Sunday, March 31, 2013

3rd & Final Sydney Night - Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Allphones Arena

During the day off, I visited the Blender Gallery, a quaint little shop house specializing in Rock & Roll photography, located at Elizabeth Street, Paddington (reminds me a lot of Notting Hill) somewhere outside the city. They held a special Springsteen exhibition in commemoration of the Oz tour, showcasing some of the most iconic photographs taken from the Darkness era onwards [link]. They were shot by Frank Stefanko, Lynn Goldsmith, and my favorite, Danny Clinch. I've seen most of the pictures before, but it's nothing like seeing them in the flesh, framed huge on the walls. Beautiful and awe-inspiring. I just love Sydney. Such a great city. I could see myself living there in the future.

For tonight's last Syd show, I was back in the same row as Night 1, but about ten seats further back. It didn't look like a completely sold-out show; there were lots of empty seats behind the stage, and the upper rear floors were curtained off. Tonight began even later than the previous two. "Sydney, are you ready to rumble??", Bruce exclaimed. As usual, many of those seated weren't ready. It was back to the 'standard' Wrecking Ball show opener, a 'rare' airing of We Take Care Of Our Own, which was actually pretty refreshing to hear. It was a kick-ass way to open the concert. Lovely lighting too. Though I was so hoping they opened with Land Of Hope And Dreams instead, which interestingly hasn't been making the rounds much down under. The winner of the third song 'curveball' went to Night. That also happened to be the third song from my very first show at Hyde Park '09. Welcome back! And as expected, the opening strains of Hungry Heart caused people to everyone to rise out of their seats. And we also witnessed a rare sight; Bruce downing a full cup of beer in a matter of seconds before surfing the crowd.

I can't get over My City Of Ruins. It's such a classic, with Bruce channeling some Sam Cooke, and I looked forward to it everytime. Tonight could very well be the last time I was hearing the song. As the spotlights shone on Danny's and Clarence's old spots, it suddenly hit me that both their loss affected me more than I could ever have imagined. I never got to see Danny, and only saw Clarence once. But they had a part to play in my being here tonight. Traveling thousands of miles (and over shark-infested waters!) just to be in the same room with Bruce Springsteen and the greatest live band in the world. I know it's only Rock & Roll, but it feels like love. Bruce honoring his fallen comrades every night will go down in history as one of the greatest watersheds moments in the life of the E Street Band.

Following City, I thought Bruce would do Spirit In The Night, but instead he spent a bit of time scouring the front of the pit for signs. And tonight, there were A LOT of signs. He took a couple and sieved through them. In the meantime I was praying that among those there would be a request for Downbound Train. He finally picked out one and showed it to the band. Growin' Up!! Yes!! I could tell there were lots of casual fans around where I was sitting, because they had no clue about the song. For me, it was already shaping up to be an epic night. Forty years ago his debut album was released. Ain't it a remarkable achievement? And Bruce is still, if not even more relevant today than ever; at 63 years old, he's in the prime of his life! Without even skipping a beat, they launched into The E Street Shuffle, with this time Bruce beginning with the guitar riff. Great to hear it again. Great to see the drum/percussion battle between Max and Everett Bradley. And of course the highlight of this performance were the killer horns.

Another sign request followed and I gasped when the big screen revealed Prove It All Night.....with the '78 intro!! This was only my sixth show, and I've gotten Prove It thrice already, two of which with the famed intro. Man, am I lucky. The intro was a bit different than the previous versions on this tour, and much longer than what we had in Manchester; Roy Bittan played some gorgeous piano before Bruce came in. And my God was he incredible on the guitar; this was the best I've ever seen him play. He instructed Max and Garry not to come in till much later. Nils filled in for Stevie on the supporting vocals on center mic. The performance was an absolute showstopper, and we weren't even halfway through yet. Next was Trapped, which surprisingly appeared to go over rather well with the crowd. Then, Bruce took another sign from the front, which had 'bucket list' written on it, and had two songs with check-boxes next to them...Thunder Road and The River. Third time hearing The River, more amazing each time, and again I must say, it's one of those that works best indoors with minimal lighting. Bruce did another funny rap about Australian asses, and then Pay Me My Money Down followed. Not even 90secs this time!

And it was time for a double-shot of BITUSA to keep the audience from sitting down again, with Working On The Highway and Darlington County (Bruce went back to the middle stage, with Nils joining him), and any hopes of getting Downbound Train were gone. Notice he had played an awful lot from that album these past few shows; after all it's the most well-known Springsteen record down under, even among the most casual. I got no problem with that. They are all great live songs. People were probably puzzled why he had not brought out the BIG one yet. More on that later. On a side note; as much as I would like Little Steven to be present at the shows (his integrability to the band can't be understated), I didn't really miss him that much. I thought Tom couldn't have done a better job temporarily filling in for him. Though there's less of that 'Little Steven-esque' interaction between him and Bruce, the E Street Band seemed to be more energized because of his presence. We should be glad we are getting these unique shows down under.

There was always an epic song to be played between Sunny Day and Tom Joad (Morello sicker than ever tonight). It had to happen sooner or later during one of these Oz shows, and I was so fucking overjoyed that it happened tonight. I've heard countless renditions of Backstreets on bootleg over the years, and I couldn't believe I was finally hearing it live for the first time. I had a slight heart attack when the first piano notes rang out. It was a flawless, devastating eight-minute performance. Right after Badlands, Bruce immediately went into Thunder Road, effectively ending the main set. My favorite song of all time, now and forever. Fourth time hearing it; tonight was just as transcendent as Manchester, minus the pouring rain.

At the start of the encore, Bruce said next time they promise they wouldn't take so long to come back down to Australia, resulting in huge cheers. Hell yeah!! I needed to hear him say that. Bruce then went on to say 'they don't play this next song that much.' My mind was quickly racing through his back catalog, but I drew a blank. What could it be? Drive All Night? Racing In The Street? After he told the monitor guys to make sure Roy was loud enough, I knew what it was........Born In The USA!!!! When the synth and snare hit, the crowd went totally apeshit. This was live rock music's chorus sing-along and fist pumping at their finest. I absolutely loved it. Bruce actually sang 'I'm forty years burning down the road'. Amen to that. It had the same immediacy and intensity as the classic version from the Live '75-'85 boxset. And it had nowhere to go next except straight into an electrifying Born To Run. Dancing In The Dark saw Bruce bringing up two ladies, one of whom was an American teenager I saw in the roll call line before the second show; she was filming some fan documentary.

If BITUSA started the encore, I just knew Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was in no way gonna end the show and the three-night stand (also I noticed Bruce didn't do the E Street Band introduction at the end of 10th). If there's one sign request that was most commonly spotted over the three nights (and especially tonight), it was Rosalita. It bears some sort of sentimental value for Sydney fans, as this was the song that Bruce broke out during the 'power failure' show of 2003, as a reward to the crowd for sticking it out; it was considered rare at that point of The Rising tour, rare since Reunion-era in fact. And tonight, Rosie made her glorious return, and get this, exactly ten years to the date since the last Sydney show! It was pure stoke. The original showstopper. Jake Clemons has really proven himself to be a master saxophonist since the start of the tour a year ago; he blows like Big Man in his prime. It was another amazing setlist tonight, on par with Night 2, a nice blend of obscurities and hits to keep everyone satisfied. I also felt that tonight's performance was slightly better than Wednesday's, which is saying something, because Wednesday's performance was phenomenal and extraordinary almost to a point beyond human comprehension. Tonight however, the volume level sounded like it was turned up a few notches higher, resulting in one of the loudest shows I've ever heard in my life. Still, nothing beats watching the show from the front of the pit.

So.......there were 75 songs played in total during this three-night stand. 51 different songs were played, including 7 from Born To Run. The total duration was just over 9 hours. What more could you have asked for? The post E Street withdrawal symptom hasn't kicked in yet, as I'm still slowly winding down from the entire experience. I'm constantly relieving Nights two and three in my head, thanks to YouTube. Thank you, Bruce, thank you E Street Band, for an unforgettable week in Sydney. "We'll be seeing ya!"

We Take Care Of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death To My Hometown
Hungry Heart
My City Of Ruins
Growin' Up
The E Street Shuffle
Prove It All Night
The River
Pay Me My Money Down
Working On The Highway
Darlington County
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin' On A Sunny Day
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Thunder Road

Born In The U.S.A.
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

At this time of writing, the Wrecking Ball Australian leg has just concluded. The last time Bruce and the band toured down under, Facebook wasn't even invented yet. The 2003 tour resulted in a financial disaster for the promoter. This time, Frontier and Jacobsen took huge risks bringing them back, but the response was positively overwhelming, despite high ticket prices -- but then again for any Springsteen show, you get much more than what you pay for. Ten shows down the East Coast, spread across two and a half weeks. Over 150,000 tickets sold. Close to 80 different songs performed, with incredibly varied setlists each night. Ecstatic fans. Glowing reviews everywhere. Some of the best shows Bruce has ever played down under. I feel truly blessed to be part of something huge and historical. 'Til next time!


P.S. After Sydney, I proceeded on to Perth.....yet again, this time for the West Coast Blues 'N' Roots Festival held at Fremantle Park. I generally hate festivals, but this lineup was too good to pass up [link]. Besides, I had a few days to spare before flying home. Caught nine bands in total, including Tedeschi Trucks Band, Chris Isaak, Jason Mraz, and a bit of Bonnie Raitt. Robert Plant and his new, world-music band were exceptionally good, but their performance (most of the acts in fact) was marred by the bad sound and really low volume level. I liked how they reinterpreted the Led Zep songs; wholly different from the originals. Iggy Pop and The Stooges were the final act on the first night, and they were insanely good. I was close to the stage and it was so awesome to see a bare-bodied Iggy in his late '60s still fit, prancing around and acting all weird. At one point during Fun House, he invited audience members to come and rock out onstage and things got out of control pretty fast; it was the craziest thing I ever saw. Sunday saw an ass-kicking blues set by Ben Harper, backed by his band Relentless7, and his new friend, the legendary harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite, who also sang on a few tunes. I only caught the first thirty minutes of Paul Simon's headlining set on the main stage. Would've stayed for the whole thing, if the organizers hadn't put Wilco at the same time on the other stage! Wilco only played for an hour (and to a very small audience), but they downright blew me away in a way I'd never expect. Hands down, they are one of the best live bands I've ever seen. Too bad this entire weekend was overshadowed by what went down this past week spent in Syd.