to put on a show – not just a faithful but somewhat bland re-creation of their music.

Arctic Monkeys
Get on your dancing shoes…

‘Do I Wanna Know’ is followed by ‘Snap Out of it’ and ‘Arabella’, two more from AM — songs from which are easily the best received all night. That isn’t all together surprising given that half the venue was probably still listening to  the Wiggles when What People Say… came out, but it’s also a reflection of just how popular AM is.

All in all, nine songs from AM get an airing, but that still leaves room for a career retrospective that recalls many of their career high-points.. … ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Brianstorm’ to name a couple, as well as that seminal Arctic Monkeys hit, ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’.

In addition to amping up their ‘show’ with an impressive lights and a big sound augmented by a fifth band member on keys and guitar, the other big improvement is Alex Turner’s revised stage persona. He’s being himself again. Gone are those generic cut and paste ‘Brisbane you’re the best’ lines, replaced by something somewhere between cripplingly shy and arrogant. Whatever it is, it feels genuine.

The encore begins with ‘One For the Road’ before a gorgeous rendition of’ I Wanna Be Yours’, complete with an ocean of audience mobile phone lights bobbing up and down (a spontaneous audience moment, or something that happens at every show? I don’t know. Very cool, though). Finally, Alex Turner steps up to the microphone and asks the question everyone has been waiting for… R U Mine? We R, but the PA goes out mid-song, and the crowd are left to carry the song as the band ‘mime’ along without any amplification. “Let’s try that again, shall we?” says Turner, and we get to be theirs once more.

Setlist

Do I Wanna Know?
Snap Out of It
Arabella
Brianstorm
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Dancing Shoes
Library Pictures
Crying Lightning
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Fireside
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
She’s Thunderstorms
No. 1 Party Anthem
Cornerstone
Knee Socks
Fluorescent Adolescent
505
Encore:
One for the Road
I Wanna Be Yours
R U Mine? (P.A cut out)
R U Mine? (re-played)

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, February 26, 2014

After I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band last year, I left the Brisbane Entertainment Centre convinced I’d seen the greatest live act in the world (you can read my review from the time here). I also left wondering if I would ever see them again – after all, it had been ten years since the band’s previous Australian tour, and at 64 years of age, Springsteen isn’t getting any younger.

It’s a bit daggy for a bloke in his late twenties, but the Boss is my favourite artist of all time (well, him and Oasis, anyway. Strange bedfellows, eh?). His music has never been far from my ears, and so I was overjoyed when I learned that he would be bringing the E-Street Band back to Brisbane, less than 12 months since the last show here. In many ways, it felt like a ‘bonus’ – a chance to re-live a ‘once in a lifetime’ moment.

Bruce Springsteen
The greatest live act in the world today?

This latest tour is in support of High Hopes, Springsteen’s 18th studio album, and an eclectic ‘odds and ends’ record that brings together new songs, studio versions of live favourites, and cover songs (including a take on ‘Just Like Fire Would’ by Brisbane’s own punk pioneers, the Saints).

Just like High Hopes itself, a Bruce Springsteen concert is packed with surprises. Trying to guess the setlist is a mug’s game, and the surprises start from the moment he takes to the stage in front of a packed Brisbane Entertainment Centre crowd (there’s no support act – it’s not necessary when the main act goes for as long as three NRL games). Acoustic guitar slung around his neck, stage lights still off, he starts to sing ..

“Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man
Music loud and women warm, I’ve been kicked around since I was born …”

… Yes, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, a nod to the Bee Gee’s Brisbane roots (elsewhere on the antipodean leg of the tour he will start with covers from other home-town heroes including INXS in Perth and Lorde in Auckland). As if a 70s disco hit isn’t left-field enough, over the next four hours we will also be treated to an end-to-end run through of The Wild the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, and welcome Eddie Veddar to the stage for a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’.

Bruce Springsteen
Eddie Veddar joins the band for a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’

It is only the second time that Wild has been played live in full, and the audience seems divided. Half of the crowd are beside themselves with the chance to go back to 1974 New Jersey (the Twitterverse lit up with jealous fans from around the globe). But the other half is less enthused at listening to Springsteen’s second ever album in full. I’m on the fence about it – I’m more of a Nebraksa guy, but can’t resist the charms of ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’ and the ever-catchy ‘E-Street Shuffle’.

After that, a rousing ‘Darlington Country’ from Born in the USA stirs the crowd into life and heralds a Greatest Hits-esque run home. ‘Badlands’, ‘Glory Days’, ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ are all there, each one ratcheting the crowd’s euphoria to new heights, culminating with the beforementioned ‘Highway to Hell’ and a moving acoustic rendition of ‘Thunder Road’.

Watching Bruce in action, running and crowd surfing (yes – he crowd surfs), it’s hard to believe that songs like ‘Born to Run’ are almost thirty years old. He still sounds so good and has so much energy, seemingly defying aging. But elsewhere there are signs of the band’s vintage – Max Weinberg has to work that extra bit harder to keep hitting the skins for four hours, and the montages of Clemons and Federici during ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ are a poignant reminder of those E-Streeters who are no longer with us.

Bruce Springsteen
ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello

Speaking of the band, back with the E-Street Band this time around is rubber-faced guitarist, Steven van Zandt. Miami Steve skipped last year’s tour to concentrate on his television show Lilihammer with ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello well and truly covering his absence. But seeing Stevie up on stage again and his comradery with Bruce is a reminder of just how much he is part of the E-Street fabric.

Morello is back again too, seemingly having become a touring member of the band (he also plays on 8 songs on the new album). The winner in all this is the audience – for the second year running we are treated to his blistering guitar shredding during ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’. Go on – look it up on YouTube. It’s incredible.

After close to four hours, the show comes to a close. It’s been my third time seeing the Boss – and who knows, maybe the last – but yet again he shows why he and the “the heart stoppin’, pants droppin’, earth shakin’, love makin’, history makin’, Viagra takin’ E Street Band” are the best rock and roll act in the world today.

Setlist

Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees cover)
It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Growin’ Up
Spirit in the Night
High Hopes (The Havalinas cover)
Just Like Fire Would (The Saints cover)
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Sherry Darling
Save My Love
Fade Away
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
The E Street Shuffle
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Kitty’s Back
Wild Billy’s Circus Story
Incident on 57th Street
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
New York City Serenade
Darlington County
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Rising
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Badlands
Glory Days
Born to Run
Bobby Jean
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover with Eddie Veddar)
Thunder Road

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band

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.

Bruce Springsteen
Dancing in the Dark.. with the lights on

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.

Bruce Springsteen
The Wrecking Ball tour brings Springsteen and the E-Street band to Brisbane for only the 3rd time

‘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.

Setlist

We Take Care of Our Own
Just Like Fire Would (The Saints cover)
Wrecking Ball
Badlands
Death to My Hometown
Hungry Heart
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Murder Incorporated
Johnny 99
Because the Night
She’s the One
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Apollo Medley
The Rising
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Thunder Road
We Are Alive
Born to Run
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out