Sunday, 17 March 2013

Live Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Artist: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Venue: Brisbane Entertainment Centre

Date: Thursday, March 14, 2013 
I’ve never been one for the big spectacle. You know, the big show, the lights, the clichés and the lack of intimacy. I’m more about the modest settings. Still, there’s a first time for everything, or so potential would have it. And before you ask; no, I don’t include Radiohead in that company.
Bruce Springsteen is an interesting proposition. There are not too many artists who were seemingly dead and buried as Bruce supposedly was during the ‘90s. In any case, the ‘90s seemed like a point he needed to reach before he could get to where he is today, namely back with yet another incarnation of the revered E Street Band.
As we embark upon our seats – situated to right hand side of the stage in the nosebleeds – it becomes clear that Bruce isn’t so crazy about the ‘spectacle’ after all. Again, the lights, the clichés and the lack of intimacy along with all the fancy stage props that would take a fleet of trucks night and day to load and travel up and down the coast line. There’s none of that rubbish. The stage could be described as bare bones even, or as bare bones gets for a 17 piece band.
As the lights go out a massive hubbub erupts, probably the loudest I’ve ever heard from a crowd that is the most demographically widespread I’ve ever been a part of. Bruce hasn’t even hit the stage and yet mundane pinnacles are met.
Bruce and the band enter and break into Wrecking Ball opener, ‘We Take Care of Our Own’. The sound is inch perfect. There’s no sign of Bruce or his band acknowledging the sound techs to adjust volume. In fact this doesn’t happen once throughout the show (they’re obviously paid well and have been with the Boss for years).
He then breaks into a Saints cover, ‘Just Like Fire Wood’ which is yet another added to the long line of covers he and the E Street Band have delivered over the years. Following this is Wrecking Ball’s title track, perhaps the highlight on the album, with its anthemic chorus containing the slashing power chords, tonight provided by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, whom is assuming the role in place of Stevie Van Zandt, who is off playing mobster in Norway, filming the second season of Lilyhammer.
There were many eyebrows raised when it was announced that Morello would stand in. More power chords and less wah-wah doesn’t seem like Morrello’s gig, however he shines even producing backup vocals, and brilliantly too, to ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’; almost his surrogate child, as it becomes clear that it was Tom’s decision to include it on RATM’s Renegades cover album back in 2000.
Highlights still fill the memory whilst writing this. Without running through the whole set list (believe me I could), ‘Spirit in the Night’ and ‘The E Street Shuffle’ is a one two punch of soul rock, obviously bulked up since their respective births in the early ‘70s. Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence Clemons) shines as much as Morello, leading the brass section with his unremitting skronk-a-thon. Preceding these two tracks was The River’s ‘Human Heart’ which led Bruce to join his fans at the front in crowd surfing from the back of the general admission all the way back to stage. Yet gain, it’s another first; a 63 year old crowd surfing. I don’t even think Iggy Pop has done in his '60s, although I’m happy to be proven wrong.
‘Johnny 99’ is one of Springsteen’s most opaque tracks even written, in my opinion. Even on Nebraska is seems an odd fit. On record it’s a stark folk number, however live, it’s transformed into this rainbow coalition of sound led by brass and soul, the whole band at the front of the stage as one doing their thing. 

During the night each E Streeter has his/her own moment of glory. Sooz Tyrell, earlier in the night, with ‘We Take Care of Our Own’. Garry Tallent - Mr. Consistent - providing tempo in conjunction with Max Weinberg. Roy Bittan’s moment is definitely ‘Thunder Road’, as Bruce unleashes his tirade of narrative intertwined with Bittan’s melodic piano fills which are prominent throughout Born to Run.
The encore is filled with Sringsteen's hits. Preceding another Wrecking Ball number in ‘We Are Alive’, ‘Born to Run’ is phenomenal, packed with the panache of Nils Lofgren and Morello’s guitars, while Clemons once again displays a confidence on saxophone which appears to be beyond his years.
‘Dancing In the Dark’ is met with the biggest cheer of the night (the 90 year old man sat in front of me is up as quick as Jack Flash, bless him!) while ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ is a welcome surprise that closes the night with Bruce once again getting friendly with his audience.
It’s one of those gigs that no matter where you are in the audience, no matter what is played, it astounds. Simply put, it’s the most democratic show I’ve witnessed. Bruce Springsteen, although maligned in some quarters, is as close to a lovable ‘rock star’ as you’re going to get these days. No ego, he is who he is. His ideals are sincere and whether you cast him off as a nostalgic pin-up boy for baby boomers or a limousine liberal is pretty much irrelevant to the essence of the man himself. The ideals Springsteen presents will perpetuate throughout generations. He’s about the music and that's what matters.
It’s fair to say that Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t be where he is today without the wonderful E Street Band. In turn, they wouldn’t be where they are without him. Springsteen needed to do his own thing in the ‘90s. It’s almost as if he had the realisation of “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” We wouldn’t see the Bruce Springsteen of today in the same light otherwise.
As a unit, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is the tightest band I think I’ve ever seen. Bruce seemingly orchestrates every note. It’s a proper ‘show’. It’s something special and I feel privileged to have witnessed such a thing. I’m still not sure whether you could call it a spectacle. That’s what makes it so damn good.
Photos from:

By Simon K.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Live Review: The Wedding Present

Artist: The Wedding Present:
Venue: The Zoo
Date: Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Wedding Present is one of those acts who don't gain the attention they truly deserve. In terms of their British counter parts from the same era, acts such as A.R. Kane, Pale Saints, and The Chameleons also have the right to be aggrieved at their lack of appreciation over the years.

David Gedge is something of the wordsmith. His perpetual topic of love and relationships never grows old when you hold an ear to a Wedding Present tune. I once remember reading an article in the NME about Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spaceman 3 fame. Paraphrasing, it basically stated that he was a one trick pony, but what a trick it was. David Gedge performs that very same trick, however I think he had the baton before Mr. Pierce, who added his own take to the misery his subjects portray right after taking it from Gedge.

Around 70 inhabitants occupy the floor space of The Zoo. Another poor turnout, which is becoming more prevalent as each day passes in rainy Brisbane. I could blame it on the poor weather but I won't, as it wouldn't have altered the punter figure for better or worse. No, this crowd was filled with baby boomers letting their hair down, clapping after Gedge announces a song before even playing it. It is clear fandom with pretense left to flow down one of the few drain ways on Ann St.

The Wedding Present live is more of an abrasive experience. It reminds me of when I had the privilege of seeing The Constantines shortly before they called it a day. Even the feel is similar, that heart and soul attitude. David Gedge and his band, whom of which hail from three respective countries, are tight. Very fucking tight, actually. They give each other warm acknowledgements throughout, as George Best and Hit Parade 1 & 2 are heavily relied on from TWPs catalogue.

Among the highlights include 'Everyone Thinks You Look Daft', 'My Favourite Dress, 'Flying Saucer' and 'Blue Eyes'. The material from the band's newest release, Valentina, is almost scarce, apart from the album's highlight and closing track, 'Mystery Date', which sounds every bit as good as as it does on record. 'Brassneck' from the venerable Bizzaro is also rollicking.

David Gedge interacts with the crowd quite well throughout. You can tell he is proud and confident of his art and why shouldn't he be? Asking for a tissue to blow his nose (first time for everything) while also having some banter with a Stone Roses fan who still appeared to be buzzing from their performance at the Riverstage 24 hour earlier. Despite the almost skeletal "crowd", Gedge appears to be enjoying the night for what it is.

There's something dehumanizing about seeing a bunch of 50 somethings of the male variety wigging out at the front of stage. It's almost like a bid to relive their youth. That's not me having a pop and throwing a blanket over a generation, either. Quite the opposite, in fact. That will most likely be me in 20 years. And that's more than okay. These dudes are all about the music. Something that's currently lost among the masses these days. I thank The Wedding Present for bringing it to the people for the people. They owned, so much so that considering the sparse amount of material I was familiar with (hadn't heard a note of the Hit Parade material), I'd rate this as one of the finest gigs I've been to in the last couple of years. Brilliant. Just brilliant. 

By Simon K.