January 27, 2014

Notes from the road: Cape Town #1

From a cover of the Special AKA anti-apartheid song, Free Nelson Mandela, to his crowd-pleasing classics like Hungry Heart and Born in the USA, and a mix of tracks from his new album, High Hopes, Bruce Springsteen had the Cape Town crowd eating out of the palm of his hand from the first note to the last of his sell-out show last night. Launching his High Hopes tour in South Africa yesterday, Bruce repeatedly told the crowd, smiling from ear to ear, that he had travelled 8000 miles to play in a place just like the Ashbury Park Convention Centre where he’d played often in his youth. “I came all this way to play to you Cape Town in an arena that is exactly like home,” he said grinning.

Free Nelson Mandela he boomed out across the audience as the show started, and he ended the song with his first words to us: “I’m so glad to be in the land of Mandela”. As we stood there is awe Bruce went on a non-stop, energy infused journey of his musical career, singing the songs we love and the songs we loved last night. The new album is currently topping charts all over the world. He belted out spirited anthems like Born in the USA, which he sang with heart-pounding energy, putting everything he had into the gravelly vocals, half fainting from exhaustion by the end of the song. He sang lonely, ballads like a one man version of Thunder Road as his final encore, accompanied only by some chords on his harmonic in a shallow puddle of stage light.

In between he lifted and dropped us, told us to get our bums out of our seats, looked into the faces of the ones that had queued for hours to be in the front row of the golden circle and stepped into the crowd to take his fans hands, give the lucky few a smile, and even a kiss. Early in his set while singing one of his new songs, he leaned back into the crowd and fell into us pointing to stage while he crowd surfed. “It’s only scary the first time,” he said.

Often with other singers, there’s a barrier. With Bruce there is no barrier. He’s down there with us, feeding off our energy as we feed off his.

When Tom Morello, the newest edition to the band, joined Bruce for an amazing duet performance of The Ghost of Old Tom Joad, we all knew why Morello is now an honorary member of Bruce’s musical family – he played a guitar solo, fingers flying across the strings, scratching them like a DJ scratches vinyl, Bruce standing back to admire his work.

Dancing In the Dark had everyone singing along. Then Bruce pulled some people out of the audience to dance with his band members.

In a rocking show in Cape Town that’s had the whole country talking, Bruce didn’t rely on the tricks of the performer’s trade to get us eating out of his hands. There were no elaborate costume changes, stage sets or even a huge booming sound system, but his non-stop, sweat drenched performance was all about getting down and dirty with us, exuding sex appeal and making his fans’ dreams come true.

– Andrea Nagel