Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Western Springs

By Russell Baillie

By RUSSELL BAILLIE

There were many things you just knew were going to happen during the first show in New Zealand by American rock legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

You just knew that at some point he was going to shout "1-2-3-4" in that bit of Born to Run, played probably during the encore (tick).

It was a sure bet that there would be other songs involving jumping in the car and getting the hell out of this dead-end town (check).

It was odds-on there was going to be outbreaks of face-to-face singing around one microphone, honking solos from saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and songs that seemingly carried on until tomorrow while reminding of that yesterday known as the 80s (all present and correct).

But what maybe hadn't been counted on was how funny, how touching, and how celebratory it could all be. Or how damp. It rained for the first third of the three-hour show, but the early cover of Who'll Stop The Rain? seemed to appease the gods.

Maybe because we've had much of Springsteen as the man giving voice to America's pain post-September 11 with the release of last year's album The Rising, it was twice as disarming to encounter Bruce the rock'n'roll revivalist showman and bandleader of unflagging energy and comedic skill.

But his crowd-pleasing wasn't just a matter of dragging out the hits. First song Born in the USA was nearly unrecognisable in its solo acoustic (Mekong) Delta blues incarnation, while the performance left major chunks of the Springsteen canon untouched.

The early part of the set picked the eyes out of The Rising, breathing life into the songs which sound a mite earthbound on the album - Mary's Place lost the recording's bubblegum factor to become an infectious soul workout which announced the party-hearty final laps, while Worlds Apart with its Middle Eastern inflections delivered by Springsteen and wife Patty Scialfa was enthralling and chilling.

"Play some old songs." went the impatient cry as focus on The Rising got too much for some.

They soon did, including rip-roaring versions of Badlands and Thunder Road towards the end of the first set. Then it was let-it-all-hang loose during the first encores and Springsteen starting My City of Ruins on the piano during the second before introducing Land of Hopes and Dreams as a prayer for those on both sides in Iraq and hope for the end of the war, before wandering back to those untroubled 80s with Glory Days and Dancing in the Dark.

Oh, and good band he's got there. Should keep them on. Especially pianist Roy Bittan.

Despite the rain - which obviously made it too risky to play The River - Springsteen and backers delivered what felt like a classic concert. "Westernspringsteen" announced one of the radio station banners. If there's a renaming petition, count me in.

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