Bruce Springsteen Concert Review: Auckland, March 2014 – The Extraordinary Live Appeal Of The E Street Band

UPDATE MARCH 10: I don’t know if this is some kind of record, but a week after Bruce Springsteen played to 80,000 fans across two nights in Auckland, he has no less than seven albums in the New Zealand top 40. 

What’s more, he has three in the top 10 and five in the top 20: High Hopes (#1), Greatest Hits (#8), Born In The USA (#10), The Essential (#13), The Collection 1973-2012 (#16). With The River at #34 and Wrecking Ball at #38 this is surely one of the most significant achievements in the history of the NZ album chart.

Here are a handful of slightly blurred smartphone photos from last night’s Bruce Springsteen concert. Other than reminding me to take an actual camera when I want to take photos, last night reminded me of all the reasons I admire Bruce.

And unlike my post the other day, the reasons aren’t limited to the fact he does three hour concerts, entire albums mid-set and covers of Bee Gees songs – or in last night’s case – Lorde. It’s all of that plus the passion and compassion he has for people, be it his fans, his E Street Band family or the struggling, flawed, brave, frustrated, optimistic / pessimistic characters in his songs.

It’s all of that plus simultaneously being able to write about everything wrong in society while never forgetting the joyful powers of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all of that plus being a disciple of soul as much as he’s a disciple of rock. It’s all of that plus the intelligence and integrity of the man: someone who can write lyrics as devastating as Brilliant Disguise’s, “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of,” as well as crafting instrumentals as sorrowful as the ending of Racing In The Street*.

Witnessing last night’s onscreen tribute to his late buddy Clarence Clemons during the autobiographical Tenth Avenue Freeze Out encapsulated so much of what of Bruce Springsteen is about: rock, soul, humour and storytelling matched with a strong sense of brotherhood and loyalty.

Since seeing Bruce and the E Street Band in Auckland a decade ago I’ve often thought a not inconsiderable part of their live appeal is in the subtext: friends onstage in such comfort of each other’s company, people who’ve known each other for 40 plus years, who’ve been through all of life’s highs and lows – including breaking up for a time – mirroring what many of us may have or want to have in our own lives.

Across 30 songs there were countless highlights last night. Bruce’s flawless falsetto ending to The River showed that if anything, he’s in better voice than in recent years. The closing acoustic Thunder Road was another quite incredible vocal with just Bruce and his guitar filling the stadium, commanding the attention of seemingly all 40,000 people.

Atlantic City, Badlands and The Ghost Of Tom Joad rocked, Land Of Hope And Dreams was a powerful hymn and Death To My Hometown exhilarating. But the absolute highlight for me was the moment Bruce announced they’d be performing the entire Born In The USA album “top to bottom.” Diehard fans aren’t meant to admit this is their favourite Bruce album but I don’t care. I love Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Tunnel Of Love almost as much.

Just as selling 30 million copies of a record doesn’t mean it’s great, nor does it mean it isn’t. Born In The USA produced a record-equalling seven US top 10 hits in the mid-80s with the title track, Dancing In The Dark, I’m Goin’ Down, Glory Days, I’m On Fire, Cover Me and My Hometown. Across those seven hits you have first rate rock, pop and balladry that sold by the truckload for good reason.

As for the other five songs on the LP, unlike what one newspaper critic said, they don’t sound like filler to me. Darlington County had everybody singing and dancing last night just as they’d done at Western Springs 11 years ago. Downbound Train is a melancholy mini-epic, Working On The Highway could’ve been the eighth top 10 hit had it been released, No Surrender contains the famous line, “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school,” and Bobby Jean’s story of somebody who leaves – possibly dies – without saying goodbye, is even more heartbreaking when I listen to it now than when I first heard it as a kid.

To hear this perfect album in correct sequence from start to finish is something I probably would’ve paid 10x my ticket price had I known it was coming. Which other heritage artist in the world is doing stuff like this? Entire classic albums performed mid-set, opening song covers to suit the venue he’s in, different set-lists each night – who else is doing this?

With Bruce as prolific as ever (High Hopes is his 18th studio LP) and in such terrific voice, with Steven Van Zandt somehow getting cooler, with Jake Clemons making his late famous uncle proud, with Nils Lofgren and Tom Morello tearing it up, with Roy Bittan’s class, with Garry W. Tallent’s talents and all of the other players in this club, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are doing the greatest shows in music.


The good jokers I attended the concert with, popular radio personalities Rick Morin and Justin Brown.

*Neither Brilliant Disguise nor Racing In The Street were performed last night, though are indicative are much of Springsteen’s work.

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