Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band review theres no stopping the juggernaut

We are the new American resistance, the Boss declares as he kicks off his Australian tour with an epic, inspiring show

On page 209 of his autobiography, Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen describes the effect of growing up as a child of Vietnam-era America, and of the Kennedy, King and Malcolm X assassinations. Dread the sense that things might not work out, that the moral high ground had been swept out from underneath us, that the dream we had of ourselves had somehow been tainted and the future would forever be uninsured was in the air, he writes.

With that dread in the air again, clearly the Boss feels it his duty the artists duty to respond. On Sunday night, in Perth for the first leg of his third Australian tour in four years, Springsteen laid his cards on the table early. Our hearts and minds are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday who rallied against hate, and division, and in support of tolerance [and] inclusion, he said. On E Street, we stand with you. We are the new American resistance.

If such sentiments sound absurd coming from the now 67-year-old Springsteen, its worth bearing in mind that there are many in his home country right now who would damn him as nothing less than an American traitor. Springsteen isnt usually quite so politically direct: he knows full well that many of his fans back home voted for Donald Trump. They are the same economically downtrodden folk he has written so sympathetically about for more than 40 years.

Such a rallying cry might have led fans to expect an onslaught of the E Street Bands fieriest material. Thats not quite what happened, at least for the first half of their typically immense three-and-a-half hour, 30-song set. Opening with the 10-minute New York City Serenade after which the above sermon was delivered the shows first half saw Springsteen dive deeply into his first two albums, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.


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Bruce Springsteen: We are part of the new resistance in the age of Trump

These albums, recorded when Springsteen was one of many being touted as the next Bob Dylan and before the E Street Band fully coalesced, are filled with long songs and long jams, and thats mostly what the audience got: Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street, Growing Up, Spirit in the Night and Lost in the Flood in a row; shortly afterwards came Kittys Back in Town, Incident on 57th Street and the perennial Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Before them came Lonesome Day, from The Rising, and the title track of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Its something of a downbeat beginning, giving the band lots of time and space to find their mojo and that meant the audience took a little while to find theirs, too. While the early material was probably cherished by hardcore fans, it slowed the momentum. Saxophonist Jake Clemens (nephew of the late, great Clarence), pianist Roy Bittan and Springsteen himself took solo turns all over the place, at length, and often all piling into one song. Even Nils Lofgren, usually the most tasteful of guitarists, shredded Because the Night to a bloody pulp.

In the end, though, theres no stopping the juggernaut. The longer the set goes, the more the hysteria builds as the Boss works the room like a secular Billy Graham. Rocknroll church is in. The Ties that Bind the opening cut of The River and delivered halfway through the set follows Rosalita and kicks off a roll call of shorter, sharper classics: Darlington County and Working on the Highway, both from Born in the USA; The Promised Land; a thunderous Shes the One; Badlands.

The first encore is a gem: a solo Springsteen taking a request for the relatively obscure Blood Brothers, for an audience members fallen sibling. From there its predictable, but still devastatingly good: Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, 10th Avenue Freeze Out. Dancing in the Dark sees Springsteen pick out a girl who cant be more than 12 and who actually breakdances in front of him; like an indulgent grandfather, he hands her a guitar to play as the song draws to its conclusion.

Yes, its hammy, especially when Steve Van Zandt offers his leader a cape, like a retiring boxer, as the band pound their way through Johnny OKeefes Shout. Springsteen says; I dont think Ive got any more, and half-descends the stairs leading offstage, but he keeps peeking up, then of course! hes back up for one last chorus. Springsteen, his band and their fans are the sort of true believers in their musics transcendent power who will brook no cynicism.

Cynicism, at any rate, is not going to serve anyone in the coming years. The E Street Band are about total commitment. They are an ideal, and an appeal to our better selves. After 42 years, they still dare you not to be caught up in their own fervour, and it would be a stony heart that failed to leave such a show exhausted, elated, invigorated and inspired. Theyre also famous for varying their set lists, and perhaps the most accurate thing to say about this their first show in six months is that theyre just getting started. The east coast awaits.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are on tour in Australia and New Zealand until 25 February

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