March 15, 2013

Bruce returns to Australia

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, March 14

After a ten-year hiatus Bruce Springsteen has returned to Australia to deliver the latest instalment in what really is the greatest rock and roll show on earth.

There’s no pyrotechnics or sleight of hand, the show is built on the intensity of one man’s physical presence and a songbook written over his entire adult life.

Playing Australia as part of his ongoing Wrecking Ball tour, Springsteen now fronts a 16-piece band that has the unique ability to turn on his proverbial dime. Additional singers, percussion and a five-piece horn section augment the core E Street Band. The musicians bring to life Springsteen’s vision of fusing rock, folk, and gospel, with a large dose of soul, into a revue that clocks in at over three-hours.

Springsteen, playing to a capacity house, opened the night with the first single from Wrecking Ball, We Take Care Of Our Own. Then, tipping his hat to Brisbane, he delivered a terrific take on The Saints, Just Like Fire Would. Inhabiting the song as if he had written it himself the tune was delivered with the zeal of a man playing an encore.

Sadly, the E Street Band is now without the late saxophonist Clarence Clemons and organist Danny Federici. Springsteen acknowledges their presence throughout the night.

Like all great art, Springsteen’s show has the ability to be not only rousing, but also moving. Early on he acknowledges the “walking with ghosts” that we endure in adult life, none more so than in the soulful lament My City Of Ruins. Pointed lyrics from Wrecking Ball, and beyond, which deal with injustice, hardship, or, in the aftermath of the GFC, financial and moral bankruptcy, are often underpinned with an uplifting melody or a little gospel in the choruses. Witness Johnny 99, which displays Springsteen’s gift for portraiture and is re-invented as a fire and brimstone slice of rockabilly.

Still, above all else, Springsteen in concert reinforces a shared communal sense of sheer joy. A showman par excellence, Springsteen plays everything from the rock and roll star to the outsider, showman to ringmaster. Highlights are numerous: there’s the Celtic punk of Death To My Home Town, the sing-a-long Hungry Heart, Nils Lofgren’s guitar excellence on Because The Night and the Bo Diddley-esque beat on She’s The One that’s tougher than a Detroit muscle car.

The big question for fans is how would guitarist Tom Morello fit as a substitute for Steve Van Zandt? You needn’t worry. Van Zandt has his own special place on E-Street and Morello’s guitar playing is freakishly good, while his singing on The Ghost Of Tom Joad was a standout.

Springsteen has the ability to make a large venue feel small. If you’re in the front pit, be prepared: you might be expected to catch the great man if he decides to crowd surf. By the time the encore rolled around, Springsteen had delivered a glorious three hours of power. An important artist of his or any generation, Springsteen remains possibly the most vital front man of the modern era. Long may he run.

– Sean Sennett, The Australian