Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An appointment with the Boss

Two weeks ago Rich and I acheived a long held and discussed mutual ambition and went on a lightning quick road trip (along with Rich's brother) up to Auckland to finally see Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band live, after years of being a fan. Rather than try and review the concert, I'll let the Herald's excellent run-down do that. Instead I thought I'd just record a few notes and impressions.

-Wandering around downtown on a sunny afternoon with good friends noting every music shop is playing Springsteen, and spotting Brooooooooce fans is a great way to spend an afternoon pre-gig.

-Train is the best way to get to an event like this. No muss no fuss, and we didn't even have to pay for it, even if we were nowhere near as photogenic and bubbly as the people in the picture.

-I've been to Mt Smart stadium for so many concerts now it doesn't even feel like leaving home - I know it better than the stadium in Wellington even. It may have it's critics, but I really can't complain about it. Sunset on a summer's evening at a concert at Mt Smart is one of my favourite places to be.

-Some people just don't get the art of buying merch. Waiting until you are at the front of the queue before deciding on your purchase (after trying on every option) is not cool. Know your size, spend your time in the queue looking at the display items on the back wall of the cart, get there, get it and get out. Job done.

-Concentrating the bar in one large area might seem like a good idea, but is kind of shambolic in practice. Queueing 25 minutes for a (warm, overpriced) drink isn't fun.

-Being able to shed shoes and socks and chill out for a bit on some very nicely manicured turf is nice, although that ground is hard at this time of year - I'm glad I don't have to run around on it wearing football boots to earn a living. That and I'm shit at Rugby League.

-Mahlia Barnes was capable as a support act, even if not really my style, and let's face it no-one is there to see the opening act anyway.

-Second support act Jimmy Barnes doesn't sing so much as yell at the microphone until it does what he wants. Barnes' trademark rasp also appeared to be giving his sound engineer headaches judging by the levels. Still it was a good set, with a lot of old favourites from his solo stuff and Cold Chisel. It's often dismissed as bogan chic but the guy has actually written more than a few good songs in his time. I loved seeing "Flame Trees" and "Working Class Man" in particular, "believes in God and Elvis", and "who needs that sentimental bullshit anyway" from those songs being some of my favourite lyrics by anyone.

-The crowd doing mexican waves, and Bruce timing his walk out, alone with no fanfare, only an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, to exactly the moment the wave got to the stage and starting to sing this. Legendary moment.

-Covering Royals as the local song for this venue appears to have polarised people a bit - a lot of people hate the song choice and rendering, and a lot of people love it too. I'm in the latter camp. I thought it was a great choice, and here's why. Lorde is current, and in at least one way, comparable to Springsteen - both are from relatively humble backgrouds they have both been deemed the next big thing at some point in their lives. Some people have said "oh he should have done Crowded House, or Finn, or Dobbyn or Shihad or something" (usually the people to whom NZ music begins and ends with those artists), which would have been okay, but also cringey in a way (and I'm a fan of those artists too). It's been done already for one, and those artists are just not as relevant as Lorde is right now. And I liked Springsteen's rendering, and his lyrical changes - a good cover should sound like the artist wrote it themselves, and while not perfect, Springsteen managed that. Disclaimer: I like Lorde and Royals anyway.

-Seeing Tom Morello in this context is initially a bit wierd, but quickly becomes normal.

-The E-Street band is tight, and a buzz to watch. They may have done all this a thousand times before, but the exuberance and enjoyment is right there for all to see. Speaking of which, the three giant screens only showed what was on stage, which was great for those of us in the 200th row, but also good for focussing on the music rather than any stageshow gimmicks. This gig was all about the music. Even the slightly contrived moments, the rock and roll theatre stuff you're expecting still works because everyone involved is having such a good time.

-Compared to Barnes' at times patchy sound mix, Springsteen's was perfect.

-Bruce himself clearly knows and appreciates the art of audience interaction, even if he isn't familiar enough a performer here for the crowd to pick up some of his leads.

-The set and show itself was epic, three hours with only very short breaks, and Bruce himself sustaining the energy and performance like a guy half his age. It was just one big party. I know a few people who were less than enthusiastic about the E-Street Band being on this tour, and of a few who declared they wouldn't bother because it wasn't Bruce without the E-Street Band. It's a purist thing I guess. His most well known material is with that band, and if that's too commercial for you, meh. Playing the "Born in The USA" album in it's entirety seemed to justify the "commercial" critics (and while most successful, I'll admit it might not be his best or most representative album), but this was only the second time he has ever played NZ, and the first with E-Street. "USA" was a breakthrough album for him here, most of it never played here before, so why not play it, especially when there is an hour of other material either side of it in the set. It just added to the spectacle. There was only one two songs I really would have liked to see that weren't played, but I can't complain given all the others that were.

-The old story of seeing songs you've grown up with live for the first time played it's part. I've been listening to "The River" for thirty years, but never heard it with as much emotion as I did seeing it live. Likewise for some of the Born in the USA tracks, just for seeing Max Weinberg doing all that drumming I love on that album.

-Closing the show as it began, alone with a guitar and harmonica to perform "Thunder Road" was a perfect coda.

-And then it was all over. The lights come up and it's time to go. I've seen it a bunch of times, and it never fails to impress just how quickly a big crowd can disperse after the show.

-And after that, the familiar walk down the road in industrial south Auckland to wherever your ride is:

-It was awesome.