Having bypassed Adelaide for most of his career, Bruce Springsteen has now played three concerts here inside three years. And while last night’s show at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre was an entirely different beast from the previous tour, it was every bit as awesome. This time around the ensemble is slightly smaller (no brass / woodwind section this tour and without Tom Morello) and, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of his recently released autobiography, the setlist mines down to the very early days of the back catalogue (hence opening with 1973 opus, ‘New York Serenade’).
Of particular note though, Springsteen showed himself to be in a fierce, combative mindset for this Adelaide show, rallying against the injustices he can see unfolding as he watches his country from afar. You get the feeling the setlist for this gig was careful curated to express this distaste at Trump’s draconian immigration policies and to show solidarity with those protesting at US airports. The intent was laid out from Bruce’s first words to the audience to introduce second number, ‘American Land’, a song pointedly celebrating the rich multi-cultural fabric of American society.
“Tonight we want to add our voices to the thousands of Americans who are protesting at airports around our country the Muslim ban and the detention of foreign nationals and refugees,” he rallied. “America is a nation of immigrants and we find this anti-democratic and fundamentally un-American.”
The E Street Band then ripped into a succession of uncompromising numbers, each given renewed focus through this lens: ‘The Ties That Bind’, ‘No Surrender’ and ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ (notably, the song Obama used to exit from his final speech). Springsteen underscored the point further, dedicating Jimmy Cliff cover, ‘Trapped’ to those suffering in detention, and although Bruce didn’t enter into any commentary of domestic politics, the local parallels are embarrassingly evident.
There are, of course, many facets to the performer, and the party wasn’t far away. With ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Hungry Heart’ the crowd erupted singing along and the Boss ventured out into the arena, proving he still enjoys a crowd surf.
In the most bizarre (and funniest) moment of the night, Springsteen picked out four members of the crowd dressed up as 1950s sit-com The Honeymooners and collaborated with them on an impromptu cover of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Bruce and the band were genuinely amused (and slightly bemused).
In a show full of highlights, the main set wound up with some of the best material of the evening: ‘Because the Night’ (the song Bruce gave to Patti Smith), ‘The Rising’, ‘Badlands’ and the full band version of ‘Thunder Road’.
It was another epic performance from Springsteen who never left the stage for the duration of the three and a quarter hour show, moving straight into a tender acoustic encore of ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ before the full E Street Band ripped into that colossal opening chord of ‘Born to Run’. Most of the crowd were up and dancing to ‘Dancing in the Dark’ with the mandatory selection of audience members who got to dance on stage with the band.
The surprises kept coming with Bruce nonchalantly introducing Richie Sambora to accompany the band on ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ (dedicated to fallen E Street members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici) and ‘Shout’. With the latter, Springsteen turned revivalist preacher of the gospel of rock’n’roll, complete with false endings and James Brown style theatrics.
The night ended as it had begun, revisiting Bruce’s first record in a rambunctious version of ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’; it was the perfect closer.
Throughout the evening, The E Street Band were in fine form: Steven Van Zandt colluding with Bruce in the showmanship, the dynamic Jake Clemons capably filling the considerable shoes of his uncle on the saxophone, Nils Lofgren contributing fantastic guitar solos and pianist Roy Bittan given some star moments across the show. Meanwhile, Max Weinberg and Garry Tallent were precise and reliable as ever holding down rhythm section, and the multi-talented Soozie Tyrell and Charles Giordano delivered even further variation to the ensemble’s immense sound.
The night was everything a rock’n’roll show should be from a master performer. We had the privilege of witnessing two sides of Springsteen: the political activist railing against injustice and the master of ceremonies who brings the party; and absolutely every moment counted.
We are fortunate that Adelaide now seems to have found its way onto the regular E Street touring schedule. Let’s hope we stay there!
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor