EPISODE 5: CONCERT FOLLIES: a musical journey from the Beatles to Bruce

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Bruce and Obama – kindred spirits in my kitchen

This blogisode has been inspired by my attendance at a recent Bruce Springsteen concert. The luminous Bruce is a sexagenarian too, yet he seems ageless. His  music and his live performances have given me immense pleasure over many years, ever since my brother first introduced me and the glowing Joan Messiny, world traveller extraordinaire, to the Born to Run album, late one memorable night in Mayfair, London back in the Seventies.

However, before I launch into the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band ‘tribute’ section of this blog, I feel it is fitting that I record here a few memorable musical moments via a cluster of vignettes and anecdotes, highlighting a lifetime of my rock concert adventures and misadventures in Brisbane. Hopefully, this early section will create a colourful historical and cultural context to my idiosyncratic journey, from the Beatles to the Boss.

Festival Hall: a palace of dreams

Julie Zemiro of RocKwiz fame always asks contestants to speak about the first rock concert they ever attended.  I would have to say mine was the legendary Beatles concert in 1964 at the Festival Hall in Brisbane. Luckily, the ever-elegant Joan Messiny and I somehow acquired tickets via contacts working at the Courier Mail, and we sat in the dress circle looking down on the stage.  As the people near us were mostly from the press, they were much more subdued than the seething mass of screaming teenagers below. Apparently, however, I shattered the fragile decorum of the dress circle that night, letting my hair down, so to speak, and embarrassing poor Joan, who tried to stay very cool, calm and sophisticated in the manner of most of those around us. When the Beatles arrived on stage, doing various antics and waving cheerily to the audience, I became excited and uninhibited – overly so, it would seem.  Joan jokingly claims to this day that I clutched her arm (too tightly) and repeatedly screamed ‘Look at him..look at John!’ with such volume that she is still suffering from damage to her right eardrum…

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Souvenir programs bring back memories…

Reviewing the cherished souvenir program today, I am surprised to learn that the Beatles were accompanied by a support act bundle called Sounds Incorporated, with Alan Field, Johnny Devlin, Johnny Chester and The Phantoms. I have no recollection whatsoever of these musicians on that night. We were all there for the Beatles, although we couldn’t really hear them singing above all the screamers – including myself for a short time, it would seem. I gather the Fab Four also couldn’t hear themselves sing on the ‘64 tour, but I guess it didn’t really matter.

In those days, the Festival Hall on the corner of Albert and Charlotte Streets was evolving as the best venue for such acts. As Wikipedia asserts: ‘With a capacity of 4,000 people (Festival Hall) was the largest indoor public venue in the Brisbane inner city area and it remained the city’s primary indoor venue for more than forty years. It was designed in a postwar modern style, similar to its namesake, the Royal Festival Hall.’  The owner/manager Bert Potts opened the multi-purpose stadium in 1958.

Aside: Thinking about this raises a typical two-degrees-of separation Brisbane memory: I went out with Bert’s son John for a while, but no Festival Hall freebies came our way sadly. John and his dad seemed to be endlessly at odds back then.

imageOther memorable concerts at Brisbane venues

In the same year that Beatlemania descended on Brisbane (and on me also, it would seem), we also enjoyed Starlift ’64, a veritable musical cornucopia involving The Searchers, Peter and Gordon, Eden Kane, Dinah Lee, and ‘American Guest Star’ Del Shannon. Then in 1966, Joan Messiny the Brave rather tentatively accompanied me to two concerts entitled Harry M Miller’s Caravan of Stars. Tom Jones and Herman’s Hermits rocked into town first; then later that same year, we experienced the energy and tumult of the Rolling Stones and the more mellow Mersey sound of The Searchers’ support act at the Brisbane City Hall. This time, we both fully immersed ourselves in the Stones concert, thoroughly enjoying Mick’s sexy antics in particular.  I am not quite sure why The Stones did not play at Festival Hall that year – perhaps there was a boxing championship on then, as the Hall was used as a stadium for boxing and roller derby events, with concerts and other entertainment being more of a sideline, at least initially.

Over many years of rapturous concert attendance and musical celebration at ‘Fes Hall’, I saw some extraordinary acts including (in no particular order regarding chronology, style, quality, taste etc): The Band, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rod Stewart, Janis Ian, Maria Muldaur, Elton John, Donovan, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, Joan Armatrading, Bette Midler, Nana Mouskouri, Carole King, James Taylor, The Seekers, Stevie Wonder, Theodorakis, and many others…At least I think most if not all of this diverse bunch performed at that venue back then – I don’t mind being corrected by serious music historians.

imageSome more naff programs…one with signatures!

I missed seeing Eric Clapton who allegedly spent most of the night at Festival Hall stoned out of his brain, sort of performing while lying on a couch mostly with his back to the audience. Other venues have also offered dazzling musical delights – for instance at Lang Park, with the stunning Juanita and others, we marvelled at consummate concert performers such as David Bowie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (True Confessions Tour). The spirited Dorothea and I made it to the Simon and Garfunkel concert at Lang Park, though they were mere dots performing in the distance…

imageTrue confessions indeed…

In the early Seventies, Ricardo Merdini and I were ecstatic to land precious second row tickets at Festival Hall to a Nina Simone concert, but sadly she cancelled the tour because of illness.  I also just missed seeing the goddess in Paris one Christmas Eve in the late Seventies…but that is another story. At least, years later, I was able to catch this magnificent legend in person at the Gold Coast Cultural Centre – well worth an overnight at the Coast in a cramped motel room with 3 others.

imageEternal thanks to cuddly Dudley for this precious vinyl gift

In our youth, Joan and I had spent many dreamy teenage afternoons lying on the floor, record player blaring, singing along (out of tune) to such immortal Nina Simone classics as ‘Wild is the Wind’, ‘You’d be so Nice to Come Home To’, and ‘Trouble in Mind’. Joan’s mum became seriously concerned when we moaned and sang with Nina that we were going to lay our heads on a railroad track somewhere and ease our troubled minds. This wasn’t quite the future she had envisaged for her daughter…

Worshipping the musical gods in various temples of song

Most probably, for me, the most captivating concerts ever at Festival Hall were the four Bob Dylan gigs in 1978, which I attended, orgasmic night after orgasmic night, with, among others, the inspired Ronnie Williamson, the bewitching Juanita Havana, the exotic Madam Ping, and the feisty songstress Johanna Harvey. So many stories and urban myths radiate around those concerts and the after-concert gigs, and, of course, ‘what happens at the after-parties, stays at the after-parties’. Although other eyewitnesses and oral history recorders such as Rodrigo Granada have put pen to paper waxing lyrical about this golden time, all I am saying is that, at one stage a few weeks’ later, we did think (and hope) that we would be dedicating our lives collectively to raising a very special little Roberto or Roberta Dylan…

Over many years, I have also enjoyed and often been inspired by concerts at the Convention Centre (e.g. Ry Cooder, the Buena Vista Social Club), the Concert Hall at QPAC (e.g. Joan Baez, Paul Kelly), Mayne Hall at UQ (e.g. Tom Waites, Loudon Wainwright III). I have enjoyed seeing the splendid Paul Kelly at a range of venues including pubs, and once even at the Queensland Art Gallery while I sat outside in the café with the lizards and birds – a total treat. I particularly cherish memories of a terrific Paul Kelly gig in a Fortitude Valley venue with rather dodgy fire safety exits, with sexy Savannah Burgundy, the resplendent Merry Welsh and others, singing along with gusto to many of his songs. We particularly loved ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’, shouting out our hero Whitlam’s name at the appropriate celebratory moment.

By contrast, in 1993, The Madonna Girlie Tour concert was held at the cavernous QE II stadium. My lovely, tolerant friends from the ‘hood, Elizabeth Forster and Catherine Wordsworth, were rather stunned when I had to inform them on the way to the stadium that I had accidentally left our tickets on my kitchen bench. We still somehow managed to get there on time, although the Brisbane weather was unkind for a massive open-air concert. As soon as she started singing, everyone seated in front of us stood up and danced, so we had to follow suit. Dressed in many different guises such as a whip-wielding dominatrix, Madonna herself was but a damp tiny speck in the far distance. The video projection and sound were not synched very well; consequently it was a rather difficult to endure that odd jangling all night, adding to the fuzziness of the memory.

Tantrum time at testy Tivoli

Marianne Faithfull and Michelle Shocked are two performers I have liked and admired, and Marianne had a particular place in my heart – viz such brilliant albums as Broken English. However, both these women performers gave below-par performances in Brisbane, and had annoyingly unnecessary on-stage tantrums at the Tivoli theatre. This was, of course, quite disillusioning, especially with regard to Marianne Faithfull.  She wouldn’t (actually couldn’t) sing many of her hits that the audience really wanted to hear, and she certainly didn’t want any requests from the crowd – especially for The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. She was arrogant and superior – not a good look at all.  Michelle simply behaved petulantly and rather childishly to an unfortunate comment from one guy in the audience, and walked off stage. Even her lead guitarist was wondering if she would ever return. She also made everyone put their seats to the side and stand all night…even my splendid PT, the extremely fit, youthful Katerina Pattinson, doesn’t care to stand all night at concerts, and she is a dedicated gig attendee.

As I am definitely getting to the point in my life where I do not want to be vertical all night at a concert, the Tivoli is starting to lose its appeal, even though it is quite a pleasant venue. I recently rang to check on the seating arrangements for an upcoming Billy Bragg gig.  A callow youth on duty at the Tivoli nonchalantly informed me that, if I was pregnant, perhaps they could give me a seat – but then I wouldn’t be able to see anything. I replied that, while I am not pregnant, I am of a certain age. However this didn’t seem to bother him at all, and I could practically hear him shrugging and giving me the finger over the phone.

Fortunately, the Powerhouse, The Judith Wright Centre and the Old Museum are still worthy places to experience, for instance, such riveting performers as Dan Sultan.  Juanita and I are great fans of this talented Indigenous artist ever since we experienced his stunning gig with his band at the Powerhouse.   And at these performance venues, good seating is available for all, regardless of age and motherhood considerations…

Dashing Dan Sultan flying solo at the Old Museum 2013

Festival Hall closed down in 2003 and has been turned into apartments. In the foyer, there are some great ‘memorabilia’ photographs, but the most precious memory traces are etched in our hearts and minds. Now the ‘big names’ such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen perform only at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Boondall. Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with this venue, but I am lured there time and again, when it is the only space option available to see and hear a legend. The once intrepid Joan claims that she has given up altogether.

To ease some of the venue-related pain, a varied group of dedicated people has been known to hire a limousine to Boondall. It is great to see the decadent limo gleaming in the dark, beckoning us to indulge its smooth comfort pre- and post-concert. We have treated ourselves at least twice for Dylan and once for Bruce. The most memorable Dylan limousine journey was with the enthusiastic Kevs of Toowoomba, the ebullient GK of Southside fame, sizzling Suzette, delectable Juanita, dashing Tom and me. I wish I could locate the photos…

Bluesing and rooting at Byron…

 Sadly and, dare I say, annoyingly, Bob Dylan refuses to have his concerts projected on the large screens these days. Such petty vanity is both boring and irritating on several levels.  Elvis Costello and many other not-so-young stars at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2011 revealed their marvelous faces in all their wrinkled glory on the multiple screens, and everyone in the tents could relax and watch each set comfortably. When Bob came on as the headline act of the day, the eager audience members realized pretty quickly that there would be no video projections on the large screens in the mega-tent. People started pressing forward in great numbers, causing quite an unruly, overcrowding situation, rendered much worse by a sudden downpour of rain. Everyone jostled each other for the best viewing positions, as well as to stay out of the rain – very much a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation.

Unfortunately, some less evolved but more aggressive people near me kept muscling me out of the way, so that their friends could push in front of me. Noticing this, a tall, strong young woman became my warrior avenger, kindly (though rather alarmingly) embracing me and precariously repositioning me back into my supposedly rightful place. It soon became a scary crushing seething moshpit-style situation. Realising there was no way out for the duration, I started to wonder why I was there at all as the concert proceeded. The only way I could actually see tiny Bob in his white hat was on someone’s mobile phone held up ahead of me…At least I could hear him, and he did redeem himself somewhat with his rendition of such classics as ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.

image    Some favourite Bob albums

Meanwhile the gentle Juanita had left my side, feeling quite overcome  – not so much by Bob’s artistry, but by the swirling, threatening crowd situation. Breathing more easily, she delicately perched herself on a chair outside near the fence, which turned out to be right beside a kind of emergency exit for celebrities. She found herself helping such people as Jack Thompson and Bob Dylan’s publicity agent escape the crowds.  I was very happy to hear later that she gave the latter a spirited serve about Bob’s not deigning to use the video screen projection, before she would show him the escape route.

At least Juanita could dance to the music in the outside spot in the rain, making friends with some charming young people, also sensibly not wanting to tackle the surging chaos within the tent.  Apparently these were a much sweeter group of young people than the predatory fanatical ones ripping, tearing and pushing me around inside. Exasperated and trapped, between songs I asked a couple of them why and how, given their ages, they could possibly like Dylan or even know his body of work (they avidly sang along to everything).  I told them they might enjoy a younger, more modern singer, who was playing in a parallel tent. They looked at this old baby-boomer uncomprehendingly, and rocked on regardless to their hero Bob.

Meanwhile the fragrant Violetta and the earthy Dave occupied the VIP tent, comfortably watching Bob on video from there.  Poor Judy had a broken leg so she and Gareth had to stay seated on the side, vainly hoping no one would bump her leg. I lost the glamorous Missy and Jacko in the crush. Just before the Bob concert, I had also been chatting to Tim Robbins who, surprisingly enough, brought his own band to Byron. We enjoyed their set, and afterwards I also relished our little surprise encounter in the audience, watching the next band perform. He was pleasant but naturally rather wary.  He became extremely annoyed when people around us did a double take, and then immediately asked for a ‘selfie’ photo with him. He said a curt ‘no’ to every such request. Of course he has broken up with one of my favourite actors, Susan Sarandon, of similar superstar fame (as well as ‘ping pong’ fame – see earlier blogisode). This particular day, he was with a pretty girl in her mid-twenties, who made it very clear to everyone that he was definitely taken. As soon as the Bob melee started, delicious Tim and his lucky date melted away and went backstage – a very good move.

Aside: During this brush with stardom, I was pleased that I maintained what could be called ‘New York cool’…i.e. when you encounter a celebrity, you have to behave as if they are just another person. This seemed to work pretty well in Byron with my Tim Robbins moment, although, technically, ‘New York cool’ also has a rider, that you have to pretend not to recognise the celebrity at all when they are trying to be a private person, for instance, in NYC restaurants, walking on the streets etc. I couldn’t do the cool non-recognition thing, as he had just performed, but I was warm and friendly, treating him pretty much as just another guy in the crowd, and I certainly didn’t ask for a photo. He seemed to appreciate that.  So I give myself 8 out of 10 in the ‘New York cool’ stakes.  I also raise my glass in thanks to that consummate, groovy New Yorker, lovely Lily, who guided Juanita and me so wisely on how to be ‘cool’ in NYC way back in the 80s.

But I digress! Back to the crazy hazy Dylan performance at Byron that year. Funnily enough, our great mate, the rugged Tom Rapaport, arrived late at the tent, just as Dylan began his set. On the other side from where Juanita and I were struggling with the mob and the weather, Tom casually wended his way through a gap in the crowd. From there, he enjoyed a full frontal, close-up view of Bob. While Tom is an amazing music aficionado, he is not really a massive Dylan fan, and, to cap it all off, he didn’t really care one way or the other if he saw Dylan that year. For Juanita and me, Bob was the main reason we went to Byron, as we had been following him to every live concert he had given in Brisbane since the beginning of time – or so it would seem. Such are the ironies of life.

Viva the Boss: the absolutely ‘best concerts ever’

imageThe Boss – Brisbane Wrecking Ball concert 2013

Much has been written already online about every single Bruce Springsteen tour of Australia, and indeed about his tours everywhere else in the world. My little blog record here is but a drop in the Bruce review ocean, and I am certainly no expert, just an enthusiast.

My first Bruce Springsteen concert was part of the Born in the USA Tour on March 31, 1985, at the QE II Stadium. We danced all night in the rain and it was, for us, ‘the best concert ever’!  This has been the mantra for all subsequent Springsteen concerts. I didn’t notice any real problems that night, or at least I don’t recall anything particularly bothersome. Bruce held that dedicated, adoring audience in the palm of his hands. Very happy memories are forever forged in the minds of myself and such delightful dancing, swaying, cheering companions as the dazzling Anastasia Becker, the sparkling Savannah Burgundy, the jaunty Joan Messiny and her spirited friends Marianna and Dexter, and of course the amazing Amelia Austen, author extraordinaire, who was in the front row of the moshpit, experiencing the Boss up close and very personal.

Given such fond memories, I was annoyed by the dismissive commentary on this historic Brisbane concert in the Peter Ames Carlin’s recent biography Bruce:         

 Along with helping Bruce fend off the tabloid media, Jon Landau (Bruce’s producer) and friends had to scramble to keep up with an unprecedented ticket demand. In Brisbane a show scheduled for the eight-thousand-seat Chandler Velodrome had to be moved to the fifty-thousand-capacity QEII Sports Centre Stadium. What would be Bruce’s first stadium show flirted with disaster from the start. Rain poured from the sky, the sound system wasn’t loud enough to fill the space, and the police’s campaign to enforce a new no-alcohol policy slowed long lines to a crawl. Even Bruce seemed off his game in the cavernous setting, but by then things were spinning so fast they could only live, learn, and get onto the jet because the first-ever Japanese tour was about to begin…(p. 321)

 Obviously the author didn’t ask any Brisbaneites present at the concert what they thought.

imageStill playing after all these years – Bruce and Steve…the New Jersey duo.

Bruce blasts forth into the New Millennium

The next time I remember seeing the Boss was at ‘The Rising’ tour concert, early in the new Millennium, with the E Street Band, including of course the brilliant Clarence, Max, Nils, Garry, Patti and Steve. Sadly, I missed his ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ concert in 1997, and possibly others. By 2003, Steve Van Zandt had, of course, developed his television acting career in The Sopranos, as Silvio, a sidekick of Tony Soprano, and owner of the notorious Bada Bing! strip club. As a person who has presented a paper on, among other aspects, masculinity, clothing and adornment in The Sopranos, this added a special dimension for me on the night. Joan, Pedro and I were astonished to discover that we were sitting near a couple with their two kids, all classic fans, who were travelling to every single one of his concerts in Australia. Such dedication, apparently, is quite a common phenomenon. I heard recently about an Australian millionaire who goes to just about every Bruce concert around the world, thereby gaining all sorts of back stage and rehearsal privileges.

In London in 2010, I did have an exciting, unscheduled Bruce encounter. At the London Film Festival, I went to a special screening: the European premiere of the Bruce Springsteen documentary ‘The Promise: the Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town’. Quite unexpectedly, Bruce arrived to introduce the film in person – a delightful surprise for all who attended. It was hard to settle into this fascinating and revealing film after that experience. Of course, I looked for him afterwards, but…

Losing Clarence and hanging with Jimmy

Then, in 2013, Bruce finally returned to Australia for ‘The Wrecking-Ball’ Tour, after ten years’ away. Sadly the much-loved charismatic Clarence Clemons had died in the interim, being replaced by his sweet saxophonist nephew, Jake Clemons. At the concert, there was a very moving tribute to Clarence; it remains to be seen whether Jake can fill the wonderful big man’s shoes.

I went to one concert in Brisbane and another one in Sydney with Bruce enthusiast extraordinaire, Jimmy Hatt. The dazzling threesome Savannah, Joan and Madam Ping also accompanied us in Brisbane, travelling to and from the farflung Boondall venue in a glamorous limousine.  Last year, Jimmy attended both Brisbane concerts, one concert in Sydney, his Bruce adventures culminating in the final two concerts at Hanging Rock (front row on the final night) along with the glorious Grace Hatt. He is a total fan down to his fingertips, and, between live concerts, year in, year out, we manage to hang out with other devotees, watching Bruce concert videos, endlessly discussing the comparative merits of each visceral moment of his soaring performances, at, for instance, Hyde Park, London, or Madison Square Gardens in NYC.

Violins, the Bee Gees and the wild highway to heaven

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Pre-performance relaxation at the Gold Coast for the Boss – source unknown

This year devotee Jimmy and I went to the Brisbane concert again together. We were delighted that savvy Savannah decided in a last minute flurry to make the pilgrimage with us again. Jimmy certainly has great powers of persuasion.

imageThe iconic Jimmy Hatt heading for the train, bound for glory

Around 8pm in Brisbane on February 26, 2014, the Boss started with the Bee Gee’s song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ – a special tribute to Brisbane, a totally engaging adaptation accompanied by an orchestra including about eight beautiful young female violin players. These striking violinists had been rung the day before, and brought in on the same day as the concert for the afternoon rehearsal (Savannah luckily sat next to the obliging sister of one of the violinists, and got the ‘good oil’ from her). I gather that the Brisbane concert was the first and only time they had ever performed with him. Later in the night, they rejoined the band for an extraordinary rendition of  ‘New York City Serenade’.  An old comrade, the lovely Leonora Bronte, thinks that she inspired this performance (the only one in Oz) through tweeting him a request for this very song, her all-time favourite, two nights earlier. I am also convinced that her tweet did trigger the whole violinist extravaganza. As John Wayne says in that great Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, ‘when the legend becomes fact, print the legend’.

Bruce palpably let the mood transport him and us on a very special journey. This uniquely-styled Springsteen concert journey, often surprising yet always thrilling, informs and underpins his fluid, spontaneous creativity at all times. Early in the concert, he became so excited playing direct audience requests for rather obscure early songs, that he admitted he was not following any set list at all, but simply going with the flow. As Jimmy points out, this is an unparalleled process that occurs and recurs in any concert performance by the Boss, and, arguably, Bruce outdoes any other major performer in this way.

Lasting nearly 4 hours without a break, his final concert in Australia was a monumental achievement, with Bruce, the consummate artist, giving everything to the fans, reaffirming his artistic authenticity and the mutual adoration society that builds and builds all night.  Seeing him live is the ultimate ‘high’ for just about everyone who goes along – even, I would argue, for those who are reluctant to start with.

Aside: One glaring exception to this theory involves someone who unfortunately sat near me in Sydney last year. He had obviously been dragged there by his girlfriend and barely looked at the stage, and certainly didn’t clap. She wanted to dance and enjoy the whole experience (I hear you, sister!). Eventually she literally abandoned misery-guts to his fate. He spent the rest of the concert, head bowed, texting her. The exception proves the rule…and at least the person on my other side was totally in the groove.

Meanwhile, back in Brisbane in 2014, Bruce and the band performed all his songs from ‘The Wild and the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’, his second album, the one published before his hit album, ‘Born to Run’, which launched him into superstardom. (In Melbourne, the band thrilled the audience by playing the whole ‘Born to Run’ album). Delivered with infectious joy and enthusiasm, these early golden songs were reborn, sounding very fresh, as Bruce, Steve and the rest became scallywags again, revisiting their New Jersey youthful experiences. After this, they launched into many of the great popular songs from their massive repertoire. Towards the end, he didn’t even bother to do the customary ritualistic wrap, and then return to the stage for an encore. The band just kept playing…and playing.

Sitting next to us were, by a strange happenstance, three dedicated Tasmanian fans who had come up to Brisbane for the night. One guy had been to several other mainland concerts as well, and he and Jimmy had a long animated conversation about the relative merits of all the concerts, both this year and last year. The other two were a couple expecting a baby. Apparently that unborn child hears Bruce constantly every day in the home, in the car, wherever and whenever possible, and that evening she/he heard a complete Bruce live concert. Unsurprisingly, they bought a little outfit for the baby with the ‘Born to Run’ album cover on it from the merchandise stand outside. I forgot to ask what the child’s name would be…

Feeling the spirit: lightness and darkness on the edge of town

 My concert buddy Jimmy is very knowledgeable about many aspects of Bruce’s live performances, especially after having attended so many in the past two years.  For instance, from his observations of the southern concerts and last year’s Brisbane experience, he could quickly read, ahead of time, the telltale signs when Bruce was about to head into the audience. Mainly for my benefit, Jimmy kept one eye peeled for the security guards who start moving around, pointing and looking on edge, just before Bruce launches forth from the stage. At the signal, we would rush to the front of our roped-off area, hoping to get in early to see him up close. During this concert, he even ventured into the upper tiers – apparently unheard of at any previous concert.

imageBruce crowdsurfing – this year I touched his left upper arm…

When he does his full-on, exciting movements through the throng, eventually hurtling himself into overhead crowdsurfing, the audience recognizes how much Bruce gives to them, and people (including us) are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him passing close by. It is a privilege to touch him with a mix of delight and great respect, just as he reciprocally trusts and honours the crowd to look after him and go with the dynamic, tactile flow. Apparently on his travels this year, someone somehow slipped a mobile phone into his back pocket. When he got back on stage, he laughingly commented that this was a ‘first ever’.

One outstanding aspect of the whole spectacle, as wise Jimmy also points out, is that the band is so marvelously tight. They all work so hard for the duration, and take their individual roles as well as the collective musical work very seriously indeed.  Hence the $200+ cost of the concert is ‘cheap at the price’, given the overwhelming value delivered every single, superbly executed minute. Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine performed brilliantly on stage with the band, particularly with the song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, a definite highlight for me this year.  In 2013, Tom stood in for Steve Van Zandt as he was making his tv series ‘Lilyhammer’ in Norway (give it up, Steve…this series is very ordinary indeed). While Tom toured with the band last year, they recorded many songs in Australia for the new album ‘High Hopes’. I like the way Bruce is very generous and inclusive of talent from elsewhere. His treatment of the Saints’ cover ‘Just Like Fire Would’ was great, both on the album and on the night, a special affirmation of and tribute to this early Brisbane band.

image(left) Bruce coming on stage and (right) performing The Ghost of Tom Joad with Tom Morello

Towards the end of the concert, the band did a sizzling rendition of ‘Highway to Hell’ with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. And Bruce’s bluesy, acoustic finale, ‘Thunder Road’ was a spellbinding solo. It was difficult to come back down to earth. I could barely speak on the train home…

Here endeth my hymn to the Boss

Note: Some photos of Bruce et al in this blog are from the official tour program booklet for Springsteen E Street Band South Africa Australia New Zealand 2014.

 

     

             

 

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

  

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

        

 

        

 

Like

Sadly and, dare I say, annoyingly, Bob Dylan refuses to have his concerts projected on the large screens these days. Such petty vanity is both boring and irritating on several key levels.  Elvis Costello and many other not-so-young stars at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2011 revealed their marvellously ageing faces writ large on the multiple screens, and everyone in the tents could relax and watch each set comfortably. When Bob came on as the headline act of the day, the eager audience realized pretty quickly that there would be no video projections on the large screens in the mega-tent. People started pressing forward in great numbers, causing quite an alarming overcrowding situation, made much worse by the sudden downpour of rain. People jostled each other for the best viewing positions as well as to stay out of the rain, and unfortunately some pushy people near me kept muscling me out of the way so their friends could get in front of me. Noticing this, a tall, strong young woman became my warrior avenger, embracing me and precariously  repositioning me back into my rightful place. It soon became a scary crushing moshpit-style situation. Realising there was no way out for the duration, I started to wonder why I was there at all as the concert proceeded. The only way I could actually see Bob in his white hat was on someone’s mobile phone held up ahead of me…At least I could hear him and he did redeem himself somewhat with such classics as Like a Rolling Stone.

Meanwhile the dedicated Juanita had left my side, feeling quite overcome  – not so much by Bob’s artistry but by the swirling, threatening crowd situation. Breathing more easily, she perched herself on a chair outside near the fence, which turned out to be right beside a kind of emergency exit for celebrities. She found herself helping such people as Jack Thompson and Bob Dylan’s publicity agent escape the crowds.  I was very happy to hear later that she gave the latter a serve about Bob’s not having the video screen projection on, before she deigned to show him the escape route. At least Juanita could dance to the music in the outside spot in the rain, making friends with the charming young people also sensibly not wanting to tackle the surging chaos within the tent.  Apparently these were a much nicer group of young people than the predatory fanatical ones ripping, tearing and pushing me around inside. Exasperated and trapped, I asked a couple of them why and how, given their ages, they could possibly like Dylan or even know his songs (they avidly sang along to everything).  I told them they might enjoy a younger singer who was playing in a parallel tent. They looked at me uncomprehendingly and rocked on to their hero Bob.

Funnily enough, our good mate rugged Tom Rapaport arrived late at the tent, just as Dylan began his set. He casually wended his way through a gap in the crowd on the other side from where Juanita and I were struggling in the mob, and from there he enjoyed a full frontal, close-up view of Bob. While Tom is an amazingly erudite music aficionado, he is not really a Dylan fan, and, to cap it off, he didn’t really care one way or the other if he saw Dylan that year. For Juanita and me, Bob was the main reason we went to Byron, as we had been following him to every live concert he had given in Brisbane since the beginning of time – or so it would seem. Such are the ironies of life.

Viva the Boss: the absolutely ‘best concerts ever’

My first Bruce Springsteen concert was part of the Born in the USA Tour on March 31, 1985 at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. I danced all night in the rain with friends and it was, to us, ‘the best concert ever’!  This has been the mantra for all subsequent Springsteen concerts. We didn’t notice any real problems that night, or at least I don’t recall anything particularly bothersome. Bruce held that dedicated audience in the palm of his hands. Very happy memories are forever embedded in the minds of myself and such delightful dancing, swaying, cheering companions as the dazzling Anastasia Becker, the sparkling Savannah Burgundy, the magnificent Joan Messiny and her friends Maria and Donald, and of course the dainty Amelia Austen, author extraordinaire, who that night was in the front row of the moshpit, experiencing the Boss up close and very personal.

Given these quite blissful memories, I was annoyed by the dismissive commentary on this historic Brisbane concert in the Peter Ames Carlin’s recent biography Bruce:         

 

Along with helping Bruce fend off the tabloid media, Jon Landau (Bruce’s producer) and friends had to scramble to keep up with an unprecedented ticket demand. In Brisbane a show scheduled for the eight-thousand-seat Chandler Velodrome had to be moved to the fifty-thousand-capacity QEII Sports Centre Stadium. What would be Bruce’s first stadium show flirted with disaster from the start. Rain poured from the sky, the sound system wasn’t loud enough to fill the space, and the police’s campaign to enforce a new no-alcohol policy slowed long lines to a crawl. Even Bruce seemed off his game in the cavernous setting, but by then things were spinning so fast they could only live, learn, and get onto the jet because the first-ever Japanese tour was about to begin…(p. 321)

 

Obviously the author didn’t ask anyone present at the concert what they thought.

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