Bruce Springsteen And The E-Street Band opened their latest Australian tour in Perth last night with a show that reflected the uncertain times of his homeland.
Springsteen’s 2014 visit included Perth for the first time. The three shows on that run were a celebration of hits and favourites for a city that had never hosted The Boss, in spite of numerous visits over the years to the East Coast.
With Perth now up to speed, the opening concert of the Australian tour showcased an altogether different mood. In a weekend that saw the Trump inauguration and women’s marches across the world, this show took on an at times grim recognition of the now; the events of home were threaded throughout but there was also the giving of joy to a city on the other side of Springsteen’s world.
Walking on with little fanfare, Springsteen was the last to take the stage. Armed with an acoustic guitar he offered a nod and wave to the crowd before Roy Bittan moved into the beautiful, piano-led intro of ‘New York City Serenade’. If it came across as a reserved beginning, it unfolded as a stunning tour de force, complete with an eight-piece string section taking the 1973 ode to The Big Apple up to the rafters.
As Springsteen edged up to the microphone to speak for the first time, his words expressed a state of nation and mind. Words that will be etched forever in his folklore:
“The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. But we’re a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America and in Melbourne who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQI rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare, and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance.”
It would later strike a chord on social media but within that moment 12,000 people inside Perth Arena knew exactly which church they’d come to. The Boss and band then traversed through the troubled likes of ‘Lonesome Day’, ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ and a spirited ‘No Surrender’. It was goosebump-stuff, but the mood lifted for the first time with ‘Out On The Street’, as the spirit-lifting power of rock’n’roll that so often echoes through Springsteen’s music saw violinist ‘Sister’ Soozie Tyrell, guitarists Nils Lofgren, Little Steven Van Zandt and The Boss around the centre mic leading the crowd in the song’s uplifting outro.
’Land Of Hope And Dreams’ featured the soaring sax of Jake Clemons, it’s gospel-like climes leading into an abridged, yet beautiful tip of the hat to Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’. ‘Growin’ Up’ was its ragged, beautiful self, with Springsteen recalling the mowed lawns and trimmed hedges that enabled him to buy the cheapest, junkiest ’20-buck guitar’ in the store.
‘Can you feeeeel the spirit?’ he soon after shouted. It was time for church once more with the gospel groove of ‘Spirit In The Night’ taking Springsteen out on the first of several walks out into the audience.
‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’ burst forth as a celebration of young love, misguided though it may be. On the big video screen, Springsteen and Van Zandt sung together and goofed it up like Laurel and Hardy. The world may be in trouble, but there’s still fun to be had, as ‘The Ties That Bind’ and ‘Working On The Highway’ soon confirmed.
But there’s reckoning to be well, reckoned with, and so it came with the likes of ‘Darlington County’, ‘Promised Land’, ’41 Shots’ and ‘My Hometown’, the latter given yet more poignancy as he encouraged the people of Perth to sing and reflect on their own.
Lofgren elicited a blinding guitar solo in ‘Because The Night’, with Springsteen nodding in proud approval. The call-to-arms of ‘The Rising’ and a fist-pumping ‘Badlands’ brought the main set to a close before a lone Springsteen returned to the stage to fulfil an audience/sign request for ‘Blood Brothers’, asking for people to donate to the Food Bank Of WA volunteers who were collecting on the night.
From there it was a rush of good times to the end with ‘Born To Run’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and ’10 Avenue Freeze Out’. Another encore saw Springsteen return to the stage as Van Zandt draped him in a cape, James Brown-style.
The Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’ and a heart-swelling ‘Bobby Jean’ brought night #1 to a close. It was an evening of reflection and revelry in equal parts, from a man and band that continues to raise both consciousness and spirit.
Gallery: Bruce Springsteen – Perth Arena, Perth 22/01/17 / Photos: Court McAllister