Friday, February 21, 2014

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ AAMI Park, Melbourne - Night 1

Bruce is back in Australia!! I've only seen Springsteen live six times, four of which have achieved classic statuses in my book. So I had ridiculously high expectations going into the first Melbourne show, the band's fourth in the city in less than 12 months. The previous Perth and Adelaide shows on this Oz tour got mouth-watering setlists, albeit no full albums, presumably because it was the first time Bruce was playing those cities. Melbourne was different though; you knew he couldn't repeat the same Wrecking Ball-themed show like last year. High Hopes songs had been getting some airings, but this tour wasn't exactly billed as the High Hopes tour. It made perfect sense for them to do full albums in cities previously visited.

My second time doing the roll calls was more tiring than in Sydney 2 last year. For one thing, there was not much of a shade to queue up in, and the Australian summer heat was not forgiving. And since it was an outdoor stadium show this time, the numbers went to much higher, almost 1000 for the first night. I was glad no. 42-something got us around fifth row, stage right, in front of Steve Van Zandt. The first opening act, Dan Sultan, was not too bad. But it was legendary Aussie rock band, Hunters & Collectors, that really got the crowd going. It was significant because it was one of their first performances since the band got back together. They put on a solid hour, ahead of schedule. Therefore you'd think that Bruce and the band would take the stage early, given the strict venue curfew, but that was not to be. There seemed to be a last-minute change once everything was set up on stage, with the roadies coming out again to paste new setlists on the floor. And then they added an extra mic stand in between Bruce's and Stevie's, which basically confirmed my prediction that you-know-who was gonna show up. The show started more than half an hour past scheduled time.

So Bruce invited the one and only Eddie Vedder onstage for the first two songs. For me it was the singular greatest concert experience I've ever had in my life. Period. Two of my heroes with great respect for each other onstage together, for the first time outside the States. I couldn't make any of the PJ shows earlier this year, so this was a sort consolation, a very good one indeed. And I've never seen Eddie this up close before. Highway To Hell was played for the third time on the Oz tour, and it proved to be a great stadium opener. Eddie's fiery vocals on Darkness lifted the song to a higher place. It was also nice to see/hear Badlands back at the start of the set. Seeds was a pleasant surprise, my first time (since 2009) hearing it with the horn section. High Hopes sounded much better, and much more ferocious than last year...glad to have Tom Morello back again. Just Like Fire Would, which could be mistaken for an E Street song, rocked the house hard. Bruce and Steve sang from the center mini platform in front of the stage, in which we were a short distance away from. First sign request of the night was Jole Blon, a Gary US Bonds cover, and one seldom played live. I was looking at Morello's face -- he was going like "I don't know how the hell to play this, so I'm just gonna smile and fake my way through it!" Good thing Bruce called out the chord before the band kicked in. It was a loose, almost flawless performance.

The Born In The USA album from start to finish; the crowd went wild the moment Bruce announced they were playing it. It couldn't have worked better in a stadium setting. This was the album that made him a household name in Australia during the mid 80s. It's one thing listening to the album at home or in the car for God knows how many times over the past ten years, but hearing it in a live context is totally different I must say. So we all know the sequence, but that 'predictability' didn't once spoil the enjoyment. The end of the title track was just insane. Max Weinberg seemed possessed as he tried to destroy the drums, as Bruce continued screaming at him (watch the London Hard Rock Calling 2013 version for reference). For Cover Me, Nils Lofgren took the ending solo, as usual doing his awesome spinning shtick. Of course, I was most excited for Downbound Train. It was an excellent version, especially with the horns, and had Roy Bittan and Stevie taking solos during the extended outro. A very long Dancing In The Dark saw two dudes donning big black wigs couple of rows behind me invited up to the stage because they wanted to dance with Cindy Mizelle. It was a hilarious few minutes there. The sing-along during My Hometown was spine-chilling. I liked how the band (the old guard mainly) took their bows center stage after the album performance. Casual concertgoers might have thought the main set was over, but Bruce and the band were just getting started.

I was so stoked to hear Factory. It was a humble sign request which got Bruce talking about the importance of work in our lives. Who among us couldn't relate to that? Continuing the same 'working' theme came Shackled And Drawn, which is always fun to see up close. This time Cindy didn't come down to the center platform, but Bruce improvised hand signs at the end to prolong her shining gospel moment. The Ghost Of Tom Joad never gets old. Morello went a few bars longer than usual.  It's certainly not the best I've seen though (Sydney Night 2 still remains unbeatable). The fitting pairing of The Rising and Land Of Hope And Dreams (really something to witness upfront) closed the main set. There was one moment when Jake was taking the solo and Bruce rested his head on Jake's shoulder. I lost it. It's the little moments like these.  

Another gospel-tinged Heaven's Wall opened a long encore. I love the 'sudden' transition as it went into Born To Run. After which, Bruce asked Melbourne, "Are you ready to get the party started?" He wasn't kidding. Rosalita was heaps of fun, with Stevie and Jake joining Bruce on the small stage. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was still as emotional as ever. I loved how at the end of the song, Bruce was looking at Clarence on the giant screen. Big Man's spirit was still very much alive. Shout was when Bruce did the band introductions, saving Little Steven for the last. After the band left the stage, an acoustic Thunder Road closed out the night. Still my favorite song of all time, now and forever. Bruce did it in a rather unique way, and every second he held the entire audience by the palm of his hand. Show no.7 was the longest one yet, with Manchester 2012 a close second. And in terms of sound performance and atmosphere for an outdoor concert, it surpassed Manchester, simply because it was so much better watching the show from the first few rows. I also had a more enjoyable front pit experience than in Sydney 2 because there was no pushing or unruly behavior from the people around us. Everyone looked out for one another and just wanted to have a good time. That's the way it should be. Finally, standing so close to the stage allowed us to see every interaction between Bruce and the band members, every hand signal or command he gave to them when he wanted to change things up, those reactions from the band everytime the crowd went wild, and the sheer joy on Eddie's face. Great to have Stevie back in Aus too. Round 2 coming up...

Highway To Hell
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
High Hopes
Just Like Fire Would
Jole Blon
Hungry Heart
Born In The U.S.A.
Cover Me
Darlington County
Working On The Highway
Downbound Train
I'm On Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
I'm Goin' Down
Glory Days
Dancing In The Dark
My Hometown
Shackled And Drawn
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
The Rising
Land Of Hope And Dreams

Heaven's Wall
Born To Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Seven Nights To Rock
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Thunder Road (acoustic) 

"I think I got possessed by my thirty year old self."

P.S. The official bootleg is now available for download [link]. Considering the sound guys had only less than four days to do a quick mix (if there ever was one), it doesn't sound too bad at all. It's very raw, very unprocessed, and it's the kind of sound you would've heard at the concert. Think of it as a really good-sounding audience bootleg. There's still a lot of room for improvement though, like turning up Bruce's vocals.