Springsteen and the E Street Band’s final Australian stop in Brisbane was a tour highlight and banger for the post-Reunion era. Leaving the country with one hundred and twenty-six songs played, they stayed in Oceania for two more shows over twenty-five hundred miles away in Auckland. Having not played in New Zealand since March 28th 2003 these concerts were really important for those in attendance, and for more than simply the thrill of seeing this man and his band after waiting so long.
New Zealand was still recovering from the Christchurch earthquake of February 2011, and as part of that recovery the country used “My City of Ruins” as an anthem of hope and motivation to respond, to rebuild and to rise up. Seeing Springsteen live and experiencing this music in person would only add fuel to their fire and further inspire their revival. On this night a setlist built on struggle and revitalisation sees “My Hometown” dedicated to Christchurch, and while it’s night two’s tour debut of “My City of Ruins” that stands out most from these shows, before we get to that this first of two nights sees Bruce’s main method of recovery in full effect: the power of rock and roll.
To start the show, Bruce takes a different route to the last several shows in Australia. Yes, he sticks with an apt cover, but this time around he’s going it alone. And after playing songs from legendary artists such as the Bee Gees, Eric Burdon and War, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Easybeats and AC/DC on this tour, here he opts for a contemporary hit from seventeen year old Lorde (‘Ya ya ya‘). We hear the audience responding to this with bewilderment and joy – which is unsurprising considering that’s how the rest of us reacted too – after all, this is Bruce Springsteen covering their new local hero, that’s going to be a shock to the system.
He follows on from “Stayin’ Alive” by reinventing this one as well – nothing surprising there, as I believe Bruce doing electropop was out of the question – with an acoustic rendition and a few lyric alterations: “you can call me King Bee“. While the version of the song uploaded to YouTube was from night two, it’s the same vehemently sang attempt, and it’s always worth watching to see his grin when singing, “once I dreamt I was the next big thing, now I’m in love with being king“. And in the same way “Stayin’ Alive” touched Barry Gibb, Lorde would later mention how she was moved to tears by one of her favourite artists paying her this tribute. Bruce is currently two for two in making the original artists of his covers emotional, and that’s one way to end the Oceanic leg of the tour.
Following the unpredicted cover song, Auckland takes a different route to Brisbane in general. In contrast to multiple surprises and tour debuts of the final show in Australia, the people inside Mt. Smart Stadium get a show that, on paper, looks safely crafted to appease the casual fan. However, as Springsteen and the E Street Band get stuck into it, we quickly realise that there’s more to this show than initially meets the eye.
First up though is “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, which brings the E Street Band into the show in rousing fashion, courtesy of an immense intro, driven by the Horns who thrive throughout. The biggest downside to this is that Bruce’s opening vocal is still stuck in the tone he sang “Royals” with, but that’s only a brief hindrance as he finds the correct pitch for the start of the second verse. Aside from the vocals, “My Love” excels as per usual when it comes to guitar playing, and the efforts of Springsteen, Lofgren and Van Zandt (2:49, 3:56) greatly complement the Horns’ riffs, and leave us arguing what the best instrumentation of the song actually is.
A faultless “Badlands” leads into a version of “Out in the Street” that could really be referred to in the same way – although you need to be prepared for that girl screaming at 2:24, don’t say I didn’t warn you! – before we get to the first and only tour debut of the evening. Despite Bruce’s reservations (“I don’t know, too obscure!“), Stevie gets a second favourite played in as many shows with “Loose Ends”! It’s tremendous too, with the song’s dark cloud formed by Bruce and Stevie’s vocals, and the instrumentals of Max, Roy and Charlie. However it’s Jake at 1:47 who stands out above the rest with the killer blow: the beautiful, soulful solo that drives it home that there’s no way back for these characters. A song this good shouldn’t be obscure.
It’s after “Loose Ends” where Auckland goes from being a potential greatest hits show to a show of significance. One of the High Hope Tour‘s biggest drawbacks for many fans is that the concerts lacked structure and a story. As we’ve seen in the previous shows I’ve reviewed, the tour has excellent song performances in abundance, and while there have been several significant moments, for a lot of fans the biggest joy is in Bruce coming onstage with something to say. I think the next two hours of Auckland #1 are excellent in that regard.
Usually, “Wrecking Ball”, “Death to My Hometown” and “High Hopes” played in succession would be to see Springsteen and the E Street Band promoting ‘newer’ material. However, here they start a lengthy sequence that focuses on the struggles people can face and how these struggles eventually end in recovery. On any other night, the highlight of “Wrecking Ball” would be the efforts of the Horns, Soozie and perhaps the E Street Band as a collective, but tonight what stands out are the often overlooked declarations of “Hard times come, hard times go” and “Hold tight to your anger, and don’t fall to your fears” sang by Bruce. Originally penned as a goodbye for a football stadium, it’s incredible how this song has resonated in relation to so much more.
One aspect of “Death to My Hometown” that’s fascinating on this tour is the length of its intro and how it varies with each performance. Tonight it’s extended, and that’s the case because the audience are singing along to it. Urged on by Bruce, there’s a passion to this version evident from the get go, and that continues within the song. Noticeable in Bruce’s fiery vocal (check out 1:37 for that raw delivery of “they brought death to my hometown“) and also in the great outro solo from Tom (4:17), sometimes the Wrecking Ball tracks pass us by in these 2014 releases, but that isn’t the case tonight.
“High Hopes” continues the trend of solidly played newer material courtesy of an enthralling intro and equally strong vocals – Bruce is back to singing “everythiiiing” the way we’ve come to anticipate it here – but what’s most interesting about the tour’s titular track tonight is that it isn’t followed by “Just Like Fire Would”.
Now, it’s a shame that we don’t get to hear the joyous sounds of Nils’ acoustic and Charlie’s organ within the song in this show, and while the drumbeats from Max lead into a less fun, less vibrant track, for the first time on this tour we’re really given a chance to process the words and themes of “High Hopes”. Where The Saints’ cover would uplift us, “Atlantic City” builds on the anger and dejection, whether it’s in Bruce’s weathered vocal for the lines he sings (“see what those racket boys can do” / “rumble out on the promenade“) and the lines he talks us through (“maybe everything that dies“). Fortunately, Nils and Charlie are kept as busy in this as they would be in “Just Like Fire Would”, as Charlie plays riveting organ riffs (3:06) and Nils contributes fantastic harmonies (5:36) that greatly benefit the song. Of course, there’s been another key contributor to the High Hopes cover over the course of the tour, and Little Steven makes his presence felt here too with masterful mandolin playing. It’s all capped off by an awesome interlude (4:08), Bruce’s sorrowful professions of “I’ve been looking“, and a finale that truly stamps home what Springsteen and the E Street Band are trying to say with these song choices.
It’s not often you can compare “The River” to songs from Wrecking Ball and High Hopes, but it’s another song that’s actually felt out of place when featured on this tour, being played more as a “hit” than a song with purpose. It has purpose in Auckland, as the ultimate song to emphasise the themes of personal and economic strife that have been prominent in the four songs prior. The audience singing along has been a lot more common in this one over the years than in “Death to My Hometown”, but similarly to the Wrecking Ball track, their interaction adds a lot of power and passion to the performance. The men and women onstage echo that power and passion too, most strikingly from 3:10 when the meshing of all instrumentals emphatically complements Bruce’s intense “I remember us riding“. Concluded by a perfect combination of falsetto and harmonica, this is unquestionably the best rendition of “The River” on the Oceanic leg of the High Hopes Tour.
This thematic sequence rolls on, but in a different fashion as Bruce surprises his audience. It hasn’t been as wild a night as Brisbane was, and Bruce’s trepidation about playing “Loose Ends” explains why the show is filled more with casual favourites than rarities loved by diehards. Still, this show has been equally as inspired, and even though there’s no full album performance of The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle on the way, this audience get something I can only imagine they wanted even more: Born in the U.S.A.
“We wanna thank everybody for coming out, we’ve only been here one other time, appreciate everybody showing up, so uh, tonight we’re gonna do Born in the U.S.A. from top to bottom. FOR AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND!”
Great vocals from both the audience and the man in charge get us underway in the title track, and they continue to stand out alongside the striking organ riffs played by Charlie and the manic drumming of Mighty Max. Listen to how they all combine from 2:53 for an immense experience, before Max shows why he’s earned his title courtesy of his playing at 3:48. It’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and it’s damn good!
Max is still a force in “Cover Me”, but he’s not the stand out, as Bruce makes up for his worn vocals following the banger prior (no surprises there) with several blazing guitar solos. This incredible guitar playing can be heard throughout the song (go to 0:00 for the first instance) and Bruce isn’t the only one supplying them either, as Little Steven plays a class riff at 0:44. And on the subject of riffs, don’t expect to hear them from the guitars alone, because the Horns are on form too. They’re not as prominent on this track as they are on others in the show, but when you hear them (1:27) you’ll like what they add.
Fun, straightforward performances of “Darlington County” and “Working on the Highway” give us a breather from the vehement side of rock and roll, and even though they’re not overly different to what we’ve heard in their previous performances, that has its positives in how it means we get a nice violin instrumental from Soozie in “County” and the tour essential shouts of “STEVE! THE JUDGE GOT MAD AND HE PUT ME STRAIGHT AWAY!” / “OHHH!” from Bruce and Stevie in “Highway”.
In a brief return to the fervent, “Downbound Train” sees Bruce singing with good, albeit slightly worn, vocals, so his delivery of the “BOUNDTRA-AIIN” line at 2:49 isn’t the best. It’s passable, though, and the guitar playing from 3:09 rounding the song out makes up for any qualms (as trivial as they might be) before a tremendous “I’m on Fire”, driven on by Garry, brings the first half of the album to an end. For as casual an audience as this was, there’ll have definitely been several audience members lamenting why Brisbane got WIESS and Auckland didn’t. When we listen to the communal experience of everyone singing the chorus in this one, it’s more than understandable why Bruce gave the likes of “Kitty’s Back” and “Incident on 57th Street” a night off.
While the themes of personal and economic struggle are certainly evident in “U.S.A.”, “Cover Me” and “Downbound Train”, the opening half hour of the album admittedly doesn’t hit as hard as the half hour that preceded it. It’s during this second half where Bruce’s intentions for playing his mega-album truly strike us, and that happens right away with the duo of “No Surrender” and “Bobby Jean”.
“No Surrender”, spurred on by the Choir’s harmonies and the piano playing prowess of the Professor, is an anthem for the people of Christchurch and New Zealand tonight. It’s an ode to their perseverance, and it’s themes of resilience and sentimentality for times gone are complemented beautifully by “Bobby Jean”, which is in itself on March 1st, 2014 an ode to who have been lost since Springsteen and the E Street Band last appeared in the country. It’s marked best by Bruce’s wistful vocal and Jake’s incredibly passionate solo for the finale. Absolutely brilliant.
“One minute it’s alright, and then it’s not! But baby! But sugar! But honey! But baby! But sugar! Oh-ho-ha-ha-ha, you knoooow what I like!“
For a laughter through tears approach, Bruce shifts the tone of the show to the tumultuous topic of relationships with a delightful version of “I’m Goin’ Down”. There’s no worries about the opening riff now, because they have it spot on. So spot on in fact, that they’re even adding little tweaks to it while Bruce riffs an intro that is virtually identical the quote above. The only real difference between that intro and this quote (3:57) is that final exclamation, which comes amidst another excellent Jake solo. After two years of touring, Jake definitely knew what hit the spot for Bruce and the audience!
“Glory Days” isn’t as manic as the last night in Brisbane (maybe for the best?) but it’s a heap of fun and a great example of audience participation (check out 2:39 to hear them singing “glory years” and “o-oooo-f“) and Bruce/Stevie chemistry – “Come on buddy! Come on pal! I need some help!“. The highlight of this one, though, has to be the fan brought onstage to join in on vocals. Normally a moment of fan interaction like this wouldn’t be that noteworthy, but you have to give her credit for shouting the “alright boys, keep it rockin’ now!” line. Even the audience appreciate that one. Similarly to Brisbane, this performance ends with a full band booty-shake, but thankfully there’s no “Let’s twerk!” from Bruce tonight. That’s good enough for me!
The liveliness continues with “Dancing in the Dark”, which features more impressive playing from Jake and Max, before “My Hometown” rounds off Born in the U.S.A. powerfully as Bruce’s main tribute to Christchurch on the night. It’s a stunning performance by the E Street Band, and it’s highlighted by the audience joining in with Bruce, who isn’t singing with the strongest vocal, but rather a perfectly fragile strain (the rowdiness of “Dancing” will do that!). I wrote in the Brisbane review that the novelty of this album being played live has worn off, but to hear it in person is surely still a significant, powerful experience, especially on this night with the context surrounding it.
“That’s Born in the U.S.A.!“
So, after ninety-five minutes and seventeen songs based on the struggle, the final twenty minutes of the main set are focused on the recovery. Similarly to several songs above, “The Rising”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” are three tracks that resonate more tonight than they usually would, and there’s a lot to them that hit us differently. Of course, Bruce singing about the “chain that binds” and urging his audience to “come on up for the rising” are examples we can think of before the song even starts, but what resonates greatest during this performance of the song is the “Mary in the garden” verse and the echoes that flow across Mt. Smart as Bruce sings “dancing in a sky filled with light” (3:03). This moment adds to the emotional “Bobby Jean” played earlier in the night by implying the words Bruce would eventually sing so powerfully in Letter To You’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams”: “Death is not the end“.
“Joad” afterwards adds to “No Surrender” in echoing the fight New Zealand put up in these difficult times, and the strength in Tom’s voice adds greatly to his blazing guitar solo (listen to his playing from 7:42, damn!), as well as Bruce’s weaker, spoken vocal: “where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air, look for me, mom, I’ll be there” (4:37).
Tom’s excellent guitar playing earns two shouts out during a wonderful intro for a wonderful version of “Land of Hope and Dreams”. Likewise with “The Rising”, we know there’s extra significance to Bruce’s call to “meet me” and promise of “tomorrow there’ll be sunshine” before Max’s thunderous beats even get us underway, and we aren’t disappointed when we hear them sang. There’s a lot of vigour to Bruce’s vocal, accompanying the E Street Band’s performance – the only downside is a rough start to Jake’s solo – and we can hear in his voice (listen to him sing “you’ll need a good companion now” at 1:43) that he’s determined to make this already significant performance even more special. I think that even though the importance of this version is different to the ones for South Africa and Mandela, there’s an equal amount of purpose, and that’s the magic trick of the man and band onstage in full effect.
Two and half hours later, it’s safe to say Springsteen and the E Street Band are nicely warmed up, so it’s time for a house party in the encores. There’s no theme running through this like the songs above, but it’s safe to say after the struggle and recovery, these five songs are the relief. There’s no better relief than getting to that place you really want to go with “Born to Run” either, and this performance magically conveys the release so many will have been waiting for – the audience participation at 4:40 truly emphasises that too.
After making stops in South Africa and Australia, it wouldn’t be right of “Rosie” to go home without saying hello to New Zealand, and the people of Auckland are evidently happy to have her for a performance which I feel is summarised best by Bruce’s declaration at 2:48, compared to any description I could write. “Rosalita” leads into a solid performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, featuring terrific audience participation, fine instrumentation from Charlie, Max and the Horns, and an impressive vocal by Springsteen for this late on in the show – check out his soulful reciting of “from the coastline to the city” at 3:44. Then, with assurance from the audience that they’re far from finished (and tired), it’s time for a shout of “E FLAT!”, and we know what that means…
“We-eell, well y’kno-ow, I said I feel so good tonight, I said I’m feeling so good tonight, we got a sweet summer night, I don’t even feel… a little bit tired oh no, matter of fact I feel, I feel, I feel, like I’m just getting started, you know you make want to…“
“Shout” ensures that if there was anyone in Mt. Smart yet to feel that sense of relief, they are now, because this is as loose as it gets and the song is highlighted by the efforts of the Horns and also Bruce’s introductions for Roy (“The only member of the band with a high school diploma!“) and Little Stevie (“The King of Lilyhammer.. Mr Steven Van Zandt-a!“). I’ll also be remiss if I didn’t mention Max outright banging his drums from 6:43 like a hammer to a wall, simply mint.
“We won’t come down this neck of the woods and pass ya by again“
With a shout out to Auckland City Mission and a promise that Auckland will be getting more E Street Band shows in the future, Bruce closes out this night of purpose with his invitation to a new beginning, for a ride out of the darkness to “case the promised land“. It’s a heartfelt rendition where he sings well, and is helped out terrifically by the audience and the acoustics of the stadium – his vocals resonate terrifically. This acoustic version of “Thunder Road” has closed out several songs on the tour, but it’s still perfect as what this night calls for to bring it to an end.
“We’ll be back tomorrow night with another spectacular!“
With a structured setlist on a tour that isn’t renowned for them, this night goes to show that you can’t judge concerts based on songs played alone, and that every one tells a specific story. From the shock of Bruce Springsteen covering Lorde and the solid four-pack combining Tracks delicacies and live highlights, this show finds its footing with a twenty song sequence relating to the issues that Christchurch and New Zealand had been experiencing over the last three years. Born in the U.S.A. from start to finish is equal parts a treat and an exclamation mark to the story Springsteen is trying to tell. Auckland #1 isn’t the stunner of a show that Brisbane was, but it’s definitely a splendid little gem to be found on the Live website.
Kieran’s recommended listening from March 1st, 2014 – Auckland, NZ:
“Royals“, “Badlands”, “Loose Ends”, “Wrecking Ball“, “Death to My Hometown“, “High Hopes”, “Atlantic City“, “The River“, “Born in the U.S.A.“, “Cover Me“, “Downbound Train”, “I’m on Fire”, “No Surrender“, “Bobby Jean“, “I’m Goin’ Down“, “Glory Days”, “My Hometown”, “The Rising”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Thunder Road”.
You can download Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in New Zealand in over a decade here.