Greasy Lake

Runaway Australian dream - Bruce Springsteen’s troubled relationship with the land down under

Published 2013-03-24
Karsten S. Andersen
By Karsten S. Andersen

To many Australians, Bruce Springsteen’s 2013 return to the land down under - as welcome as it was - had a feel of “it’s about bloody time”. It had been 10 years since the last visit, 10 years during which Bruce was just about an annual visitor to European and North American venues. And while Australia geographically and perhaps psychologically is a pretty remote place, Bruce’s relationship with Australia has been a troubled one from the get-go, which may have contributed to his hesitation to return.

It started the moment Bruce set foot on Australian ground for the very first time, March 18, 1985. The Born in the USA Tour was finally headed overseas after more than six months of shows in North America, and Australia was going to be the first stop.

But the Born in the USA frenzy was way ahead of the tour, and hundreds of fans were waiting for Bruce in the arrival section of the airport. Bruce’s security team, being equal to their task, tried to find another way out of the airport, but the airport staff refused to cooperate, forcing Bruce to go straight through the sea of excited fans. The bodyguards surrounding Bruce had to use some force to get him through, as they were hired to do. However, among the crowd were also press photographers and reporters, and the result was some rather unflattering pictures and headlines on the front pages of a few Sydney tabloid newspapers.

The Australian shows themselves were successful, except for a 30-minute delay of the first show in Sydney due to electrical problems. Little did Bruce know that electrical problems would haunt all his visits to Australia, except - for now - the current one.

What was probably more on Bruce’s mind was that after the six-show Sydney stand, it was time for the first real outdoor stadium show of his career, at the 37,000 capacity QE2 Stadium in Brisbane. He had played that size of crowd before, indoors at home in the US, but an outdoor stadium was the final threshold to be crossed after he had sworn way back in 1973 never to play anything larger than theaters. The show went well enough that Bruce in June set out on his first full stadium tour, in Europe, and the barrier to complete superstardom was broken.

Another first was achieved on that 1985 Australia tour when Bruce for the first time of his career performed with Neil Young. The Canadian singer was touring Australia at the same time as Bruce, and on March 22, between two of his own Sydney shows, Bruce guested with Young for a 20-minute version of “Down by the River”.

The ghost goes to Australia
Having established a connection with the Australian market, It would be a surprising 12 years before Bruce once again decided to take his music down under. He skipped Australia for the short Tunnel of Love Tour (he also skipped New Jersey so that hardly counts) and, more surprisingly, he skipped it for the 1992-93 Human Touch/Lucky Town Tour, just as Australia for some reason wasn’t included on the 1988 Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” Tour, which claimed to cover all continents.

It wasn’t until the late part of his 1½ year solo acoustic The Ghost of Tom Joad Tour in 1997 that he ventured back to the Australian shores. He did so with ten intimate shows in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, in less than two weeks. The only way to do that was to scrap his rule since the late Seventies of only performing two nights in a row. In Sydney he played four shows in five days, and in Melbourne three shows in three days.

But it was during one of the Brisbane shows that the power gods once again played tricks with him. This time only the lights were affected. For 20 seconds during - of all songs - “Darkness on the Edge of Town” the stage went black. Bruce took it all in stride and kept on singing. “Man, when I said ‘darkness’ it went completely fuckin’ dark! That’s clever!” he commented afterwards to a laughing crowd.

The 1997 Australian tour was otherwise fairly unremarkable. Bruce was his, at the time, usual accessible self and reports of fan meet ‘n’ greets were numerous. The shows were well received by fans and press alike, although one newspaper made a point of telling its readers that Bruce was good, but Christy Moore, Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson were all much better.

For a fine documentation of the two weeks in February 1997 that Bruce spent in Australia, dig out, download, or ask somebody for a copy of Crystal Cat’s Sydney Night bootleg, which features the entire February 12, 1997, Sydney show in great quality as well as tons of bonus tracks from the other Australian shows.

The Rising going Down Under
So, surely, after this positive experience, Australia would be a certain inclusion on future tours? No, that wasn’t to be. The Aussies were once again forgotten when Bruce reunited the E Street Band in 1999 and went on another year-long “world” tour of North America and Western Europe.

However, this time it would be only six years before a return visit. The Rising album and Tour were Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s big shot at another mega, worldwide commercial success a la Born in the USA, and as such, Australia had to be included. This time, however, only four shows were scheduled. As usual, they were placed during the Australian summer, in March of 2003.

Despite the favorable season, the Australian tour would turn out to be a somewhat frustrating experience for Bruce. Not that the war against Iraq can be blamed (much) on the Australians, but the fact was that the first show of the tour down under, in Melbourne, took place just as a US led coalition (including Australia) started their controversial bombing and invasion of Saddam Hussein’s already ramshackle empire. Opening the show with a bitter acoustic version of “Born in the USA” and a powerful “War”, Bruce addressed the situation head-on, but it must not have been the easiest show he’s ever done.

It didn’t help that the VIP section of the venue had been placed right in front of the stage, and as we all know, VIP’s are there to be seen rather than participate. As a result, the immediate audience response that Bruce experienced was lackluster to say the least, causing him to chide the audience for their sing-along skills during “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”, calling them “pathetic”.

Not the best start to the first E Street Band tour in Australia in 18 years. Things did not improve much with the next show, in Sydney. The technical problems that had affected shows on both of Bruce’s previous Australian visits, were taken to a whole new level. Three times during the Sydney show, in the middle of songs, the power failed, leaving Bruce to hand and facial gestures only, while drummer Max Weinberg, manning the only instrument that didn’t need amplification to be heard, tried to keep the audience entertained with drum solos.

When the technical problems were finally resolved, Bruce worked hard to make up for them by playing the longest show on The Rising Tour so far, and even breaking the 11 p.m. curfew by adding the tour premiere of “Rosalita” and a rowdy “Darlington County” for good measure. Most people left satisfied, and the show has achieved legendary status among fans, not just because of the power outages, but also due to the fact that it’s one of very few shows since 1980 that has never surfaced on either audio or video among traders.

After the problematic first half of the Australian tour, Bruce left nothing to chance when he wrapped up the tour with two shows in Brisbane. They were originally announced as one date at the ANZ Stadium, but had to be turned into two shows at the much smaller indoor Entertainment Center due to a scheduling conflict. By all accounts, both shows were smoking and ensured an overall victory for Bruce and the band as they moved on to New Zealand and Canada.

But back in Australia, the drama wasn’t quite over. The concert promoter Kevin Jacobsen had taken a $1.7 million loss (Australian Dollars) and had to file for bankruptcy protection in order to survive. This despite the fact that Bruce had done the two Brisbane shows for the fee of one show. But Jacobsen had overestimated Bruce’s popularity and chosen venues that were too large. And since Bruce had to get paid the same, whether the shows sold out or not, the losses all fell on the promoter.

Jacobsen’s company survived, but Bruce didn’t return to Australia for 10 years, and one of the reasons could very well be that neither Jacobsen nor any other Australian promoter dared make the gamble.

When it finally happened this year, with Jacobsen back in the saddle as the promoter, all fears were quenched. Bruce sold out not only all originally scheduled shows but also the several extra shows that were added. And at the time of writing, halfway through the 2013 Australian tour, it looks like for the first time Bruce may get back from Down Under completely unscathed and with the word “triumph” stamped on the cover of the tale.

And maybe, just maybe, he will finally include Australia in two consecutive tours? The next few years will tell.

Australian shows 1985-2013

Date Venue City State/Country  
1985-03-21 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-22 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-23 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-24 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-27 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-28 Entertainment Centre Sydney Australia
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1985-03-31 QE2 Stadium Brisbane Australia
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1985-04-03 Royal Melbourne Showgrounds Melbourne Australia
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1985-04-04 Royal Melbourne Showgrounds Melbourne Australia
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1997-02-04 Concert Hall Brisbane Australia
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1997-02-05 Concert Hall Brisbane Australia
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1997-02-07 Capitol Theatre Sydney Australia
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1997-02-08 Capitol Theatre Sydney Australia
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1997-02-10 Capitol Theatre Sydney Australia
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1997-02-11 Capitol Theatre Sydney Australia
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1997-02-12 Capitol Theatre Sydney Australia
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1997-02-15 Palais Theatre Melbourne Australia
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1997-02-16 Palais Theatre Melbourne Australia
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1997-02-17 Palais Theatre Melbourne Australia
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2003-03-20 Telstra Dome Melbourne Australia
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2003-03-22 Cricket Ground Sydney Australia
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2003-03-25 Brisbane Entertainment Centre Brisbane Australia
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2003-03-26 Brisbane Entertainment Centre Brisbane Australia
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2013-03-14 Brisbane Entertainment Centre Brisbane Australia
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2013-03-16 Brisbane Entertainment Centre Brisbane Australia
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2013-03-18 Allphones Arena Sydney Australia
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2013-03-20 Allphones Arena Sydney Australia
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2013-03-22 Allphones Arena Sydney Australia
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2013-03-24 Rod Laver Arena Melbourne Australia
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Sara writes: Nice article. I learned alot too!
Therese Hollan writes: Great article - and yes hopefully Australian fans wont have to wait so long for a return visit. I was there at QEII in Brisbane '85 (the rain bucketed down), missed '97 (pregnant with my son)Brisbane 2003 and Brisbane 14 March 2013. Bruce please don't forget your loyal Aussie fans!!
Raph Tripp writes: Well informed and entertaining article.

Bruce and the band put on an unforgettable outdoor show at the Melbourne Showgrounds in April 1985 in front of 48,000 - at that time the largest crowd he'd ever played for. To this day I still meet people who say "I was there too!" - still the greatest show I've ever seen. I saw Bruce play solo on the Tom Joad tour at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne in Feb 1997. He played 3 nights in the middle of a scorching Aussie heatwave - over 100 degrees every day and not much cooler at night. It suited me as I missed out on tickets - I stood outside listening on his final night and noticed people leaving due to the heat in the old, non air-conditioned theatre - one guy gave me his tickets only 10 minutes in to the show.
I was also there at the Telstra Dome in March 2003 - the day the Gulf War broke out. Bruce kicked off with 'War' and though the band tried - the venue was just too big, too soulless and not enough of a crowd to get the place jumping. And yes - the VIP section in front of the stage was a disgrace (by the promotor - not Bruce) as it put everyone much further back from the stage.
I'm seeing Bruce at Rod Laver Arena tomorrow night - can't wait!
Nicky W writes: In all that time only one show in NZ
Autralian's have nothing to complain about
peter writes: On Friday night he said he won't take as long to be back
Dean writes: I'm with Raph Tripp. The show he did back in April 85 at the Melbourne Showgrounds was that good that I have never seen any other performer or any band come near it. I wont attempt to try and describe in words how great it was. Simply because I can't. Words like awesome or spectacular come to mind but in reality there is just nothing yet in the english language that I could use to describe just how great that performance was. Again I totally agree with Raph. Every now and again you come across somebody who went and you get the same response "I was there too!"(big smile on their dial).
He finally toured again with the ESB for The Rising in 2003. This time I took my wife. I had been banging on about how good he was for years. I finally got the chance to prove my point. Unfortunally on the day of the concert the 2nd Iraq war started and it was fair to say it didn't put him in a good frame of mind. On top of that those DUMB ASS promoters seated all the lifeless VIP morons directly in front of him. It was by no means any comparison to 85 but we had a good night. 'My City of Ruins' was a stand out.
I drove up to Sydney with a mate to see him at the SCG. Despite the power issue I thought it was a good performance.
My wife and I just saw his show Tuesday night(260313) at Rod Laver. It was totally magic. My wife now understands what its means to be blown away by a Bruce Springsteen performance. It was great to see him back in town. We were beside ourselves when he played 'Cadilac Ranch'. Great performance.
On Sunday we are off to Hanging Rock. This time we are taking my whole family(2 daughters and 1 son), my brother and some friends. None of them have seen him yet. So we are hoping he puts on a pearler. Being his final Aussie show maybe he might do something super special. One thing I know for sure, he is in great form at the minute.
Nicky W I hope he gets over to New Zealand real soon. When he does I hope he puts on a great show for ya. Beg, borrow or steal to get tickets.
Be good to see him get to Adelaide and Perth also.
Share the joy!
Wendy Cernto writes: As a long time fan since 1974 I really appreciate the detail given in this article. It has always been a great disappointment for me that Bruce has not toured Australia more regularly. I have been fortunate enough to go to shows on his previous Aust. tours. Most recently I was privileged to attend his 3 Sydney shows and I can honestly say I personally have never experienced such a sense of euphoria and also the general crowd euphoria that I experienced those 3 nights. And Bruce did say at the Friday 22/3/13 show in Sydney that he will not leave it so long next time. Music to any fan's ears. And incidentally 22/3/13 was the 10th anniversary of the infamous Sydney Cricket Ground concert where the sound kept dropping out. I recall that night the crowd stepping into the breach and loudly continuing to sing the lyrics to "War" whilst frantic efforts were being made to restore the sound.
Andrea writes: So glad Bruce gave Australia another chance. I was at both the Tuesday and Wednesday shows at Rod Laver in Melbourne. Completely outstanding performances. I was lucky to be up front a few people back and watched as he rode the fans back to the stage. Hearing ROSALITA was just one of the highlights for me and managed to get even closer.
Karen Weisser writes: Great few weeks with Bruce and the E-Street band here :) You are welcome back anytime!
rob curtis writes: 06 06 2013 as of this date. no stop in Houston tx. will there be any more u.s.a. tour stops. after Europe. or is personal toward the city.
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