Talking movies, music and other close encounters of the social media kind.
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.
A balmy evening.
Hundreds of people are walking towards the stadium – mostly older folk. Most decked out in Springsteen T-shirts. Their eyes glowing with excitement and anticipation.
The Boss is back in town. And amongst the lucky thousands there is a sense that tonight might be a special one.
That was the feeling I got when walking up to the Upper East Stand with my sister Kelly. Here was an older generation who were born to run back in the 70s and grew up listening to Springsteen during the 80s – and like some zealous cult, this devoted crowd was ready to receive their dose of enlightenment and rock music nostalgia. To go back to a time when drums weren’t drum machines, when music stars weren’t Justin Bieber & Miley Cyrus swinging on wrecking balls. When Rock’n’Roll was all about blood & sweat. Tears & soul.
I’ve always heard that Springsteen concerts are such an epic and joyous event – that people feel that they’re in the middle of some kind of religious experience.
I go to church. And my religious experience doesn’t include Fender Telecasters wired up to a Marshall Amp with the volume turned up to ten. Or a Gretsch Drum kit that was purposely built to summon thunder. I get enough fire and brimstone from the preachers sermon. And isn’t rock’n’roll considered by some as ‘The Devils Music?’ Maybe it was back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Today it’s probably Rihanna, Robin Thicke and Kayne West.
But this is The Boss. The Prince Of New Jersey. The street-wise saviour for both saints & sinners.
And he has the brought the Almighty EStreet Band with him.
And so, when the opening acts finish, I begin to wonder what song the boss will start with. Badlands? Born To Run? I expect a hard, fast and rousing track to stir up the followers. But no. He comes onto the stage. Alone. With his guitar and harmonica. And begins to sing a song I am totally unfamiliar with. I tell Kelly it must be from his new album. But as he’s singing, the crowd start applauding.
“He’s singing Lordes song!” yelled the blonde down the front, who never sat in her seat for the duration of the concert.
Good Lord. Springsteen is singing….. Lorde.
First song in and there’s already a God-like connotation.
Lorde is the talk of NZ at the moment and the perfect way for the boss to win over the crowd right off the bat. First swing. Home Run.
Then comes the second song. And then mine eyes see the glory….the mighty EStreet Band. In my opinion the greatest rock’n’roll band this side of the Rolling Stones. Little Steven Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Roy Bittan, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent and the solid as a rock drummer – the awesome Max Weinberg. I stand up and applaud. A fist to the air. A shout to the rock gods. My bucket list ticked.
They fire into ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’. Awesome. But it’s the third song – the epic ‘Badlands’ that brings the crowd into an absolute frenzy – it’s my favourite track from my favourite album ‘Darkness On the Edge Of Town’ and it is here where the EStreet Band show why Rock’n’Rolls heartbeat reside in this band of brothers. With a take no prisoners attitude, these guys play the song as if their very lives depend on it – tough & muscular, this anthem marches proudly along a maelstrom of battling electric guitars, joyous keyboards & thunderous drums. Then when it couldn’t get any bigger – it’s the counter punch & knockout blow of the Saxophone (played by Jake Clemons – the nephew of the great Clarence Clemons who passed away) that takes this song to a higher level and through to the promised land.
That’s the ferocity and beauty that is the EStreet Band. And when they’re ready to rumble there’s no finer sight.
The Boss & Van Zandt lead the chorus. Everyone is pumped up and everyone is singing. Everyone. The whole damn stadium. It’s a joyous wall of sound & fury that drives like a Ford Mustang Convertible at top speed with the top down, and there’s no sign of stopping.
And we’re only into the third song.
Open the car door. All hands on the wheel. This 40,000 strong want to go on this ride.
And so the Rock’n’ Roll circus ride begins. Apparently the band have to learn 250 songs because the boss will look at various signs of song requests from the fans – then pick a sign out, show it to the band, and within a few seconds they’ll start playing it. Just like that. There is a setlist but it’s not really set. Bruce the quarterback calls the moves – and his offensive linemen from EStreet are protecting him on his every play.
The songs just come rolling in like a freight train. Every one of them a gem. He decides to play the whole Album ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ Not my favourite album but by this stage, it doesn’t matter. Everyone in the stadium is converted to this new religion. Old people and young dancing on stage with the boss. An 18 year old brought on stage to celebrate her birthday on ‘Dancing In The Dark’. The distance between rock star and mere mortal has been broken tonight. Throughout the stadium there’s a feeling that we’re all in this great ride together.
Two and a half hours in. The parishioners have had their fill and then some – but Springsteen, this saviour of the night is still feeding the 40 thousand strong. Here comes dessert. The closing set. Save some room.
The songs become introspective and dark in tone. And it’s the darker Springsteen songs that I like the most. He’s even won an Oscar for one of them (the beautifully haunting ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’). Don’t ask me why. I just tend to relate to them a lot more than his chart-topper favourites. They start the closing set by performing my other all-time favourite Springsteen song ‘Atlantic City’ – beautiful. And then they go serious with ‘The Rising’ – the post 9/11 song.
Then the boss introduces their new gunslinger with a guitar. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. I know the Boss is here, but the EStreet Band & Tom Morello standing to do battle together? It’s like if Bob Dylan & The Band brought in Jimi Hendrix to play with them.
I nod to the rock gods. What did I ever do to deserve this?
And then they start to play ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad.’
Fans have said that during a concert they’ll experience a feeling where one song will talk to them personally. Apparently this happens alot during Springsteen concerts – as evidenced in the film made by Ridley Scott called “Springsteen & I” . On this special night of nights, and unbeknowst to me – ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ would be THAT song that really spoke to me. And in the most powerful way imaginable.
The first half of the song starts off slowly and then explodes after the chorus as Springsteen & Morello duel each other to a Guitar gunfight. Then admist all this, and for some reason…. whether it was the name of the song or the name of the guitarist who was playing….I kept thinking of Tom. My brother.
He had passed away suddenly two years ago. And he had lived around this area of Onehunga, near the stadium. So when this song was played – especially when both Bruce & Tom sing the last verse:
Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”
Those words hit me. Hard. And in those fleeting few seconds or so, I’m struck down with an immense feeling of loss. But then Tom Morellos’ space-rocket guitar rises supersonic above the stratosphere, and with it, lifting the roof of the stadium – merging the spirit of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour & Jimi Hendrix into one majestic & amazing guitar solo. I gaze over the massive crowd. A mass of humanity below me, I look above at the cloudless night….and I am saved by a profund sense of strength & love. Such is the pain and the power of music. I’m sure my dear brother was watching all of this – somewhere up in that great gig in the sky. It was a special moment that I will truly never forget.
The music rock odyseey continued. The next song is ‘Land Of Hope & Dreams’, and after the stunning reflection of the last song, this gospel-tinged number becomes a joyful reaffirmation of life. In church this would be a prayer of reassurance – but here, in this house of rock, in the gospel according to Bruce – it is preached extremely loud and hard by the Prince Of New Jersey, Fender Telecaster in hand, wired to a Marshall Amp turned up to ten. And it is glorious.
Then comes the encore. ‘Born To Run’. Press interstellar overdrive button. The Boss still on point & the E-Street Band still firing on all cylinders, chrome wheel, fuelled- injected, stepping out over the line. And the massive crowd are delirious. Running till they drop and never going back. Wow. Pump fist to the air. Shout to the Rock Gods. Again.
Two more songs later, and its all over.
3 Hours of pure, passionate, wonderful rock n roll. Sung and performed by a man and his band that play with such heart and fire, soul, spit and swagger (forget swag – swag’s for wimps). And add Springsteen’s wonderful lyrics, telling street-fighting stories of ordinary folk and bringing them to life like some grand epic movie. Straight to the gut. Straight from the heart.
I salute the great EStreet Band the song before – never of their like will I ever see again. And the Boss closes the night just as he started. Alone. with Guitar and Harmonica. He plays ‘Thunder Road’ to end the great show.
Everybody in the stadium had just witnessed something truly magical. Their cup overfloweth. Their rock’n’roll soul restored.
I’ve been to many rock concerts. But when the Boss & the EStreet Band came to town that evening their showmanship, their passion for rock music and how it touches the human soul made this one of the greatest rock concerts I’ve ever been to.
Thank You Bruce Springsteen & The EStreet Band. Thank you from the bottom of my hungry heart.