Catching the Rover Coach from Thornton, I chatted with the local Novocastrians about their expectations for the concert. There were first timers and one or two seasoned Brucenics. Some were annoyed that chairs had been banned and wanted to talk about the legalities of the last minute regulation change.
The 40 minute drive through wine country was a relaxed way to get to the show, although all the time keeping an eye on the cumulus build up on the horizon. The day before had seen a violent lightning storm bringing heavy rain, and the prospect of a repeat in the Hope Estate open air venue was causing some trepidation.
Our friendly bus driver gave us tips on finding the bus at shows’ end. Better to be prepared after having “turped up”, he advised.
As we arrived, Deisel was belting out his set list ahead of schedule….maybe the organisers were worried about an afternoon storm. And so they should have been! Hail and rain descended before Jet’s show and kept the 11,000 crowd crouching under makeshift cover for about 20 minutes. The rain came again after Jet – this time a short encore. As we approached 7 pm, the assembled took their seats or positions in the GA areas. It was wet underfoot but not diabolical.
The clock ticked to 7:30 pm and still no Bruce. A cloud build up to the south-west kept the threat of another storm front of mind, but all that was blown away by the time Bruce and the E Street Band emerged at about 7:40 pm.
A hat tip to the Hunter Valley and the storm and Bruce led the way with Who’ll Stop The Rain, the band crashing in for the second verse to provide an appropriately contextual opener. Then Badlands – a ripping and fresh version that signalled tonight’s set list would have a different feel to the previous Tuesday in Brisbane.
This was a concert for the outdoors, for the fun and sheer joy of it. This was a celebration – the last show in Australia for 2017 – and a distinctly relaxed Bruce was going to make the most of it. Crowd sing-alongs followed with Out in the Street and Waiting On A Sunny Day after a sign request had brought a relic with the cover of I Fought The Law – Bruce instructing the band “in the key of G!”.
Mary’s Place was a welcome return with its Van Morrison-like punch and swing. It was the pre-cursor to the very rare None But The Brave – a throwback to the early 80s and the style Bruce adopted with the soaring ballads of that time and reminiscent for this listener of the work of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
Then came Wrecking Ball. I love this song live. It has a determination and punch that makes it a live special. It led the crowd into the darker portion of the set which seems to have occupied most of Bruce’s concerts this time around. Death to My Hometown, The River, Youngstown, The Promised Land. Then back into the light with the joys of Working on the Highway, Glory Days and Darlington County.
Two other centrepieces – Because the Night and The Rising – shone for their artistry and sheer musical force. There was a nice touch with a young man, Bill, joining Bruce on stage to sing and play No Surrender, dedicated to his father in New Jersey. Bruce donned an Akubra hat for some of the encores – it looked good on him, with a harking back to some of The Ghost of Tom Joad-era photos.
The encores proceeded apace like a wound up ‘57 Chevy hurtling down the highway, the highlights being Shout (recalling the great Johnny O’Keefe) and Bobby Jean - now transformed into a fond farewell to the crowd.
And the crowd, they cheered for more:
Heard the singers playin',
How we cheered for more.
The crowd had rushed together,
Tryin' to keep warm.
Still the rain kept pourin',
Fallin' on my ears.
And I wonder,
Still I wonder
Who'll stop the rain?
Well, Bruce did. And he farewelled us with a beautiful Thunder Road, replete with a lyrical misstep (“..like a vision, she crosses….”). But it didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered. Here are a man and his band who continue to fuel a musician/listener love affair that just seems to get stronger and provide us with a chance to experience the rush moment that’s worth living for.
Who’ll Stop The Rain
Out in the Street
I Fought The Law
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
I’m Goin’ Down
None But the Brave
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Death to My Hometown
The Promised Land
Working on the Highway
Because the Night
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out