On the day of this concert, Bruce told us, he spent some time looking around the centre of Christchurch. It was the eve of the sixth anniversary of the deadliest of Canterbury’s earthquakes, which claimed 185 lives. As he reminded us, Cantabrians wanted him to play in the city on his 2014 visit. There was a petition, as he described it. And so, armed with the will of the locals, and his own observations, he and the E Street Band entered the AMI stadium last night, tore knot into “No Surrender”, and then for the next three hours gave us a tour de force performance of energy, commitment, and generosity. In particular, “My City of Ruins” and “My Hometown” were dedicated to Christchurch, but given so many of Springsteen’s songs encompass a struggle against hardship, the entire concert was its own dedication.
You know there are some songs which you will always hear in a Bruce concert, but there is also always room for mixing up the set list, and for improvisation. Here, he started playing requests from the crowd after the first song! Someone had produced a poster with his face superimposed over an All Black, with “Sherry Darling” written underneath, so the band charged into that song from The River album. Then “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” from his first album, and then more surprising still, another request, but for a song he rarely plays, and one I had never heard before. It was, according to Wikipedia, the Cajun national anthem, “Jole Blon”. It was for me a highlight of the night.
I recall seeing him in 2014 and people in the audience around me commenting that he looked pretty fit and strong for a 63 year old. Now 67, the same applies. Most importantly, Springsteen’s voice remains strong. It needed to be. This was a three hour show with practically no break. Only a few seconds passed between the end of the main set and the encore. There wasn’t time for the band to leave the stage. The only difference I could see from 2014 is that he probably is moving a little slower around the stage.
But the Boss still knows how to play to a large crowd, and to somehow find an intimate moment that 30 thousand people can all share. So he uses the front of stage to appeal to the audience around the stadium in a mass singalong, and then he uses the cameras to deliver a telling (often funny) close up.Springsteen’s stagecraft has been, and remains, superb. Having seen him a few times now (alright, this was my seventh concert) you cannot help but me continually blown over by the band’s enthusiasm. This remains the most stunning aspect to a Springsteen show. You know he and his fellow E Streeters have played some of these songs literally hundreds of times. You simply would never know it. I couldn’t find any hint of anyone being jaded or going through a song by the numbers. I recall reading years ago that Springsteen tried to imagine he was playing to someone seeing his show for the first time. After around four decades of live performances, it seems that’s how he still does it.
And of course everyone wants to be in on the act. So during the community participation event that is Dancing in the Dark, two youngsters came up to play the drums alongside Max Weinberg, while Jake Clemons, Steve Van Zandt and Garry W. Tallent all had dance partners.
So this was a night to treasure, and I guess for many in Christchurch, it was their introduction to the world of E Street. A long time coming, and very, very much worth the wait.
Earlier, Melbourne band Jet gave a polished and long set, and the voice of frontman Nic Cester a standout.
But if you’re looking for a voice, then please grab a chance to listen to Canterbury’s own Marlon Williams. The folk/country singer and his band only gave us a short set, but Williams’ voice left a huge impression in a brief time. It almost has an ethereal quality. He really is worth listening to, and supporting.