February 19, 2014

Notes from the road: Sydney

It’s Sydney. It’s raining. Traffic is at a standstill, and it’s the middle of the working week. By 8pm, all of that bad stuff is checked at the door. Allphones Arena is a rock and roll cauldron. It’s Bruce Springsteen’s only Sydney date and the mood in the room is heating up.

On stage, a single spotlight hits Bruce as the band carves out a familiar riff. ‘Wednesday just won’t go/Thursday goes too slow … I’ve got Friday on my mind’. The arena erupts and Bruce and the E Street Band kick out the jams on a rocking cover of the Easybeats’ clarion call against the drudgery of the working week. It’s showtime and then the band dive headlong into Out In The Street. They’ve arrived in fifth gear and, taking cues from the crowd, Bruce grabs a sign that reads, “Cadillac Ranch“. Steven excels on guitar and it’s going to be one of those nights. Suddenly Wednesday is feeling a helluva lot like Friday.

High Hopes comes next and the song has earned its spot as a touchstone of the set. The Reverend Everett grooves with Bruce’s acoustic guitar while Tom Morello shows early signs of being on fire tonight. The Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would” gathers intensity every time it’s played. Now it’s garnishing widespread radio support in Australia, the audience are all too willing to sing the choruses back to the band.

Spirit In The Night” sees Bruce sitting at the foot of the stage to tell an anecdote, but first he reminds us he’s ‘gonna be sixty-fucking-five’ and he’s seen ‘a lot of things in fifty years of travelling’. What he hadn’t seen, prior to Sydney, was an intuitive toilet seat that heralds your arrival by raising its’ lid. Seeing this as a ‘mystical sign’, the crowd are asked ‘can you feel the spirit?’ The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Crowd surfing back to the main stage Bruce admits it was a ‘hairy ‘ ride and thanked the audience ‘for not killing me’.

Ed ‘The Thin Man’ Manion shines on sax all night. “Spirit” is one of his many standouts. Sadly, Jake Clemons’ father, Bill Clemons, also a musician, passed away and Jake has made an emergency trip to the states.

Fans had been speculating all day as to whether Bruce would turn on the heat with another full-album show. He didn’t let us down and Sydney was treated to “Darkness On The Edge Of Town“, performed, in its’ entirety. The piece was fantastic and highlights, apart from the songs themselves, included Bruce’s singing, harp playing and searing guitar work.

Badlands” was possibly the most incendiary of the tour. Bruce has called the album his ‘samurai record’ with good reason. “Something In The Night” featured superb piano from Roy Bittan, and then there was Nils Lofgren’s incredible solo on “Prove It All Night“. Add to the mix “Racing In The Street“, “Candy’s Room“, “Factory” and “Promised Land” and you’re looking at a master-class in both detailed Americana portraiture and song writing.
Darlington County” was almost a counter punch against the intensity of Darkness. With it’s opening riff, which now resembles the bastard son of Honky Tonk Women, the song sent Bruce off into the stalls … skolling beer and eating potato chips.

Shackled And Drawn” was followed by a joyous “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” which featured, arguably, the youngest guest vocalist of the tour and “The Ghost Of Tom Joad“, where Morello played lead guitar like he was having an out of body experience.

Land Of Hope And Dreams” concluded the main set and then Bruce threw the audience a brilliant curve ball: a cover of INX’s “Don’t Change“. INXS, on the back of a mini-series based on their career, are currently enjoying the #1 album slot in Australia. With its chiming riff, “Don’t Change” took the audience by surprise initially and then had everyone singing the chorus. The song led into a thrilling “Born To Run“. The house lights were up. The band were in full flight and then… the wheels fell off. Bruce called a halt and the E Streeters hit it again. Bruce was doing Townsend style windmills – before pretending to strangle Steven and concluding, ‘That’s the fastest we ever played that motherfucker!’

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was followed by a version of Shout that was so life affirming it was worthy of a visitation from the late/great Johnny O’Keefe himself.

On stage with just an acoustic guitar Bruce played “Surprise, Surprise” as a birthday request from Eddie who’s just turned ‘23’. Bruce admitted at the same age, having written “Blinded By The Light“, ‘my brain was fucking scrambled at the time’.

As “Shout” took us into a frenzy, Bruce took the show in completely the opposite direction only two songs later. A pump organ was brought on stage for a mesmerising reading of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream“.
From Darkness On The Edge Of Town to the covers and his own material: Springsteen proves, yet again, that in 2014, he is simply peerless.

-Sean Sennett