Friday, 21 February 2014

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: A Sydney Special

The 2014 Australian tour has been a beast. Marauding across this hard, harsh land like something primordial. Untamed, unpredictable, never striking the same way twice. It was unleashed Wednesday night on a Sydney crowd wet from rain and tropical perspiration and maybe a little cold beer spilled on their shoes. It was a night we'd remember long after exiting the arena and finding our way home and falling asleep with throbbing ears and staggering from bed the next morning and slogging to work and trying to explain to inquisitive colleagues what made the night so goddamned magical, anyway. But you give up, keep the experience to yourself, maybe mention it when a conversation turns to concerts seen lately or with close friends over many beers who listen without judging. Mostly, nights like Wednesday's sink into our bones and become a part of us that's ours and ours only.

In other words, last night defined the undefinable, rechristened our spirits, gave solace to our troubled souls that do, in fact, question our need to follow the man from place to place.

The night's headline was the playing of Darkness from start to finish. I'm of two minds with album shows -- they diminish a night's spontaneity but guarantee rarely played songs like 'I'm Goin' Down' from BITUSA and 'Meeting Across the River' from BTR -- but with Darkness it's different. From Max's 'Badlands' kickoff to the fade-out of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' the 1978 album was his declaration of independence from industry tyranny, a manifesto of anger hammered into art. To hear Darkness played in its entirety in front of a crowd of fellow believers is to understand what's driven this man to crawl from dingy clubs to the peak of rock and roll idolatry.

But there was more to this night. Pre-show word was Jake's father had succumbed to injuries sustained in a house fire a few weeks ago. From my spot on the floor I counted four stands in the horn section, and wasn't surprised when the band took the stage and Jake was absent. Bruce acknowledged Jake's sad turn of events during 'Spirit in the Night'. The kid's been such a stupendous addition to the E Street Band that genuine affection and love rose from the crowd for his and his family's plight, who of course lost Jake's uncle Clarence Clemons in 2011.

It also meant another good guy, saxophonist Eddie Manion, would inherit Jake's spotlight. 'Kingfish' Manion is no newcomer -- he's an original member of the Asbury Jukes horn section and toured with Springsteen on the Tunnel of Love tour -- but this was the first time he'd be playing sax parts made famous by Clarence Clemons. Bruce and the band were clearly in his corner all night, as was the crowd, and the man came through. But -- but -- watching him literally blow his lungs out made me appreciate how effortless Clarence used to make it all look. It's not fair to compare anyone with the Big Man or Jake, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Manion, who performed spectacularly. It's a belated recognition of Clarence's majesty and the almost miraculous rise of his nephew to E Street Band stalwart.

Bruce's affection for Aussie fans was displayed across three covers of iconic Australian songs. The night started at 8:00 pm with 'Friday on My Mind' by The Easybeats, included concert mainstay 'Just Like Fire Would' by The Saints and a remarkable cover of INXS's 'Don't Change' in the encore. The Australian TV-viewing public is in the midst of INXS fever after a 2-part miniseries traced the band's rise and fall in the '80s and '90s and there's no doubt TV addict Springsteen would have seen and/or heard of it. Whatever caused it to be played, I'm grateful, as I saw INXS perform 'Don't Change' at the Beacon Theater in NYC during their Listen Like Thieves tour in 1986. Springsteen wisely avoided mimicking the inimitable Michael Hutchence and instead lined up his quartet of guitarists and simply pummeled the adoring crowd with a jackhammer version of an underrated rock classic.

On a night when Darkness ruled, Bruce took the stage cloaked in it.

Bruce tore into the nearly 50-year-old 'Friday On My Mind' like he'd just written it himself and was singing for a long overdue Aussie supper of chicken parma with chips.

This night brought no vocal problems or weakness. Springsteen was in full voice, all night.

I wasn't clever enough to associate 'Friday On My Mind' with an identical line in 'Out in the Street' until after the concert over cocktails with folks met at the show.

Bruce waded into a hot, sweaty and blessedly energetic crowd during 'Out In the Street'.

A sign request for 'Cadillac Ranch' brought early River-era goofiness between Bruce and Steven.

Bruce continues incorporating the horn section with a bandleader's skill, here giving River rocker 'Cadillac Ranch' a little New Orleans swing.

I will never tire of Rev. Everett Bradley's manic percussion during the intro to 'High Hopes'. I doubt he will, either. 

The Morello/Springsteen guitar duel during 'High Hopes' is worth the price of admission.

Only one show was scheduled for Sydney on this tour. Could that have fired up Springsteen to knock everyone's socks up their asses?

Bruce and Steven exhibit world-class dental work during 'Just Like Fire Would'.

Springsteen told us about his hotel's mechanical and apparently spirit-filled toilet seat to start 'Spirit In the Night'.

Unlike the beginning of Melbourne night 2 on Sunday, Bruce was focused and jumping out of his skin from the start. Sitting during 'Spirit' was for dramatic purposes only.

Everything you need to know about what is happening here is visible on that young girl's face ... and the idiot missing this once-in-a-lifetime experience as he attempts to take a selfie with Springsteen behind him.

"Thanks for not KILLING me!" was Bruce's response to Wednesday night's crowd surf.

Like the playing of BTR on Sunday in Melbourne, Darkness stripped the band to basics and featured moments of haunting austerity, like here during 'Something in the Night'.

Soozie was more emotional than usual on this night, and here seems to lose herself to the cathedral swell of 'Racing in the Street'.

The band watches Manion tackle the iconic sax solo from 'The Promised Land'.

Nils lets it fly during 'Prove It All Night'.

The final holler of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' brought the album to a close. I haven't purchased any of the live downloads from this tour yet, but will do so for this show. Thirty-six years after its release you couldn't ask for a better live performance, even without Jake Clemons. It was perfect.

Bruce returned to party mode with 'Darlington County' ...

... in the middle of which he chugged a beer. Little known fact: When applying for Australian citizenship, it's required that applicants chug a 16-ounce beer without taking a breath.

As usual, Steven's at the centre of E Street Band hilarity.

'Darlington County'.

'Darlington County'.

'Shackled and Drawn'.

There is no sexier moment in rock and roll right now than Cindy Mizelle's prowling to the stage for her 'Shackled and Drawn' solo. The pulse continues to quicken during this stage-front dance.

Bruce and Steven ham it up during the intro to 'Waitin' On a Sunny Day'.

'Waitin' On a Sunny Day' ... check out Soozie's grin.

This girl was priceless, as was Bruce's reaction to her whispered singing.

Tom Morello looms like a storm front during 'Ghost of Tom Joad'.

The four horseman of INXS's 'Don't Change'.

Springsteen was feeling the love all night, and actually ran his hands over these fans' hands during 'Born to Run'.

House lights up, band in its groove, fans going nuts ... just another Springsteen encore, 40 years down the road.

Eddie Manion may not have Jake's swagger -- who does? -- but gave it all he had during the long dance interlude of 'Dancing in the Dark'.

Again ... when dancers are on the stage, keep an eye on Steven. His reactions are gold.

The Maestro directs the crowd during 'Tenth Avenue', interrupting his orchestrations to check on the progress of Springsteen's refreshment beside Max's kit.

The show would clock in at precisely 3 hours, putting the lie to those who base their appreciation of Springsteen concerts on their length or number of songs played. It's about FEELING. And this night felt like something special from the past locked in on the present.

Curtis King and Cindy come down for a heart-stopping 'Shout'.

Will he or won't he?

When Bruce gathered his band of brothers for their last bow, he looked at Nils and said, "Magic." Then he said it again. We all felt it, and it was enormously satisfying to see him express the same sentiment. 

Bruce was clearly moved by the Thin Man's performance, and singled him out for appreciation after the band left the stage.

"A kid named Eddie ..." requested 'Surprise, Surprise' for his 23rd birthday, leading Bruce to muse about what he was thinking at the age of 23. As is the case with every song played alone at the mic with an acoustic guitar, the song gained a depth and beauty not found on its album version.

The harmonium seen during the Devils & Dust tour reappeared for a blistering 'Dream Baby Dream'.

While the harmonium played on its own Bruce lost himself in the chorus at center mic. An unforgettable moment.


Pete said...

Great post and photos, too. Enjoyed it.

-- Pete (Boston, Mass.)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed that - thanks :)

marge201 said...

Totally loved the pics and the commentary. TY so much! So bummed that I shut out of both of the upcoming CT concerts!!!

twomonkeys said...

That priceless little girl belongs to me!! Thank you that picture is awesome! I'm a one proud Mummy!!

Federica Meloni said...

I really enjoyed that - thanks

Mark Truelson said...

Hi Joe, Thanks for the brilliant pics & commentary. I was with one of my best mates & his 15 yr old son & we met you during the night. We even exchanged beers! Your blog really brought the night to life. I am now experiencing post Boss blues with the completion of Hopes Estate. Enjoy Auckland! Love to catch when you are back in Melbourne. Cheers Mark

Madeleine Brown said...
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Madeleine Brown said...

Thank you so much for this post! I only just came across it now, but better late than never! This was one of the best nights of my life... It has always been my Dad's dream to hear the song Darkness live, and it was an absolute miracle that we got the entire album! It was just AMAZING! And then to top of an already incredible night, Bruce picked me out of the audience in The Promised Land and handed me his harmonica! It truly was beyond words! Thank you for your commentary... It has made me relive the whole entire night :)