February 23, 2014

Notes from the road: Hunter Valley #2

Bruce Springsteen is rock’s equivalent of a tightrope walker. A trapeze artist, his only safety net is fifty years of experience and a band he trusts. Human being’s generally crave order: while nature thrives on chaos. Bruce Springsteen mixes both components and reinvents himself every night.

Tonight the tour bus is still in wine country, so Bruce gets his band together to learn a new song. The sun is starting to drop and Curtis King Jr. walks on stage brushing a guiro and the rest of the band follow one by one. A groove starts to build and Bruce opens with the spoken word monologue from Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill The Wine“, then … BOOM! The chorus hits and 17 000 people are singing it. Michelle Moore plays the temptress with wine and bottle in hand. It’s pure theatre as the band run with the infectious riff and the horns hit it out of the park.

My Love Will Not Let You Down” is next and tonight it is incendiary. Four guitars shredding the riff, Garry Tallent’s killer bass lines and Max Weinberg’s powerhouse drum fills take the song into that magic place where your brain is completely in the ‘moment’. “Death To My Hometown” is typically rousing and is followed by a Bruce ‘audible’ as he calls for “Seeds“. The band plays the dirtiest riff this side of the Mississippi Delta and again the horns are blazing out their lines.

Out In The Street” sees Bruce out among the fans and he starts collecting signs. One request is unravelled letter by letter on the big screen: R. O. S … it’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and it’s performed in all its wide-screen glory. As the ending becomes more frenetic, Bruce ups the antics. Steve gets his ear bitten and the pair play out their best Three Stooges moves for the big screen … complete with Bruce’s best canine impression.

High Hopes” is delivered with passion. Charlie’s accordion shines and Tom Morello sets the benchmark for the type of off-the-chart- solos he’ll be playing for the rest of the night. “Just Like Fire Would” is played like the band own it. Never has so much joyful singing conjoined with a murder ballad as it has tonight on the rockabilly infused “Johnny 99“.

Heaven’s Wall” remains a standout from the new album High Hopes, while the opening gambit of ‘raise your hand’ enhances the mood of a modern gospel classic. The band faltered on the opening bars of Brilliant Disguise, before Bruce re-set the course. It was that ‘little bit of chaos’ which makes a set list so memorable, and tonight Brilliant Disguise was just that … brilliant.

Human Touch” followed and featured superb lead guitar from Bruce: while the final hook in the song set the venue alight (Again the horns brought so much to the arrangement).

Bruce set the scene with a little chat pre-“I’m Going Down“, which added to the context of the song and kept the audience on their collective feet. “Pay Me My Money Down” saw Bruce bring the ensemble to the front. Then, for a minute, all we heard was Charlie on accordion before Bruce hummed out a riff for the rest of the troupe to follow. “Shackled And Drawn” was next. The band went into high gear with “Radio Nowhere“. The song was so well received you’d be forgiven for thinking that is was currently in the Top 40. The main set was rounded out with an intense a triumvirate as you’re likely to hear: “The Rising“, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Badlands“.

Dedicating the first song of the encore to the late Dan Federici, Bruce, with Roy on accordion, gave a gorgeous reading of “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)“. A tour premiere, it was followed by … wait for it… “Born In The USA“, “Born To Run” … a plea to ‘shake those Australian asses’, “Ramrod” and “Dancing In The Dark“. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was once again magnificent, before Bruce asked if we were ‘ready to quit’. Of course we weren’t and neither was he. Doused by Steve who wrung a wet sponge over his face, Bruce rallied for a glorious cover of John Fogerty’s “Rocking All Over The World” that came with fireworks launched in a neighbouring field.

Someone held up a sign for “I Wish I Were Blind” and Bruce enquired if a heart had been broken. ‘No’ was the answer. ‘So you’re an art lover’ offered Bruce before playing a spell binding version of the tune where you could’ve heard a pin drop. Still alone, on his acoustic guitar, Bruce finished the night with “Thunder Road“. Again, there was silence as the tightrope walker held the audience spellbound.

-Sean Sennett