On Saturday night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play AAMI Stadium in Melbourne. It was, by absolute miles, the best concert I have ever seen. It was incredible on so many levels. I will attempt to do it some justice but I won’t even get close. The fact is if you have any interest in music, even a passing curiosity about what this Springsteen phenomenon is all about, you simply have to see it, hear it and feel it to believe it. And trust me, I’m not even one of those weird Springsteen fans – this was my third concert – spread over 29 years!
It went something like this. Band walks on stage at 7.50pm, a perfect Melbourne Saturday night. Springsteen is last to appear (there are 18 in the band – it’s a BIG band) and casual as hell, Springsteen introduces Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and they launch straight into Highway to Hell. You literally have chills. And then it’s straight into Darkness on the Edge of Town from Springsteen’s 1978 album of the same name. It’s a completely epic song and you can imagine a young Vedder growing up and never imagining in his wildest dreams that one day he would be on stage with Bruce singing the important verses of this once in a generation song in front of 30,000 people in a corner of the world he probably didn’t know existed.
Vedder is 49 – about the same as everyone in the crowd. Springsteen, of course, is 64.
Bald blokes, fat blokes, a sprinkling of younger types – sure Bruce has plenty of female fans, millions of course, but I just kept feeling how rare an experience it was. We blokes were “owning” it – in our daggy dancing, poor fathering, over-drinking, middle aged way.
Because you see, Springsteen is a strangely masculine thing. The two blokes I went with, Watto and his mate Tim, are both from Townsville. The first time they saw Bruce was 1985 at the QE2 stadium in Brisbane. They took a 23 hour bus ride down and then back home for the gig.
That shit bonds two blokes forever.
Nowadays one lives in Sydney and is a leading light in music management, the other is an academic living in Melbourne’s west. Springsteen bonds them.
Springsteen bonds blokes. Blokes with crap jobs, blokes from small towns, blokes who grow up a bit bloody confused about chicks and life and what the hell it’s all about. Springsteen is a poet, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and for more than 40 years he’s spoken to us all. Even those of us from the “Badlands” of Sydney’s north shore.
Blokes last night were hugging each other, they were drinking quite a lot of beer and they were dancing like it was 1985. A couple of times I was mesmerized by a bloke behind me, probably 50, dancing like no-one was watching. All over the place. Worse dancer than me. Bloody hilarious yet totally beautiful in a very, very strange way. Sometimes beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder…
But back to Springsteen. A lot of blokes, a lot of us, no matter whether we are 20 or 50, still struggle to make sense of it all. Still wonder whether our glory days are behind or in front of us, or whether we really ever lived up to what we promised ourselves we would achieve back when Born in the USA was top of the charts.
But this is not melancholy. Quite the opposite. The night was truly euphoric. It was joyful – at times it really felt a bit messianic.
An hour into the show Bruce casually announced that next he was going to play Born in the USA – the album not the song, in its entirety – from start to finish. There was just this feeling, this uprising that made my heart, my spirit soar. Even Watto, who has seen him more than 20 times on four continents, shook his head, pissed himself laughing and said something like “Can you bloody believe it?”
Nope. You can’t believe it until you are there feeling it.
Most people know the concerts go for more than three hours, that he might just be the fittest 64 year old on the planet, that the music is brilliant, tight, unadorned and simply incredible, that guys like Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine are happy to play third fiddle to The E Street Band’s two legendary guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren. That the late great Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake now OWNS the saxophone solos that made his uncle the most famous sax player on the planet, Clinton aside.
I know what I heard and I know what I saw. What truly took me by surprise however is what I FELT. And what I still feel today. That music, that a rock concert, that a musician can really create a transformative experience. I know, I know, I will go back to being the same sloppy husband and average employer tomorrow but today I feel a bit different.
I know that I’m taking my wife to the concert in the Hunter Valley next weekend and I know she doesn’t get the whole Springsteen thing. But one thing I am certain of is that when the first chords of Born to Run start up and her husband punches his fist and sways from side to side and sings every word like he means it …well for six minutes at least – she might understand and maybe even love me just a little bit more.
And then the lament of Thunder Road… hopefully the jubilation of Jungleland… I will be feeling exultant, bullet-proof, ten foot tall… and then, almost inevitably, I will tread on a foot or knock over a glass of wine, say the most impossibly wrong thing, maybe even lose the car keys… and life will return to normal.
But I will still have had my three and a bit hours of awesomeness with Bruce and 10,000 blokes who I’m pretty sure have just been through exactly the same thing.
See it for yourself – http://goo.gl/SdkGt6