The Boss says goodbye, for now…

3 Feb

bruce springsteen_1 feb 2014_liryn de jager  (4)

(More pictures at https://www.facebook.com/liryn/media_set?set=a.10203048002342501.1073741831.1278650619&type=1)

It was wet and it was wild. He came, he saw, he conquered. He is undoubtedly The Boss.

With the clouds gathering above, the realization started to set in that this was going to be over soon. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first ever visit to the southern tip of Africa was coming to an end at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg.

After three mind blowing performances in Cape Town, these mighty men and women of rock ‘n roll tickled and teased and cajoled and coaxed close to a 100 000 thousand souls in less than a week. And then the man at the centre declared “We’ll be back, I promise!” (We are going to hold you to that, Bruuuce!)

On Saturday the heavens opened up in a big way over the impressive stadium, but nothing was going to rain on the parade of the 60 000+ gatherers. There was not one iota of fear about the lingering forever-after, none whatsoever. You simply cannot walk away from an experience like this and not be affected, not be touched to the deepest, most inner part of your being.

Springsteen made sure that this one was going to a special one. Just after 5pm he nonchalantly walked out in a check-shirt, guitar flung across the shoulder and with a “Hi, hi, how are we doing? Thanks for coming out, you are going to have a great night!” he surprised and treated the sprinkling of fans already gathered to a three song pre-show acoustic set – Working on a highway, I’ll work for your love (with the harmonica) and Growin’ up.

The now packed stadium was greeted with a “Hallo Johannesburg, we are so glad to be here!” a few hours later. The greatest rock show on earth kicked off with Free Nelson Mandela in the same place where the memorial for the departed former South African president was held just a couple of weeks earlier. Land of Hope and Dreams fittingly followed.

Springsteen was totally committed to give his loyal and dedicated followers all and everything they came for, and then some more. He picked up a sign “I was your first black South African fan” before launching into No Surrender. Scanning for more signs, he grabbed one with specially made licence plates (E Street GP) with Seeds scribbled underneath. Just one look at his face and you could see, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was in a world of his own.

It was walkabout time with Out in the street with the man strutting his stuff in a silly way. With his hand over his eyes, looking out over thousands of faces of eagerness, he pointed repeatedly to a specific sign, in an I-want-that-one kind of way. And so Cadillac Ranch made its South African debut with Wisconsin night changed to Jo’burg night.

The trio of High Hopes, Wrecking Ball and Death to my hometown added another dimension to the night. The entire E Street Band (bar those like the Mighty Max and The Professor who were glued to their instruments of noise) made their way to the front of the stage.

With the pit saturated with around 8 000 people, crowd surfing wasn’t going to be on the cards for this one. Springsteen instead leaned back into welcoming arms and voices for Hungry Heart.

Another big sign was dragged onto the stage and to the absolute delight I’m on fire filled the night air.  As on the first night in Cape Town, the harmonica and falsetto voice thrills punctuated The River.

American Skin (41 Shots) brought down the rain in buckets but it didn’t dampen the spirits, not for one single second. There was a little bit of a false start to Heaven’s Wall but it was quickly back to business. Springsteen made the band members get out from underneath the cover of the stage and out into the pouring rain for Murder Incorporated and Johnny 99. Gulping mouthfuls of water from above and blowing it out again, he shouted “The rain, it’s good for ya!”

Busting some moves a la Elvis Presley style, Working on a highway got a full band workout from the acoustic arrangement a few hours earlier. Darlington County and Shackled and Drawn also made a re-appearance from the previous shows.

“This is the right song” was Little Stevie van Zandt’s comical quip when Waitin’ on a sunny day was introduced. Springsteen’s answer? “We are going to make it stop!”

The Rising preceded Ghost of Tom Joad. And this is where the rain put its damper on proceedings slightly when the microphones cut out. The anticipation was rife for the electrifying guitar work of Tom Morello on a Springsteen classic. The hampered start had the potential to throw things off track, but taking it in his stride, Springsteen waited for the difficulties to be sorted out before making it another hair-standing-up-on-your-neck affair.

The beginning of the end was signalled with Badlands with Springsteen speaking directly to his devotees. “Thank you for a lovely night… Thank you for your faith and generosity, for waiting for so long.”

As if on cue, Who’ll stop the rain from Creedence Clearwater Revival made the heavens eased up.

Then it was time to set the night on fire. Born in the USA, Born to Run, Bobby Jean and Dancing in the Dark got the soaked-to-the-bone die-hard adherents going totally wild. A “Are you tired yet?” from the man in the middle got them yelling back in unison “Nooo!” Tenth Avenue Freeze out got the jacket, tie and undercoat off yet again, ending with a leap from the piano.

“Are you done yet? Are you soaking wet? Don’t you wanna go home? Don’t you wanna go home? Don’t you wanna go home? Wait a minute… Thank you for a fine, fine welcome. I promise we are going to back, I promise, I promise!”

Shout added an exclamation mark and the E Street Band bid their final farewells.

The guitar was strapped across the shoulders, for one last time, the harmonica straightened around the neck, for one last time, the cords were strum, for one last time… Thunder Road echoed across the stadium and into the night, for one last time, and Springsteen spoke, for one last time “Be well, be safe, we love you.”

It was about so much more than just the music, the words and the notes, and the man at the centre of the stage holding it all together. Truth be told, it was a deliverance from the eternal and everlasting power of rock and roll.  

And if someone like Bruce Springsteen, backed up by the merry musical makers that are the E Street Band, is preaching this gospel, then hell yeah, I’m a believer. Which songs he uses to deliver the sermon time and time again, it doesn’t really matter. In an illustrious career spanning 40+ years, this musical bible has no last page.

Set list: 1 February 2014 – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg 

  1. Working on a Highway (Pre-show acoustic set)
  2. I’ll work for your love (Pre-show acoustic set)
  3. Growin’ up (Pre-show acoustic set)
  4. Free Nelson Mandela
  5. Land of Hope and Dreams
  6. No Surrender
  7. Seeds
  8. Out in the streets
  9. Cadillac Ranch
  10. High Hopes
  11. Wrecking Ball
  12. Death to my hometown
  13. Hungry Heart
  14. I’m on fire
  15. The River
  16. American Skin (41 Shots)
  17. Heaven’s Wall
  18. Murder Incorporated
  19. Johnny 99
  20. Working on the highway
  21. Darlington County
  22. Shackled and Drawn
  23. Waitin’ on a sunny day
  24. The Rising
  25. Ghost of Tom Joad
  26. Badlands
  27. Who’ll stop the rain
  28. Born in the USA
  29. Born to Run
  30. Bobby Jean
  31. Dancing in the Dark
  32. Tenth Avenue Freeze out
  33. Shout
  34. Thunder Road (acoustic)
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