Postcard from Oslo, via Ponsonby

Torjer Olsen, with guitar, and Simon tackle Springsteen's Promised Land at a Ponsonby cafe last year

Torjer Olsen, with guitar, and Simon tackle Springsteen’s Promised Land at a Ponsonby cafe last year

They like him here, they like him there. When the “him” is Bruce Springsteen, that’s hardly a surprise. Most of the time I rein in my liking for the man’s music so as not to bore people, but it’s nice every now and then to meet a fellow enthusiast and see where it takes us. In the case of Norwegian academic Torjer Andreas Olsen, that took us to Cafe 121 in Ponsonby Road.

Torjer, his wife Julia and their three girls have recently left New Zealand after spending a year here on sabbatical. Torjer had met my partner Sharon in his homeland when Sharon attended a conference there last year. It didn’t take long for Torjer and I to turn to the topic of Bruce, although Torjer is a lover of music generally and follows more bands than I do. So one night we popped along to Cafe 121 on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road to hear some local musos. The chance came for Torjer to sing, and he didn’t disappoint. His song of choice was Springsteen’s “Promised Land”, and he wanted help to sing it, inviting me up to join in. How could I refuse? So Torjer and I leapt headlong into our rendition. I’m not sure what the teeming audience of perhaps six or seven thought of it, but we had a great time.

Bruce shows us how it's really done

Bruce shows us how it’s really done

And now back in Norway, Torjer has seen Bruce in concert during his current tour. And he’s kindly provided Crave with a first person account of Bruce’s show in Oslo. So Torjer, thank you for this, and thank you for the trip to the Promised Land in Ponsonby.

Here’s Torjer’s review:

Bruce Springsteen seems to love Norway. Norway clearly loves Bruce Springsteen. His three concerts on Norway during the European tour sold more than 100 000 tickets. In Oslo last week, he gave the audience three and a half hours filled with joy and rock’n’roll. When the last few notes of the acoustic versions of For You were sent out in the bright Nordic summer night, Bruce smiled. We – the audience – smiled, too, knowing that we got what we came for.

The tour that the Boss is currently leading is called The River Tour. This might seem strange, given that the album this refers to was released back in 1980. However, last year the 66 year old New Jersey icon released a box set including a re-mastered version of the double album The River, a single album version that was dropped, a long list of previously unreleased songs from the sessions, and a whole lot more.

One year ago, the ever touring Springsteen decided to launch a whole new The River Tour where every concert included the whole The River double album from the poppy The Ties That Bind opener to the melancholic Wreck On The Highway final cut. The US part of the tour did this. Playing in average size venues, Springsteen and his loyal E Street Band gave their rendition of the classic album – followed by a whole set of other songs, giving the audience a chance to listen to Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, as well as the occasional dark horses The Boss always throws on to the set-list.

Coming to Europe, the venues were bigger. The man who defined stadium rock returned to Europe as a stadium rocker, playing soccer stadiums and their like. The band decided to change the set-list, tossing around the songs from The River in between other songs. For me, this was a bit disappointing, as I would have loved to hear the entire album coming from somewhere else than the stereo of my car.

In Oslo, at Ullevål Stadium (the national soccer arena), Bruce Springsteen and his band started with an energetic group of songs. Prove It All Night went straight into My Love Will Not Let You Down, before No Surrender hurried into Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Did he want to tell us about his attitude to playing yet another concert on yet another tour? I wish to believe he did. He sounded great. Sadly, the sound quality was really poor to begin with. Even as a hardcore Springsteen fan, I needed 15 seconds before I recognized No Surrender between the smudged noises of what may or may not have been drums, bass and a didgeridoo for all I could tell. This has been a returning issue during the European tour, according to reviewers. Perhaps The Boss should take a look at his sound engineers and make them dance in the dark for a while.

From song five on, something exciting happened. The sound improved as they kicked off The Ties That Bind, the opening track of The River, and my personal favorite pop song. Sherry Darling followed (nr 2 on the album). They played the nine first songs of The River. It sounded amazing. Independence Day with the first spoken word introduction of the night. Out In The Street and Hungry Heart in full sing-along mode. Two Hearts with Steve van Zandt shouting on the chorus. Were we

about to experience the first European full album concert? We were not. As I was eagerly expecting I Wanna Marry You, the opening flute tunes of Death To My Hometown appeared instead. It is not a bad song, but it left a feeling of disappointment.

The disappointment did not last long. The song following was a huge surprise. Je Jimmy Cliff-cover (sic!) Trapped, which Springsteen recorded in 1985 for the USA for Africa album (the one with We Are The World), has not been played much. It was amazing! So were the next ones, which brought us into the most emotional depths of the entire show. The old Lost In The Flood, driven by Roy Bittan on the piano, Point Blant and The River brought tears on many a cheek in the audience. For me, these three songs were a highlight

After those songs there was no looking back, there was no chance to sit back and relax. I’m A Rocker, he stated, and did not stop rocking through a set of encores including crowd pleasers Born In The USA, Born To Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. He just did not surrender.

After a long teasing Shout, however, it was time for The Boss to give his employees a rest. After sending the E Street Band off, Bruce returned to the stage all by himself. The final encore left no doubt as to why he is doing what he is doing, “I came for you, for you, I came for you”, he sang with such a beautiful voice, slightly hard to believe after a whole concert.

 

 

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