Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, Australia – 7 February, 2017 (discs 1-3); various locations – 22 January- 18 February, 2017 (disc 4)
Disc 1: New York City Serenade, American Land, The Ties That Bind, No Surrender, Out In the Street, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Hungry Heart, Long Tall Sally, Wrecking Ball, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, American Skin (41 Shots)
Disc 2: Youngstown, Candy’s Room, The Promised Land, Mary’s Place, She’s The One, Downbound Train, I’m On Fire, Because The Night, The Rising, Badlands, Thunder Road
Disc 3: Jungleland, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Shout, Bobby Jean,
Disc 4: Rendezvous, Be True, Detroit Medley, Blood Brothers, Radio Nowhere, Don’t Hang Up, My City Of Ruins[/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out], Lucky Town, Janey Don’t You Lose Heart, Better Days, Leap Of Faith, Secret Garden, Jole Blon, Long Time Comin’, Who’ll Stop The Rain, I Fought The Law, None But The Brave
This release brings us the concert of 7 February 2017 at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena, a 21,000 capacity indoor venue which Springsteen had previously played in 2013 and 2014 when is was known as the Allphones Arena. The fourth disc, entitled “Rarities form the Australian Tour 2017,” adds seventeen further songs from the Australian shows but, as the title suggests, none from the two concerts in New Zealand which concluded the tour.
New York City Serenade opens the show, complete with string section. Joe Wall writes on Backstreets:
“Every nuance of the multi-textured and moody ‘New York City Serenade’… commanded attention, from Roy’s piano firestorm to Bruce’s acoustic licks to Cooper & Koo’s searing, soaring strings…Garry’s bass floated above, below and behind it all. At the halfway mark of this…tour…’Serenade remains a high point creatively and emotionally every night and will be long remembered.”
Show attendee Jemma Lawson was equally impressed, posting on Springsteen’s official website that, “if you are a fan of NYC serenade this is an absolute classic version…I got goose bumps live and the same from this recording. Worth the purchase for this song alone.”
Then comes American Land, the jolly, celebratory music featuring the twin accordions of Charlie Giordano and Roy Bittan. The lyrics, of course, are darker, charting the decline of immigrants’ experiences from unrealistic expectation to the realities of exploitation and concluding with a reference modern day prejudice: ” The hands that built the country, we’re always trying to keep out.” Springsteen, unsurprisingly, is now ending the list of the religions, nationalities and ethnic groups which constitute immigrants to the USA with, “the Muslims and the Jews.”
Wall sums up the next four numbers thus:
“A trio of ‘The Ties That Bind,’ ‘No Surrender,’ and ‘Out in the Street’ summoned a comradery of the converted, with Nils and Bruce converging on guitars and Steve, of course, bringing his street soul. Bruce reached into the crowd for a ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ sign and smoked it.”
It is a superb run of performances from the The River/Born In The U.S.A. era, with the exciting renditions of No Surrender and My Love Will Not Let You Down being the particular highlights. Rolling Stone writer Ben Spiegel includes My Love Will Not Let You Down in his list of “10 Amazing Songs Bruce Springsteen Cut From ‘Born in the U.S.A.'” Spiegel additionally notes that manager John Landau wanted the song to kick of side two of the album – ironically, the spot filled by the other highlight, No Surrender.
Springsteen sticks with Born In The U.S.A. with a splendidly energetic Hungry Heart, which, of course, gives the audience the opportunity to sing a few lines at the commencement of the song. Like American Land it is a song which exhibits a clear dichotomy between its upbeat music and its despondent lyrical content and I have always found it rather strange to hear a large and enthusiastic crowd happily bellowing lines which describe a man walking out on his wife and children.
Then comes the show’s sole tour premiere in the shape of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally, a sign request making its first appearance at an Australian show and only its second appearance at an E Street Band show, the first having been in Milan in 2013. It is an enthusiastic performance and great fun.
Incredibly Springsteen and the band not only maintain the momentum but manage to crank up the intensity. Wall writes as follows of the next section of the show:
“A blistering ‘Wrecking Ball’ kicked off the night’s most intense stretch. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ made only its second appearance in Australia in 2017 before a one-two of ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ and ‘Youngstown’ spoke more truth about modern America than a year’s worth of cable news and ‘The Promised Land’ both benefitted from and contributed to the arena’s energy. Bruce made an unabashed appeal for that energy before ‘Mary’s Place’ – ‘Sydney, make me feel your spirit right now’ – before unleashing ‘Candy’s Room’ and ‘She’s the One’ on a suspecting and highly worked-up crowd.”
Unfortunately, Candy’s Room appears out of order, following disc 2’s opener Youngstown (there is a clear edit), rather than taking its rightful place between Mary’s Place and She’s The One.
Two songs Born In The U.S.A. follow, the melancholic Downbound Train, in an excellent performance, and the brooding, menacingly sexual I’m On Fire. Because The Night then receives its usual rousing performance complete with Nils Lofgren’s fine guitar solo. A committed performance of The Rising is succeeded by an exhilarating Badlands. Played with absolute conviction, Badlands is thrilling throughout, staking a claim to be the highlight of the whole show. The main set and the second disc then conclude with what Wall calls, “a joyous, reborn, ecstatic version of ‘Thunder Road,'” played in its full-band incarnation, which he considers, “this Aussie tour’s revelation.”
“Soozie’s violin introduced a beautiful, shadowy ‘Jungleland,’ writes Wall of the encore’s opener, “this slower version featured Max banging a ride cymbal slowly with one hand while crushing a snare drum with the other. Jake stood tall and still, resurrecting Clarence’s herculean solo while Bruce kept time with his right hand.” Then it is effectively wall-to-wall mayhem with Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Shout, before the show comes to its conclusion with Bobby Jean.
There may not have been too many surprises, the show being one of only two from the tour to contain only a solitary premiere, but the overall performance is hugely enjoyable. Wall sums up this excellent show as an “extravaganza” which, “included one Aussie tour premier…and 27 tried-and-true scorchers,” and Brian Thew, posting on Springsteen’s official site, writes that, “I saw him in 1985 and was blown away. This concert was better and the CDs are almost as good as being there.”
The fourth disc is entitled “Rarities from the Australian Tour 2017” and the first three songs come from the show at the Qudos Arena in Sydney on 9 February (erroneously given as 9 April in the track listing). Wall writes that, “a twosome of ‘Rendezvous’ and ‘Be True,’ a pair of late-70s gems never before played on Aussie/NZ shores, blew the minds of hardcore fans both for their appearance and back-to-back placement in the set,” particularly praising the, “roaring sax finale played with exuberance by Jake,” during the latter song. Wall goes on to say that Springsteen and the band, “smashed a fierce ‘Detroit Medley’ that heaved and shook with River-era abandon.”
Blood Brothers is taken from the Perth Arena concert of 22 January, the tour’s first show and the first of three at the venue. This restrained and moving acoustic rendition, described by Guardian reviewer Andrew Stafford as “a gem,” opened the encore. A vibrant Radio Nowhere comes from the third Perth show, held on 27 January and it is followed by Don’t Hang Up, from Melbourne’s AAMI Park on 4 February. This performance has already appeared as a bonus track on Crystal Cat’s Odds And Sods, reviewed in April 2017.
My City Of Ruins is stated to be the first of six numbers from the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on 14 February. However, the song was not played at that show but at AAMI Park Melbourne on 4 February. Wall writes:
“[Springsteen] next wandered to the lip of the pit, his shirt completely soaked through, for ‘My City of Ruins.’ After asking if ‘the spirit was in the house tonight,’ he guaranteed its presence with a reminder of what we’ve lost – ‘And that change was made uptown now’ sung over and over, Clarence looming in our hearts like he once loomed to Bruce’s right – and a preacher’s admonition to rise up and pray for peace.”
This poignant and beautiful performance, as Brucebase points out, “includes a snippet of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.'” However, there is no music from that number, Springsteen merely repeating the words, “the change was made uptown.” Overall, five of these six songs make for a stunning start to the final disc; the novelty that is Don’t Hang Up, however, would have been better placed later, perhaps at the end of the disc.
The songs actually from the Brisbane show are five of the six tour premieres played that night, omitting only Back In Your Arms. Three of these numbers (Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart, Leap Of Faith and Secret Garden) received their first Australian performances. Brucebase notes that Lucky Town, Better Days and Leap Of Faith Had not appeared in the same show since 1993. None of these premieres appeared again during the tour.
Lucky Town and Janey Don’t You Lose Heart were the set’s second and third songs, following opener New York City Serenade. “The full house was in a particularly joyful mood as Bruce and the band kicked in to a rousing and rare ‘Lucky Town,'” writes Backstreets reviewer Sean Sennett, “Reaching for a sign, Springsteen broke out the tour debut of ‘Janey Don’t You Lose Heart’ next.” Steve Bell, writing on themusic.com.au, notes of Janey Don’t You Lose Heart that the band, “tear into that number…like it’s a natural part of the set list,” despite it being a sign request for an obscure 1980s b-side. A solid rendition of Better Days is followed by a fine performance of Leap Of Faith. “A jaw-dropping ‘Secret Garden’ that swayed until the band hit a groove,” as Sennett describes it, opened the encore. I assume that Sennett is referring to the fact that the opening of the song is marred by the keyboards and guitar not being in time.
A lively and enjoyable Jole Blon is one of six tour premieres played in Brisbane two days later. Four were played together, this being the third. A full band arrangement of Long Time Comin’ was the fourth premiere. Written for The Ghost Of Tom Joad and appearing eventually on Devils & Dust, this was only the song’s fourth appearance at an E Street Band show, the others having been others 2012 and 2013 (one solo acoustic and two featuring the band).
Long Time Comin’ was followed by Growin’ Up. Springsteen invited fifteen-year-old Nathan Testa on to the stage to play acoustic guitar on the song after spotting his sign that read “Missed school, in the shit now, can I play Growin’ Up with you?” Nothing unusual in that, one might think. However, this was not the first occasion on which Testa joined Springsteen onstage – in March 2013 in Brisbane he had been pulled out of the audience to sing on Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. Oddly, we hear Springsteen noticing the sign, reading what it said and inviting Testa onstage, together with the audience’s reaction as he makes his way to the stage, but the song itself is not included here.
Who’ll Stop The Rain is the first of the three songs from 18 February at the Hope Estate Winery, Hunter Valley, the final Australian show. Newcastle Herald reviewer Jim Kellar notes that, “the valley was blitzed by a rolling thunderstorm that spat rain and hail on concert goers in the late afternoon. But [sic] the time Springsteen and the E Street Band walked on stage at 7.36pm, not another drop of rain fell.” Backstreets reviewer Hal Schwarz describes the performance as” crisp and appropriate” – appropriate, of course, due to the weather. He also makes an interesting comparison between this show and the preceding pair in Brisbane:
“Springsteen’s 2017 Australian Tour came to a close Saturday night at Hope Estate Winery in Hunter Valley. Coming off the scintillating pair of shows in Brisbane, one of the best pairs of shows I’ve seen this decade, it seemed unlikely that Bruce would match those setlists or performances, considering the Hope show was more of a festival setting. He didn’t – but what he did deliver was a totally different show that was excellent and just the right one for the circumstances. The shows in Brisbane (or the Philly of the Southern Hemisphere, as some are now calling it) were played in a tiny arena, whereas Hope Estate is a huge temporary amphitheater with much of the crowd far away on the lawn. And the place is a winery, so there’s a fair amount of drinking going on. Throw in not one but two opening acts, Diesel and Jet, and you could not have a more different setting for a show. It was a unique night.”
I Fought The Law was, “played a little tentatively,” according to Schwartz, but constituted, “a very nice nugget for the diehards.” The final song on the disc is the first Australian performance of None But The Brave, played, like I Fought The Law, by sign request. “It was a beautiful performance,” writes Schwarz, “and it was met with absolute dead silence from the crowd. So that would be the last rarity of the evening, and from there the show went into a string of big rockers, which were completely effective in getting the crowd up and dancing.”
Overall, the fourth disc constitutes a significant bonus to the excellent Sydney show. Due to the band’s tendency to play songs without a break, however, listeners need to be prepared for some jarring transitions.
As with previous no label/Wonderland titles, the source for this release is Springsteen’s officially sanctioned and professionally recorded releases, with the high quality of sound one would expect.
Also as before, the discs are housed in a longbox with an inner sleeve to hold the eight-page booklet. The box and booklet feature numerous onstage photographs from the show and the track listing, but there are no notes. Each disc carries an identical onstage photo of Springsteen and Max Weinberg which appears to come from a different concert. This is a numbered edition of three-hundred, with the number shown on a sticker on the front of the box.
This is a most enjoyable release, combining a splendid main show with a disc of well-chosen additional songs. Some collectors may choose to purchase the official version of the Sydney show, though this comes as CD-Rs (or download) and, of course, lacks the fourth disc. One factor, however, which prevents a wholehearted recommendation is that, as with previous releases from this source, I find myself with a faulty disc. My copy of disc 1 contained major glitches on Wrecking Ball and Darkness On The Edge Of Town – I would be interested to know if other collectors’ copies are similarly affected.