28 years … 28 years I’ve been a Brooooce fan. 28 Years and I’ve never seen him play an all time favourite song of mine, “The River”, live. Admittedly, tonight was only the 3rd time I’d seen the man who recorded the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th albums I ever bought (Born In The USA, Born To Run, The River, Darkness On The Edge Of Town if you’re interested. Marillion were the 2nd and 4th), but given it’s one of his absolute classics, you’d expect, nay demand he play it every time. Well, tonight, within the beautiful surrounds of the Macedon Range’s Hanging Rock, he played it, and as the mournful harmonica intro’d it i started to smile, and grin, and sway … and I’m not ashamed to say it, as he went into the “driving in my brother’s car” section, I also teared up a little.
Bruce, and yes I feel I can call him by his first name, and the E-Street Band have always been part of my musical life and so these songs are so much more than cool beats, nice melodies and wonderful storytelling. These songs have soundtracked my, and everyone else here tonight’s lives.
Hanging Rock, is an eerie place. At dusk, the rocks look alive, the show lights dancing on them invite fleeting thoughts of movement and unearthly eyes watching Bruce as intently as us. Could it be missing schoolgirls from the book “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, or the spirits of the ancient aboriginals appreciating Bruce from their sacred place? It could be, he has an audience that showcases all ages and every walk of life who’ve descended here from all over Australia, but in all likelihood, it was probably just the ‘roos.
This was the penultimate night of the tour, and the whole band and crowd were up for it. From opener “Badlands”, to closer “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” 3 hours later, we saw Bruce the crowd surfer, balladeer, rockabilly king, band leader, generous support and above all the ringmaster as he toyed with our energy, emotions and voices.
Fleeting concerns about how Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, with his distinctive style, would fit in as replacement for Miami Steve van Zandt proved unfounded. Tom was content to play a team role before really coming into his own during a searing take on “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”, a song Rage themselves covered, where Tom shared vocals and displayed his own astounding, gasp inducing virtuosity during the extended solo.
The mainstay set for this tour has included old classics like “Prove It All Night”, “Spirit In The Night” from his debut album, and the impossible to stand still for Havalina’s cover “High Hopes”. But as with any Bruce show, it’s the sign request sections that give it the spontaneity, and tonight we were treated to full band versions of Nebraska’s “Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99”. The latter in particular was played like the recently reformed Frantic 4, Status Quo. Put your preconceptions aside, as this is not a horrific thought, and it turned a terrific rockabilly song into a full on big band boogie. The Hanging Rock masses danced and grooved in agreement.
There are many wonderful live acts out there, but Bruce and the E-Street Band are consistently ranked as the greatest. Why is that? It’s probably the way that they wholly engage the audience in the show, no matter how far back they stretch. The sign requests, picking the girls out of the crowd to dance with as a nod to the iconic video dance with a young Courtney Cox, and most heart warming of all, pulling young kids out of the crowd to sing with him on the whimsical “Waiting On A Sunny Day”. Tonight was a young lad, couldn’t have been anymore than 12, and Bruce made his night as he gave him the mic, then strapped a guitar on him and got him to bring the song to an end with a synchronised jump. Yes, he does it all the time, but even the most cynical amongst us can’t fail to be moved.
As if that wasn’t enough, he further delighted the all ages Aussie crowd with a duet with one of their own. Jimmy Barnes had delighted all with his earlier support set, and was then brought out to duet with Bruce on “Tougher Than The Rest”. If I’m honest, it was the only real flat point of the show for me, but i reckon i was in a minority of one here.
In seemingly no time at all we’re through 2 and a half hours and into the encores. Special mention must go out here from Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons, who handled the Big Man’s parts with aplomb throughout, and who consistently received attention, thanks, encouragement and hugs from Bruce. Big shoes to fill, but he, and the E-Street horns, brought a bit of New Orleans to the Jersey Shore with considerable style.
Just time to finish off with a sign request for “Because The Night”, another favourite and with Bruce strangely taking Nils’ guitar solo, then the run to the finish of “Born To Run”, “Glory Days”, “Dancing In The Dark” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” with the band appropriately freezing as screens paid tribute to the sadly departed Clarence and Danny Federici. A touching moment to end a wonderful concert. Even the missus enjoyed it.