Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How to survive the line for a Springsteen show...

With just two weeks until Springsteen and The E Street Band start up the Wrecking Ball tour in Europe again my thoughts are turning to all lessons learnt lining up for their show.


There are obviously many bits of advice that could be shared but here’s some that I found most useful during the ten shows of the Australian tour.

1. Check around the venue

First bit advice is simple – if you arrive to what you think is the main entrance less than five hours before a show and there’s no one there, the chances are you’re not at the right entrance. Most venues allocate a special entrance for the General Admission crowd so if you don’t find it straight away be sure to take a walk and look for it.
(At Brisbane 1 someone came up to me inside the venue to say they had arrived hours early but missed on priority entrance because they hadn’t found the rest of the crowd.)

2. Respect the line-up system

European fans have an imposing reputation about how long they are willing to wait in line to get priority entry.
In Sydney I was staggered to find out a dedicated couple from Italy had slept outside Allphones Arena to be first in line. 

When I got there - 10 hours early and 71 in the queue – I was told that sleeping out for the night was nothing – in Sweden people sleep out for five days.
Thankfully throughout the Australian tour, the arena dates in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – at which I spent a total of five days in lines waiting for the doors to open – they had a roll call system.
Turn up early, get a number, and make sure you’re back a few hours later to keep your place in line.
You can’t really go wrong with this system but there were a few people who felt the need to argue the point that it was unfair, and that people should stay in line without being allowed to disappear. 
Meanwhile in other places, particularly the US, there’s the lottery system. Where you turn up and get a number, then at a certain time a number is called out and the allotted number of priority places will start at that number. (So if 200 people are to go in, 750 are in line and the number 632 is pulled out – then everyone with the number from 632 to 82 will go in.)
This system of course means you take a gamble on matter what time you line up. There’s no way of knowing if rocking up for entry five days or five minutes before the cut-off time will get you in first.
No matter what the system is, it’s important to remember that all venues can be different, and also that Springsteen’s people would have probably set something up with them to best accommodate the size of the crowd.

Late night roll call in Melbourne...

Ultimately however the best advice I can give you is head to the front of the line and look for any Americans - especially if there's some with the New Jersey accents. They will be the experienced tour mates more than happy to pass on info about roll calls, numbers and entry times. Many times during the Australia tour people thought they were paid to organise things the set up was so well organised.

3. Buddy up

There’s no point in being shy when you’re joining a group of other fans all out there for the same reason you are.
The great thing about the line-up system is that everyone was keen to help each other out, hold spots in line or look after belongings for food and bathroom breaks.

Not to mention swapping stories and wishlists of the best Springsteen show ever to take place.
A lot of people, myself included, go to the shows by themselves but leave as part of a group.
Once you take a number you’re in a club. A club that works well when everyone’s working together.

4. Eat, drink - but don’t get too merry

Standing in line, attending a roll call and being front and centre for a show is serious business. And even if you don’t take it seriously, other people will.
With the roll call system it meant there was time to leave the line and get some decent food instead of just fast food or convenient store snacks. Not such an issue for a single line up, but with multiple shows you need to maintain a solid diet to stay healthy and keep energy levels up.
When it comes to drinking, hydration is the key. Water and sugar-free sports drinks are the way to go (Bruce drank blue Powerade on stage and that soon became the beverage of choice for many in the line too).
As for alcohol, some people in groups were able to drink throughout the day, then again during the show, but for myself and many others investing that much time in getting to the front you don’t want to risk either being too pissed for the concert or having to lose your place inside to use the bathroom.
For me, choosing the right time for last fluid intakes was an art form, as once you got into the arena holding you’re well-earned place was a hard task and very much dependent on those around you.

5. Look out for the signs

There are two main reasons to keep an eye on other people’s request signs.
The first is to make sure you choose a song that isn’t being requested by everyone else. You want to choose a track that will not only attract Springsteen’s attention, but will gain the respect of other people in the line. 

It can be a lot of pressure to get this right – and not everyone is going to be happy to see a bit of card for Outlaw Pete.
The other reason is the size of other people’s signs, especially the people ahead of you in the line.
Several occasions in one concert my view was blocked by someone’s sign ahead of me which was held up far too long than it should have been. There’s a time for signs and this idiot needlessly kept it up throughout a performance.
When I saw him at another show, I made sure to watch out which part of the stage he headed for and what size card he had, and made my quick decision for a position to avoid him.
(Meanwhile one guy – you know who you are Victor – even held up a sign ‘The guy behind this sign can’t see’ during one show. And if you see someone scribbling that in a big marker you know who to avoid).

6. Bring your Springsteen T-shirt

OK so album or tour T-shirts are not mandatory, but on the one show I didn’t wear one, I went to the merchandise stand to buy one as within five minutes I felt out of place. Like being the one kid at school who forgot it was non-uniform day.

Bruce was a big fan of the matching T-shirts in Melbourne...

7. Patience is your friend

You may think this is an obvious one, but I’m not necessarily talking about the long periods of waiting.
Instead what will really test your patience is the people nearby who discuss everything Springsteen and then start getting it wrong.
It may only be a slight error, but if you’ve just finished reading the latest biography, or was at a previous concert and the guys next to you are talking about it and getting the setlist horribly wrong, then it can take every ounce of patience not to turn around and correct them. I feel the same urge when people on the train get Bond movies wrong or misquote Arnie films.
Of course if you’re in the conversation that’s great, go for it, but if you’re just butting in then even the nicest Bruce bud will probably start to lose patience with you and your encyclopaedic knowledge of everything E Street.

8. Power up

It can be a long wait, and a long wait in today’s world means plenty of time on your smartphone.
I bought a pocket charger that I charged up every night and took to every show.
Then an hour before gates opened I plugged it into the phone.
After the first two shows I realised that to take pictures, sneaky videos (or even to make a note of the setlist if I could do it without losing the enjoyment of the show) I needed at least 70 per cent battery in my iPhone.
You don't want to be left hanging without enough power... (slide)

But if I was using it throughout the day I’d be lucky to go in with 20 per cent power. A portable charger is definitely a worthy investment.

9. Don’t over think getting to the front

If you’ve made it to the priority and you’re slowly walking into the venue in your numbered order the chances are you’ve already discussed a strategy about where to stand.
For me the trick is to never plan it, just go with what you get.
If you’re number 1 – then hey, front and centre no probs.
You never know where Bruce will go for a lie down or planking photo op...

But if you’re around the 100 mark, you have to take what you can get.
For me, I was first 151 and was advised to go behind the few rows near the central platform in Brisbane 1.
This turned out to be great advice for the first night as my view was incredible and I was still close enough to stick an arm out and hit the guitar for Born To Run.
But other nights, different spots were better for me.
I found that any spot along the barrier saved a lot of energy for the show. Not only was it something to lean on, but also a lot cooler than being between people. Even if you’re along the side you still get an unblocked view of the stage.
Ultimately, the moment you walk in all strategies you had suddenly go out the window anyway as you realise you’re getting closer to the thing you’ve spent a day lining up for and the adrenaline kicks in.


There are so many more bits of advice I was given, but I’m opening up the final spot for other tour followers. What advice would you give to someone lining up for priority entry at a series of shows?

Leave a comment below...

(And don't forget to vote for this blog in the 

Monday, 8 April 2013

They're gonna make a TV movie out of me...

The absence of Steven Van Zandt from the Australian tour was a major disappointment head of the tour to me and possibly other fans of The E Street Band who appreciate what he brings to the show.

His friendship with Springsteen always shines through and his sense of humour and stage presence always entertains.

So although stand-in Tom Morello was incredible and one of the highlights of the Wrecking Ball Tour down under, it was clear that Van Zandt would always be missed.

To counter this I decided to check out what it was that kept him from the tour by downloading series one of Lilyhammer onto my iPad in time for the two flights and two 12-hour train journeys I had during my 18-day adventure of following the band across Australia.

Already a fan of The Sopranos, I was glad to see Van Zandt had not strayed too far from his mobster character for this series.

In fact, he was almost exactly the same.

Which makes Springsteen’s joke in Brisbane 1 – “He’s basically playing himself!” – even more apt.

Over the 18 days I did manage to watch the entire series of the Norwegian show and at the end was glad to say that I’m looking forward to seeing the next season.

The New York mobster scenes are dealt with in the opening minutes so any immediate comparisons with his previous mob drama are quickly over and done with.

What follows is essentially a fish-out-of-water drama series as his character goes into hiding in the Norway town and tries to adjust with his new surroundings while finding it impossible to let go of his criminal past, which he clearly enjoyed.

As a show the writing is nothing like The Sopranos, and its Norwegian production spills through into every scene. 

It’s this cultural difference that makes it work and inreasingly watchable.

For me, Lilyhammer is to The Sopranos, what a show like Castle is to New York cop drama Without A Trace.

Meanwhile it has some great moments and the series quickly grows on you. 

Some scenes are hilariously funny, his nightclub manager trying to break someone is great, while Van Zandt’s unabashed mobster reaction to the problems of everyday life are also inspired.

And just when you’re at risk of forgetting that he’s a serious mobster he blurts out some New York phrase or violent action to remind you of his true nature.

Whether or not it was worth him missing 10 dates of the Australian tour will remain to be seen. 

(And fans including myself would probably rather he put E Street Band tours over acting jobs every time.)

But if you’re looking for a fun dose of Van Zandt while waiting for his return to the band, then Lilyhammer is well worth your time.

Seen it? How did you rate Lilyhammer? 
Share any thoughts in the comments below and let me know how you felt about 
Van Zandt's absence from the tour... 

(And don't forget to vote for this blog in the 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Ten Best Things of Bruce Springsteen's Australian Tour

It’s been a week since the E Street Band left the stage after the final Australia tour date at Hanging Rock.

So after struggling to get on with life, work and everything else in the past seven days I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that made Bruce Springsteen’s Australian tour the unforgettable, incredible adventure that it was.

I’ve avoided listing which show was the best for the very simple reason that it has been impossible for me to decide which night was the greatest.

Instead, here are my top ten moments of the tour. The moments which made fans in Australia lucky to see the show and want to follow them to Europe for the next powerful swing of the Wrecking Ball…

10. ‘Shark-Infested Waters’

A great aspect of The E Street Band’s tour in Australia is that they didn’t come all this way for a standard show.

From the opening minutes of Brisbane 1 (concerts on this tour are officially known by Bruce fans as the location, followed by its order) it was clear that Springsteen came here to make this the biggest, best tour Australia would ever see.

He was clearly keen to banish the memories of the ill-fated, corporate seat raped, power failing previous tour for The Rising in 2003, and made sure that Australia wasn’t just a country taped to the Wrecking Ball Tour, it was the country that would help define the tour.

There were plenty of moments throughout that showed the band were here to have fun and earn the respect of Australians, but the line that they travelled across “shark infested waters” first surfacing during Springsteen’s introduction to Spirit In The Night, was the one that struck a chord with the crowd.

By show three on the tour (Sydney 1) the crowd knew what was coming and shouted the words before he could get them out.

He responded by asking those in the front how they knew that, then on following nights altered his speech to try and throw off the tour catchphrase-waiting crowd, and allowing the fans to voice the words instead.

By the time he reached Melbourne 2, fans were waving inflatable sharks and stuffed shark toys with requests on.

9. Arena shows

Previously I had seen Springsteen at stadiums in the UK and at the two Hard Rock Calling shows in Hyde Park. The two Hyde Park shows in particular were incredible.

But the main difference was that the band was playing to more than 50,000 people, and on this tour no crowd was could have been bigger than 20,000. And the GA front standing area seemed no bigger than 1,000 every night.

Until this tour I had felt that every E Street Band show makes you feel like you’re at a personal, intimate concert despite the thousands of others around you. But in the pit on the Australia tour and its limit on numbers meant that you really were up close with the band.

Not just to strum the guitar in Born To Run, but also to watch how the band studies Springsteen’s every move to see how long they should play a song for, or with Tom Morello which section comes next. Not to mention Lofgren’s frustration when a guitar doesn’t sound right, or Soozie Tyrell’s tears to the tribute for Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.

The arena dates offered a close-up, personal glimpse of how the band works, something not always seen in the bigger concerts no matter how spectacular they can be.

8. Devils & Dust

This song and the album of the same name, has never been my favourite and exists in my collection as one rarely listened to.

But by starting Sydney 2 with this song not only to it reignite my desire to listen to the album again, but it also threw any predictions of what Springsteen would start each show with completely out the window.

From that moment on any attempt to try and guess the first track of the night was met with the response that no one could predict what was coming after such an unexpected opener.

Rumours are it was brought out for the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, but what it gave everyone going to more than one show was even more excitement and anticipation for the setlists that were to come.

7. ‘Roll Call…’

Both the moment during My City Of Ruins where Springsteen introduces the band on stage and pays tribute to the ‘ghosts of E Street’ and anyone who is missing or missed, and to those crazy enough the addictive routine of lining up with a number on your hand to be front of the line when the doors open.

The roll call from Springsteen was so poigniant that when he didn’t perform the song and introduce the band, setlist watches around the world went into meltdown and started Twitter conversations with those in the pit to try and work out why it was left out.

Late night roll call in Melbourne as the moon rises above the city...

And out in the street waiting in line for the next show, the GA roll call every 3 to 4 hours in the 30 hours leading up to doors opening became a regular aspect of life for people following the tour.

It gave us a respite from waiting in line for 24 hours straight as well as move to the shade as the Aussie sun dictated.

Most of all however it was a regular meeting of like-minded Springsteen fans who understood why you would spend hours of your day sat outside an arena in a bid to be near the front for the greatest show in the world.

6. Hanging Rock

I first heard of this place when Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock was a main part of my Australian movie unit of my Film Studies course 12 years ago. At the time I found the film boring and frustrating. I later learnt that the story it was based on was actually fictional, not real. 
Something I have more recently learnt in my last two years in Australia, that not all Aussies know – and when you tell them – something they don’t want to know.
(Although saying that it seems most of the Aussies I know could not tell you anything about Hanging Rock.)

Springsteen and the giant Hanging Rock

That being said it is an incredible sight in a great part of rural Victoria. 

With the stage set in front of it, if you were far enough away or to the side of the stage you could see the iconic feature of Australia’s geology next to America’s iconic rock band.

The latest, and so far the biggest, concert at the outdoor venue, the two final shows of the tour were given an extra sense of being a spectacular occasion where the band and the audience had made an effort to travel to and were in the hands of Australia’s natural elements.

It was the perfect end to the tour that until the final weekend had been an indoor affair. And I even had a picnic.

5. Requests

Making a sign with a request for Springsteen to take up was something I had previously avoided.

But by Sydney 3 the urge to see one of my favourites performed had taken hold and I invested in some card and marker pens.

Originally I was planning on Backstreets or Growin’ Up for a request, but having seen these two already in the line I went with Greetings From Asbury Park’s Lost In The Flood.
(I had seen a request on a previous night, but mine was much bigger…) 

For Sydney 3, it went ignored. (Unlike the signs for Backstreets and Growin’ Up which both resulted in brilliant renditions.)

Melbourne 1 and 2 also saw the sign brought out, and although I saw Springsteen take note of the big waving bit of card, it failed to make it to the stage.

Come Melbourne 3, I had given up with the hassle of keeping the sign with me throughout the show and left it behind. So of course, track 10 for the night would be it… and needless to say, it was worth the wait.

But what really made the requests one of the best highlights were those that made them.

Brisbane 2’s Blinded By The Light which Springsteen did acoustically set the scene for many artistic requests to come. (Including a great one from the ‘Blinded-By-The-Light-girl’, as she became known, for Brilliant Disguise).

There was Prove It All Night with the 1978 intro, Red Headed Woman where Springsteen joked Tom Morello was “shakin’ in his boots” because he had no idea what was coming and Jackson Cage to name just a few.

There’s a reason why the band performed 78 different songs in 10 shows and it’s because fans on the Australia tour brought out some great requests.

4. Because The Night

This song has always been a favourite live, but come the encore to Hanging Rock 1 Springsteen not only took it added it to the setlist as a request but also took on solo lead guitar duties normally expertly wielded by Lofgren. 

The result was a slightly heavier, raw version of the song that I had never heard or seen before.

The differences may have been subtle, but at the end of the night it remained the top thing in my mind as it once again reminded fans and newcomers alike of just how skilful a guitarist Springsteen is.

3. High Hopes

If there was one song that had to be selected as the unofficial anthem of the Australian tour, then for me it would have to be this.

A cover version from the 1996 Blood Brothers EP/VHS release played at half of the shows it opened Brisbane 2 and became an instant classic on the tour. 

Not only for the crowd chanting name, but ‘Reverend’ Everett Bradley coming out front to pound the drum and Morello using his guitar lead to bring out some sounds left even Springsteen smiling. A great song that the band turned into their own especially for Australia. This one’s been in my head constantly since the tour ended.

2. Tom Morello

Every member of the band deserves respect for their talents, but Tom Morello’s addition to the line-up as a stand-in for the absent Steve Van Zandt brought another special element to the Australian dates of the Wrecking Ball Tour.

His aforementioned talent and techniques were almost show-stopping at times. 

An interview during the tour revealed he had to learn around 50 songs in a few months before the first night, and it was easy to see many nights that he was focused on everything Springsteen did, (look at the top picture for this blog site to see how closely his focused) with plenty of help from Lofgren and bass master Garry W Tallent on how to keep up.

But not only did he nail everything thrown at him, but when it came for him to step into the spotlight in songs like High Hopes and E Street Shuffle, he was not only a fully-fledged E Street Band member, but someone who brought in a whole new edge to the show.

And when it came for his turn at Ghost Of Tom Joad, every night you would be forgiven for thinking that the song belonged to him and not Springsteen.

There was never a dull moment when he was in the spotlight – he even stole a dance and showed his moves to satisfy one fan’s request in Dancing In The Dark.

Yes fans of Van Zandt no doubt missed his presence, but what Australia got instead was 10 nights of – as Springsteen himself said as he stood between Morello and Lofgren – two of the greatest guitarists in the world.

1. Prove It All Night (’78 Intro)

I’d heard about this song, and I’ve seen the bootleg clips of the 11-minute guitar over piano intro version that first surfaced on the 1978 tour and has been a part of Springsteen folklore ever since.

I never thought I would get to see it, and a huge fan of the “normal” version of the song I’m happy to see and hear any format of it on the tour.

But when Springsteen picked up the request during Sydney 3 for the track and special 78 Intro a wave of nervous, excitable anticipation swept through the front few rows of the crowd.

Leading the band into the epic version Springsteen blasted it out to with an incredible force and passion that will be remembered for a long, long time.

Signs were up at the beginning of Sydney 3 that the concert was being filmed, and instead of paper wristbands those in the pit were given shiny, silver plastic bands that look good.
Which gives hope that we may see it again. 

Of course, those of us at the following Melbourne 1 show did get to see it again, but it was in Sydney’s final show, along with Backstreets, Growin’ Up and Trapped that it really left an incredible impression that stayed throughout the whole tour and left many Springsteen fans across the world wishing they were there to see it for themselves.

Other worthy mentions:

Brisbane 1’s The Saints cover Just Like Fire Would, the angry, deafening version of Born In The USA, and every moment that Jake Clemons came down from the horns section to come front of the stage. 


Lowlights - (They have to exist to make the highlights even more awesome)

Jimmy Barnes – I get how listening to someone like Jimmy Barnes when you’re in the pub with your mates and you’ve had a few beers can be enjoyable. I’ll even go on record to say he had a few good songs and sang a few lines well.
But ultimately the Hanging Rock show invite to Barnes felt like a token gesture to include an Australian rocker on the bill with a world-famous act just to try and show people that Australia too has a hard-working rockstar. 

It may have been a great moment for Barnes fans, but for anyone else having him join Springsteen for Tougher Than The Rest was just painful. Painful because it was a good song from an album not strongly represented on the tour and because it should have been an iconic moment of the tour.
Instead we had the band almost taking a break as Springsteen gave a subdued performance with Barnes looking like he was struggling to keep up with one of the more simpler tracks on the setlist. Hanging Rock 2 seemed like they had turned Barnes microphone down a notch, but he still wailed over Springsteen’s harmonica to bring a rare lull to an E Street show.
Many Australians won’t agree as fans of Barnes will refer to him as ‘Australia’s answer to Springsteen’… but he’s not.
Working Class Man is not Working On The Highway. (It’s not even Pony Boy.)
If anything Barnes is Australia’s answer to MeatLoaf… Possibly even Grand Final MeatLoaf.

Waitin’ On A Sunny Day – I don’t have a problem with Springsteen pulling up kids for a sing-a-long. Most nights it worked well and was enjoyable, but after maybe five shows I was ready to hear another song in the ten minutes or so that it takes to belt this one out.

No cameras – Again, no problem with the zero-camera rule, as you don't want to be up close to the best show in the world and spend it looking through a small screen. And I understand why Nils Lofgren seemed to turn away after I took a few pics of him on my phone, but to be jumped on by security in Melbourne 2 every time I took it out my pocket was ridiculous. 
In contrast, security guy in Brisbane 2 was clear before the show started by telling those of us close to barrier that we could take quick photos on our phones, but don’t piss off anyone by holding it up for 10 minutes at a time to shoot videos.

No Perth show – The new arena is crying out for Springsteen and every fan knows it, so the fact he didn’t come here is a disappointment. But then again, if WA is on the radar next time, I and hundreds of other Perth fans will still travel over east to see every show.

Do you agree with this list? 
Feel free to leave a comment below and share your highlights of the tour!

(And don't forget to vote for this blog in the