Bruce Springsteen returned to Adelaide this week amid political turmoil in the United States, but his typically epic performance gave the news-weary audience hope once more, writes Walter Marsh.
What a strange, emotional fortnight this must be for Bruce Springsteen. Barely ten days ago he was performing an intimate White House gig to farewell Obama staffers, and now he’s stuck halfway across the world observing the first steps of his homeland’s new era, and the queues of distressed refugees, travellers and permanent residents he’ll have to pass through when he flies home.
How daunting it must be, to stand at the beginning of another long stretch as one of liberal America’s few indefatigable beacons throughout the next four to eight years in the wilderness. Every new record will now be evaluated as a call to arms or sober eulogy to the republic, just as he’s had to do basically every few terms for the last thirty years. What if the guy just wants to do a nice album of jazz standards, America?
Springsteen seems solemnly aware of this duty, beginning the show with this statement, uttered just before launching into the jaunty 2012 B-side American Land:
But you could be forgiven for almost forgetting America’s latest race-baiting, truth-blurring, bronzer-abusing predicament for the next three hours, seven minutes and thirty four seconds (uninterrupted!). It won’t shock you to read that Springsteen and his longtime E Street pals are exceedingly good at what they do. Sure, between all the top hats and bandanas these stalwarts might now resemble pirate extras from the set of Hook, but every song is taut, hot-blooded and strutted out as if by muscle memory. Even if each guitar-hoisting rock pose and silly facial expression exchanged by Springsteen and guitarist Steven Van Zandt represents just another night at the office, it’s done with a self-evident joy.
It’s a beautiful moment watching Springsteen stand arms wide, eyes shut as he basks in the crowd’s unprompted singalong of Hungry Heart’s opening verses. So too is watching him graciously crowd surf halfway across the arena during its chorus. Another light moment comes as a group of fans are invited onstage to sing Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, having caught Bruce’s eye by dressing as the cast of 1950s American sitcom The Honeymooners, a show referenced in some mid-90s deep cut. He seemed to appreciate the sentiment, even if he had to explain the show to us uncultured Australians.
Save for his threadbare, solo delivery of If I Should Fall Behind that brings the entire arena to a deathly hush, it is not a particularly nuanced show. But if you came to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre expecting to hear Nebraska in full or pick out the unique timbre of one of the three guitars being played at any given time, you’ve only yourself to blame.
Disregard the refrain of the classic Born In The U.S.A. cut that’s aired early in the set, this is a night that is absolutely about surrender. It’s a fist pumping, hand-waving, emphatically ass-shaking exercise in thunderous musical euphoria triggered by abundant saxophone solos, twinkling piano melodies and that gruff baritone voice you either conceived to or were conceived to.
For goodness’ sake, Richie Sambora inexplicably appeared onstage to play the final few songs. No explanation given or needed, it’s just that kind of show.
From the harmonica intro of Thunder Road to the sight of The Boss in a bedazzled cape, jokingly pretending to leave the stage prematurely as the E Street Band perform a rollicking cover of Isley Brothers standard Shout!, it’s about celebrating the good things, with maybe a hint of youthful regression. Certainly for Springsteen and much of his audience, Glory Days is a little more pertinent than when he first wrote it 30 odd years ago.
But maybe that’s just what we need to get us through the next couple of months until Trump is impeached, or self-implodes after being sledged by Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Twitter (choose your own equivalent scenario). Or even, heaven forbid, another eight years.
Maybe all we need is a good night out with good people, some of whom may have voted for basically the same immigration policies here in Australia but many who probably didn’t. Give us plenty of soaring choruses, some amusingly decorated fan-made signs, an obscene variety of tour merch and an unfailingly likeable man in a vest singing songs we all seem to implicitly know by heart. Maybe that’s what will get us through, together.
Okay, probably not. But it makes for a thumping great show anyway, and I bought the bloody t-shirt too.
Bruce Springsteen performed at Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Monday, January 30 2017
Photographer: Kristy DeLaine – AKPhotography