Every week round my place is my own personal Fête de la Musique but a couple of weeks in March were very special. Friday 15th started with getting carried away by the cimbalom propelled stylings of Sydney-based The Volantinsky Trio (the cimbalom sounds like a Doctor Who villain but is in fact a 78-string member of the hammered dulcimer family) at the Blue Mountains Music Festival and the following Friday ended with getting carried away by “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” closing out the three night Sydney stand for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It was not so much “getting carried away” but “continuing to be carried away” as I’d been flying all three of the Olympic Park gigs and I was trying to hang on to the buzzing through my body until the last possible second.
It might seem like an absurdly elongated bow, to compare a world folk trio playing to the early arrivers in the quadrangle of the Katoomba primary school and a multi multi million dollar exercise in arena rock which had already blazed across almost a hundred shows in North America and Europe. But days of idly soaking up the sedate folk festival surrounds and 3 star motel (self-rated) digs bled into days of queuing for a GA spot up front and nights of moshing. It seemed like all the same experience to me, and if Bruce learns us anything it’s that an arena is just as much a site of musical communion as a campfire.
Being a considerate man, Bruce has scheduled a day off between concerts which you might think is because a 63 year old needs the rest after running, sliding, squatting and crowd surfing nonstop for three hours but the much younger me was glad of it. And also glad of the Ibuprofen and ice packs for my legs which suffered severe soreness after jumping up and down all show. I regret nothing!
I had a general admission ticket for Monday, hoping to pick up (face value) for Wednesday and Friday too which I ended up doing pretty easily. I’d taken the week off work and was fully prepared to sit on concrete all day for my spot in the pit but it turns out that the travelling US fans, with the cooperation of Bruce’s people, have a very civilised and orderly system. You get a number in order of your arrival on your hand and on a written list. There are roll calls every three hours at which attendance is compulsory on pain of forfeiting your spot, but in between times you are free to wander. At Olympic Park there’s easy access to food, drink and toilets so while 12 hours of waiting is still 12 hours of waiting it’s surely the most civilised way to queue. Since I was coming straight from Katoomba I didn’t arrive until 7am on Monday and got number 25. Before 5.30 on Wednesday snagged me the prime number 7 but arriving the same time Friday got me 33, obviously the word was out. While the 7 got me the centre spot I coveted most, the other two were completely fine and worth the day’s work. The first 200 in the GA queue got wristbands (organised and issued by Bruce’s security people) and escorted in early (about 5.45pm); instead of the mad rush to the rail which has been my usual experience we walked in number order and everyone was very respectful. And then more waiting! But after the waiting …
I cried twice in the first show, not I don’t think in the second, and a bit in the third. The first emotional moment was ”Prove It All Night” on Monday, which is a cool but hardly tear-jerking. I think because it was the second song of my first ever Bruce gig and the reality (and the unreality of the reality (BRUCE IS RIGHT THERE) had sunk in. Every moment was a highlight and that is a fact. Bruce has this fan thing where folks in the pit bring signs with requests on them and he prowls back and forth, deciding if any take his fancy. Neither of mine (“Ain’t Good Enough for You” and “If I Should Fall Behind”) got up but plenty of favourites did. Being up the front, resting on the stage each night was just a dream, an electric circuit from the band to us back to band and around again. Sometimes I think my insistence on being up the front at big shows is getting out of hand, particularly as I get ever older I sometimes doubt the wisdom of making the effort. And then you remember why and why I can do it no other way.
At lunch on the third day I chatted to a guy at the pub who was remaking his “Prove it All Night (78 Intro)” sign. Bruce had already done PIAN the album version but this guy desperately wanted the live version from the ’78 tour with the piano and scorching guitar solo. He said Bruce had seen the sign at Brisbane and laughed and shook his head, but the guy was going to persevere. Well of course that night Bruce went over the far side of the stage where he was and gestured for the sign. He was doing it. I looked over through the intro and I’m the guy was crying, and I got teary on his behalf. So happy for him, whoever he was. You could tell this was a rare track as there was a bit of scurrying around telling the band what to do (especially Tom Morello. poor Tom.)
The second night was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, and Bruce noted the fact by opening with an acoustic “Devils and Dust” and (full band) “Last to Die.”
OMFG he did “The River” complete with singalong. (watching this again reminds me just how … well-tailored his jeans were. He had the most exquisitely fitting jeans I’ve ever seen. They must be bespoke!)
“Pay Me My Money Down” and “Shackled and Drawn” were big party songs on all the nights and I loved them because the brass and rhythm sections came down to front of stage and it was fantastic having all that sound (and talent) blasting over you from up close. I chose this video of Pay Me because it captures Bruce’s funny riff at the start about everyone sitting on their “asses”
I COULD JUST PUT IN ONE SUPERB VIDEO AFTER ANOTHER SO I AM STOPPING NOW
I forget the numbers now but it was something like 65 different songs he did over the 10 shows in Australia. Stats nerds can download a spreadsheet of everything played on the Wrecking Ball tour. Tom Morello is bloody fantastic but I did feel sad Steven stayed in Norway to make his silly little television show instead of coming. Tom is outstanding, but Steven is E Street, you know?
My only other regret, and it is a deep and abiding one, is that I didn’t take two weeks off and do the whole tour ….