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.