Writing this on a laptop while flying from Melbourne to Brisbane. Shocked to hear 'Atlantic City' playing on the jet's overhead sound system while boarding. I've amassed tens of thousands of frequent flyer points with Qantas and have neither heard nor seen any reference to Bruce Springsteen on any of those flights. Someone at Qantas is paying attention. (This was proven after I landed and found a Tweet from 'Rach' at Qantas hoping I'd had a comfortable flight. That might be TOO much attention, darlin'.)
Following Springsteen for 35 years means fellow fans and I have been confronted with a constant query: What's Bruce gonna do next? My friend Jeff and I would drive the highways and byways of North Jersey going over the possibilities, the latest studio bootleg blaring in one of our piece of sh*t cars, our brains inevitably stimulated by a post-midnight stop at Burger King on Rt 46 in Denville.
What's next? That's the spirit in which I pose these 10 questions ahead of tonight's Oz tour opener at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. [The questions are in the order they popped into my head and contain a multitude of rash generalisations.]
1. How will Tom Morello's temporary membership in the E Street Band affect onstage camaraderie and, more importantly, the setlist?
It was disappointing to learn 'Miami' Steve Van Zandt wouldn't be making the trip to Australia on this tour. Watching him share a mic with Bruce has been a highlight since the '99 reunion and I've been a sucker for Steven's soulful backing vox since The River. That disappointment has been replaced by excitement for Harvard grad Morello, especially after repeated listenings to his first two Nightwatchman albums, One Man Revolution and The Fabled City. His guitar chops are legendary -- I saw him with Rage Against the Machine at the Big Day Out music festival in 2008 -- but it's his progressive politics that make him an appropriate stand-in for Little Steven.
Morello's contributions to Wrecking Ball will no doubt take prominence live, but how else will his distinctive playing stretch the E Street Band's sound? There's a song called 'Saint Isabelle' on The Fabled City that screams to be played by Bruce & Co. Sadly, it would instigate a mass migration to the toilets or beer stalls, a fate Tom Morello doesn't deserve.
2. With four studio releases since his last tour, which recent live staples get the chop?
Springsteen was once a self-tortured perfectionist in the studio, limiting his output in his early years but providing bootleggers with reams of outstanding studio outtakes. Today Springsteen's a virtual album making machine, and four studio releases since he last toured Australia for The Rising in 2003 gives him a mini-back catalog of songs to debut in Oz. 2005's Devils & Dust and the following year's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions were done solo and with a different set of musicians, respectively, so they'll most likely get little exposure. That's not true for 2007's Magic and 2009's Working on a Dream, not to mention last year's Wrecking Ball. That's a lot of music. How much does Springsteen risk pissing off an oldies-craving audience by restoring recent setlist staples like 'Gypsy Biker', 'Radio Nowhere', 'Working on a Dream', 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes', 'Outlaw Pete', and others?
3. How does Springsteen pay tribute to the late Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons?
The saddest developments on E Street since Bruce's last visit were the tragic deaths of Hammond B3 organ and accordion wizard Danny Federici and the Big Man. I've read about Springsteen's concert dedications to his fallen brothers but have abstained from resorting to YouTube clips. Too moving, too IMPORTANT, to be witnessed anywhere besides in-person. Has Bruce moved on to a place emotionally where it would seem insincere to do extended tributes like he did previously, or the briefer ones of the last year or so? I hope not. I haven't experienced the catharsis described by friends who've shed tears at shows like never before. I've seen Bruce many times without the E Street Band but I've never seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band without Clarence Clemons. It's like Christmas without a crazy-ass Santa Claus. Federici was often called Phantom Dan because of his comings and goings from the stage, but his contribution to Springsteen's sound was the salt air and creosote blowing down the Asbury Park boardwalk. He made it all more real.
Christ I miss them.
What's he gonna do?
4. Does Bruce appease the crowd with a full-on 'Born in the USA'?
As noted in my last post, 'Born in the USA' is far and away the most widely played Springsteen song on the abysmal swamp that is Australian commercial radio. I'm hoping he plays it ... Seeger Sessions style. And if he does it anyway besides anthem-fashion, will the crowd be satisfied?
5. What will these Aussie audiences be like?
Brisbane is not a hotbed of culture. In Upside Down Land it's Miami without a Cuban/Latino influence or South Beach chic or Lebron James or David Caruso removing sunglasses like he's a f*cking genius. It's blessed with remarkable natural beauty, has been hit by a succession of floods since 2010, is a long-time nesting place for retirees and economic escapees from Sydney, is home to the Brisbane Broncos of the NRL and some Aussie rules team nobody talks about, and is just north of Queensland's Gold Coast.
Notice I didn't mention 'is home to bogans of every stripe'. 'Cause I'm in a good mood.
I worked for a tiny ad shop in Woolloongabba for 3 months in the summer of 2009-10 and lived near West End, Brisbane's only neighborhood with a whiff a funk. I enjoyed my time here (no longer in the air -- landed in Brisbane an hour ago) but Queensland's conservativism is ugly and its homogenous blend of people doesn't compare to Sydney or Melbourne. (I imagine that's intentional). So what will the crowd be like tonight? Has Brisbane been inundated by Springsteen tramps from around the world, or at least the Brits and Irish who work here on temporary work visas? What about American ex-pats? Or former residents of Asbury Park?
6. How flexible will the setlist be throuout the 10-show run?
I'm an idiot, of course. Springsteen's doing 10 shows in 18 days in Australia, and I'll be at 8 of them. I'd be a fool to expect variety in each night's offerings -- I've refused to look at setlists from the 2003 tour because however it plays out, I don't want to let history affect expectations -- but of course I'm hoping Bruce remains as ambitious with song selections as he's been since the Magic tour. The advent of social media in the years since I moved to Oz in 2006 has allowed me to follow the Springsteen-related exploits of friends around the world. Exploits that have made me very jealous. I've got making up to do but can't help wondering, am I about to witness 8 identical shows?
7. Which Aussie politician will get hers/his photo taken first with the Boss?
There's a federal election happening in September between two equally inept politicians. Either of them would surely instruct his or her limo driver to mow down a crowd of crippled children for a photo op with Man of the People Bruce Springsteen. Does Prime Minister Julia Gillard or Speedo-wearing-and-possibly-criminally-psychotic Tony Abbott grab that gold ring before the tour's end on Easter Sunday?
8. Which member of the E Street Band gets photographed with a koala first?
A ritual demanded of all visiting dignitaries. Who makes it to social media holding a stinky koala? (When you hold one someday, you'll know.)
9. Will people overseas suggest via social media that those attending a show(s) in Australia 'throw another shrimp on the barbie' or 'have a Fosters' or 'make sure the dingo doesn't eat your baby'?
Yes. Yes they will.
10. Does the author of this blog desperately wish the dozens of friends from around the world he's had the good fortune of seeing Bruce Springsteen with over many, many years were here in Brisbane seeing the show with him?
Yes. Yes he does.