After all these years, Bruce Springsteen still manages to surprise. The Boss’ evangelical rock 'n' roll experience has just completed another lap of Australia, where each city has been rewarded with some rare musical gems -- not all of them his own. On this trip he’s been dishing out some homegrown tunes, including AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and INXS’s “Don’t Change”. On tonight's tour-closing show at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, he didn’t keep his fans wondering for long. Springsteen and his E Street Band opened with a cover of the Bee Gees’ 1970s disco classic, “Stayin' Alive.”
It was a most unexpected start. But a fitting one. The Gibb brothers’ formative years were spent in Redcliffe, a suburb north of Brisbane where a statue was unveiled in their honor in 2013.
Tonight was all about giving-back. Springsteen and his gang gave Brisbane fans exactly what they wanted, and more than they expected. There was more homestyle goodness in the set-list, including a rendition of “Just Like Fire Would,” a 1986 work of Chris Bailey, the frontman of local punk pioneers the Saints. And later in the set, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder took to the stage for a performance of AC/DC’s nihilist standard.
The Boss was in one of his “force of nature” moods. He dispensed with a support act on the night, and punched through with a marathon set that started at 8pm and finished-up just before midnight. There was no intermission, no breaks. Just rock 'n’ roll. This one will be talked about for a long while.
The set went deep into Springsteen’s catalog. Songs were pulled from his 1973 debut “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” then he delivered his follow-up album “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” in its entirety. And there were those big crowd-pleasers, “Dancing in the Dark,” “Glory Days” and “Born to Run.”
The production had little in the way of gimmicks. Just three big screens and 18 musicians getting to work (and on two occasions, an eight-female-strong string section). Springsteen tinkered with the set-list, taking his cues from the many hand-made signs bouncing in the crowd. “We had plans for tonight but none of it is happening. So we're just following the signs,” he said. “I don't know who else runs a show like this. We don’t do it every night. Just mostly.”
On one of his crowd-surfing sessions, Springsteen got more than he bargained for. He arrived back on stage with a toy kangaroo tucked under his arm, and a mobile phone inserted into his back pocket. “That's a first,” he quipped. “I don't know how it got there. I didn't feel a thing.”
Springsteen could be spotted drinking what appeared to be a luminescent aqua-colored fluid. Perhaps the secret to his energy is in this “Bruce juice”? Artists half his age will want some.
There’s something about the business of Bruce Springsteen that makes little sense. Here’s a veteran artist who, frankly, doesn’t really do “hits.” Not anymore. And yet, his albums are blockbusters. In a saturated touring market, when money’s tight, and slick-moving 20-something pop singers are hogging the limelight, Springsteen is always a hot ticket. And here in Australia, on the other side of the world from his native New Jersey, Springsteen does remarkable business. It’s a business that almost defies logic.
His most recent album “High Hopes” was partially recorded Down Under and it opened at No. 1 on its release here in January (his only other No. 1 studio album was "Born in the U.S.A."). The new album, comprising covers, outtakes and reinterpretations of earlier songs, yielded no hits. Until 2013, he hadn’t played Australia for the best part of a decade. Now he’s trekked Australia twice within a year. For most artists, that would amount to "overexposure." This tour was a sellout. “We could feel the bottom of the earth was moving for us or something," he said of the 2013 run and the decision to come back. “It's been a wonderful two seasons. We promise to be back."
As time marched towards midnight on this finale, Springsteen gathered his ensemble for a farewell bow. With arms around one another, the E Street Band members wiggled their butts at the audience as Springsteen shouted, “Let’s twerk!”
He wrapped his monster show with a stripped-down version of “Thunder Road.” Just Springsteen, his guitar and a harmonica. “Australia, the E Street band loves you. We'll be seeing you."
Australian audiences will be hoping it’ll be sooner, rather than later. Another visit next year, perhaps.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Feb. 26 Setlist:
1. Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees cover)
2. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
3. Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
4. Growin’ Up
5. Spirit In The Night
6. High Hopes
7. Just Like Fire Would (Chris Bailey Cover)
8. You Can Look (But You’d Better Not Touch)
9. Sherry Darling
10. Save My Love
11. Fade Away
12. The E Street Shuffle
13. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
14. Kitty’s Back
15. Wild Billy’s Circus Story
16. Incident On 57th Street
17. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
18. New York City Serenade (w/ strings)
19. Darlington County
20. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
21. The Rising
22. The Ghost Of Tom Joad
24. Glory Days
25. Born To Run
26. Bobby Jean
27. Dancing In The Dark
28. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
29. Highway To Hell (with Eddie Vedder)
30. Thunder Road (solo)