I never anticipated coming away from my 3-state, 4-venue, 8-shows-out-of-10 Wrecking Ball tour with a plethora of photos. I'm far from a professional, don't offer them for sale (unless Rolling Stone comes calling), and only post to social media or this non-monetised blog. But with Springsteen & Co. departed from these shores I've finally reviewed my stash and compiled those I believe capture the uniqueness of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. My first thought was a Top Ten until the process of whittling them down became too emotionally taxing. Top 20? Still too few. Finally settled on a Top 25, in chronological order, because ordering them by merit would be obsessive.
Obsessive. Can you imagine?
1. BRIS 14 March. Show #1/1
Abandoning my floor seat in a sea of sitting fools paid off as Springsteen twice walked past me along the side of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre floor. This photo captures his last moment as a free man before the woman waiting at the top step wrapped her arms around him like she was drowning and he was a beach ball. Always a professional, he continued singing while letting slip the words 'Security!' and 'Help!'.
2. SYD 20 March. Show #3/4
From what I've read GA sections in Australia were smaller than those of North America and Europe, giving GA fans ample opportunities to see Bruce and the Band up close. A small notch at center stage accentuated this closeness, especially when the horn section or Cindy Mizelle joined Bruce there. I love how this Allphones Arena shot captures the band in full 'wrecking mode', with Max (as always) watching like a stick-wielding hawk from behind.
3. SYD 20 March. Show #3/4
Tom Morello and Jake Clemons drew most of the non-Bruce attention on this tour, as both were brilliant newcomers to the E Street Band -- for Australians, anyway -- and shared ample time in the spotlight. Reflecting back, however, I'm struck by the important roles Soozie Tyrell and the great, great Nils Lofgren played throughout the ten shows. Bruce consistently called on Soozie to solo as he prowled arenas and Nils's acumen allowed Bruce to tap into 40 years of songs without hesitation. If Tom and Jake were the tasty frosting, Soozie, Nils, Garry and Roy were the cake ... and it all went down a treat.
4. SYD 20 March. Show #3/4
As described elsewhere I never considered myself the 'touching' type until Springsteen's guitar was a few feet away and I used the genetic advantage of height to get my fingertips on it. The look on Bruce's face is exactly what I remember looking up at: a sweating, smiling lunatic who seemed genuinely shocked fellow adults would climb over one another to touch the most basic tool of his trade.
5. SYD 20 March. Show #3/4
This is the photo that caused me to wake up one morning in Melbourne to a flurry of messages telling me to check the comment section of this blog, where a Rolling Stone photo editor in NYC had attempted to contact me. I obviously haven't laid eyes on the US print version but others have confirmed this photo is in the April issue. (My stepmom has kindly sent an issue to Australia so I can see for myself. Thanks again, Louise.) The German edition of RS also contacted me and have asked that I submit an invoice for use of the same photo. I'd normally feel guilty about profiting on an activity forbidden at Springsteen shows but I spent several thousand dollars on this tour. Plus, it's a great fucking shot that captures the FUN Springsteen's still having on stage, an element of his showmanship that should be drilled into the heads of misery-puking musicians around the world and the fans who swallow that money-making misery.
6. MEL 24 March. Show #4/6
No compilation would be complete without a shot of the crazy man being passed overhead by his legions, here at the first Rod Laver Arena show. I'd already participated in the ritual at the second Sydney show but couldn't help but grab a leg at this show ... otherwise I'd have gotten the boot grid shown here imprinted on my face.
7. MEL 24 March. Show #4/6
Joy is massive at a Springsteen concert. Always has been, even when he toured solo for Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust. Bruce's recent admissions about battling depression make his lifelong ability to deliver joy at every performance that much more remarkable. He looks pretty blissed out here beside the gorgeous Cindy Mizelle during 'Shackled and Drawn'.
8. MEL 24 March. Show #4/6
Tom Morello's vocals on 'Ghost of Tom Joad' were a nightly highlight. As the tour progressed so did his confidence beside Springsteen. Here he sings "Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand / Or a decent job or a helpin' hand / Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free / Look in their eyes mom you'll see me" in a stance he'd repeat every performance. Powerful.
As readers of this blog know, I had actual seats for my first two shows of this tour in Brisbane and Sydney. Seats among people content to sit through a Springsteen concert. By the first Melbourne show I'd accepted GA as the only place I'd be happy. It was where 'my people' congregated, people who understood the more you put into a Springsteen show, the more you get out. The business strategy of selling crap seats first and releasing GAs shortly before shows is a sensible one, especially as it discourages the scalping of GA tickets, but this wasn't made known to saps like myself who'd waited an eternity for Springsteen to come here and grabbed whatever best seats were available as they went on sale. Many of those I met in GA had similar tales of holding faraway seats we couldn't sell at the last minute when GAs went on sale days before shows. Part and parcel of being a 'tragic', I know. Lucky for me I've got an exceptionally understanding wife.
10. MEL 24 March. Show #4/6
Speaking of my wife, this is her fist-pumping during 'Born in the USA'. Aussies' love of this song results from nearly 30 years of radio airplay but hearing their passionate screaming of the chorus remains one of the more surreal memories of this tour. Aradhna was overjoyed and thus, so was I.
11. MEL 26 March. Show #5/7
Look at this shot. As iconic as they come. Only that's not Clarence. It's Jake. I realise Springsteen fans around the world have had a year's worth of shows to see it for themselves but it's still nearly miraculous that we could lose an absolute giant, the E Street Band's very foundation, yet see a member of his family step in and proudly continue the bloodline's legacy. Whether yelling 'Jakey!' from the middle of the arena or 'C'mon kid' as he implored the sax man to follow him from one end of an arena to another, Bruce's bond with Jake was fascinating, stirring and real. As fans we are all very lucky. This is not how life usually works out.
12. MEL 26 March. Show #5/7
Whatever caused Springsteen to decide launching himself into the crowd would become a nightly feature is anybody's guess. Maybe it's a recklessness that comes from hitting a certain age intact and realising there's far fewer years ahead than behind. Or maybe he's succumbed to the reality that he's truly loved by his fans, and can trust them to look after him when he wanders into their midst. Or maybe he just got bored. Here, Nils and Bruce harmonise in a sea of Springsteenistas.
13. MEL 26 March. Show #5/7
As related elsewhere, I abandoned GA to join Aradhna in the middle of 'Born to Run' during the second Melbourne show. Wish I'd photographed the mix of shock, pity and outrage on people's faces as I walked past them and away from the stage. Those looks were nothing compared to the look Bruce is making here at Tom Morello as he boogies with a woman who'd held up a sign asking to dance with him during 'Dancing in the Dark'. Classic.
14. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
The setlist at the final Rod Laver show was epic. This shot was taken during 'Radio Nowhere', the second of two Magic songs (w/'Long Walk Home') that kicked off the night. Hard to believe Magic was released five and a half years ago. Until Bruce played 'Last to Die' the night before no song from that album been played live in Australia. On this night at least, it was worth the wait.
15. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
When you've followed someone's work for so long, seeing that person live and up close becomes more than an entertainment experience -- it's almost like seeing an old friend or family member you see once in a blue moon. You look to see if they're healthy, happy, doing well. Many of the first-timers I've spoken to remarked on how much Springsteen 'really seems to be enjoying himself', and I think this photo proves it. Yes, I've seen plenty of amazing shows by miserable millionaires -- Roger Waters, Morrissey and Southside Johnny immediately come to mind -- but with Springsteen there's a satisfaction that comes from seeing a genuinely happy man you've 'known' a very long time.
16. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
Jake's gaze to the heavens is what makes this shot special. Snapped during the dramatic ending of 'Jungleland', just after the 30-something Jake had played his uncle's legendary solo like an old, accomplished soul.
17. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
Iconic images of Bruce atop Roy's piano at the start of 'Tenth Avenue Freeze Out' and his inhuman, cartilage-defying microphone bend are common, but I like the pugilist bit he does between jumping off the piano and bending himself in half. Bruce looks like DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in Scorcese's 'Raging Bull'. The skinny, young one ... not the beaten and bloated one.
18. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
So many things to love about this shot: Springsteen pointing at another familiar face; Tom Morello's victory salute; Garry W Tallent's smiling mug; Roy, Charlie and Soozie getting time at the front of the stage; the horn section in the background.
19. MEL 27 March. Show #6/8
Not much needs to be written here. Like the captain of an ice hockey team Bruce shakes hands and backslaps band members as they exit the stage. Jake, like his uncle before him, departs last.
20. HR 30 March. Show #7/9
Besides the Orwellian tenor of this Hanging Rock shot -- Big Brother Max Is Always Watching -- the long-time E Street Band drummer and former 'star of late night tel-e-vision' looms this way as the fulcrum of every performance. Bruce is the force. Max is the balance. Simple physics, really.
21. HR 30 March. Show #7/9
Bruce paying tribute to his departed brother. A wonderful, chilling moment, every night.
22. HR 31 March. Show #8/10
Ten days since this final show at Hanging Rock and 'Shackled and Drawn' resounds like a victorious call to arms. Like the song's performance, this photos seems larger-than-life, which in turn captures its place in my memory.
23. HR 31 March. Show #8/10
At one of the Rod Laver shows in GA a guy behind me described Dan Federici as the E Street Band's hard-living, unapologetic pain-in-the-ass; a wayward brother whose every up and down was expressed through his fingers. The barrel-chested, bikie-looking sort wasn't being critical. He spoke his words with love, which is why I agreed.
24. HR 31 March. Show #8/10
This photo, snapped near the end of 'Rosalita', made the cut for one reason alone: Garry W Tallent's two-handed fist pump. Has he been swept up in the drama of this second-to-last song of the Oz tour, or is he excited about getting the hell out of Australia and sleeping in his own bed? Whatever the case, it's a fantastic moment.
25. HR 31 March. Show #8/10
Bruce exhorts an exhausted crowd through a final, glorious 'Twist and Shout' to end the Oz Wrecking Ball 2013 tour. We'd all greeted the news of the tour back in November with unabashed excitement and open wallets and were repaid many, many times over in smiles, new friends, tales from the road and remarkably unique memories from every show. Thanks, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Hope to see y'all again real soon.