February 5, 2014

Notes from the road: Perth #1

Match fit and ready to rumble, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band arrived in Perth, Western Australia, having travelled ‘thousands of miles to the remotest place on earth’, to prove that in ‘love, art and rock and roll… one and one does not make two… it makes three’.

This is the first time Bruce has performed in the West: playing the first of three shows at the Perth Arena. Packed to the rafters Bruce kicked off the night with a spirited “Frankie Fell In Love”(a terrific double hander that features his on stage foil and consigliore, Little Steven, who has only played Australia previously in 2003).

High Hopes” was next, and, only two songs in, it was if the band were already in overdrive. To call the mood ‘rousing’ would be an understatement. Pushing the boundaries early, Tom Morello finished the guitar solo… ‘Hendrix style’… shredding with his teeth.

Bruce’s cover of The Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would” was fitting, given its origin, and kept the momentum up. Kevin Buell made a difficult catch of the acoustic guitar look easy as Bruce strapped on his Fender and kicked into a mighty “Badlands“.

Soon it was time to meet the locals as Bruce crowd-surfed during “Hungry Heart“, which was followed by a ‘double shot of “The Wild the Innocent” which included an almost out-of-body version of “The E Street Shuffle” followed by “Kitty’s Back“. The latter highlighted Bruce’s own incredible guitar prowess, and then segued, briefly, into Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman“.

Wrecking Ball” and “Death To My Hometown” preceded a stunning version of “The River“. Jaw-dropping, it was a perfect example of Bruce’s opening gambit that, in ‘art’, one and one really can create alchemy.

Everett Bradley’s ‘brilliant mistake’ threw Bruce a curve ball and he and the band hit it out of the park with “Heaven’s Wall“.

‘Let’s tear this one down’ said Bruce off-mic as the band played their collective hearts out on Springsteen’s modern classic, “American Skin (41 Shots)“. Again, Morello shone.

Because The Night” saw Bruce play with the verse melody to mesmerizing effect, while Nils played a guitar solo that should remain burned in the memory banks of anyone in attendance.

It was here the mood of the night took a turn. This writer never saw Bruce play in the 1970’s, but I sure heard a lot of desk tapes and radio broadcasts. Now the Perth Arena felt like a party, Bruce was digging deep, tapping his influences and taking this particular gig to a whole other plane.

The stage was backlit as Bruce appeared in silhouette and the band pounded out a Bo Diddley rhythm. Bruce sang fragments of The Cricket’s “Not Fade Away” before moving into a primal “She’s The One” that featured his most electrified rockabilly guitar stabs of the night. Next, for “Working On The Highway“, Bruce had a black acoustic guitar slung across his back as he carried the mic stand across the room in an image that somehow recalled the classic pose of a young Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride. “Darlington County” was next and it was here that Bruce, now in the stands, won the heart of every sandgroper in the room by skolling a beer.

The night’s ethereal showstopper was a stark “For You” that featured Bruce alone at the piano. After a fierce reading of “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” the band closed the main set with “The Rising“.

Bruce called out to see some signs and a group of girls dubbed ‘Stevie’s Angels’ kept the party going as they danced on stage to “Ramrod“. The final furlong saw the house lights up for “Born To Run“, “Dancing In The Dark” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out“. The Isley’s Brothers’ “Shout” was the perfect finale as Bruce bellowed his classic one-liner ‘I’m just a prisoner of … rock and roll!’

Returning to the stage, alone, with an acoustic guitar, Springsteen performed a beautiful “Thunder Road“. As he promised hours earlier… magic happened.

– Sean Sennett