Reviewed on Wednesday February 19 (image by Ashley Mar)
What started as a good idea – artists basing live shows around seminal albums, played top to tail – is in danger of being battered into cliché. Yet if anyone has the right to do it, it’s Bruce Springsteen. Darkness On The Edge Of Town is the centrepiece of tonight’s gig; an album Springsteen’s played like this only a handful of times around the world, and never before in Australia.
When the Boss announces it, the crowd erupts. Not for the first time, mind, and not for the last. Pause for a moment to count the bona fide rock’n’roll stars left on this planet, and you’ll soon be scrambling. Bono, Jagger, Springsteen… Kanye? The rest are a tier below, at least when it comes to sheer aura. So when Springsteen first dashes around the audience to his runway in the middle of the arena, where he performs a verse or two, everyone in the back half rises to their feet – and stays there for the next hour. It’s as if the Popemobile has just done a lap.
There are no fancy light shows, pyrotechnics or streamers, yet Springsteen’s show carries impressive scale. Put that down to the E Street Band and assorted collaborators, who bring the number of performers onstage to 17. One of them is Tom Morello, who appears with an acoustic guitar for the opening cover of The Easybeats’ ‘Friday On My Mind’ – a marked change of scene for the Rage Against The Machine virtuoso.
Speaking of expert guitarists, Steven Van Zandt is back, playing a sort of deputy bandleader role when Springsteen’s working the crowd, and Nils Lofgren too, whose talents are well-known, even if he only gets one meaningful solo tonight. Max Weinberg drums with characteristic precision, marshalling an incredibly disciplined yet expressive outfit.
Once Darkness concludes, Springsteen rifles through the rest of his catalogue: ‘Shackled And Drawn’ comes with neat choreography, and ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ reveals the real reason Morello’s flown all this way (hint: it’s not to strum acoustic covers of crowd-pleasing local hits). ‘Born To Run’ begins with a hiccup, so it’s restarted – Springsteen’s ever-ready smile returns at this one – and five different Courtney Coxes (one of them male and balding, another celebrating her 17th birthday) are invited onstage for ‘Dancing In The Dark’. The set runs three hours, and Springsteen commands every eyeball for its entirety.
Of course, he’s done it all a thousand times before, yet there still are firsts to be had. ‘Born To Run’, he laughs, is “the fastest we’ve ever done that motherfucker!” as Van Zandt feigns a heart attack. The familiarity of the Boss’ embrace is what counts, though. Springsteen and his E Street Band can repeat their set plays as many times as they like, and the fans will be there a thousand times again.