March 1, 2014

Notes from the road: Auckland #1

New Zealand: the land of the long white cloud. After a quick trip across the Tasman Sea, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band landed in Auckland, match fit and ready to rumble. Strolling through the city a few hours before the gig, Bruce’s music was blaring from car radios, cafés and record bars. Forty thousand people turned up to Mt. Smart Stadium for Springsteen’s first NZ gig in eleven years. They weren’t disappointed.

Mahalia Barnes turned heads in a stunning opening set. After the Mexican Wave died down, Jimmy Barnes played a mix of Cold Chisel hits and solo classics, which included a guest appearance from Little Steven on the hit he wrote, Ride The Night Away.

A little before 8pm, it was time for the main event. Again Bruce opened with a unpredictable cover. This time around Bruce opted for Lorde’s international smash Royals. Stripped back to a bare bones acoustic reading, certain lines could have come straight out of his own songbook: ‘we don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams’. The response was enormous.

The E Street Band then hit the stage and the ensemble tore into a rousing My Love Will Not Let You Down. For this reporter, there’s no finer sight in the E Street Nation than seeing Bruce, Steven, Nils and Tom shredding at the foot of the stage. Throw in Max’s drumming, and Garry’s bass parts, and you’ve got an absolute powerhouse of a song. While we’re talking about Garry… this side of Paul McCartney he’s simply one of the best in the business.

As the song faded Bruce called for Badlands, which was, as it has been for the entire tour, searing. Keeping the energy up, the next audible was Out In The Street. Four songs in the stadium was won over. Spotting a sign, Bruce opted for a song from the relative margins, Loose Ends.Given NZ hasn’t seen Bruce in a while it was great to get a trio of ‘newer’ songs, Wrecking Ball (with all guitarists singing the refrain), Death To My Hometown and High Hopes. On the latter, Tom’s guitar work was ferocious.

Atlantic City, which started with Max and Bruce, was next. A highlight, the song was augmented by terrific backing vocals from Nils and Bruce’s perfect execution of the narrative.The first spellbinder of the night was The River. From Bruce’s harp through to his falsetto in the closing lines, the song remains nothing short of masterful, and kudos again to Steven for his Keith Richards-esque work on the twelve-string.

Bruce thanked ‘everyone for showing up’ and then announced the band would be playing ‘Born In The USA from top to bottom’. A great move, the album, as in Australia, was Bruce’s commercial breakthrough in this territory.

The title track was rocking and Max nailed it on his signature drum part. Cover Me was an absolute scorcher and you can understand why Bruce refers to Nils as ‘the great Nils Lofgren’. Darlington County and Working On The Highway are fantastic stadium style sing-alongs. Downbound Train (one of my Top 10 Bruce songs) was sublime, while I’m On Fire featured pretty much everyone in attendance singing word for word.

No Surrender (with the brilliant ‘we learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school’ line), Bobby Jean and I’m Goin’ Down kept the mood up. Bruce gave us a neat preamble to set up the mise-en-scene of the latter.

Glory Days was a smash and Bruce asked a young lady to dance who, brilliantly, took over the microphone to cover his ‘ad-libs’ … ‘we’re rocking now’, which was followed by some serious rump shaking for the camera. Dancing In The Dark featured more audience participation as well as some very cool signs , such as,‘I’m smitten with Bittan’. Bruce closed the ‘album’ by dedicating My Hometown to ‘our friends in Christchurch’.

The main set closed with The Rising, The Ghost of Tom Joad and Land Of Hope and Dreams. The subsequent encore was stunning. There’s no other word for it. With one of the best shows of the tour already behind them: the band went into interstellar overdrive with Born To Run, a crazed version of Rosalita (complete with a big screen semi-flasher) and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. The band introductions now include Steve as ‘the King of Lillyhammer’. Shout was the band’s final number and Bruce took the opportunity to let NZ know that next time the troupe are in this region ’we won’t miss you again’.

The night closed with Bruce on stage, as he started the evening, with an acoustic guitar. This time he played his own masterpiece, Thunder Road.

-Sean Sennett