March 30, 2013

Notes from the road: Hanging Rock, Night #1

Folklore, myth and urban legend surround the Hanging Rock region: it’s burnt into the psyche of many Australians. Parked cars have been known to roll backwards up the surrounding hills. It’s the kind of place, where, an eerie, other worldliness, hangs in the air. Tonight the Rock received a visitation from the Jersey Devil himself.

A rural location, the actual rock served as the perfect backdrop as the day began with a fine set from relative newcomers, The Ruebens, followed by a top notch selection from much loved local hero, Jimmy Barnes.

The 17, 000 people in attendance made this the largest audience of Bruce Springsteen’s, Australian, Wrecking Ball tour. It’s also the biggest number of paying customers the site has ever hosted. With the sun still a good half an hour away from dipping, Bruce opened up with the call to arms of Badlands. With Max’s cymbals still splashing, Bruce tore into Prove It All Night. There was no ’78 Intro’ this time around: the band dove straight into the tune allowing Nils to pull out an absolute blinder of a solo that was capped off not only with a pirouette, but with the Hendrixian move of playing the final notes with his teeth. The E Street Band was taking no prisoners.

High Hopes hit a funky groove courtesy of Tom Morello’s guitar lines, while the band hit a Wrecking Ball sweet spot with three tunes from the album; the superb We Take Care Of Our Own, the title track and Death To My Hometown. Hearing those lines ‘tonight all your dead are here’, in the shadow of the rock, carried a particular gravitas.

After a hair-raising crowd surf, Bruce finished Hungry Heart and moved into the jazz infused Spirit In The Night. Looking for a sign, Bruce admitted that you’ve “been hard at work on your crafts at home – I’m impressed!”

The sun had dropped like a dollar coin in a parking meter. The hills were now pitch black as Bruce led the band into The River. His elongated, pitch perfect, falsetto, as the song faded, was goose bump material. Jimmy Barnes re-appeared for a duet on Tougher Than The Rest. It was quite a moment to see two iconic figures singing harmony.

Asking to see more signs, Bruce was now using the prepared set list as mud map, while adding a double shot from the Nebraska album, Atlantic City and Johnny 99. As bootleggers still ponder what the electric Nebraska may, or may not, sound like: there’s a fair chance, if it exists, it won’t be better than this.

Pay Me My Money Down is always a concert highlight. It was followed by another venture by Bruce out into the audience, with Nils in tow, for Darlington County, then Shackled And Drawn and Waiting On A Sunny Day.

“I’m Waiting To Sing With The Boss,” read the sign, and one lucky boy, who nailed the ‘C’mon E Street Band line’, earned himself a spot-playing guitar as well.

The mood changed as the band began a no holds barred Promised Land followed by, possibly, the most intense reading of The Rising that they’ve played, on this Australian tour to date. A show-stopping reinvention of The Ghost Of Tom Joad came next.

Thunder Road kept up the momentum and featured the charismatic Jake Clemons, on sax, playing his Uncle’s glorious solo. With the main set over, Bruce took delight in reading some of the more interesting signs. “It’s good practise for my future as a game show host – when the music thing goes sour.”

In the hopes of inspiring a pregnancy, one woman asked for her belly to be rubbed for good luck. Mr Springsteen complied and we hope if the couple in question do fall pregnant they return the favour by dubbing their offspring, “Bruce.” If I Should Fall Behind was gifted to her, while Because The Night was played for another sign holder who intended to propose to his partner while the band played it.

If there had been a roof on this venue, Born To Run would have torn it off. The encore was a knockout. Another sign read “Play Glory Days For My Family In The Cheap Seats” and Bruce did just that. Dancing In The Dark saw a young woman mimic Ms. Cox’s trademarked moves, while Tenth Avenue Freezeout remains an inspiring tribute to the band’s fallen comrades: Clarence and Danny.

A fantastic show, we look forward to bringing you the final in this series of Notes From The Road as Bruce and the band deliver ‘another spectacular’ tomorrow night.

Is there anybody alive out there tonight?

Sean Sennett