After nearly a year of travelling and rocking all over the world, Springsteen and the E Street Band’s second show in New Zealand would be the last of their 2014 Oceanic leg, and the finale to the first half of the High Hopes Tour. The next time we’d see them would be in Dallas in early April, but there was still work to be done in Auckland. The opening leg of the tour in South Africa was driven by a need to honour Mandela’s legacy and to satisfy the fans who’d been waiting a long time to hear this music played live; these final forty-eight hours in Auckland were of a similar ilk. Playing in New Zealand for the first time since 2003, there was a desire to do right by those there in person, and those there in spirit. The second night in Auckland sees a show not as focused as last time out, but a show with an overarching theme, and fun, fascinating setlist nonetheless. And as was the case twenty-four hours earlier (and thirty-five days earlier), it all begins with a cover.
Not wasting any time, Springsteen marches onstage by himself, emphatically strumming the riff he stunned his audience with last night. Making up for and avoiding anymore “pinch me I’m (still) dreaming” moments in the crowd, he delivers another intense rendition of local hero Lorde’s “Royals”. Using his guitar as a percussion instrument (3:36) the same way he would for “The Promised Land” on his solo tours from ’95 – ’97 and ’05, it’s interesting to think about how the first half of this tour began with The Specials’ “Nelson Mandela” and how its end was spotlighted by a song written by a seventeen year old. In retrospect it’s like Springsteen was giving us a history lesson, taking us through the years in South Africa and Oceania, concluding it by bringing us into the now. Whether done intentionally or something that came about by happenstance and through Bruce’s lightbulb idea to surprise an upcoming star, it does have thematic connotations by making us think of the now in New Zealand, connecting greatly to the story Bruce was telling over these two nights when “Royals”, let’s be honest, absolutely shouldn’t.
Bruce’s percussion then leads into the forceful beats of Max Weinberg, who is accompanied by the solid and searing guitar riffs of Tom Morello and Little Steven Van Zandt for “We Take Care of Our Own”. An often misunderstood song – President Biden using it this year will have surely added to that – this damning slight against as a disunited community, funnily enough, seems different tonight. Being played in front of an audience who came together when they needed to, there’s a vibrancy and a sense of hope evident in this performance, highlighted best in Bruce’s fine vocal (no issues like in “My Love” last night) when singing the “where’s the eyes with the will to see?” verse (2:37). Normally sang with grit and frustration, his emphasis and sighs of relief while singing indicate just that: Relief.
The penultimate performance of the Wrecking Ball opener (the next airing will be a one-off in 2016) links nicely to “No Surrender” afterwards, which is played with the same intentions as the night before, even though the performance itself isn’t as strong. To me, the introduction seems to be out of sync, with the instrumentation of the Band and the harmonies of the Choir taking a few moments to sync-up. As is to be expected, the song flows well enough once they do, and there are some tremendous contributions from Roy, Nils and Stevie, with the latter adding to his guitar playing with passionate vocals at 3:51. It isn’t a perfect version, but “No Surrender” is always welcome as far as I’m concerned, even a lesser rendition.
So, where night one started off with lively crowd pleasers and drifted into a thematic tour de force, tonight is a bit more erratic with “We Take Care” and “No Surrender” being followed by two tracks diverging from the expected sequence: “Two Hearts” and “Hungry Heart”. Yes, the first of these River album rockers does very loosely connect to the theme of recovery with the “someday your crying girl will end” line, but aside from that, this is the Night Two Rule in effect, so structure is essentially out of the window. It’s worth noting that Bruce’s rallying cry of “STEEEEEEVE!” isn’t as loud as the call for the start of “Rosie” in Brisbane, but it ends up being just as effective in a song highlighting their fantastic chemistry, as well as one highlighting more good playing from Roy, Tom and Max. As for “Hungry Heart”, this one is dominated by the consistency of Charlie’s organ riffs and Garry’s bass, and while we don’t get a crowd surf tonight – the first half of the High Hopes Tour ends with ten surfs out of sixteen, not too bad – Bruce makes up for it with some nice soulful calls (2:42 – 3:11).
What’s most interesting about the four songs that follow is another example of this show’s inconsistency. Unlike the River tracks, there is definitely a theme relevant to last night in the double shot of “We Take Care” and “No Surrender”, but the positioning of “The Promised Land” before “Seeds”, “Death to My Hometown” and “High Hopes” is striking. It’s almost as if Bruce is doing this to indicate how the idealistic life and Promised Land in general has a barrier placed in front of it, such as the situations explored in the three subsequent songs. More importantly than the structuring of the setlist, thankfully “The Promised Land” is performed fantastically tonight, with the only downside to it being that Stevie’s harmonies (2:07) are muddled in the audio mix – a shame as the combination of them and Roy’s piano melody is delightful. Then, barriers or not, the Darkness side B opener is followed by another vicious “Seeds”, which features a mint Nils riff, howling vocals from Bruce (“Money in a hole in the ground“, “Houstonnnnnn town” and “big limousine, long shiny and black“), and immensely played organ riffs from Charlie (check out 1:52 to 2:14!). Max is important on this one too, and the same can be said about Bruce’s own guitar playing alongside Nils’ – that 3:47 solo might just upstage Nils’ mint playing on account of being ‘Essence’.
“Death to My Hometown” doesn’t see the audience singing along fervently like they did last night, but that doesn’t mean Springsteen and the E Street Band’s passion also subsides. This is just as intense, if not more, in regards to vocals, drumming and guitar playing – Tom complements his shouts of “death to our hometown!” (3:20) with his awesome solo from 3:50. It’s only topped by what comes before, the “get yourself a song to sing” build from the Horns and that eventual climax around 3:20.
Followed by a typical, gritty performance of “High Hopes”, this sequence ends on a bleaker note than it would have with “The Promised Land” and the tour’s title track switched in position, but luckily for Auckland, a certain Saints cover is back in the setlist and these opening forty-five minutes are simply non-stop.
Of course, Bruce briefly brings the tempo down after “Just Like Fire Would” with “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. Bruce takes it easy, while Roy, Max and Garry command a steady ship – the usually emphatic kick-in of “well if she wants to see me” (0:44) doesn’t even bring the tempo all the way back up – and he recites the song as a really delicate monologue of sorts, all the way up until 3:13 and that thunderous delivery of TONIGHT I’LL BE ON THAT HILL!“, which is the loudest moment of the night for a good thirty-eight seconds until he howls “TOWWWWWWWWWNNNNN!” the way he does at 3:51. I guess you don’t need to play a two hour long thematic sequence of struggle, recovery and relief when you can convey it all in just five minutes.
“This is for our friends from Christchurch, who I know have had their share of hardship. And this is for all the souls present tonight, and for all the souls we’re missing. If you’re missing a mother or a brother. Or a father, or a sister, or a close friend. This song’s for you.“
If Springsteen hadn’t conveyed it in five minutes, the fifteen that follow definitely do the trick. “My City of Ruins” is the only tour debut of the night, and it’s the only one needed as nothing could top this. It’s a little funny listening to this and hearing them work out the tweaks – “you guys remember that horn riff?“, “Yeah, yeah, it’s alright” – because while the High Hopes Tour was, and still is to a degree, a continuation of the Wrecking Ball World Tour, I like how the rawness of this 2012-13 staple does somewhat distinguish the two tours. Mind you, that rawness is only in the first couple of minutes. They don’t half ease back into old habits to deliver one of the most powerful, emotional and uplifting performances of their entire two year odyssey. Before dedicating the song to Christchurch, Bruce summarises why this particular song was what New Zealand looked to when times were toughest, stating: “We’re gonna play some soul music for ya! It’s soul because it deals with the soul! With the spirit. It addresses your spirit, it addresses the spirits. Soul music.” The key word in there is “spirit“, as it’s the one Bruce uses a little later on to comfort – both his audience, his band mates and himself – but before that they actually have to start the song! Unsurprisingly, the stand out of the opening is “my congregation’s gone“, and it being followed by Charlie’s riff and the Horns’ collective sound. Excellent riffs indeed, it’s the significance of the lyric and who’s not playing the follow up that hits us hardest. This leads to spotlight moments for Curt, Barry, Clark, Eddie, Jake, and a Choir shout out in the first of two band introductions on the night – the “Who’s in the house tonight?” section here features two great guitar riffs from Nils and Tom. It’s following the band intro, however, where Bruce states and sings the most soulful, heartfelt and heartrending moment of the song:
“As you get older, there’s the people that are with you, and then there’s the people that are also with you, whether they’re there or not. When we walk, the older you get, the more spirits walk alongside you, and it counsels you, and it keeps you company, when the night gets dark, and you’re unsure of yourself, and your actions. You have alongside you, all the people that have passed through your life, and that have left you with something. Something, that, something that, keeps you moving, one step forward, at a time. This is where we take a moment and we feel the spirits that are missing, alongside of us. Let’s feel it… And the change was made uptown now… and they made that change uptown…“
The performance of “The Rising” in Auckland #1 draws comparisons to Letter to You’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, and in 2021 this makes us think of “Ghosts” – if not both. It’s unlikely that Bruce took much inspiration for the song from this monologue, but I think it’s safe to say he was driven to write “Ghosts” by the same factor that led him to interpolate that gutting snippet of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” into “Ruins” here.
With a goosebump inducing statement of “Alright, let me hear ya…“, Max, Roy and Garry lead the build back into the song, motivated by a cheering audience, urged on by the shouts of a possessed Springsteen. It’s magic. You could even argue that we’re not past the emotional high point yet, because there’s Bruce’s delivery of “oh I pray” from 13:45, which is almost distressing in how heartrending it is, and his repetition of “c’mon now…” alongside Max’s drumming and Choir’s harmonies (14:08), which is as powerful as it gets. Honestly, maybe I need to upgrade to ‘Quintessence’.
“Yes yes yes… yes, yes, as a matter of fact! Two yeses! Uh, last night folks got Born in the U.S.A. tonight you’re gonna get Born to Run, start to finish, here we go…“
Well after all of that, he’s not messing around. Very short, very sweet! And what continues to make this full album performance of Born to Run sweeter in 2021 is that it’s still the only one officially released and available on the Live site. I think it’s only a matter of time until we get Baltimore 2009 or Kilkenny #2 2013, but until then (at least) this serves a solid purpose. While there are certain aspects that resonate – similarly to “Two Hearts” earlier on – these eight songs don’t connect to the theme of struggle/recovery as well as Born in the U.S.A. did, so the purpose of this performance is purely to give Auckland Born to Run from start to finish. Let’s get stuck into it.
In its third full band outing of the tour, “Thunder Road” offers out the same invitation for a new beginning that Bruce’s acoustic rendition did last night, but with the added power of the E Street Band, there’s an even greater emphasis to Bruce’s message. As you’d hope in only the second and most important officially released complete performance of the song on this leg of the tour, it’s sang and played remarkably well, with Bruce’s clear vocal being matched by a solid Band showing – Roy, Charlie, Soozie and Steve play their parts excellently. My favourite aspect of this is how Bruce sings “they’re gone, on the wind“, as there’s a smoothness and directness to the delivery I haven’t heard in other versions, and it’s nice to have something unique in this surprisingly rare 2014 tour track.
There’s nothing rare about the song performance that follows, but of course to hear “Tenth” earlier in the show and as part of its respective album is a delicacy. There’s an expectedly stronger vocal from Bruce due to the fact this is being played earlier – check out how he sings “running on the bad side with my back to the wall“, it’s not stunning, but it’s definitely sang well, and his delivery of “the sideway’s bright and lined with the light of the living” is passionate and loud. Alongside the Horns’ tremendous riffs and impressive, guttural shouts of “SAY IT!” from 3:44, this mightn’t be the best “Tenth” of the tour so far, but it’s definitely in the top one.
As “Tenth” usually does in the encore, it leaves Bruce’s voice slightly broken for the next track. So while “Night” is sang roughly, it still has it’s positives in the immense “you work all day to blow it away in the night!” line (1:01), Stevie’s backing vocals, and the instrumentation of Max, Roy, Garry and the Horns. While “Thunder Road” and “Tenth” have loosely thematic connections when we think of “heaven’s waiting down on the tracks” or about Scooter and the Big Man busting the city in half to rebuild it into a better haven, perhaps “Night” and Bruce’s straightforward declaration of “you work nine to five and somehow you survive” within it is the perfect way to summarise struggle and recovery.
Ending side A of the album is “Backstreets”, and as it begins I’m reminded of how much I love the contrast of intros between it and “Night” – of course, each song on the album opens up in its own explosive way, even “Meeting Across the River”. There’s a lot of fire to this performance of the song, from the kick-in at 0:52 to the way in which Bruce slightly speaks the “fire we were… born in” lyric a few moments later (1:20). The spoken declarations are quickly replaced by thunderous deliveries, “HIIDING ON THE BACKSTREETS!” (1:42), “RUUNNING ON THE BACKSTREETS!” (2:28), while equally vibrant instrumentation complements them – listen to Bruce’s guitar solo from 3:52 and Roy’s graceful playing at 4:37.
A mint “Until the end” interlude then features an interpolation of “Sad Eyes” – as riveting here as it was in Adelaide and Melbourne – before a stunning finale sees Bruce and Stevie combining for the “hiding on the backstreets” build and eventual climax. So far, so incredibly good.
Straight into “Born to Run” for the second half of the album, there’s an extra oomph to Springsteen’s magnum opus tonight, and I think that’s evident in the shout of “IT’S A DEATH TRAP!“, the lengthy interlude and build from 3:13, and the buoyancy to Bruce’s delivery of “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes…“. Alongside that, there are the Horns’ riffs from 4:28 and “oh-oh-oh‘s” (5:13) standing out emphatically in a finale that is still (five weeks after Cape Town #1) worth checking out just to hear the audience joining in on singing “to ruuun“. “Born to Run” with multiple positives isn’t make or break on Live Download – Archive Series releases, but it’s always nice to hear versions with them.
The E Street Band follow that thrilling performance of the title track with an additionally awesome “She’s the One”. Also full of positives, the first aspect that stands out isn’t that prominent in the mix. It’s the brooding guitar riff in the background at 0:42 (make sure you’re listening closely, because the prominent playing of Roy and Max can be distracting from the subtleties). Aside from instrumentation, this is sang with a straightforward, albeit in your face, vocal from Bruce that becomes more unhinged as he goes on. A couple of howls here and there aren’t surprising in this song, but the ones from 4:09 and 4:26 are almost unsettling in stressing how great his desire is. They actually add very nicely as well to that impassioned full band exhibition from 4:17 for the finale.
From the lust to the loss, the exhibition to the isolation. “Meeting Across the River” is intimately performed and dominated exclusively by Bruce’s vocals and the instrumentation from Curt, Roy and Garry. With the trio on trumpet, piano and bass setting the scene for a heist doomed from the start, Bruce walks us through as to why there’s no positive outcome here. It’s definitely a walk through too, because he sings beautifully (“can you get us a ride?“, “on the other siiiiide“, “word’s been passed…“), but at a leisurely pace, allowing us and his characters to take in every moment so we can enjoy the moment and so they can think twice about whether they want to go through with this. I love the urgency in his voice as he urgently says “we gotta stay cool tonight, Eddie” and also how his voice breaks into speaking when stating “all we gotta do is hold up our end, here, stuff this in your pocket…”, because he’s talking to us as the leader, the calmer man with a plan, and this leader is absolutely terrified. A perfect performance.
Finally, the beauty and grace of Roy’s piano and Soozie’s violin playing sets and the characters of “Meeting Across the River” and Born to Run on course for their finale, “Jungleland”. In contrast to the precursor above, Bruce sings more powerfully here – with just a couple of hushed deliveries: “and the Magic Rat, drove his sleek machine“, “kids round here look just like shadows” – emphasising the magnitude of the song while Charlie and Garry nicely build (1:26) before Jake properly kicks us in at 2:08. Then, it’s a triumph. Bruce matches his Band’s forcefulness with equally sang deliveries – “WE’LL MEET ‘NEATH THAT GIANT EXXON SIGN!“, “UNTIL THE LOCAL COPS, CHERRY TOPS!“, “JUST LIKE SWITCHBLADES!“, “EXPLODE INTO ROCK AND ROLL BANDS!“. The famous solos played by Stevie and Jake take us through the battle and the romance, and are expectedly great, and Jake’s leads us into an awesome Bruce finale that sees more graceful Soozie playing from 9:00 (I love that halt at 9:10) and a perhaps deliberately slow paced reciting of “they reach for their moment… and they try to make an honest stand“, to end this album performance on a sombre, but incredibly strong note.
“That’s Born to Run! Jake Clemons, Professor Roy Bittan, Steve Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Max Weinberg!“
With just over an hour left on the first half of the High Hopes Tour, it’s time for the homeward stretch. After a slightly different intro in relation to the guitar licks being played, “The Rising” has early tempo issues where Bruce seems to be ahead of the music – mainly Max’s cymbals – at 0:38 when singing “lost track of how far I’ve gone“. Of course, this issue is corrected courtesy of some drawn out vocals, leading to an enjoyable version of the song that also features a nice Max build combining with Tom’s riffs for the “come on up” (1:00) and a tremendous Stevie and Michelle Moore driven finale (go to 4:44 for Stevie’s harmonies).
“The Ghost of Tom Joad” is then typical of its electric performances with Springsteen and Morello playing strongly together. Bruce’s vocals are very clear here, and he sings well in the open up to 1:35, before Tom adds to it a couple of moments later. With the exception of the brilliant guitar playing (2:48 – 3:51, 5:34, 6:36, 7:18), what stands out most in this version is the “where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air, look for me, mom, I’ll be there” line, which is sang in a completely different tone to last night’s soft, fragile delivery, potentially suggesting that while you mightn’t be prepared to rise up and fight one day, you easily could be the next.
“Badlands” was absent last night, but here it adds to that show’s story in reminding the audience “you gotta live it every day“, but letting them know that you don’t necessarily have to accept that. This has always linked well with the electric “Joad”, and tonight that’s even more the case. “Badlands” also connects to another song played on this night – you’re not going to read this much, if ever – and that’s “Royals”, as both songs deal with class and the luxuries certain people have compared to the song’s protagonists. They’re a surprisingly good bookending pair to the main set.
Performance-wise, this is much like Hunter Valley, Brisbane and essentially every other rendition on the tour in being practically perfect with Jake and Max’s excellent instrumentals adding to the solid vocal harmonies of Bruce and Little Steven (3:35). The main set hasn’t been structured and focused as well as it was twenty-four hours ago, but it’s been a lot of fun regardless.
As is custom, the fun of the the main set is matched, if not bettered, by a house party in the encore. The next forty-five minutes are a celebration of a successful first stage of the High Hopes Tour. First up is a colourful “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”, opened by Bruce shouting “I need help! … Help me out Steve!“. Solid guitar strumming follows in an otherwise basic rendition – though Bruce’s “WOOOOOO!” at 2:47 challenges “She’s the One” for wildest exclamation of the night. As for the song’s volunteer, they try their hardest and Bruce is pleased enough to proclaim “New Zealand has talent!“, but the tour heads back into the U.S.A. with Cape Town #1 unmatched. Will the States bring about a volunteer better than that Italian lad?
The house party officially begins with “Glory Days”, in which Bruce sings smoothly and throws it back to Brisbane (and maybe six – seven years) with his twangy deliveries of “drink until I get my fill!” and “thinkin’ ’bout it“. The Brisbane and Australian leg similarities don’t stop there, as the Auckland audience add to their efforts last night with more impressive interaction (“boring stories oo-of“), and Bruce adds another questionable statement to the worryingly ever-growing collection: “Everybody in the stands! Show your underpants!“. I’m not sure if I’d prefer “Let’s twerk!“, to be perfectly honest, and I’m ready to just move on from it again.
“Alright… Steve, I can’t just rock one night, baby! I can’t rock just two nights! I need…“
“Seven Nights to Rock”, as per usual, has a lot about it in regards to Horns riffs (1:20 – 1:32, 4:30 – 4:45), instrumentals from Roy, Curt and Clark, and outright Band jam sessions (3:05). It’s a brilliant end of stage exhibition in all of its liveliness, and that’s accompanied nicely by the sentimental outlier in this encore, “Bobby Jean”. A basic performance with another excellent Jake finale solo, the only downside to this is that Bruce’s audio goes awol from 0:38 to 0:43. When we hear him again he’s laughing, which indicates this is more so a “live music” error than a mixing one, but it’s still unfortunate that the song has this issue regardless.
Thankfully there are no issues in the thrilling versions of “Dancing in the Dark” and “Twist and Shout” that wrap the E Street Band’s night and time in Oceania up. We’re able to enjoy two solidly performed songs featuring more goodness from Jake, Max and Stevie (2:47) as well as the Horns who shine in the latter. Their riffs around the five minute mark go nicely with Bruce’s soulful “you got me going!” at 5:10, and their minor sounds at 6:28 add to a sequence from 6:15 that sounds somewhat familiar to the E Street Band covering “Twist and Shout” in 1988. It’s not identical, but there’s something there. An enjoyable way to end the Oceanic leg for the E Street Band, they’ll be back in action on this tour in early April.
For Bruce, he still has something to say. After thanking Mahalia and Jimmy Barnes for opening these two nights and with a shout out to Auckland City Mission, he thanks Auckland for a spectacular, overwhelming welcome and promises he and the E Street Band will be back more often. They’d return to New Zealand in 2017. With “Thunder Road” played earlier on, it’s out of the acoustic spot and in its place is arguably a song better suited for the story Bruce has been trying to tell over these forty-eight hours, “This Hard Land”. A song about people trying to survive the roughness of the world they’re living in to ultimately meet in a dream of it, there are few tracks as apt for Auckland, Christchurch and New Zealand as this one. Bruce sings it softly for the most part, playing his guitar delicately all the way up until he shouts “STIRS YOU UP!” at 1:37, and proceeds to sing with more gusto – his voice reverberating throughout Mt. Smart Stadium in the process – for a High Hopes essential.
I usually think of the Belfast 1996 Archive version when listening to any “This Hard Land” because of Bruce’s ‘prayer for peace’ beforehand, and while he doesn’t outright offer it here, eighteen years later, it’s more than evident in the performance, and these two nights in Auckland as a whole. Honestly, all he needed to say was “stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive if you can“, and he most certainly delivers in that regard.
“New Zealand! The E Street Band loves ya!“
Not as thematic or focused as the night before, night two in Auckland sees Springsteen and the E Street Band going for more of a blow out show while expressing why they’re there with specific performances. The stand out of them is “My City of Ruins”, no doubt about it, which as mentioned connects the Wrecking Ball and High Hopes Tours while also managing to distinguish them. Bruce uses the song to summarise the significance of these two nights and to also help his audience build themselves up through the power of rock, prayer and soul. Alongside another tremendous and (still) surprising cover of Lorde’s “Royals”, Auckland #2 might have been the second time Born to Run was played in full on this tour, but up to now in March 2021 it’s unique as the only live offering of the album on an official release. As with Brisbane and MSG #1 2009, this show won’t become less special upon the release of Count Basie 2008 or Giants Stadium 2009, for example, because there’s more to it than Born to Run, but until then this is a very important live recording.
Now with that being said, I am going to slightly knock my initial rating of this show down by .25, because I think the structuring of night one is excellent and the inconsistency here in that regard is a shame, and also because there are a few moments of muffled and frustrating audio (“The Promised Land” and “Bobby Jean”) in comparison to the previous few gigs. As mentioned in the past, though, a rating tells so little of the story and I like to think the review is the most important factor.
And that’s a wrap on the first half of 2014. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting these shows from South Africa and Australia, and I hope you have too. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the third and final leg from the United States, starting with an unreleased show, Dallas soon enough.
Kieran’s recommended listening from March 2nd, 2014 – Auckland, NZ:
“Royals“, “We Take Care of Our Own”, “Two Hearts”, “Hungry Heart”, “The Promised Land”, “Seeds”, “Death to My Hometown”, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, “My City of Ruins“, “Thunder Road“, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out“, “Night“, “Backstreets“, “Born to Run“, “She’s the One“, “Meeting Across the River“, “Jungleland“, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, “Badlands”, “Glory Days” and “This Hard Land“.
You can download the final night of the 2014 Oceanic leg here.