He came, he performed, and he definitely conquered Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night. What a show! Bruce Springsteen’s reputation as a live performer like no other has followed him round since his high-octane late-70s shows, shows which often ended with Springsteen collapsing from exhaustion and being dragged off. Thankfully that didn’t happen this time, but “The Boss” as he is known still managed to pull out of the bag a three hour live extravaganza like no other I have ever witnessed.
Walking on stage alone, equipped with just a harmonica and acoustic guitar, Springsteen started the show with an acoustic folk take on Lorde’s “Royals”, continuing this current tour’s tradition of starting the concert with a cover of a local song. Recent shows in Australiaincluded his take on AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and The Bee Gees “Staying Alive”, while this earthy harmonica driven version of “Royals” was unique as it was risky, but it so worked and caught the audience a bit of guard when you consider artist’s usually start concerts with big anthemic numbers. If that was surprising, what followed was simply mesmerising to say the least, as Springsteen backed by an eighteen piece line-up of his well travelled backing band the legendary E-Street Band performed songs off ten of his albums that also included a mid-set complete performance of his 1984 smash album “Born in the USA”. Springsteen’s set-lists change every night depending on how the man himself feels at the time and includes the odd-occasion where The Boss will reach into the crowd and collect a sign with a song listed on it of which the E-Street Band will then proceed to play. Nothing in a Springsteen concert follows to script, with anything a possibility. Amazingly enough, apparently the band rehearsed around 120 songs for this tour, a number of songs which most artists don’t even have in an entire back catalogue let alone who are then able to perform at a minute’s notice, of which at times the E-Street Band only have before their off on a completely different direction that was originally planned for the concert.
After a solid start to the show that included rousing versions of “Badlands”, “High Hopes” and a beautiful rendition of the 1980 track “The River”, the concert reached its zenith when Springsteen announced to the crowd that him and his band would be performing the entire “Born in the USA” album, continuing a trend of Springsteen concerts in performing albums in their entirety. One knew you were at a serious concert when the opening keyboard riff of the title track came through the speaker system and the crowd were transported back to the mid-80s in one glorious moment of stadium rock. By this point the crowd would be up and dancing to up-tempo rockers such as “Cover Me” and “Darlington County”, and the rock and roll stomper “Working on the Highway”, while sitting back in the odd moment of reflection with “I’m on Fire” and “My Hometown” in what were a handful of the more tender moments of the show. The album set came to an end with 80s hits “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark”, of which on both songs Springsteen pulled several lucky people out of the audience to sing and dance on stage, something which he traditionally does during the performing of the latter track.
The main set concluded with a powerful rendition of “The Rising”, a Tom Morello guitar fireworks-laden “The Ghost of Tom Joad” which was one of the show’s high points, and a lovely gospel version of “Land of Hope and Dreams” that also included a segue into the classic Impressions track “People Get Ready”. What then followed was a fantastic encore which represented the icing on the cake and continued on the energy that was shown throughout. “Born To Run” sounded as great as ever, Springsteen concert staple “Rosalita” of which Steven Van Zandt gleefully took from a crowd sign as a request had energy and musicianship, while I got to here one of my personal favourites “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”. The encore then ended with an extended cover of the classic Isley Brothers track “Shout” which had the whole crowd on its feet wanting more. At this point the E-Street band left stage leaving Springsteen alone again with his guitar and harmonica ending the show as he started, but this time he performed an acoustic version of his classic 1975 anthem “Thunder Road” in what was a great way to go out on.
From start to finish this show was absolute value for money, with The Boss and his simply amazing band giving one hundred percent in their performance and then some, while also looking like they were enjoying themselves on stage throughout the concerts duration. Often artists come to New Zealand and appear like they would rather be somewhere else with New Zealandshows often being the last stop of a tour. This can lead to lack-lustre appearances and a case of the fan being robbed. Not Bruce Springsteen, who treats his audiences to the full monty every night. He cares about his fans and goes out of his way to ensure they are having a good time, establishing a connection with the audience very early on in the show, engaging with them, talking to them and smiling throughout. This has to be one of the best shows going around at the moment and based on what I saw on Saturday night in Auckland, justifyingly well deserved of being voted the best live act of 2013 by Rolling Stone Magazine. A must see for anyone into live music. Long live The Boss.