Bruce’s first tour of Australia in ten years begins in one week. What can be expected?
Setlist Changes for Australia
It stands to reason that Bruce will return to setlists with more Wrecking Ball material, including key songs such as “Jack of All Trades,” “We Are Alive” and “Rocky Ground,” all of which fell out of the set on the Fall leg in the US. They may not remain staples throughout 2013 but given that nothing from the Wrecking Ball album (save the old arrangement of “Land of Hope and Dreams”) has ever been played in Australia, it’s a safe bet that they appear this month.
Less certain, but certainly appropriate, would be the inclusion of material from Bruce’s other albums of the 2000s, in particular Magic but also potentially Working on a Dream or even Devils and Dust. As the tours supporting those albums never traveled to Australia, Bruce would serve his audience well by adding the best of that material – “Radio Nowhere,” “Long Walk Home” and “Gypsy Biker” to the setlist. The new full-band arrangement of “Devils and Dust” would be welcome as well.
Working on a Dream songs remain a longshot, but certainly are not out of the question. Given how little effort Bruce gave to those songs in 2009, I would be surprised if many of them were played, although the title song may show up. I also suspect that, to my chagrin, “American Land” could be played a time or two.
While they have certainly grown tired in the American shows – and even at times in the European shows – the Australians haven’t had the opportunity to experience Bruce’s full-fledged embrace of the audience’s sign requests. It seems quite likely that there will be multiple requests granted per night. I would expect them to include a balance of hits and favorites – “I’m Goin’ Down” or “Because the Night” – as well as obscurities, such as “Loose Ends” or “Talk to Me.”
The March 14 show in Brisbane will be the first E Street Band show without Steve Van Zandt since October 15, 1988.
One way of looking at Steve’s absence is that the show will go on without much changing. While the show suffered greatly the last time a band member was temporarily replaced, Steve’s role in the band is certainly far different than that of Max Weinberg. Accordingly, I suspect his absence will affect the overall performance of the band to a significantly lesser degree. It would be fair to note that Steve’s most important musical contributions to the band are as arranger and vocalist (rather than guitarist), and while not having him there is unfortunate, it isn’t a critical loss. The E Street Band did play 243 shows in the Eighties (including eight in Australia) without him.
I imagine Steve’s absence will be most noticeable with respect to the band’s on-stage persona. Steve’s role as Bruce’s best musical friend might be hammed up but overall, it isn’t an act. Particularly with the loss of Clarence, Steve has done a great job this tour in the role of Bruce’s primary foil onstage. He’s one of the few band members who seemingly has the run of the stage without taking specific direction from Bruce as to positioning and performance antics and I predict that this will not be an insignificant loss.
The alternate way of looking at this temporary change is that having Tom Morello on stage will be a challenge of sorts to Bruce, requiring him to increase his intensity, both for the loss of Steve and knowing that the person standing to his left can run circles around him when it comes to guitar skills.
Morello has, of course, guested numerous times with the band over the past year, although mostly on material that is played every night, such as “Death to My Hometown” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Jack of All Trades” is a likely inclusion, as noted above, although it may well alternate with “This Depression.” Each Australian city should be able to count on hearing Morello’s feature “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” although perhaps not every single night.
The hope here remains that Bruce finds some additional songs to feature Morello’s playing. The prospect of them ripping up “Lucky Town” together may be a pipe dream, but “Murder Incorporated” or “Further On (Up the Road)” would be welcome choices.
On another band personnel note, it remains unclear if Patti Scialfa will be joining the band for the Australian tour. She’s been absent since the first New Jersey show last September, but she did make a few surprise appearances in Europe last summer. If she does indeed make it to Australia, “Easy Money” will probably make the set, and it also offers the potential of some Tunnel of Love material in the show (another tour that never reached Australian shores).
Also notable about this leg of the tour is that the tour plays multiple nights in each city, with three-night stands in both Sydney and Melbourne. Presumably this will mean that Bruce’s back catalog, already opened fairly wide to date on the tour, will continue to get a workout in each city, with plenty of opportunities for changes from night to night. “Second” nights have been rare this tour, but the few that have occurred, such as Paris, Gothenburg or Fenway Park, have been some remarkable shows.
Sydney and Melbourne will also feature the extremely rare third show (only previously done this past September in New Jersey). One aspect of the Reunion and Rising tours that is missed in recent years is the band setting up for multiple shows in one venue: not only does it lead to setlist variety, but by the end of the stand, the band is usually playing at a particularly high level. These upcoming stands have the potential to result in some great shows.