March 2, 2014

Notes from the road: Auckland #2

New Zealand. It’s the final round of what has been an extraordinary series of concerts through Australasia. Again, Mahalia Barnes impressed those that arrived at the stadium early. Jimmy Barnes turned in a fiery set that included Driving Wheels, No Second Prize and Working Class Man alongside Cold Chisel favorites Merry Go Round, Flame Trees and Khe Sahn. Special mention has to go to Ride The Night Away, which featured a guest appearance from Little Steven.

The patchy weather cleared as Bruce appeared alone with an acoustic guitar. He opened the set with a sterling cover of Lorde’s Royals. Bruce inhabited the song as if it were his own. Swapping the gender lines, it really felt like he was the ‘King’ in question.

The band hit the stage and it was time to crank it up. The troupe slammed into We Take Care Of Our Own, a number so rousing it has become alternate anthem in the post-GFC world. No Surrender was next and, in a stadium this big, the song brought with it a sense of the communal. The guy next to me wondered aloud if Steve Van Zandt was writing the set list: Two Hearts followed and it was an absolute corker. Seeing Bruce and Stevie on the same mic brings nothing but joy, while this particular reading was killer.

Bruce tossed his guitar to Kevin and the band maintained the sing-a-long vibe with Hungry Heart. Reaching for his harp, Promised Land was next. The show was shaping up to be a special night, which was only exemplified when the horns kicked into the guttural riff for Seeds. There’s a phrase going around, suggested by Jackson Browne, that the E Street Band is a very large house. Watching the superb additional players and singers in action is always a thrill: but nothing matches the charisma and prowess of the core band. They deserve the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame acknowledgment, because, in 2014, with a wonderful history behind them, they bring the heat night after night after night.

Death To My Hometown was the first of a trio of songs that highlight Bruce’s Wrecking Ball/High Hopes work. Bruce hasn’t toured NZ since The Rising, where it rained so much traces of New Zealand clay can still be found on the road cases. High Hopes was something else, while Just Like Fire Would kept the party going.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town took the mood somewhere more ethereal, while Bruce went into a monologue about ‘soul’ before dedicating My City Of Ruins to Christchurch’s earthquake victims. Now it was time for some widescreen rock action. Bruce announced that he’d be playing Born To Run in its entirety. Thunder Road, with the full band arrangement, was stunning. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out  was played as a tribute to Clarence and Danny. Night was… out of sight. Backstreets featured a beautiful segue into Sad Eyes and back. Born To Run was fantastic, She’s The One was nothing short of primeval; featuring what Bruce has called his Spitfire guitar work. Meeting Across the River further illustrated this remarkable bands’ subtle power. Curt Ramm’s trumpet solo was simply perfect. Garry’s bass playing underpinned it all alongside Max’s drumming. A shout out has to go to Prof. Roy Bittan: every night Roy has delivered mesmerizing work. Jungleland, a masterpiece, within a masterpiece, played the album out.

The main set closed out with The Rising, The Ghost of Tom Joad (where Morello’s guitar work may well have been an outer body experience for him), and Badlands. Next came the sing-along of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day and a frantic Glory Days. Moon Mullican’s glorious mission statement 7 Nights To Rock saw Bruce enter a new dimension, sponges were thrown, water was thrown and Roy’s piano was played, by Bruce, with his head!

Bobby Jean, with its poignant lines about friendship remembered, preceded Dancing In The Dark, which featured a flotilla of sign carrying dancers. During the song a stranger looked at me from thirty feet away and sang the lyrics … I sang them back. It was that kind of night. Where else could Bruce go but Twist And Shout. After over three hours of power he collapsed on stage and was lifted back to his feet where he closed with his E Street validation … ‘did I say viagra takin?’ Then, as it began, Bruce was back on stage alone. This Hard Land brought an extraordinary run of dates to a close. This series of shows have been remarkable. Newcomers have marveled, old hands have gathered and formed new friendships and others, who have traveled over shark invested waters of their own to be here were treated to something special.

Bruce… you’ve set the bar mighty high. For all of us who saw you on this remarkable tour … thank you. You were mighty.

-Sean Sennett