Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in Melbourne

Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band’s live performances have become legendary tales of three hour epics filled with hits, rarities and covers, verging on a spiritual awakening, and tonight’s first Melbourne show is no different.

While the music on that beautiful summer’s night was a form of escape for most, Springsteen has become more outspoken on politics as he’s grown older and continues to use his music as a way to get his opinion across. With America in political upheaval, The Boss doesn’t miss the opportunity to take a jab at Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull’s telephone conversation about America accepting 1,250 refugees currently locked up on Manus Island and Nauru. Trump apparently deemed the arrangement “the worst deal ever” and it’s clear from the outset Springsteen has something on his mind.

Arriving to mass applause from the sold out crowd, the Boss takes to the mic to declare, “We stand before you, embarrassed Americans.” He continues, “We’re going to use this to send a letter back home,” kicking off proceedings with an acoustic cover of the Orlons’ 1962 pop hit, Don’t Hang Up. The political theme is current throughout the night, with American Land, Wrecking Ball and Irish-influenced protest song, Death To My Hometown, showing Springsteen’s intent. Keeping the commentary strictly lyrical, The Boss never comes across as pushy or demanding with his message, simply allowing his music to explain he thoughts and feelings on the current political and social climate.

Politics aside, Springsteen and co’s marathon 29-song performance is an emotional journey covering over three decades of rock and roll anthems. The Promised Land, Glory Days, Mary’s Place, and 9/11 call to arms, The Rising, have the crowd getting boisterous and singing along. The Ties That Bind arrives early and immediately showcases the chemistry between Springsteen and his bandana wearing close friend and guitarist Steven Van Zandt. Facing each other, the two share the microphone during the chorus, with Van Zandt’s smile never leaving his face. While the two have performed together since the E Street Band first formed in 1972, there seems to be an extra kick in his step tonight, with the accomplished musician and actor showing a warmth towards the Boss not seen on previous tours. It would be rude to single out only Van Zandt, as the entire E Street Band are on point tonight. Max Weinberg’s drumming is rhythmically crisp as he sits chewing gum without a  hair out of place. Nils Lofgren stalks the stage as he alternates between his guitar and slide guitar looking eerily like an American version of Keith Richards. Garry Tallent keeps to the side as his bass anchors the band, Roy Bittan dazzles on the keyboards while Soozie Tyrell’s soaring backing vocals and violin work adds another dimension to the arrangements. Then there’s the escapable and towering presence of Jake Clemons. Since the death of his uncle and E Street legend, Clarence Clemons, Jake has assumed the role of saxophonist with gusto and fast become the ideal replacement for his uncle.

The hits continue roll out as the night passes by in a blur of good time rock anthems. A powerful rendition of Murder Incorporated follows Nebraska cut Johnny 99. Atlantic City is given an up-tempo makeover, Badlands has the seated sections of the  crowd out their seats and a rollicking cover of Patti Smith’s “Because Of The Night” has the crowd in full voice.

The Boss is in fine form throughout the night, making his way along the front barriers and standing on raised platforms in the audience while continuing to entertain. He’s offered half a beer and downs it like a champion and happily shakes hands with fans during instrumental parts of songs. Despite his age – 67 – The Boss has lost none of his enthusiasm or energy, and much like a fine wine, just gets better with age.

The quieter moments are just as impactful, with Bruce performing an emotive I’m On Fire and being joined on stage by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on a breathtaking New York City Serenade. An acoustic take on Long Walk Home adds gravitas to a song about Springsteen’s relationship with America and kicks off a whirlwind six-track encore. Born To Run blasts around the stadium with the impact it still had when first released over 30 years ago and Dancing In The Dark finds Springsteen pulling a number of women whose signs have caught his eye on stage to dance with him, with one lucky lass even getting Lofgren’s guitar to play. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, played at every show as a tribute to fallen comrades Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, gets a rousing reception and allows Springsteen to introduce the members of his band with his famous, “You’ve just seen… the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, le-gen-dary E Street Band!”

With the floodlights turned on and illuminating the near 50 thousand capacity crowd, Springsteen leans against the microphone stand in the centre of the stage with refuel smile. As his band continue performing a cover of The Top Notes’ Twist And Shout, The Boss looks out into the masses, breathing heavily. With his red check shirt open to the chest and saturated with his sweat, Bruce, much like his audience, looks exhausted yet euphoric. “This is it. I can’t go on anymore,” he explains, the smile never leaving his face. Screams for “more” ring around AMII Park as Springsteen and his band repeat the chorus one last time before bringing things to a deafening close, proving once again that there is no better live experience than Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Image: The Beat (Tony Proudfoot)