Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Mt Smart review

  • 01/03/2014

"Amazing", "loved it", "awesome" and "I'm glad I'm going again tonight". Those were just a few of the comments made to me after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's three-hour plus, 30-song show at Mt Smart. I really could end the review there. But there's a lot more to say about a night that I doubt anyone who was there will forget.

Okay full disclosure – I'm a fan, who paid for his own ticket. But I'll try my best to be impartial. 

It's a decade since Springsteen and the E Street Band's solitary previous New Zealand concert. Now they're back, playing to around 80,000 over two nights at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium. That's twice the number of us who were there at Western Springs, a testament to the way Springsteen's popularity and reputation has grown over the past decade. 

It's also a tribute to what a showman The Boss is that he could craft a set that would have pleased a very diverse crowd, from the children who were sitting on their parents' shoulders to the grandparents. Hardcore fans who knew all the words to those who know just the hits. The people who had come from across town because they were curious to the fans who had flown from the South Island, Australia and further afield because they had to be there. First-time concertgoers and people who have seen Springsteen dozens of times.

The omens were good. The crowd on the stadium floor was in fine voice for opener Jimmy Barnes' set, which was a mix of solo and Cold Chisel numbers and included a duet with daughter Mahalia on 'When the War Is Over'. A guest appearance by Steve Van Zandt on a song he wrote, 'Ride the Night Away' was the first of the night's surprises.

Then around 8pm Springsteen walks on. No band. It was just The Boss and his guitar and harmonica playing 'Royals' - Nebraska era Bruce Springsteen meets Lorde. Around me there were plenty of people who were singing along by the end of this one. Others not sure they could quite believe that he really did do this one.

My night was made with the second song. The full band ripped through 'My Love Will Not Let You Down'. For the first time, but not the last, Springsteen, Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Tom Morello stood shoulder to shoulder, playing guitar. Blood brothers. And don't forget drummer Max Weinberg who is a powerhouse, the glue that holds it all together. Through the show it was great to watch the interaction between Springsteen and Weinberg – the little nods, the unspoken communication between bandmates who have played together for four decades. 

By 'Badlands' the crowd around us was screaming. 'Out In the Streets' saw Bruce moving up and down the stage, shaking hands, working the crowd. 

By this point it was clear what makes his shows so special. More than anyone else I can recall, seeing Springsteen as an ability to smash through the invisible screen between audience and performer. Unlike some stars who act like we should be thrilled to be in their presence, Springsteen looks thrilled to be in ours. 

So of course, he throws in some requests. Song five is the first sign request of the night. 'Loose Ends'. "Obscure" choice says Bruce. It was a good one though.

In all there are 18 musicians on stage, all fantastic. They include multi instrumentalists Soozie Tyrell (violin, accoustic guitar, percussion) and Charles Giordano (organ, accordion and synthesiser). They are joined by the E Street Choir ( Cindy Mizelle, Curtis King, Michelle Moore and Everett Bradley) and by the E Street Horns - Jake Clemons, (sax), Barry Danielian (trumpet), Clark Gayton (trombone), Ed Manion (sax) and Curt Ramm (trumpet).

But special mention has to be made of piano player Roy Bittan and bass player Garry Tallent who are a joy to behold. So too is Jake Clemons who has filled the giant shoes of his uncle, Clarence Clemons.

On it went, one highlight after another. Morello was ferocious on 'High Hopes'. Seeing 'Atlantic City' with the full band was another. Then it was straight into a song I'd been hoping for, 'The River'. There were people around me who looked delirious. 

The Born In the USA album followed from "top to bottom". It was a smart way to pack in a large number of crowd favourites in quick succession. After all, this must still be Springsteen's biggest selling album in New Zealand. 

There were lots of signs with requests to dance with Bruce. We thought it would happen with 'Dancing In the Dark'. But it happened one song earlier. A lucky fan was plucked from the crowd to sing along to 'Glory Days'. I hope this one turns up on YouTube because she did a great job, taking over from Bruce for the "we're rocking now" refrain. The band looked really impressed too. 

At least half a dozen fans were invited onstage to sing and dance along to 'Dancing In the Dark'. 

Then it was an emotional 'My Hometown', dedicated "to our friends in Christchurch".

We were at two hours by that point. The band could have thrown in an encore and we'd have all gone home happy. But this is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Two hours?  They were just getting started.

An epic rendition of 'The Rising' and then what has consistently been a highlight of recent Springsteen shows, Bruce and Tom singing and trading lead guitar parts on an electrifying version of 'The Ghost of Tom Joad'. Morello's guitar playing had to be seen and heard to be believed. 

How do you top that? With another of my personal favourites. 'Land of Hope & Dreams'.

"This train. Dreams will not be thwarted.
This train. Faith will be rewarded.
This train. Hear the steel wheels singing.
This train. Bells of freedom ringing".

Then the encores.

'Born To Run'. Epic. Was there anyone in the stadium who was not signing along to this?

'Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)', a great sign request, picked by Steve Van Zandt.

"And now comes the important part". 'Tenth Avenue Freezeout', a fitting tribute to their late, great bandmates, Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.

Then there was one more, a rousing cover of The Isley Brothers' 'Shout'. Everyone's dancing along. Was anyone not standing for this one? 

Then Bruce shakes the hands of every band member and they are gone.  

It's just Bruce and his guitar. As my colleague Jane Luscombe so accurately texted me last night: "Bruce can't go home until he plays 'Thunder Road'. To end on it, solo, was perfect." 

It was a perfect end to what was a perfect evening. 

Highlights? There were too many to mention.  

But maybe it was something quite simple. Standing to my left was a long-haired young man, staring at the ground, singing along to every song, fists punching the air. To my right was an older woman, beaming, staring straight at the stage, also singing along to every word. About 10 metres behind us was a little girl on her dad's shoulders, with a smile so wide it could have lit up the stadium. Those three fans summed up the whole night for me. 

Amazingly there are still tickets to tonight's show. Grab one. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be back at Mt Smart and will once again show why they are a great live rock 'n' roll band. I think the greatest. They'll prove it all night. 

Footnote: The screens looked fantastic, helped by some excellent camerawork and direction. It was great work by the crew.

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source: newshub archive