It was still dark when the alarm rang out through my room. I got out of bed, groggy at first, but then I remembered what day it was – for 25 years I’d been waiting for this moment to arrive.
I headed down to Melbourne’s arena complex, alongside smartly-dressed office workers and those mildly-irritating happy morning exercisers. My friend Silvana and I had purchased General Admission tickets for the Boss, probably the world’s best living performer, and we wanted to be up close so I hit the line up in the early hours of the morning. There was some initial confusion over the line up process, it being very different to how it was officially advertised by the ticket company. But we got our numbers and then – we waited. We waited for hours, got a bit sunburnt and a lot dehydrated (as somewhat of a concert line-up veteran, I know what a bad idea it is to chug a lot of water during the day, especially close to show time, because a trip to the bathroom once you’re inside could mean losing your spot!).
The hours ticked by, the lines grew bigger, the air buzzed with excitement. I looked at the people ahead of me in line, constantly ran the numbers and talked to the people around me who had been to other shows on this tour – where would be the best place to stand? Is it better to be second row centre, or first row side? Right or left of the stage? Silvana had arrived later than me and was a few numbers back – would we be able to meet up inside? Would we have to watch separately? There were way too many variables and I was anxious all the way up until we were inside.
The walk through the corridors of the Rod Laver Arena was tense. Earlier some over-eager (and not too polite) fans had tried to push in front of us and I kept looking back, wondering if everyone was going to start running when we got to the main room. Once we were on the floor I had to make a quick decision. The middle section of the stage was filling up fast, already 4-deep, but there was an empty spot on the rail a bit further to the right. That was our spot, I decided. I grabbed on to the rail and turned around to see Silvana right there. We had made it – front row at Springsteen!
There was still about 90 minutes to wait as we stood anxiously. Then, the room went black.
The Boss had arrived.
It’s hard to describe how it feels seeing a performer you’ve idolised since you were six years old, standing only a few metres away from you, strumming at his guitar. He went straight into a killer version of Long Walk Home while the whole arena went crazy with applause. One great thing about Springsteen is he mixes up his setlist every night – go two nights in a row and you’ll likely get a completely different show. So we had no idea what songs we would be hearing, it’s like one big musical lucky dip. As Long Walk Home ended I held my breath – what would be next? This repeated after every song, the anticipation, wondering what song a man with such a mind-blowing back catalogue would sing next.
Added to the lucky dip were the request signs that fans make for the shows, which Springsteen chooses from every night. We got some great ones from those signs – especially My Love Will Not Let You Down and Jungleland (more on Jungleland in a moment).
The big highlight from the first part of the show for me, after Long Walk Home, was Out in the Street. That is such an amazing song and a great, high-energy addition to the set with lots of band involvement. The E-Street band are, of course, fantastic and need to be acknowledged as being pivotal to the experience. They’re not merely a backing band – they’re THE band. Springsteen would be great on his own, but the E-Street band take it to a whole other level. Long-time guitarist Steve couldn’t make it for the trip Down Under and was replaced with Tom Morello. Morello was standing directly in front of Silvana and I and, boy, what a spot we had! I have seen a lot of great guitarists in my time but I’m going to say he’s the best I’ve ever seen live. His skills have to be seen (heard!) to be believed.
After a few hits, Springsteen went into a section of songs from his Wrecking Ball album. Before the show I was chatting to another fan about how a lot of artists who were big in the 70s and 80s release music today and it tends to be sub-par. This isn’t so with Wrecking Ball – it’s just as good quality as anything Springsteen has released in the past, though the sound is more modern and mature, as befitting the man’s stage in life. Death to My Hometown is a particular standout on the album, as is Shackled and Drawn, both of which brought great responses from the crowd.
From there, the hits and the more obscure album songs kept coming. Youngstown! Murder Incorporated! Pay Me My Money Down! It all seemed to go so fast and the energy never dipped.
Then came the last third of the show, and things escalated to a whole other level. The first notes of the Ghost of Tom Joad told me we were about to witness something epic. And I was right. Tom Morello joins Springsteen to sing half of the song and also gives an unbelievable guitar solo. And I mean unbelievable – if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears I’d probably have thought it was some kind of trick. I was in a trance for much of it, just watching him play and watching Springsteen play and watching the two interact and clearly having a heck of a lot of fun together.
When it was over they leapt straight into Badlands and the crowd went wild! It’s one of the better-known songs he performed on the night and the audience was rapt. After Badlands came a tiny break before the encores. I don’t think the Boss even left the stage – he had been going straight for about 2.5 hours by that stage and he’d played the same the night before. Where he gets the energy is anyone’s guess.
The first song of the encore was my favourite moment of the night. Someone a couple of spots to my left had a sign requesting Jungleland and to our surprise he took the sign as the encore section started – we’d thought the time for requests was done! If you don’t know Jungleland I advise you to press play below and listen to it on repeat. It’s one of my top 3 favourite Springsteen songs and I almost died when he took that sign. He stood at the microphone, eyes closed, and started to sing. What came next can only be described as a musical religious experience, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to properly convey the feeling of being so close to a performer as good as Springsteen singing a song as killer as Jungleland. If the show had ended there I would have gone home happy. But there was still more to come!
The big hits, of course – Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark, the songs that even the most casual fans know and can sing and dance along to. When I looked back, most of the arena were on their feet dancing! Then the band went into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, an uptempo song they’ve been finishing their set with for most of the tour. As it finished, I thought we were done. Springsteen taunted us – “Melbourne, you’re finished! You’re tired! You can’t handle any more!” “Yes we can!” we cried! I guess we screamed loud enough, because they gave us one more – American Land.
Then, 3 hours after the lights first went out, it was over.
With blistered feet, aching legs, buzzing ears and a raspy throat I dragged myself home. But what had I just seen? With a couple of days to digest it, I’m quite sure I witnessed the greatest rock n’ roll show on the planet. So many elements have to be in place for that to be the case:
The performer has to be a true superstar who has stayed on top for decades – check.
They need an extremely good quality back catalogue to choose a setlist from – check.
The performer has to give their all, to every single song – check.
There has to be a band that can match the performer in talent and energy – check.
There needs to be committed and overly-excited fans present, to keep the energy in front of the stage going – check.
Yep, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band check every box. After so many years of enjoying someone’s music, of discovering new songs and delving deeper into their back catalogue, of waiting for a chance to see them live, there was every chance I could have been disappointed. Well, not when it comes to the Boss. I was always in good hands – the best in the business.