Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Springsteen in Melbourne, pt II: Sunday Surprises

The second of back-to-back shows at Melbourne's AAMI Park left me scratching my head. Holy shit, one part of my brain thought, that set list -- which included 'Lucky Town', 'Roulette', 'Growin' Up', 'Lost in the Flood', Born to Run in its epic entirety and an achingly lovely 'We Are Alive' (top photo) -- was mind-blowing and intended to reward long-time fans, a tiny minority in a crowd of 30,000+ Australians. He had to be excessively tired or high on cough medicine or stone drunk, another part of my brain declared, as it pondered a 'Growin' Up' intro that included a rant about being allowed to stay up until 3 am to watch a Superman cartoon when he was 5, fuckable nuns, the Jersey Devil, current Northeast US weather and fantasies that sustained him as he grew from boy to man. Sales of the BTR album should be skyrocketing in and around Melbourne as the majority of Sunday's concertgoers were unfamiliar with what one Aussie woman on Twitter described as 'obscure' BTR tunes like 'Backstreets', 'Night', 'She's the One' and 'Meeting Across the River'. (I kid you not.) She was offended that I'd implied a lack of knowledge concerning Bruce's 40-year catalogue of music. To which I say ... do your fucking homework.

But mostly I thought of how Sunday's nearly 4-hour journey contrasted with Saturday's Born in the USA-dominated show, and how no other touring band of any kind delivers such unpredictability on a nightly basis as Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.

After Saturday's messy melange of mugginess and flies and a short downpour, Sunday was a perfect summer day in Melbourne. By the time we got to AAMI Park a young Aussie named Dan Sultan was in the middle of his short set. Like on Saturday he was followed by legendary Aussie rockers Hunters and Collectors (left), who are using their pre-Springsteen appearances to launch a reunion tour. They're unknown in the States but were big players on the Aussie charts in the '80s and '90s. I saw them open for Midnight Oil in the early '90s. Strangely, Springsteen didn't thank them for opening on either day, which makes me think their inclusion on the bill was part of a deal with whomever promoted the show. Jimmy Barnes was brought out to sing 'Tougher than the Rest' with Bruce at Hanging Rock last year, but H&C frontman Mark Seymour was given no such opportunity.

As I've written about in the past, 'Born in the USA' is far and away the most popular, well-known and sung-along-to Springsteen song in Australia. Opening Sunday's show with it -- after playing the entire BITUSA album the night before -- no doubt gave false hope to those who'd come expecting either a repeat of Saturday's setlist, or at least a steady stream of rollicking, stadium-friendly songs. After a stormy 'Badlands', what they got instead was 'Lucky Town', 'Roulette' and 'Growin' Up', three rarities that had me throwing my head back and singing but which made 99% of the people around me stare in bewilderment. Aradhna and I weren't three feet from the stage like the previous night but we were in front GA towards the front and yet observed little response to non-BITUSA songs. I realise I've seen Springsteen many dozens of times in NJ and NY and therefore have high expectations for crowd participation but can't help but feel disdain for people who can't be bothered to explore Springsteen's back catalogue. It's 2014. The man's a living legend. You show up at a 3-hour-plus show knowing only six or seven songs, you're going to be disappointed, and it's your own damn fault.

But I'm going to pump my fist and sing 'til I'm hoarse regardless. Not to show off at knowing the words. But because it fucking feels good.

Show started at precisely 8:00 pm, which is twilight time in Melbourne in February.

Bruce spent the bulk of 'Growin' Up' sitting on the lip of the upper stage, rambling.

Two musicians only Bruce Springsteen could put together on stage: Tom Morello and Charles Giordano during 'High Hopes'.

I heard 'Just Like Fire Would' on the radio yesterday while driving around Sydney. As shown here, Bruce seems pleased with the song's effect on his Aussie audience. 

An intense 'Lost in the Flood' brought memories of MSG in 1999, when he nearly caused hundreds of cardiac arrests among fans who'd waited 25 years to hear it live.

Without a mid-floor walkway Bruce and Jake did their 'Spirit in the Night' jaunt on the wings of the main stage.

Close-up on Jake during his 'Jungleland' solo.

Bruce brings the BTR album to a close with another powerful 'Jungleland'. Springsteen seemed to gain focus as they progressed through each classic song. The band was stripped back -- sans Danny and Clarence, of course -- but Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg again demonstrated their immeasurable contributions as newcomers way back in '75.

While 'Waiting on a Sunny Day' brings yawns from repeated concertgoers it thrills newbies. Here, Bruce and Steven goof off a bit ...

.... before Bruce coaxed reticent guitar tech Kevin Buell to contribute backing vox, all to Steven's amusement.

People and their signs.

Springsteen clearly loves using the remarkably sharp rear screen throughout the show, here standing in front of the camera within Max's drum kit for a rock and roll hero shot during 'Land of Hope and Dreams'.

'Ramrod' nuttiness.

Steven's look says it all during another raucous 'Dancing in the Dark'.

There is no simpler bar band song than 'Twist and Shout' but in the hands of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band it becomes a epic, teased out party.

Bruce had nearly everyone squeeze onto the main stage thrust ...

... before closing 'Twist and Shout' with a big finish.

The show ended at 11:40 after Bruce performed a perfect solo acoustic 'This Hard Land'. His now customary closing declaration "The E Street Band .... loves ya" was followed by a non-committal "We'll be seein' ya."

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