Monday, 1 April 2013

'Goodnight, it's all right, Jane ...'

An ordinary photo of an extraordinary band performing a song I've waited a lifetime to hear in concert.
Tonight's Aussie finale -- show #2 at Hanging Rock -- was shaping up as one of 'those' shows from the get-go. Three 'Darkness' songs out of the first four, 'She's the One' in the #3 slot, and then typically blistering versions of 'We Take Care of Our Own', 'Wrecking Ball' and 'Death to My Hometown'. Even 'Hungry Heart' was a surprise, as Bruce failed to crowd-surf for the first time in Oz, and the build-up to 'Spirit in the Night' was done in coked-up preacher-man mode. He hopped into the front row of GA and slugged back a good portion of VB from a can given to him on the right side of the stage before doing the same with a small bottle of vodka on the other side.

"We've gone from beer to hard liquor," he said. "What's next?"

What was next is forever burned in my heart.

This isn't an exhaustive look at what was an exhausting final concert of the Wrecking Ball 2013 Australian tour. I'll do that in my next post. This is about one song, and its aftermath.

Lining up to get in under the shadow of Hanging Rock.
Going to Springsteen concerts in a foreign land with a NJ accent guarantees attention of one sort or another. Curious looks, smiles, thuggish grunts ... I get 'em all. Yesterday's Easter Sunday crowd at Hanging Rock was in full celebratory mood long before Bruce and the E Street Band hit the stage at 7:15 on a perfect early autumn evening in country Victoria. I had an 'A Reserve' seat but soaked up sun and the vibe on a blanket with food and thermos of ginger tea (here's a tip: if you're trying to get over a bad cold, do not go to concerts that make you scream and give you a voice that sounds like a frog with emphysema) on the Hanging Rock lawn, where the bulk of each night's crowds gathered.

Aradhna was home packing for a 3-week UK trip that begins today so on my own I fell back into writer's mode -- watching people, jotting observations, thinking too much. A guy next to me asked if I was from NY (FDNY hoodie) so we got talking. He was a Canadian who moved to Australia 11 years ago after living in Long Beach, CA. In his late-30s, it was his first Springteen show. My too-loud opinion of hard-working but ultimately one-dimensional Jimmy Barnes brought a warning from a lovely woman to my left, telling me to be careful about what I said about a national icon like 'Barnsy' in a throng of hard-drinking Aussies. Good advice for a big-mouthed New York/New Jerseyer, of course. How come I never heed it?

A gal from Toronto and her country Victoria bloke (left) enjoy local hero Jimmy Barnes as he performs with former Cold Chisel bandmate Ian Moss on the Hanging Rock stage.
When Barnes took the stage at 5:00 he was twice the performer he'd been on Saturday, when the cool, cloudy and damp afternoon seemed to seep through his perfunctory 1-hour set. Barnes shouted out 'How the fuck are ya?' and sang a lovely duet with his daughter Mahalia before former Cold Chisel bandmate Ian Moss strapped on a 6-string and joined him. CC are unknown in the States but are much beloved rock band in Australia. AC/DC found greater worldwide fame but CC were pioneers of Aussie guitar rock in their own right. Buoyed by sunshine and indescribable amounts of booze fans danced among scattered blankets and empty bottles of sparkling wine and sang along to songs I recognised from Aussie classic rock radio. The woman to my left, whose name I forget because I'm an idiot but whom I remember was a Toronto transplant, danced with her burly bloke while the guy beside me pointed out the risque behaviour of what looked like a group of middle-aged schoolteachers in front of us. When Barnes was done a woman who must have heard my pontificating walked up to me and the woman from Toronto and her partner and said -- well, slurred -- 'So what do you think of Jimmy Barnes now? He's the MAN!' and so on. I paid my respects but reminded the swaying lass that there's only one Boss, and it ain't Jimmy Barnes. I don't think she heard me. Ecstasy tends to obliterate social skills.

Bruce and the E Street Band hit the Hanging Rock stage at twilight.
I said goodbye to my GA lawn friends and made tracks for A Reserve section A6, a section closer to the middle of the stage than where Aradhna and I sat the previous night. Passed several hundred drunks and a couple of girls with bunny ears and snaking toilet lines and yellow-vested cops and middle-aged men in newly purchased $50 Springsteen t-shirts until a tall flag with 'A Reserve' drew me to my section. In A6, row S an all-out party had been raging for hours, and I was greeted immediately by the foursome responsible. Introductions over we launched into excited conversation that mostly involved a dude named Springsteen. A couple from Perth talked about their recent experiences seeing Robert Plant and Iggy and the Stooges and the man from the other couple (I should be shot for being so bad with names) who I remember live in Hampton described seeing Elvis Costello and we all agreed that it was a good time to be a fan of old guys who still live to perform.

My A6 row S friends. Note the look of delight on the ladies' faces. They've just touched Bruce Springsteen. That look was repeated many hundreds of times over the course of the ten shows Bruce and the E Street Band played in Oz.
The show began at 7:15 with 'Adam Raised a Cain' and I was back to feeling like a Mexican jumping bean in a carton of eggs. 'Candy's Room' -- 'Candy's Room', song #2! -- set me off even more, but as Darkness on the Edge of Town was and is ignored here in Australia it received a tepid response. Max's Bo Diddley stomp got people moving at the start of 'She's the One' but a haunting, magnificent 'Something in the Night' did little but make die-hards like myself desire an oxygen tank.

And yes, I know how foreign this sounds if you're one of the people I got to know who were in GA in front of the stage last night. GA is where 'my people' reside, but for the first time, I was truly glad to be in a place where I could focus on nothing but the music and the fellowship of new friends.

'Death to My Hometown'. Even if Bruce returns (as promised) I'll miss this Wrecking Ball version of the E Street Band.
After plucking a giant 'Hungry Heart for Oscar' sign from the crowd (who the hell would request a song he plays 90% of the time? It's like requesting Santa wear a red suit with a broad black belt) and the rousing 'Spirit in the Night' mentioned earlier, Bruce led the band into a swinging, joyous, FEROCIOUS version of 'E Street Shuffle'. He'd played this opening night in Brisbane and I'd loved it then but on this night it was like a carnival ride stuck on hyperdrive. 

The song ended and Bruce took a familiar walk to the lip of the stage for a sign that had caught his eye earlier. I've mostly grown tired of signs -- the only one I really liked was held by a guy beside me a few feet from the stage on the last night at Rod Laver Arena that read 'The Guy Behind Me Can't See'. The fun part, of course, is attempting to decipher the name of the song before Bruce lays the sign against his mic stand. Bruce joked the night before that the sign shenanigans were good preparation for his next job as game-show host 'if the music thing doesn't work out'. I thought I made out a word on the sign he picked but my brain put an immediate halt to that hope. I'd already been burned twice before, when the song was matched against others and on both occasions ignorant Aussies pureed my heart and voted for the others.

But there it was. Leaning against the microphone stand. In big letters. 'Incident on 57th Street'. After so many years this Ahab was getting his white whale. I think I shouted 'That's why I love this man!' but I'm honestly not sure. Memories were already pouring down. The song began and I floated. Lost, completely adrift, in the sound. After a minute my bottom lip started to tremble. My eyes filled with tears. I tried to sing along but words to caught in my throat. I wasn't sad. I was overwhelmed. This song was so important to me as a kid, keeping it all together and making everyone believe I was handling the occasional serious fucked-upness of mine and my brother's upbringing but inside felt as empty as worthless as an overturned trash barrel. 'Incident on 57th Street'. The song title alone unlocks a part of my life story that few know about, but that we all share, because we're all human and we've all had times when life itself seemed to depend on the needle reaching the end of the record album.  

Tears are welling as I write this now. I don't pretend to understand it. And I don't fight it.

'Spanish Johnny drove in ... from the underworld last night ...'
One of three massive screens showed a woman who also appeared to be crying. Maybe I'm not the only one left naked by this song. By the time Bruce tore into the guitar solo, repeating the riff over and over again, I was somewhere between heaven and hell. The fade with Roy Bittan's piano was perfect, a deep breath after an emotional marathon. For most of the audience it was the first time they'd ever heard the song but I wasn't thinking about any of that. I was as happy as a man can be at a concert.

So I was shocked to find the tears return after Bruce brought Jimmy Barnes back onstage to duet on 'Tougher than the Rest', as he'd done the night before. Those memories unlocked by 'Incident' weren't ready to leave. Thoughts from the Tunnel of Love tour came rushing in. Jeff and I driving to Worcester for the opening show. Listening to the cassette tape over and over and over while driving to Trenton State College to visit Sonya, my long-time girlfriend back then. Sitting upstairs at Madison Square Garden with my brother Kevin and friend Eric. I'm writing down the obvious memories but as the song played it wasn't individual waves that hit ... it was oceans of emotion. So, yeah, there I stood with tears rolling down my cheeks. Honestly don't know if the folks beside me noticed but there was nothing I could have done to alter my behaviour. The entire Tunnel of Love album is about a man who knows he's not up to the task of returning the love he's been blessed to receive and fuck knows if that hasn't defined me most of my life and 'Tougher than the Rest' is a song of hope over despair and sounded so good with the horn section ....

The song ended. Bruce thanked Barnsy and the piano intro for 'Because the Night' kicked in. I could feel it. More memories. Sitting behind the stage in the Meadowlands with Mary Beth Wilson with the 'fake' band and Springsteen played this song like a man with a fire-breathing monkey on his back and she and I stood there like we'd been whacked with a park bench. Standing on a floor -- the Garden? -- with David Vizza shouting the words with 18,000 fellow devotees. Again, over the course of the song the waves of people and places kept coming, and so did the tears. 

And this blog is starting to read like a greeting card. I could barely sing along for the words caught in my throat so I pumped my arms and shouted the chorus and let the waves wash over me. The following song  was so shocking it literally knocked me back into normal concert mode. 'Jackson Cage' has been a rarity since the reunion tour so I was forced to comprehend what was happening, and responded by singing along in a croaky, emotion-free holler.

I guess some of you will read this and it will make perfect sense. Others will think I need stronger medication. I've often said a Springsteen show is 3 hours of happy. That happy comes in many forms. Last night it came in tears, among many other forms of expression. I'll describe those other forms in my next post about the Hanging Rock, and Oz tour, finale.

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