HOT FUCKING DAMN.
No, I’m not only referring to the sweltering temperature outside of Perth Arena for Bruce and the Band’s second of three concerts here, who matched the heat outside with a fiery, absolutely blistering, perfectly paced, two hour and 48 minute, pure rock and roll bonanza.
Before we go any further, allow me to address the unimportant elephant in the room with a line my girlfriend comforts me with all the time: it’s not about length but how you use it. Sure, those who obsessively watch the hands of their clock tick during concerts will cite that night 1 was 40 minutes longer, but that largely hodgepodge of songs cannot compare to what I consider to be one of Bruce’s most ingenious setlist constructions – both in terms of theme and intensity – in recent memory; he packed the sort of oomph only felt during the ‘Resistance 5-Pack’ into the entirety of the main set (the encores, as always, were mostly business as usual). Plus, the set included 16 – wait, let me repeat that: SIX-FREAKING-TEEN – different songs from Sunday night. Put another way, 60% of this setlist made its first Perth appearance here. Put even another way, 14 of the first 16 tracks – hold on, let me spell that out again: FOURTEEN OF SIXTEEN!!! – were tour premieres. Good lord.
Yet knowing setlist gripers, I’m sure people will still complain, but this was a classic example of a ‘you had to be there’ show. Oh, and for those wondering if the short duration may have been due to Bruce and the Band being tired or in low spirits, let me answer that succinctly (a rarity for me):
Concise enough for you, father?
The Bruce, as they say, was fucking loose.
After another gorgeous rendition of “New York City Serenade” – with Bruce immediately displaying intent focus, swaying to the melody – the Band ripped out of the gates with one of the most electric three-packs in their arsenal: “Prove It All Night,” (always sets a hard rocking tone for an evening, with Bruce’s hands ferociously sliding up and down his guitar for not one but both solos), “My Love Will Not Let You DOWN” (this one almost killed me. I’m serious: I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the food DOWN Under, so I walked into the concert basically not having eaten for days. And yet, when I felt those guitars and Max’s drums coursing through my body, I literally couldn’t control myself, despite my weak health), and “Two Hearts” (Bruce and Stevie were vamping it all the way up, even in between mid-song lyrics. This Band-wide joviality persisted throughout the night).
Even so, by the time “Wrecking Ball” swung around – specifically the sadly relevant lines, “Hold tight to your anger, and don’t fall to your fears” – I did find myself bemoaning the fact that Bruce hadn’t remixed his ‘resistance’ speech after “New York City Serenade” to emphasize the sociopolitical undertones of these songs. But then, I had a sort of epiphany, one that I’m sure many of you will believe I pulled straight out of my pretentious ass: Bruce’s lack of a statement was a sort of implicit statement.
After Sunday’s concert, members of the conservative side of E Street Nation were up in arms about Bruce taking time away from rock and roll to get all political, so much so that I felt the need to write a sooooomewhat lengthy response to the outrage explaining why no one should’ve been angered. Those same people were probably thrilled at the sight/sound of what appeared to be a straight rock and roll opening, which may have been Bruce’s intention behind not speechifying.
Note the thematic similarities between these three songs: the title of “Prove It All Night” serves as a sort of commitment from the Band to everyone, regardless of their political leanings. Plus, many of the lyrics pertain to a blue-collar worker (first line: “I’ve been working real hard, trying to get my hands clean”) trying to make the best of his working-class existence for his girl. “My Love Will Not Let You Down” can be interpreted as yet another pledge from the Band to everyone regarding the strong affectionate connection the former tries to strike with the latter every night. “Two Hearts” closed the three-pack with a reaffirmation of the importance of this type of camaraderie.
Those on the right side of the political aisle would have no bones to pick with any of these, yet for fans aware of what songs from Sunday night they replaced, this opening could have been considered a sort of olive branch extended from Bruce’s liberal hand to ALL of his fans. We were all in this one together, which was important to establish from the get-go because Bruce would imminently descend all the way down the sociopolitical rabbit hole.
Despite sounding like fluffy pop, “Two Hearts” may have been the most politically resonant of them all. A song about having the courage to overcome the sadness of the past to have faith in a better future, lyrics like my personal favorite section – “But I was living in a world of childish dreams / Someday these childish dreams must end/ To become a man and grow up to dream again” exemplify why Bruce has the perfect musical repertoire to combat Trump’s glossy-eyed historical perspective on Making America Great Again; he’s just written so damn much about the relationship between the past, present, and future in terms of progress, often utilizing achingly personal stories to make larger existential points. Baby Boomers such as Trump may believe their parents’ United States was Great – tremendously better than today – but they were really just living in a world of childish dreams. Trump – and the rest of the country during the Baby Boom years – were (hopefully) not aware of the suffering being inflicted upon the then-voiceless sectors of American society. Once these ignored souls fought for their right to be heard, America’s childish dreams ended. And yet, the solution to this cultural awakening cannot be attempting to go back to sleep to re-enter that dream again; rather, we must grow up and concoct new dreams for ourselves and for our country – that’s true, mature progress.
Interpreted in this light, “bring on your Wrecking Ball” felt like a declaration of strength regarding our ability to persevere through the endless process of building up our dreams, tearing them down, and then building them right back up again better than before. This anthem also promotes the importance of community – introduced in the opening songs – in facing our unknown future together: “So raise up your glasses and let me hear your voices call.”
Of course, the crowd is an integral part of this communal aspect of the E Street Band experience, and I’m happy to report that – this time around – the Western Aussies didn’t disappoint. Perhaps it was the much more rip-roaring opening, or perhaps it was the fact that night 1 was actually the last of Perth’s three shows to be announced – thus not attracting those passionate fans who would’ve immediately leaped at the chance to buy tickets – but all I know for sure is that the crowd was LOOOOOOOOOUD from beginning to end. At certain points, I could’ve sworn I was back in Europe based on the reaction of the Pit. Sure, the rest of the audience still had no interest in standing for almost anything – not even “Born to Run?!” Really?! – but they made their presence heard nevertheless through the roar of their voices and, most noticeably, through the incessant clapping of their hands. I can’t emphasize this enough: they took advantage of every opportunity to participate in the proceedings with clapping, and since we all know how many of Bruce’s songs lend themselves to that, you can probably guess how many hands went home red. It was just one of those special nights where the Band and the crowd were totally in sync, with the Band absolutely on fire from the start, igniting the crowd through rock and roll shockwaves that pulsed through the arena, which in turn reverberated back to the Band, fueling them that much more.
The difference between night 1 and night 2 was perhaps no more pronounced than with “Out in the Street;” this time, Western Australia was ready for the chant – which has always reflected the song’s celebration of communal partying – and the singing of the opening verse of “Hungry Heart,” the latter of which marked the welcome return of Bruce’s crowd-surf. The audibly joyous gasp that rang throughout the arena when he dropped into the Pit literally brought tears to my eyes; I will never get tired of watching the bliss that this man visibly brings to the faces of his fans, especially from being comfortable enough to get as close as possible to as many of them as possible. There is perhaps no better embodiment of Bruce’s belief that we must take care of our own than his willingness to sufficiently trust his fans to place his physical well-being in their hands, all of which were waving in the air as the song concluded.
Speaking of trusting the power of hands to maintaining stability, the always transcendent “My City of Ruins” followed, a song – as I’ve previously written – about humanity’s ability to “rise up” from devastation by using its ruins to build ourselves back up again as one “with these hands.” “Mary’s Place” continued this communal focus – which I’ve also previously written about – specifically how bad times (represented by the rain) tend to bring people together (represented by everyone escaping the rain at the party inside Mary’s place). Much like the proclamation of “bring on your Wrecking Ball,” Bruce once again stares right at that “black hole on the horizon” that is the potentially dismal future, and finds his faith in the crowd’s voices daringly calling the rain of hard times to come with the repetition of “let it rain.” And like the characters of “Two Hearts” overcoming their past relationship woes, the only answer to “Tell me how do you live broken-hearted?” is through re-joining the party of life by “Meet[ing] me at Mary’s place.” As always, the song was a rock and roll party, with Bruce walking to the downstage platform to have “familiar faces around” him –the front of the Pit ALWAYS has familiar faces – while the Band played the “music up loud.”
The counterpart question to “Tell me how do you live broken-hearted” revealed why “Mary’s Place” fit brilliantly at this juncture of the show: “Tell me how do we get this thing started?” Considering the series of sociopolitical musical observations to come, Bruce could have been asking himself the best way to transition into such serious matters. On night 1, he went right into his speech after the first song, potentially alienating certain listeners from even paying attention to the subsequent musical commentary. This time, however, most of these first nine songs were related to unifying communities in some way, as previously elucidated. Fittingly, the answer to “Tell me how do we get this thing started” comes in the very next line: “Meet me at…” the communal party that is “…Mary’s Place.” Bruce had already thrown the party; now it was time to get started. And just like how “Lonesome Day” marked the start of the ‘Resistance 5-Pack,’ the two sides – one dark and one light – of the same Rising coin that are “My City of Ruins” and “Mary’s Place” deftly transitioned into the most overtly ‘resistant’ stretch of any setlist in recent memory, one that was marked by the persistence of this light/dark duality.
If anyone thinks Bruce avoided politics entirely by not explicitly testifying about the resistance, I urge you to listen to these songs – AND THEIR LYRICS – in the exact order they were played: “Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99,” “Murder Incorporated,” “Death to My Hometown,” “The River,” and “Downbound Train.” Though most of these songs are rooted in the personal plights of their characters, their stories inherently adopt political dimensions. These are all scathing indictments of America’s history of systematically disenfranchising large swaths of its own citizens, specifically with systems designed by the rich and powerful to make themselves richer and even more powerful, all at the expense of those on the lower echelons of the economy who simply cannot legitimately fend for themselves in a society designed against them in favor of the greedy elites (“Atlantic City:” “I got debts that no honest man can pay.” “Johnny 99:” “Now judge I got debts no honest man could pay.”).
It just cannot be a coincidence that all but one of these songs were written or released during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, who Trump has consistently stated is one of his political idols. In fact, Trump has already begun implementing policies that recall his hero’s trickle-down economics, which economists far and wide have repeatedly claimed do. not. work. If Making America Great Again means returning to Reagan’s America, then these songs from that time period should not only be seen as historical lessons but, sadly, perhaps as foreshadowing of what’s to come again. “Everything dies baby that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
In addition to rather clearly establishing the themes that would be explored in the subsequent stretch – which Bruce reinforced by repeating, “Now I been lookin’…now I been lookin’…now I been lookin’… for a job but it’s hard to find” – “Atlantic City” also couldn’t help but call to mind one of Trump’s biggest real estate failures that occurred in the title city. One of the smartest aspects of the song is how the casino-filled locale reflects the ultimately doomed lives of these characters; casinos are designed to take money away from the little guy under the auspices of giving them a chance to hit it big. Sure, some may believe that they’ll walk away the next Trump, but for the most part, casinos – like the economy under Reagan – takes away from most, and gives only to a few. Walking into a casino in Atlantic City is akin to the singer doing “a little favor;” he believes there will be a happy ending, but all of us observers know that he’ll very likely end up worse off. And yet, the American people just elected a man that has spent his life totally fine with making oodles and oodles of money off his casinos benefiting from the losses of its customers; if he’s OK thriving off the toil of others in business, why should we assume he’ll be any different in regards to America, especially since he’s appointed more businesspeople to run this country like a business than any other President since – who else? – Ronald Reagan?
Another track from the Reagan era-inspired Nebraska followed: “Johnny 99,” which lambasts Ronald’s misguided commitment to imposing unsympathetic (“it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand”) and unjust ‘law and order’ across America. Much has been written about the damage that Reagan’s prison-industrial complex system of ‘law and order’ inflicted upon communities of color; instead of helping to build them up, Reagan was more concerned with policing them, practically guaranteeing that many adopt a perspective that mirrors Johnny 99’s “Well your honor I do believe I’d be better off dead,” which explains much of the – to use Trump’s historically-illiterate phrasing – “carnage” in cities like Chicago. Speaking of Chicago, Trump took another page from Reagan’s book this week when he threatened to “send in the Feds!” in response to Rahm Emanuel – the mayor – advising Trump that it was high time for him to move past obsessing about the size of his inauguration attendance numbers in order to, you know, run the country.
Though these songs were almost undeniably in response to Trump’s reckless rhetoric – which clearly isn’t going away now that he’s in office – these interpretations fail to convey the joyous, albeit intense performances provided by the Band. Whereas Trump seems to revel in pointing out America’s misery, Bruce understands the far better course of action is to elevate that suffering into a more palatable, and frankly more enjoyable form. The swinging full Band performance of “Johnny 99” – and I mean swinging, with Bruce doling out unexpected solos like candy to Nils and Stevie, and allowing Jake to take the spotlight on an extended coda – exemplifies this aspect of Bruce perhaps better than any other song in his oeuvre. Whereas the original, acoustic version emphasizes the potentially controversial intent of the song – which may turn off many who believe we shouldn’t even bother to understand a killer before sending him to “that execution line” – very few would have problems enjoying the Band’s rockabilly version, which (like much of Born in the U.S.A.) almost masks the true meaning of the lyrics. Much like the differences in the opening stretch between night 1 and night 2, Bruce continued to ensure that everyone could enjoy his political statements this time around.
As a scorching “Murder Incorporated” – with Bruce’s hands wildly strumming his guitar like a man possessed by the song’s righteous fury – became a rallying “Death to My Hometown,” the sociopolitical, rock and roll sparks were flying on E Street. “The River” and “Downbound Train” brought Bruce back to more personal stories, the sadness of which are due in no small part to the economy’s significant role in these broken romances (“The River:” “But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy / Now all them things that seemed so important / Well mister they vanished right into the air.” “Downbound Train:” “I got laid off down at the lumber yard / Our love went bad, times got hard”). Bruce writes about relationships so vividly that everyone can relate to these heartbreaks, which will hopefully allow them to better understand the politically-marginalized plights of these often voiceless people that Bruce has spent his life giving voice to. Anyone who believes America needs to return to Trump’s idea of when it was great must reckon with these crushing stories together, because as always, Bruce believes in strength in numbers, as exemplified in the singalong to the first verse of “The River,” in addition to during the next song:
In case Bruce did lose a few fans with these implicitly resistant musings, he next focused on perhaps the most universal shared experience of all: sexual frustration. “I’m on Fire” was greeted to a shockingly loud gasp of approval by the audience, followed by perhaps the biggest singalong of the night, a sign that the crowd was in indeed in complete unison. Though “Because the Night” made it seem like the setlist was returning to a usual track, after listening to all of the devastating stories of how the economy can try to rip love to shreds, lyrics like, “They can’t hurt you now / Because the night belongs to lovers / Because the night belongs to us” displays the sort of nuanced, complex thinking at the heart of Bruce’s light-dark duality. I’d much rather live in an America that can face its own darkness but still find the light salvageable from the simple yet bottomless magic of human connection; Trump may revel in doom and gloom, but Bruce Springsteen’s America will never lose sight of its capacity to rise out of what tries to keep her down.
What else could follow but “The Rising?” By the time “Badlands” came around, it was absolute bedlam in the Pit. And could there have been a more fitting conclusion to this main set than everyone singing together to “Thunder Road,” window rolled down and hair blowing back in the wind? The discombobulated singalong – which always brings a smile to Bruce’s face, exclaiming with a laugh, “That’s pretty good!” – felt apropos to the theme of the evening; we may not be perfect, but you better damn well believe we ain’t going to stop singing until we case that Promised Land. “Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood / All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood / With a chance to make it good somehow / Hey, what else can we do now?” But tonight, as usual, Bruce was a fucking hero.
The encore was as rollicking as ever, with the crowd once again – as they did all night long – showing off how they can express enthusiasm with their hands: punching the air along with Bruce during Jake’s “Jungleland” solo, the spirited “let me see your hands” of “Born to Run,” the fast-clapping of “Dancing in the Dark,” “All the little pretties raise their hands” for “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and the manic hand-raising of “Shout.” Though “Rosy” may have been one of the few instances of a song not playing as well here as it did night 1, it was the perfect cap to the evening: a relentlessly-paced ode to youthful, communal (Jack the Rabbit, Weak Knees Willie, Sloppy Sue and Big Bones Billy), romantic resistance against authority (first line: “Spread out now, Rosie, doctor come cut loose her mama’s reins”), not to mention the crazy hand-flailing it always elicits from the crowd. And of course there’s the line that all Americans definitely hope will be true regarding our current predicament: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” Which is not to say Bruce believes we should all sit around and wait for that day; like the singer of “Rosy,” Bruce has always celebrated people going out there and throwing themselves full force ahead at what they really want, all while having as much fun as possible.
Speaking of fun, Bruce had ended the main set by exclaiming, “That was fun!” Besides just being the understatement of the century, the night was also so much more than just fun:
As progressives like Bruce watch America seemingly stray from their ideal vision for the country thanks to Trump’s pontificating, many may feel powerless in the face of needing to resist so much. Should we change the course of our lives and devote our entire existences to such resistance, because it’s definitely starting to feel like this may require a full-time commitment? As many of Bruce’s resistance speech detractors chided, “If he really wants to help America, why is he off rocking and rolling Down Under?”
Yet this setlist felt like an impassioned response to such naysayers. Bruce may not have gone out of his way to explicitly comment on America, but almost all of his performance decisions seemed to have his great country in mind. And yes, the country is still great, as it was in Bruce’s dark days during the Reagan Administration, as it was in the dark days after September 11, as it is today. In all of these eras – and even in his personal life, as his book illustrated – Bruce has managed to delve into the darkness without losing the rock and roll light that transcends cynicism, nihilism, and most importantly, hopelessness. We must all remember that even at our worst, we’re capable of putting on our dancing shoes with our hands and respectfully rocking out with our hands in the air without losing sight of what really matters back home.
You may have noticed that I’ve placed much emphasis on the importance of hands in this piece, thus the reason any mention of the word has been italicized. As “My City of Ruins” expresses, each and every one of us has the power in our hands to make a difference in whatever way we can. For Bruce, he’s used his hands to write the Gospel of Springsteen. For his whole career, he’s been using his instrumental – both figuratively and literally – hands to bring that Gospel to life night after night after night after night, often with the help of his merry Band behind him playing their own instruments…with their hands. In response, countess people across generations have been participating in and adding to these concert experiences with their hands, as the Aussies were all too willing to do in Perth whenever they could.
And for me personally, all of these hands have inspired my own hands to write, write, WRITE…and then write some more. Even after posting tens upon thousands of words last year, E Street is still inspiring me to churn out more, in the process changing how I think about my own life, the world at large, and everything in between. I’m not the only one either; I noticed quite a few politically-minded shirts in the crowd – such as “unionists say no to racism” – a sign that Bruce’s night 1 activism did make a difference, at least on an individual, personal level. And as Bruce’s many simultaneously soul crushing, soul stirring, and soul uplifting tales convey, our personal lives always have political dimensions, whether we’re aware of it or not.
‘The New American Resistance’ inspired more headlines, but Perth 2 may have been more effective activism; it definitely didn’t have the capacity to alienate like night 1. Bruce knows he doesn’t need to speechify to testify to the American experience, past, present, and future, and he long ago mastered the ability – on full display here – to turn his national anger into musical activism of various kinds. Simply put, activism can take many forms, and does not require a complete overhaul of our behavior. Bruce kept doing what his hands have always been doing – rocking – but with an eye towards what socially conscious role that rocking can play in relation to current events. Like Bruce, we all have the power in our hands to change the world simply by reaching out to everyone around us, be it one person or an arena’s worth.
By the time I walked out of Perth Arena, I was physically depleted but still – in the words of a certain other President – ‘fired up and ready to go.’ Isn’t that how all progressives should feel right now: exhausted at the idea of how much resistance may be needed in the coming years, but also energized at that very same prospect? This is yet another type of the interrelated, near paradoxical dichotomy that Bruce as always explored, the sort that was a staple of this entire evening.
It may sometimes feel too hot outside to persist, but resist we shall because – following Bruce’s lead – a seemingly infinite number of different forms of resistance can be attained with these hands. So what are you going to do?
 Sure, almost all of the songs were regulars for certain portions of the last tour…thousands upon thousands of miles away from Down Under.
 Some may say too loose due to the number of musical mishaps, but those people can – respectfully – go away. Who doesn’t love witnessing Bruce and the Band good-naturedly fumble their way back on track? Or maybe that’s just a theatre person thing. And for those pondering why the show was so short, Bruce did rush through a few transitions, but that’s the only theory I got for you…
 For all of my Australia-experienced friends, this fat ass neeeeeeeeeeds restaurant recommendations. Pleeeeeeease.
 You may think it would’ve dampened the energy in the room, but quite the opposite: Aussies apparently love singing along – loudly – to a tune about destruction. But more on them in a bit…
 Except in the case of what the song was actually written about: Giants Stadium becoming MetLife Stadium, which may be the most expensive downgrade in the history of humanity.
 Us loonies attending all three shows are a constant minority.
 Big ups to the very front for losing their damn minds all night long; Bruce clearly saw and fed off it.
 I really hope no one underestimates the rarity of this reciprocal phenomenon; as someone who considers live theatre to be his first love, I can tell you just how rarely this occurs…
 Truth be told, it was a rather rocky surf, but he made it!
 The Band messed up a few times tonight, but nowhere as egregiously as here. Max first missed the downbeat that used to lead to Bruce’s mid-speech sermon (which was happily skipped here; I vastly prefer the condensed versions of this and “My City of Ruins”). Bruce asked humorously something like, “What the hell happened?!” The crowd laughed and cheered, Bruce lightly shushed them, then waited…and waited…and waited some more…was he thinking of a speech? Nope, as he quickly explained, “There’s no words up here,” referring to his downstage teleprompter. “Even worse, I have to read them!” Gotta love Bruce’s comfortability with laughing at himself, unlike a certain President I know…
 The other – “Death to My Hometown” – was written in response to the 2008 recession, which many believe was the extreme result of Reagan’s belief in imposing as little regulations as possible on businesses.
 From The New York Times: “On the presidential campaign trail, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, often boasts of his success in Atlantic City, of how he outwitted the Wall Street firms that financed his casinos and rode the value of his name to riches. A central argument of his candidacy is that he would bring the same business prowess to the Oval Office, doing for America what he did for his companies… But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well… He repeatedly emphasized that what really mattered about his time in Atlantic City was that he had made a lot of money there.”
 If any of this sounds foreign to you, I beg, beg, BEG you to watch Ana DuVernay’s absolutely essential documentary 13th, which was just nominated for an Academy Award. It is probably the most important viewing experience of the year, and one that’s currently available totally for free on Netflix. Prepare to be horrified, but this is the sort of history long been swept under the rug that every single American should be forced to watch and consider.
 I’ve always likened this to candy-flavored Tylenol; the lyrics are the substantive societal medicine, while the mass-appeal music is the superficial candy flavor that allows it to go down easier for most.
 Oh how I wish he would’ve inserted the thematically-fitting “Youngstown” here for that classic 1-2 punch. Probably for the best though…my heart may have not been able to handle it.
 As was Bruce, who responded to the melodious singalong with an adorable yet sexy little jig.
 I couldn’t help but bemoan his decision not to open the encore with “Born in the U.S.A,” but perhaps it would’ve been a bit too on the nose? I know this: I may have ended up punching myself right in the nose from too ferociously thrusting my fist in the air if he had.
 I may or may not have always believed that he was ‘Big Balls Billy.’ Shows you where my mind’s usually at…
 An indicator of the fun of this performance and really the whole night: earlier, someone in the front row had given Bruce a little birthday hat, which Bruce wore for a hot second; in the middle of “Rosy,” Bruce went back to the same person to grab a party horn, and mucked around with it for a bit.
- New York City Serenade
- Prove It All Night
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- Two Hearts
- Wrecking Ball
- Out in the Street
- Hungry Heart
- My City of Ruins
- Mary’s Place
- Atlantic City
- Johnny 99
- Murder Incorporated
- Death to My Hometown
- The River
- Downbound Train
- I’m on Fire
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out