Brice Springsteen @ AAMI Park, Melbourne, Thursday February 2, 2017.
The Boss has long been considered the defining voice of working class Americans. But times have changed, and a divide has formed.
Many of the working and middle class Americans who cherish Bruce took a punt on Trump in the hope that he could shake up a country that had failed them. Bruce is, of course, a vocal critic of Trump, and the legend’s show ran in the shadow of the new President’s recent, contentious legislative decisions.
In an arena the size of AAMI Park, the audience is bound to include a broad spectrum of political views, and as showtime drew ever closer I wondered how politically vocal the Boss would be and how the crowd might react. In this context, Jet’s opening reunion set felt trivial and far from momentous – although the band sounded well-rehearsed and were unlikely to disappoint anyone who came to hear the hits. The crowd took the set in its stride, enjoying it as a soundtrack to the purchasing of beer.
The Boss began early – a necessity, when you’re playing the marathon sets he loves to deliver. Right off the bat he declared the band “embarrassed Americans”, and launched into a headline-making rendition of The Orlons’ Don’t Hang Up in a piss-take of Trump’s hostile phone call with PM Turnbull earlier that day.
The second song of the setlist hit even harder. “This is an immigrant song!” Bruce yelled, and began American Land, a joyous Irish jig about making a new life in the country of hope and opportunity. As the rendition grew ever more jubilant, the truth of Trump’s travel ban appeared wholly incongruous with the so-called American Dream of old, which POTUS has flipped with his infamous slogan.
Despite Bruce’s politically-charged opening, as the night wore on he became uncharacteristically taciturn. The last time I saw him play he regaled the crowd with long speeches and stories from his childhood. This evening, the only time he really opened up was to say “I’ve been so depressed. Man, shit is so f-cked up. Shit is just so f-cked up.” And though he was laughing, it was clear he just didn’t have it in him to speak too much. Rather, he let the music do the talking.
And let’s be honest: there are few musicians whose music could speak more meaningfully at this time. Bruce and the E Street Band remain one of life’s great live experiences; Springsteen can craft any kind of narrative he wants through selections from his considerable back catalogue, and he did so. The deep cuts were well-selected and lyrically pointed, and the bountiful hits were universally loved.
While the crowd walked in diverse but segmented, everyone left believing in the same gospel, convinced by the optimism of the same great man. In a time when the politics of fear tempt struggling populations worldwide, Bruce Springsteen reminds us that the real path to social equality comes through preaching the politics of hope. We’re all in this together, and nowhere more so than at a Bruce Springsteen show.