There are certain elements that you expect going into a Bruce Springsteen concert; showmanship, musicianship, heart-on-the-sleeve and knees-to-the-floor pleas to your most uncomplicated emotions. His first show of his 2017 summer tour at Melbourne’s AAMI Park provided all of the above in a huge, bombastic display that also made room for some pointed political observations and some incredible pop music.
There’s nothing quite like seeing The E Street Band in full swing. As organised – almost to the point of choreography – as each member’s poses were, that doesn’t take away from the formidable force that the band are, and have always been.
The camaraderie is a big part of this, and the image of Steve Van Zandt and Springsteen sharing a mic to harmonise during Two Hearts Are Better Than One and Promised Land was a heartwarming one, even if it served more of a visual than musical purpose.
Springsteen famously runs a tight ship and the attention to detail he expects as a band leader were constantly evident, as every player pulled their weight within the band and shone in their allotted solo sections. The Boss himself threw them directions both obvious and subtle throughout the night, such as air drumming a fill to signal that Max Weinberg should transition from one song to the next, or by throwing jabs with his elbows to signal some percussive accent, which the drummer immediately imitated.
While there were no knee slides or crowd surfing, Springsteen moved around the several tiers of the large stage with the energy of a man half his age, his voice impressively strong.
He paraded down the extended platforms constructed around the stage, pointed and smiled at to select people, and knelt down into the crowd, allowing their hands to grip his jeans and strum his guitar. This was a man who knows his audience and has learned how to make them feel something through channelling heartfelt music through the machinery of spectacle.
During the organ filled introduction to Mary’s Place he seemed to take on the role of a gospel preacher, lamenting, “shit is fucked up at home,” and urging the crowd to help him with their voices. This ushered in a run of politically charged songs from Badlands, Land of Hope and Dreams, to Long Walk Home, which was introduced as being written during the Bush administration – becoming more relevant now than it has in years.
If Springsteen has a fault it’s that he often tries to make songs fit to the dynamic of the show and not the other way around, and with all of those big moments some of the song’s more subtle personality traits can get lost. Atlantic City has decidedly less impact as a rousing band number than in its original acoustic form, while The River understandably lost a little of its stark intimacy thanks mostly to the stadium setting.
The familiar intro of Born To Run signalled a home stretch of hits guaranteed to keep everyone on their feet and singing along through the crowd participation moments of Dancing in the Dark and the Clarence Clemons tribute of 10th Avenue Freeze Out.
While there was plenty of room for unabashed cheesy moments, what was more important was that Springsteen and band were clearly working very hard to make sure that the entire audience was as entertained as possible.
The night ended with two Isley Brothers covers – Shout, and Twist and Shout, and it was during the latter that fireworks exploded over the stadium’s open rooftop. It was a final expression of the showmanship that Springsteen had been building on since arriving on stage over three hours earlier.
Highlight: Too many to choose
Lowlight: Perhaps one too many energetic 12-bar blues songs in a row
Crowd Favourite: Born To Run
By Alex Watts
Image: Tony Proudfoot