March 26, 2013

Notes from the road: Melbourne, Night #2

Tonight, with the house lights up, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band hit the stage and tore into Badlands. As the band were attempting to merge into We Take Care Of Our Own, the audience wouldn’t allow it. The capacity house was still chanting the Badlands’ refrain, making a move onto the next song impossible. And, this was only the opener.

Bruce’s first words were “Melbourne, bums out of seats.” They got the message and Bruce kept the energy up by grabbing a sign from the front rows, two songs in, and he shook the dust of a rollicking Cadillac Ranch.

Wrecking Ball seems to have struck a chord with Australian audiences. Veering off the set list Bruce spotted another sign, which marked the Australian tour debut of Downbound Train. Great art is about holding an audience in a moment. It might be an audience of one, or it might be a stadium full of people. Downbound Train, replete with its compelling narrative, does just that.

Hungry Heart saw Bruce head out to the ramp that runs through the middle of the venue. He was offered a floppy flat cap and he took it. “I used to have one like this, but I lost it,” he mused, “I may as well do the song that goes with it.” Enter, Spirit In The Night.

The jazzy swagger vibe of Bruce, pre-Born To Run, stuck around as Bruce called for E Street Shuffle. It’s a sublime groove made more remarkable when played by this sixteen-piece band that can turn on a dime. Major Lance would be proud.

Bruce started to prowl the front rows looking for more signs. “Tommy’s trembling!” Bruce plucked two signs for Red Headed Woman. “We don’t know it,” offered Bruce, “Tommy doesn’t know it at all.” After playing around with various keys – Bruce settled for the “people’s key of C”. Springsteen began the song, and the band finished it: with both Soozie and Nils taking fine solos.

Next came the stunning triumvirate of Because The Night, She’s The One and Open All Night. Standing next to an uber-fan with a stop-watch, Bruce has over delivered on his promise to get the crowd out of their seats in 90 seconds, tonight he did it in less that thirty.

As Open All Night morphed between rockabilly and Dixieland, Bruce kept the momentum up with Working On The Highway, Darlington County and Shackled And Drawn. A darker mood descended as Bruce and Morello traded vocals on a song that has become a cornerstone of the tour, The Ghost Of Tom Joad.

Thunder Road, where the Melbourne audience sang every word back to Springsteen, closed the main set. Then there was the sheer rush of Born To Run: with the house lights up again it was possibly the most dynamic reading of the song on the tour so far.

Dancing In The Dark saw the customary dance on stage, but first Tom Morello got to shake his money-maker with one sign maker. “Tommy’s got moves,” admitted Bruce before cutting the rug himself. Next came a stunning Rosalita [Come Out Tonight]. Exhausted Bruce collapsed and signaled to the audience he had zero in the tank, he had nothing, he was rung out. Enter Nils with water and sponges and, like Lazarus, Bruce rises again for the show’s closer Tenth Avenue Freezeout.

Melbourne. Seriously. Did we expect that? To say it was a special gig would be understating it.

Hey ho rock and roll deliver me from nowhere.

– Sean Sennett