It’s taken two weeks since arriving home from Auckland for the dust to settle enough to allow me to compile a list of what were the greatest moments from the High Hopes tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2014.
Although not able to attend the two Melbourne shows, which were both highly rated by even the most demanding fans I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I think the following easily hold up as some of the moments that made it such an epic tour.
1. Kitty’s Back, Perth Arena – Show 1
A city he’s never played in before with an overwhelming demand to experience his live show, the safe option would have been to blast out plenty of radio-friendly Born In The USA-era hits or well-rehearsed tracks from the previous tour.
But like he said before the show, fans were in for a ‘few surprises’, and out came a 16-minute rendition of The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle tune, complete with Springsteen tightly orchestrating the band through the arrangements before taking on a blistering solo while he shared the stage with three other world-famous guitarists.
The confidence to keep a partially new audience hooked on a song from a less-successful album more than 30 years old with an 18-piece band was something new for old fans and new fans alike.
The song was a stand-out snapshot of night one and raised the bar for the remaining 12 shows of the tour.
2. Jake’s back, Hunter Valley – Show 1
A Springsteen tour is a hotbed for rumours and speculation between fans outside every venue or fans thousands of miles away following online about anything to do with the band. When the rumours Jake Clemons’ father had died forcing the now-iconic young saxophone player to rush home midway through the tour turned out to be true, there was an undeniable, if somewhat selfish, sense of loss in the crowd in Sydney.
The nephew of the Big Man forced to leave the tour due to a personal tragedy, made the absence of Clarence Clemons more noticeable as the hearts of dedicated fans went out to the family and the band.
But when rumours Jake had returned turned out to be true, and he walked onto that stage at Hope Estate after flying to and from the US in less than seven days to say goodbye to his father, not only were hope and optimism restored. But a serious level of pride and awe returned. The roar the younger Clemons received after his fierce solo as Badlands was the second song of the night proved how much he is valued and respected by fans.
And how much that had surged with his swift return.
3. Meeting Across The River, Auckland – Show 2
The whole tour was full of the promised surprises and changes, with plenty of rare renditions thrown in. This performance however, completely changed the way I look at the song that until now has merely been the track before Jungleland on my all-time favourite album Born To Run.
Springsteen’s vocals were painfully good as through the lyrics he tells the story of a hood preparing his friend Eddie for a dangerous deal.
Meanwhile Curt Ramm’s exceptional trumpet solo took the song to a whole other level. By the end, you knew that it didn’t matter if Eddie made it ‘look like he was carrying a friend’… tragedy and violence were coming. As a friend pointed out to me after, it really does set up the scene perfectly for the album’s epic street battle finale.
4. Cover Me, Adelaide – Show 2
Wondering how this song in the middle of the tour became one the best moments, right?
The answer’s quite simply, because it was one of the coolest. Literally.
Coming off the back of an Adelaide heat wave that threatened the hydrated consciousness and sanity of fans making the roll call, the axe battle between Springsteen and Nils Lofgren front and centre of the stage was mind-blowing.
As mind-blowing as the air conditioning that smacked you in the face on the walk down to the pit floor. And just as welcome.
It followed a curious and heavily-sought after performance of Backstreets near the beginning of the show, which although always an incredible song, seemed to be suffocating – or wasted – in the heat of Springsteen’s own guitar, which frequently over powered Roy Bittan’s piano to the point that once or twice, it became distracting.
Not letting a less-than perfect rendition of the song slow them down however, Springsteen leapt into Cover Me with a fierce intensity.
If he really was fed up with how fucking hot it was, maybe this was where he let out his frustration.
And likewise for Lofgren who, after being accidentally left off a band roll call in Perth until Springsteen hilariously corrected himself, may have been itching to burst out a dramatic solo.
The result was a brilliant few minutes of guitar play between the two, culminating in Springsteen even attempting a spin with his axe after Lofgren dealt a killer cyclone front and centre, before giving in to his intimidatingly great band member.
Not to forget the awesome power added by the horn section blaring, and urging each of them on until the end.
It really was one of the coolest moments of the tour.
5. “It’s E Street Shuffle time!”, Brisbane
Again rumours and speculation had followed the band to the final night of the Australian leg of the tour.
Hopes that a weekend at Hunter Valley would see both sides of The River album flood the set list had long dried up and replaced instead with the excitable prospect of a final album show. One which dedicated fans from the beginning of The E Street band’s career would see their faith be rewarded.
But after already bringing on the reported string section for Stayin’ Alive and delivering some E Street excellence via four tracks from Greetings From Asbury Park expectations of The Wild, The Innocent… ´complete with string-powered New York City Serenade began to dwindle.
In part because the band were clearly having too much fun just grabbing requests and playing whatever the hell they liked.
It resulted in Springsteen giving the crowd the choice, to carry on taking requests, or to despite being pushed for time, go for the full album from 1973.
The crowd answered, and Springsteen answered the call. “It’s E Street Shuffle time!”
The night was already on a high, and the band were not just on fire, but clearly ecstatic about how well they had been performing.
And the complete seven-track album was no exception. It not only reminded fans who had seen multiple shows that Australia had now seen four full album performances, but also gave every other night a benchmark.
I’ve never been able to decide which concert out of all the ones I’ve seen was the absolute best, but when anyone asks I now find myself starting with the fact that this particular night in Brisbane was something really special.
And if this were a list of High Hopes highlights, here’s what would probably make out the top 10…
Whether it was the local tributes to great bands of yesterday, the wine-themed openers of Hunter Valley the string-powered urban take down of a Bee Gees’ classic, or a solo acoustic rendition of the world’s hottest musical teen. Springsteen’s headline-making cover versions on this tour could make an entertaining B-sides album worthy of release alongside High Hopes. First they kept you guessing and now they’re still keeping people talking. (Highway To Hell an awesome spectacle on more than one occasion, it narrowly missed out on the top five.)
Not everyone’s a fan of the full running of an album, especially if they’ve seen it before, but the power and dedication thrown into each performance often left the rest of the set list in the shadows, and Australia was lucky enough to score four of them.
The Promise, Perth Arena – Show 3
A rare outing given the solo piano treatment. Springsteen’s vocals were at their best for this song on the night. For days afterwards I had the sound … “Thunderrrr Rooooaddd…. oh baby you were so right, Thunderrrr Rooooaddd…. there's something dyin' on the highway tonight”… driving through my head. (A similar case could also be made for Adelaide – Show 1’s Back In Your Arms.)
If I Should Fall Behind, Adelaide – Show 1
An arena in stunned silence, people wiping tears from their eyes. This song was an unforgettable, moving experience for anyone who stayed until the very end to see it.
(I’m sure many felt the same raw acoustic power through Terry’s Song and I Wish I Was Blind too.)
10. Loose Ends, Auckland – Show 1
A request from one of my many partners in line throughout the Bruce tour it not only gave Auckland a taste of Tracks, but provided a great moment of banter between fans of a beloved song and Springsteen’s comic foil, Stevie Van Zandt. Urging us to raise the sign Van Zandt clearly wanted it played, but Springsteen wasn’t convinced telling us it was too obscure. A bit of pleading from two guys named Corey and Cory, along with Van Zandt’s enthusiasm changed his mind and he stormed down to collect the sign and honoured the request. (Not the first time Stevie’s twisted his arm as Ramrod and Fade Away were given a similar push)
Obscure it may have been, but unrehearsed? No way. The band were incredible in every element of the surprisingly complex song that tests everyone from horns and guitars to piano and backing vocals.
All right, so you disagree… what did I miss? – and don’t be too obvious…