It would appear that The Boss was too busy defending his tequila drinking ways in court, and hanging out and shooting the podcast breeze with Barack Obama, to make it down to Adelaide for this year’s Adelaide Fringe.
Luckily, former Fringe Director, David Minear, decided to cover for Bruce Springsteen and the E Streeters and set about putting together a 21 piece band to ensure the music of Springsteen could still be heard live by his local fans in 2021 – and now after weeks of dedicated rehearsals, his ambitious project, Classic Bruce, has begun its season with an opening show that certainly has more highs than lows.
The promise of hearing a selection of classic songs from across the superstar’s career, accompanied by a full string section and horns, will most likely prove impossible for Bruce fans to resist, and they will be, for the most part, pretty happy with what they hear.
The Moa in the Gluttony precinct easily accommodated the large crowd, even though every second seat had to remain empty due to COVID restrictions, a rule strictly enforced by venue staff.
The afternoon sun was pretty fierce, so a word of warning is necessary here – if you are planning on attending a daytime performance make sure your floppy hat and sunscreen are close at hand as there is no shade available once inside the arena.
The assembled Classic Bruce band are all accomplished local musicians, many who will be very familiar to local music aficionados, and they all took up the challenge to attack The Boss’s catalogue very seriously and earnestly.
After opening with an overture of Springsteenian song snippets, the band seamlessly moved into a solid version of Thunder Road and, once the sound mix was rectified, the combined impact of the full ensemble was impressive.
However, as the show progressed it became apparent that the string section was often under-utilised and that the rock instrumentation often drowned out the strings when they should have been audibly adding emotive power to the songs they were there to enhance.
The song that initially inspired the Classic Bruce project, Tucson Train, from the 2019 album Western Stars, was a clear exception though, not surprisingly as the orchestration is meant to be the vehicle for the song’s main hook anyway. This song was a clear highlight of the afternoon.
Local music legend, Ian ‘Polly’ Politis, charged with delivering the sensitive piano parts and the challenging vocals required on the magnificent opus that is Jungleland, rose impressively to the cause – as did the horn section in delivering a sax solo of which even Clarence Clemons himself would be proud! Musically and emotionally it was the highpoint of the show, and as such is perhaps performed too early in the show. It would have made much more sense, and had even more impact, had it been delivered later in the setlist.
Another highlight was the band’s version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad, with musical director Julian Ferraretto, on violin, and guitarist Dusty Lee Stephenson duelling in the instrumental sections as they effectively tried to replicate the explosive Bruce and Tom Morello musical fireworks of Springsteen’s first Adelaide concert.
No-one sings Bruce songs like Bruce of course, and it’s a huge task for any person who takes his songs on to successfully imbue them with the passion and power that Springsteen invariably summons up in his performances. The Classic Bruce band wisely shared the main vocal duties around, as no single vocalist here would have been able to carry the whole show on the strength of their voice alone.
Politis, Stephensen, rhythm guitarist Rohan Powell, and keyboardist and former Fabulous Singlette, Melissa McCaig, all had their own shining moments at the microphone, but all hit some flat spots occasionally as well. Stephenson struggled a little bit vocally with Born To Run, in particular, but he could not be faulted in his passionate guitar playing during this iconic number.
The song choices in the 70 minute set were varied, but it has to be said that some of the songs did not immediately suggest they were best suited to enhancement by orchestration – songs such as My Hometown, Streets Of Philadelphia, I’m On Fire, Brilliant Disguise and Glory Days, whilst well-known and undeniably pleasant, are a little too mono-paced for the strings to have really added any extra dynamic.
Overall, though, despite the relentless sun and the irritant of the smoke clouds from the needless smoke machine impeding the audience’s vision far too often, this show was quite clearly a labour of love with the songs delivered with a high level of reverence and an impressive degree of musical dexterity.
Rating: 4 stars
Classic Bruce will be performed at The Moa, Gluttony on March 2 at 6:00pm; March 8 at 6:30pm; March 9 & March 16 both at 6:00pm.
Get tickets here: Classic Bruce