Live Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Allphones Arena (19.02.14)

Something special must be in the water here in Australia, because Bruce Springsteen sure has been treating us well on his current High Hopes tour with the E Street Band; their second time to our shores in the last 12 months, which is a rarity in its own right.

Following two nights in Melbourne, where the set-lists topped 30 songs and included 1984's Born in the U.S.A. and 1975's Born to Run in their entirety, on Sunday and Sunday respectively, tonight was Sydney's turn. Here, he treated us to - among 18 other classics and covers - 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town from start to finish.

It's hard to say why this has become a trend on this tour - maybe he just feels like it, maybe he's recording it for a special release... who knows. But whatever the reason, we are indeed being spoilt, and weren't not complaining. Including classic tracks like "Badlands", the immaculate "Racing in the Street" and "Prove it all Night", Darkness is one of Springsteen's most well regarded early works, especially on retrospect when one considers the pressure placed on The Boss in the follow-up to the success that was Born to Run, and the unintended gap that followed.

Tonight the album was given a beautiful start-to-finish treatment by Bruce and the band, who removed the theatrics that help signify the rest of the show - as well as parts of the E Street Band for the songs which required less "bang" - allowing the album to be enjoyed on its own merits.

"The Promised Land", the album's B-side opener, was a highlight, with a rare harmonica appearance for Springsteen. The instrumental ending for "Racing in the Street" was something to behold, and "Prove It All Night" was a stunner, with a guitar solo from Nils Lofgren bringing the crowd to their feet as he twirled and twirled and twirled.

The band took a much deserved bow at the end of the album's ten tracks, before returning to the classics and the theatrics. Theatrics that included plenty of singalongs, beer chugging, giving people in the back seats a good taste of The Boss, kids joining Bruce on stage during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" (so cute!), and girls dancing, singing and strumming on guitars during "Dancing in the Dark". Though it was likely that the obligatory "Born to Run" got the biggest singalong of the night... at least of his own material. With covers like "Shout" thrown in the mix, alongside a few others I'll mention shortly, Bruce certainly has a repertoire that gets all the kids singing.

The rest of the set was a mixed-bag of new and old - which gets a bit confusing thanks to his new record High Hopes - a reworking of some old songs and covers that have become popular on the live circuit. "High Hopes", The Saint's "Just Like Fire Would", "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" all made appearances from the new record.

Then there's his oft-played routine of picking out signs from the crowd and honouring their requests. Tonight this saw "Cadillac Ranch" come early, and rarity "Surprise, Surprise" kicking off the second encore, solo and acoustic, for one very lucky 23 year old's birthday. Testament to the fact The Boss is only human, he took a quick minute to make sure he remembered the latter... and testament to the fact the whole band is only human, we saw a brief stuff up during "Born To Run" which ended up seeing the track played faster than usual, Spingsteen remarking "...that's the fastest we've ever played that mother fucker!"

Other surprises for the night included two very Australian covers that, as far as I know, Springsteen has never performed live before. The night opened with "Friday on my Mind" by The Easybeats - which got the crowd moving early - and the first encore saw an amazing rendition of "Don't Change" by INXS make an appearance. It all begs the question: how on earth does the band have time to rehearse and prepare for such an ever changing set!? But that's what makes them such consummate professionals, after all... so I digress...

And then there's Tom Morello. The most unlikely E Street Band member has quickly become a crowd favourite, from his screeching guitar solo during "The Ghost of Tom Joad", or his ability to use his teeth as a pick during "High Hopes"... the man's signature moves and sound have somehow made a home amongst the band. And given there are up to five guitars going up there at once, that's a rather difficult task! But with a band like this, you get the feeling that "anything's possible" is a bit of an understatement.

The night ended with a cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream", which also closes out the High Hopes record. Springsteen dedicated the track, which was a first for the tour, to his chosen charity of the night - the NSW Foodbank. Springsteen performed the beautiful song on what I believe was a Hammond organ, as he looped the notes that got louder and louder until he stepped away from the keys and let the music grow as his belted out the beautiful lyrics of a song that felt like an extra layer of icing on an already decadent desert.

Remarking simply that "The E Street Band Loves You", Springsteen walked off stage to a crowd who he had in the palm of his hands from start to finish. And he would have had them no matter what he did, but I don't think anyone would argue that he didn't earn it. This man - who, let us not forget is in his mid-60s - worked hard for that love. Running from the front of the stadium to the back, and then crowdsurfing his way to the stage, his energy is mystifying.

But it's what makes Bruce Springsteen one of the finest performers alive today, and he continues to bring it night after night. Who knows what he'll do when he plays in the Hunter Valley this weekend. But we know that everyone in attendance will be in for a treat - and let the final word from me, as it was for Bruce, be about the E Street Band: THE most phenomenal backing band anyone has ever had the privilege of performing with. The band are a wonder to behold in their own right. Bruce might be the showman, but really, the E Street Band ARE the show. And as is now tradition, thanks to "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", even The Big Man himself will never miss out on being a part of it.

Friday on My Mind (The Easybeats cover)
Out in the Street
Cadillac Ranch
High Hopes (The Havalinas cover)
Just Like Fire Would (The Saints cover)
Spirit in the Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Candy's Room
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Darlington County
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Land of Hope and Dreams

Don't Change (INXS cover)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)

Encore 2:
Surprise, Surprise
Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)