Monday, 17 March 2014

Top 5 Unforgettable Moments from the Bruce Springsteen High Hopes tour….



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…

Cover Versions
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.)
 

Full-album shows
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…

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bruce Springsteen review: Just how good are the USB wristband downloads?


Since it was announced Bruce Springsteen would be issuing live recordings of his tour – after decades of pleading from fans and those in the music industry for such releases – the reaction has been fairly mixed.

The live shows for this writer have become the ultimate goal in enjoying Springsteen & The E Street Band’s music. If you were to offer me the chance of a 60-second meet-and-greet, signed memorabilia and a photo in a hotel lobby with the man, OR tickets to just one concert, I would take the concert every time.

So when the option to take home a live recording of the latest shows on the tour appeared, I went overboard. I ordered a dozen wristbands online – one for each of the Australian shows, including two I would miss, and one for a friend.

Then of course they announced you wouldn’t need a USB wristband, and could download straight from the net for a fraction of the cost. And I’d just spent more than $500. Bastards.

When the wristbands finally arrived I immediately returned half of them to Live Nation for a refund. I figured I’d keep a few and use them, and get some cash back for the rest. Not to mention the packaging was so bad that one of the tidy little black boxes they come in had in fact been destroyed in transit.

Now, after going to nine of the 11 Australian shows and making a last minute trip to New Zealand where I stood on a broken foot for twobrilliant shows (no, I won’t shut up about it. It still fucking hurts…) I’ve got round to using one of the USB wristbands to download a show.

The Wristband

I will admit to really liking the look and practicality of it. I don’t wear any jewellery other than a watch and this has become the male accessory I’ve been looking for to wear on the other wrist. It looks good, and it’s practical for carrying around important files, transferring stuff between computers at work, and everything else. It was a good buy regardless of the music.

Downloads

The first show I chose was Brisbane. The full album of Wild and Innocent… and plenty of Greetings… magic left me dying to hear it again.

But after plugging the USB in my laptop, opening the relevant files, launching the software and clicking the relevant show, nothing happened. There was just no response.
I tried it again a few times, but nothing was downloading, the screen didn’t even change.

Then after a few attempts a message popped up to warn me that despite not downloading a single beat of opening track Stayin’ Alive, I had used up the download limit for this USB.

Luckily the website where you can purchase downloads had an email address and within 48 hours of asking them for help I was given a code to enter on a specific link, and this I was told, would let me download my album.

So, following the link and instructions I successfully downloaded the Brisbane show in the higher quality FLAC file.

Of course I wanted to put this show in my iTunes or at least on some music player on my iPhone. Checking out various sites, conversion software and a few apps on playing FLAC files, I found myself with an album I couldn’t use, unless I wanted to lose the quality I had wanted or just play tracks from the laptop.

But before plugging in another of my remaining wristbands, I noticed I had left the web page I downloaded the tracks from open, so figured I’d try and download the Brisbane show in MP3 format too, without having to use up the wristband’s limit, which purchasers had been told would allow just one show to be downloaded.

It worked. I had the Brisbane show on a format I could use.

Of course then I remembered how great the Born To Run album had sounded in Auckland.
So yeah, I clicked download on that one too.

Again, it worked. No new code, no new wristband. It seems maybe some glitch in the system had just allowed me to get three recordings of two shows. Brilliant.
Of course I couldn’t have a Born To Run­ album show, without also having Sydney’s Darkness On The Edge ofTown. That would just be ridiculous.
And again, without leaving the webpage which I had entered a specific code to enter, the MP3 files downloaded.
Within 24 hours I had downloaded all available shows from the Australia and New Zealand tour in MP3 format to my computer – that’s 12 because Melbourne 2 was never released – all from one wristband without having to pay any more fees.
I’ve even gone so far as to raid my iPhone for photos and create album covers with an image of every show now in the iTunes artwork.
So this all means I really didn’t need to spend a load of cash on buying the wristbands for every show. I could have bought one – and used it to get all of them. Those brilliant bastards.
Sound quality
Despite expecting a low quality sound with the MP3 files, so far I have been nothing but impressed. And I say so far because I’ve only got through Brisbane and night two in Auckland.
The vocals are clear, the strings in Brisbane are still sensational, and both Curt Ramm’s trumpet solo on Meeting Across The River and Jake Clemons’ Jungleland solo sound incredible from the Auckland recordings.
Obviously it’s a lot to ask for the recordings to sound as good as ­Live 1975-1985 or Live In New York City¸ but for a three-hour live album, the MP3 download is incredible value for money.
USB Wristband refunds
I returned the six – five unwanted, one damaged – wristbands to retailers Live Nation on February 14. That was a month ago. I still have not heard anything about them, or had anything refunded. I will be contacting them shortly about the $250+ I expect to be refunded.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Top 5 Bruce Springsteen cover songs from the Australia and New Zealand tour

Anyone who sees an E Street Band show knows the energy, respect, and dedication by Springsteen and the band is unbeatable.

Demonstrated perfectly by the way he often chooses a song local to the region he's touring for a cover, often delivered with an E Street twist.

Sometimes, like last year's performance of The Saints' Just Like Fire Would in Brisbane, the track will even take a life of its own within the band and make repeated appearances or even recordings.
The completed tour of Australia and New Zealand came with a set of covers as unique and surprising as anyone could have predicted. Many making headlines around the world.
Here's five of the best:

1. Highway To Hell - AC/DC
Last year the band soundchecked AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie before the first show on the tour but the Australian rock band's song never surfaced in the ten concerts Down Under.
It was on the third and final night in Perth, where AC/DC's original leader Bon Scott lived and died, that Springsteen opened with the crowd pumping cover.

 

Perth had already seen two great shows and the Saturday night atmosphere was already palpable before the band came on. But the fierce guitars, pounding drums and belting battle cry of Springsteen and the band to start his final show with Highway To Hell  was the surprise opener that began one of the best openings of the tour.

It set the standard for the song to reappear several times, including twice with special guest Eddie Vedder.
Performed at: Perth (Show 3), Adelaide (Show 1), Melbourne (Show 1), Brisbane.


Original version...



2. Don't Change - INXS
Sydney's only show had already had one cover to raise the crowd in the form of The Easybeats' Friday On My Mind, and the full run down of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
So when Springsteen belted out the INXS rock song to open the encore there was no holding the audience back. 



The band's four lead guitarists - Springsteen, Stevie Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Tom Morello, stood centre stage for the opening bars and returned for the songs climax.
It was angry, energetic and excessive. A fine and topical tribute.
Performed at: Sydney
Original version...



3. Spill The Wine - Eric Burden
After Hunter Valley's first night opening cover of Stick McGee's Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Do-Dee there was no guessing what would come for the second show.
So when Garry W Tallent bounced on stage moving to a calypso beat and the rest of the band grooved into place before Springsteen arrived it was clear something special was about to happen.

 

Joining him centre stage was Michelle Moore, dressed as the mysterious woman in Eric Burden's Spill The Wine, complete with a bottle and glass of red wine, as Springsteen opened the second show with another cover in tribute to the Australian wine region.
By the second verse even those who didn't know the song were joining in with the chorus and infected by the sense of fun and energy the band were spilling out.
Performed at: Hunter Valley (Show 2) 

Original version...




4. Stayin' Alive - The Bee Gees
I genuinely thought there had been a mistake when someone told me they had heard the band soundcheck a Bee Gees song while waiting in line in Brisbane.
We had heard the rumours of a string section being brought in and everyone - correctly - assumed it was for New York City Serenade. Not a dated, somewhat irritating to many, disco classic.

 

But when the horns piped in to Springsteen's acoustic guitars, and the E Street Choir emerged from the shadows with their soulful backing vocals it was clear this wasn't going to be a disco tune. Instead the strings kicked in, followed by the rest of the band with horns centre stage bringing with it a rock n' roll rewriting of the song. 
Even Tom Morello got in on the act with an electric guitar solo as Springsteen's vocals turned the song from a high pitch squeal into a solid, fighting song about a man really fighting to stay alive. You really had to see it to believe it.
Performed at: Brisbane
Original version...






5. Royals - Lorde
The best covers were those you didn't see coming, and despite New Zealand's teenage sensation currently on her way to dominate the world, it just didn't occur to some of us Springsteen would give this breakthrough song a try.
The result was a solo acoustic, harmonica-driven, version in which 'King B' pounded his guitar to get out the frustration within the lyrics.

 

Like all covers, this wasn't a last minute attempt to please the local crowd with a tribute to their own music. It was an intricate re-working of a song with complex lyrics that Springsteen was able to firmly add his own touch.
The obviously deeper vocals and weariness over the lyrics again turned this song into that of a beaten-down fighter trying to get on top.
It made such an impact that it was brought out again for Auckland's second show and the final concert on the tour.
Performed at: Auckland (Shows 1 and 2)

Original version...


 
Other notable covers on the tour:

The Easybeats - Friday On My Mind (Sydney, Hunter Valley 1)
Stick McGee - Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Do-Dee (Hunter Valley 1)


Which one do you rate best?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Price You Gotta Pay for Your Ultimate Bruce Springsteen Show

I thought the most painful experience following The E Street Band on another tour of Australia would be missing the two great shows in Melbourne.

Turns out I was wrong.
 
Actually attending two stadium shows in the front row with a broken foot is in fact a lot more painful.

 
This I discovered over the last weekend in Auckland after a mad dash to keep my place in line at an early morning roll call ended in me rolling my ankle outside the gate of Mt Smart Stadium.
After a taxi balls-up and a late bus I decided to jog several kilometeres to make the 8am roll call and keep number 47 in line.

It was on the very last step right by the line of people waiting to be checked off the list that I landed badly, letting out a yelp of pain in front of everybody.

If it wasn't the lightning bolt of pain that shot through my leg, than it was the horrified look on people's faces who saw the way my foot landed that I realised I was in trouble.

But fuck it. I had made it to Auckland, made it to roll call and had even made it back to the line the night before after a restaurant blunder saw some idiot "fondle" my burger resulting in a delay for my order.

There was no way I was not going to make it to the end of the tour. Especially after missing Melbourne.


So instead of going to hospital I hobbled back to my hotel room, put an ice pack on my foot and hoped it was just a mild sprain that would heal quickly.

Later that day at the stadium, the St John Ambulance paramedic wasn't so hopeful. Strapping up the ankle, and giving me an ice pack I was told to keep as much weight as possible off the foot. And if it didn't get better by morning, go to hospital.
It would have been a good plan, the only problem was that Springsteen and the band blasted out another great show complete with Born In The USA from top to bottom.

The same as two weeks earlier, it was looking even more likely that the band were going to pull out Born To Run - my all-time favourite album - again for the Sunday night crowd.

I had already missed it once, there was no way I could miss it again.

So after a night with the ice pack, followed by a morning lying in bed, I was back at the stadium, sat on the front row trying to keep a place on the barrier to once again use it to hold up what had now become a severe limp.

It was a gamble, and I'm happy to say it paid off.
Despite the difficulty in trying to stay balanced, hydrated and keep track on how many pain killers I'd taken that day, the show was incredible, and I'd seen the album show.

Of course reality kicked in 24 hours and two flights later.

The bruising was already turning my foot into a dark coloured, puffed up limp machine and it took my girlfriend one look before ordering me into the car where she would take me back to the emergency department where she had just finished an eight hour nursing shift.

The x-ray confirmed it, I'd broken the fifth metatarsal, had to be strapped into something called a moon boot - or CAM boot walker and told to use crutches for six weeks.


All because I wanted to see a full album show of Born To Run.

And most painful of all - as well as the irony that I won't be running for a long time - is that given the opportunity, I'd probably do it all again.



Monday, 3 March 2014

Springsteen at Auckland - Show 2

"Last night they got Born In The USA. Tonight you get Born to Run!"

And with that Springsteen began the ending of the tour of Australia and New Zealand with the power and finesse that everyone has come to appreciate the E Street Band for in the 39 years since his breakthrough album was released.

Once again starting the show with his harmonica-led, acoustic-driven cover of Lorde's Royals, there would be few surprises and no sign requests granted on the second New Zealand show.



Instead the night was all about the band, and how they can deliver to 40,000 people  the kind of show experience every night, other acts strive to achieve just once in a lifetime.
Before the full album came, Springsteen led the band through a wealth of hits from across four decades.

We Take Care Of Our Own and Death To My Hometown brought a taste of Wrecking Ball to the Auckland audience after Springsteen previously apoligised for missing out on the region over the past 10 years.
Meanwhile No Surrender fired the crowd up before Two Hearts and Hungry Heart had people jumping through the evening sunset.

Seeds was belted out in all its fury, with Springsteen merely warming up with his guitar solo as he stood firmly in the spotlight throughout.

The New Zealand crowd seemed to appreciate his latest work too as High Hopes and Just Like Fire Would received a surge of energy from fans before Darkness On The Edge Of Town unleashed more of the band's fury. An album created in a time of great frustration for Springsteen, it would have almost been a fitting time to play it in a country frustrated with a long wait for the band to return.

A frustration no doubt felt by fans in Christchurch who again received a dedication by Springsteen for travelling to the show, with the tour debut of My City Of Ruins. Complete with band roll call, and spirit-summoning silence seen across the early shows of the Australian Wrecking Ball tour.

Then it came back down to business, and back to Born To Run, taking the weekend in Auckland into the same realm as Melbourne with the double album shows.

It gave the crowd a great chance to see the full band Thunder Road and took Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and the title track out of the encore, leaving the show finale wide open, as the concentration and energy was firmly on quality, and a clear desire to make every note perfect for the stadium crowd.

When it came to Backstreets, the song grabbed the attention of everybody, with Roy Bittan's piano cutting through the huge standing audience to every corner of the venue.

While Meeting Across The River was a surprising stand out from the performance. Easily skipped over or overshadowed by its place on the album as a predecessor to Jungleland, the song was given a fantastic airing. Curt Ramm coming out of the E Street Horns' shadows for a phenomenal centre stage trumpet solo. (And seriously, how many times do you read 'phenomenal trumpet solo' in a rock concert review?)



Jungleland of course belonged to one man, Jake Clemons. 
The tour has been no easy ride for the Big Man's nephew with the tragic death of his father, but this performance of the trademark saxophone solo was arguably his best yet. 
The confidence and power he brought out into the air was incredible.


When the album was done it was straight into The Rising, before Tom Morello got to deliver his knock out blow with The Ghost Of Tom Joad. It may have been played every night of the tour, but Morello has been great in making subtle, spontaneous changes to his frantic solo each time.

The encore brought back Glory Days and Bobby Jean, with Seven Nights To Rock, thrown in just in case there wasn't enough energy already bouncing around the stage.

After an extensive Twist & Shout came Springsteen's solo acoustic closer.
This Hard Land returned the hyped up 40,000-strong crowd back to a awe-inspired silence as his vocals echoed across the stadium. 



All delivered with the assurance that Springsteen would be back, and it wouldn't be as long as the 10 years since the last appearence in New Zealand.
The only question for everyone in Australia and New Zealand is when. 

Set list

1. Royals (solo acoustic, Lorde cover)
2. We Take Care Of Our Own
3. No Surrender
4. Two Hearts
5. Hungry Heart
6. The Promised Land
7. Seeds
8. Death To My Hometown
9. High Hopes
10. Just Like Fire Would
11. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
12. My City Of Ruins
13. Thunder Road
14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
15. Night
16. Backstreets
17. Born To Run
18. She's The One
19. Meeting Across The River
20. Jungleland
21. The Rising
22. The Ghost Of Tom Joad.
23. Badlands
24. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
25. Glory Days
26. Seven Nights To Rock
27. Bobby Jean
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Twist & Shout
30. This Hard Land (solo acoustic)

Show length: 3 hours, 11 minutes.

Australasia tour total: 13 shows, 366 songs, 119 different.