Saturday, 25 January 2014

Did you fall for the Bruce Springsteen USB wristband backlash-scam?

Last week I wrote a blog entry asking whether paying $45 - plus whatever postage fees - for a live recording of a Bruce Springsteen show on a USB wristband was too much.
I was set to publish it but moments before I did I saw on Twitter there was an update to the concert download saga that has excited many fans and simply infuriated others.

Now it seems that the live recordings will be available in a "variety of formats" and not just in the $45(AUS) wristbands. 

Some of these are reported to be higher quality, and cheaper. The two biggest issues that seemed to irk fans who have been begging for official downloads for years, but wanted them in the same way Pearl Jam fans have theirs - highly accessible and highly affordable.

For me, regardless of the price – which really shouldn’t be that shocking when considering the credit card-limit-breaking cost of actually getting to see a show or two - the whole concept is genius and has been a long time coming.

If I had the opportunity to get live recordings of some of last year’s concerts I would have happily added another $50 on to the price of the ticket. (Mainly because at the time I thought it would be the last time they would tour Down Under).

Every Springsteen fan knows there are some songs that just sound better live, and the man’s career has been built on the ‘you-have-to-see-him-live’ ethos.

Ultimately I would love a live album at the end of every tour, and I for one was genuinely surprised one wasn’t released at the end of the Wrecking Ball tour instead of the album High Hopes.

But until then, the opportunity to get a 2 to 3 hour show recorded professionally is a fantastic alternative.

I know many fans just hit up YouTube and search for individual videos of tracks from the setlist to hear a concert they missed, or relive a concert they experienced. With enough patience it is surprisingly easy how you can create yourself a complete bootlegged live album from the multitude of recordings that come online after every concert any big act performs.

But after you've checked to see if you can spot yourself in the video, the novelty of these recordings quickly wears off. When you've heard how great Prove It All Night and Ghost of Tom Joad sounds at the front of the stage, listening to it from a poorly recorded bootleg just isn't enough.
I first encountered the post-concert live recording option at one of the best small gigs I’ve been lucky to review.

In November 2007 Joseph Arthur and his band The Lonely Astronauts finished their UK tour at The Talking Heads in Southampton. About halfway through the gig he noticed some sort of feedback, buzzing sound and delayed his next song by five minutes as they worked to get rid of it.

Arthur the crowd of a few hundred fans crammed into the small venue that they were recording the performance and that if they wanted a copy CDs would be burned at the merchandise stand afterwards.

The show was incredible, so naturally people swarmed to the merchandise stand afterwards as two computer disc drives were spitting out white CDs for the assistants to put in cardboard sleeves with the gig’s date and venue stamped on the side.
The gig’s 21 tracks went across two CDs and cost £10.

The quality was clear enough to sound decent and recorded with professional gear, while still being raw enough that it clearly was a finely produced live album. Turn it up loud enough and you still the static buzz of the room, while the applause and cheers after each song are sometimes deafening.

However, as a unique recording of some excellent performed tracks from a brilliant singer-songwriter, it was a fantastic buy and one of my all-time favourite live albums.

The following year I considered buying a live concert performance for a second time. After waiting in the rain outside Wembley Arena before Matchbox Twenty took to the stage I was drying off at the merchandise stand when I spotted a USB wristband with the option to download the show afterwards.

Apparently Rob Thomas and his band were pioneers of bringing the concept into a mass-merchandise market.

I don’t remember the price tag of the 2008 wristband, but I’m pretty sure it was at least £25. (Checking on Springsteen's online store to pre-order the wristband it shows £25 is how much UK fans will have to part with for their E Street wristbands.)

The show itself was excellent, partly because I was standing front row at Wembley Arena and also partly because the band were a favourite of mine some years earlier.
This wasn’t enough however for me to part with my cash for the souvenir. At the end of the day I just couldn’t justify it. 

The following year I left London's Hyde Park wishing Springsteen had the same offer going for the 2009 Hard Rock Calling concert - which would later be released on DVD. I would have happily paid a lot of money to know I could hear it again a few days later.

Today however, after seeing the incredible performances on the last tour, and not being able to make two of the upcoming 11 Australian shows, I gave in to pre-ordering a number of wristbands within hours of hearing about the announcement.

The main reason is that I’m just not satisfied by the quality of the unofficial bootlegs I’ve listened to online. And as much as I enjoy requesting rare live offerings on – which is a lot, and I urge everyone to sign up immediately – the reality is there is no better act to see, hear and be a part of live, than the E Street Band.

Some initial reactions to the announcement of the wristbands included calls it was scam by Springsteen – including one genuinely funny parody singer – but in reality it was more likely a miscalculation from his PR team who thought fans would welcome professional live recordings they have longed-for without going into enough detail about what would be available.

Then again, the amount of angry chatter between fans that greeted the original announcement leaded to much more press coverage than it would have done if people were happy about it.

So if there really was any sort of "scam" involved in the release of these live recordings, it could have been with the backlash that greeted it, and the petition set up that attracted thousands of signatures.

There's nothing like a protest to generate more publicity for a product, when you already have the desired outcome of the protestors waiting to be released. In this case, the cheaper downloads without the need for a wristband.

Which according to will come in two options for audio formats: "MP3 (320 kbps) or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). Pricing will match Pearl Jam's at $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC."

So, did I fall for the Bruce Springsteen USB wristband backlash-scam?


(But after rushing online and pre-ordering several wristbands at $45 each, and another t-shirt, I probably should have.)

Saturday, 18 January 2014

How will High Hopes shape Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s new tour?

There’s plenty of reviews out there analysing Springsteen’s latest album with average to positive ratings, along with excited and disappointed fans that it’s not an album full of new material.

After a few listens now I think it’s a great album that will a few years down the line sit nicely alongside Wrecking Ball in a much stronger, more welcome, position than how Working On A Dream sits next to Magic.

The big question is how it will influence and sit with the library of material in the upcoming tour.

Will it be the backbone of shows like Wrecking Ball on the last tour? Or will the fans reactions lead it to fade away like the aforementioned Working On A Dream during that album’s tour – where by the final shows, songs from the album were mostly dropped from setlists?

In the meantime, here’s some thoughts on the new album and how the tracks might work on the upcoming tour.

High Hopes
This song has been on my work commute play list everyday since it’s single release now. It gets an extra imaginary fist pump as I cycle through the city on a Monday morning. For me it was a highlight of the Wrecking Ball tour in Australia so I wasn’t surprised to see it get a studio release. I was only glad that they gave it the same bursting energy in the studio as they do on the stage.
I’ve never heard the previous or original version of this song so I can’t compare, but I’m fine with that. This is a great opener and will no doubt open at least one show in Australia in February.

Harry’s Place
With an intro that feels like it should be set to a montage of people living in Manhattan during the 1980s, this is a great ‘throwback’ tune. Complete with Clarence Clemon’s saxophone within the first few seconds. One of the calmer songs vocally, it’s the guitars, sax, organs and keyboards that duel on the streets in the song. A good one for the album but I’m not sure how well this will transfer to the live show. Unless Springsteen et al have an invigorating live version coming – like they did with the track Wrecking Ball – I’d be happy if it wasn’t a regular on upcoming setlists.

American Skin (41 Shots)
Already a proven live hit, this will hopefully emerge on tour a few times in all its haunting glory. Personally I don’t think the studio version adds anything to the previous live recording, but I do feel it’s one of those underrated tunes overdue a decent reception. This tour’s Land of Hope and Dreams.

Just Like Fire Would
The more I hear this tune, the more I like it. I confess to not having any idea what it was when they played it in Brisbane last year, and I don’t think it was their best performance of the tour either.
But with the added tribute of being an Aussie band’s original song, and an excellent recording from the E Street Band I’m hoping we get to see this a lot on the next tour.
The performance on Jimmy Fallon shows how much they enjoy playing it. It’s the one song on this album I can’t get out of my head for the rest of the day.

Down In The Hole
Another song that is growing on me. And another one where the music really shines along with the subtleness of the lyrics. It reminds me of a cross between I’m On Fire, Empty Sky and the original Ghost of Tom Joad. I can’t wait to see how this one is done live and hope we get to see it a few times.

Heaven’s Wall
I’m not decided on this song. The opening 25 seconds of ‘raise your hand, raise your hand, raise your hand…’ kind of grates me a bit.
Saying that, the Jimmy Fallon performance showed the band can throw it out together pretty well with an appreciative audience. Of course the guitar solos that jump in around two minutes are brilliant, and really take the track to another level. Tom Morello and Nils Lofgren could have a lot of fun with this song, even if it is sandwiched in a setlist between a few better, more memorable show stoppers.

Frankie Fell In Love
I really want to like this song. Really I do. It’s got a good beat, fits on the album well and is easy to listen to as it is to pass by.
But… I hate the lyric about the church mouse snoring. And with it being at the start of the song I just can’t get passed it. When I first heard it I stopped the song and listened to the intro again I couldn’t get my head around it. Now I listen to the whole song trying to picture what a church mouse would look like wheezing annoyingly in his sleep and it drives me insane. Just like the ‘giddy-up’ bit in Pony Boy. Or the chorus of Bobby Jean that I could happily live without ever hearing again. Seriously, why Bruce? Why?

This Is Your Sword
I don’t mind this folk, Seeger Sessions-style song, although I’m not sure how it fit on a live show. What I would like to hear however is a stripped back, acoustic version without the rest of the band, as I feel the lyrics could stand up well with a darker, intense solo performance. Saying that, if you’re with Bruce fans in a pub on St Patrick’s Day, this would be an easy one to belt out and would suit the surroundings nicely. This could easily be placed as one of those filler tracks on the tour which come round occasionally and are easily forgotten.

The Hunter of the Invisible Game
This track could easily fall into everything I just said about This Is Your Sword, except I like it a whole lot better. It’s a subtle tune that gets inside and urges the listener to slow down and reflect. Reminds me of Nothing Man from The Rising. Not sure how we’ll see on stage, but could offer Bruce a chance to recover from any crowd surfing carnage, or could simmer the audience down before busting into one of his powerful songs. Which probably explains it’s position on the album.

The Ghost of Tom Joad
After the acoustic original, this version is another track that started life as an unforgettable live song. Every Australian show had the Morello-infused version and every time it was an incredible experience. When I listen to the studio recording I’m right back there hearing the live version, waiting for that bit where Morello just lets fly on his guitar.
This is a highlight of the album, and will no doubt be a highlight of the tour again.
Until then play it loud. Very loud.

The Wall
This album’s If I Fall Behind, or to a lesser extent Brothers Under The Bridge. A slow, pensive track that Springsteen can pull off so well in a setlist full of powerful rock tracks. Could slide in nicely on during a concert, and one that would allow Jake Clemons to come down and provide an always welcome reminder that there’s Clemons air playing on the night.

Dream Baby Dream
Another cover and one of those seemingly simple songs that somehow stops you in your tracks and just hits you. The video thank you to Wrecking Ball tour fans shows how much of an emotionally charged song this can be. If played live, the way it builds up slowly will have everyone reaching for that bit of energy left inside ready to go through an entire show all over again. Could even be the new tour’s My City of Ruins.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Top 5 most exciting things about Bruce Springsteen's return to Australia in 2014

It’s been a while since I made a Springsteen list, so as fans across the country, and the world, finalise their travel plans, snap up last minute tickets and absorb all the High Hopes they can, here’s five great – and probably obvious - things to get excited about the E Street Band’s upcoming return to Australia.

1. Stevie’s back!

He missed the last tour to film the second season of Lilyhammer and now everyone’s favourite TV mobster is back to make up for his absence.
Not only a fantastic guitarist, Van Zandt is obviously a perfect partner for Springsteen up there on the stage. He’s both a joker and rabble rouser with the crowd and his charismatic presence was sorely missed – even if it did lead to Australian audiences watching a whole new magic appear with Tom Morello standing in.
In Hyde Park in 2009 I remember watching Bruce yell out: ‘Stevie what time is it?’.
To which he replied: ‘It’s curfew-breaking-Boss time!’.
Three years later I was back there in Hyde Park when the organisers were forced to pull the plug before the band could sign-off in the traditional E Street Band manner.
And it was the next show in Dublin where the pair of blood brothers showed everyone how much fun they had playing together as they took to the stage wheeling out a pretend power switch, flipped it to ‘ON’, and burst straight into Twist & Shout, the previous show’s interrupted finale.
One of the most exciting things about any Springsteen show is that you can never really know what to fully expect on the night, and Van Zandt is a big part of that.

2. Tom’s coming too

The success of Tom Morello as Steve Van Zandt’s stand in last year cannot be underestimated. You have to look no further that the tracklist on new album High Hopes to see how much of an influence he had on Springsteen and the band.
Not only for this incredible adaption of Ghost of Tom Joad, but also the power he brought to tracks High Hopes, E Street Shuffle, and Death To My Hometown were great moments in the 2013 tour.
Not to mention the way Springsteen played up to his replacement musician’s new appointment by telling everyone ‘Tommy’s shakin’ in his boots right now’… when he went to play a request for Red Headed Woman, which seemed like it hadn’t been part of the rehearsals.
Even if he only came out for Tom Joad, it would still be a highlight, but the fact that this tour will have four incredible guitarists – Morello joining Springsteen himself, Van Zandt and the formidable Nils Lofgren – we are in for some amazing performances.

3. Perth Arena

There was a public outcry when Perth was missed off the destinations last time round.
And quite rightly so. For just over a year the West Australian venue has put on some brilliant concerts and was built for shows like the E Street Band.
When it was announced he wasn’t coming in 2013 there were radio debates on lobbying the state government to fund his trip over, while many were left wondering what was the point in the new venue if it couldn’t attract the best live show in the world.
It resulted in no less than a rumoured 5,000 fans from Perth boarding flights out of WA and boosting concerts across the country. The plane home from Melbourne to Perth after the final show at Hanging Rock was full of merchandise-wearing fans who had seen Springsteen himself acknowledge their efforts for coming over with a thank you to his Perth fans.
Bon Jovi on stage at Perth Arena in December 2013.
Meanwhile hundreds of people joined Facebook campaign Bring Bruce Springsteen to Perth, which has since become an online community of ‘Perthsteens’.
The reason why it will be a highlight this time round isn’t just because he’s playing three shows there, it’s because on a good night the Arena is a spectacular venue.
Having seen several shows there in all parts of the venue, there doesn’t seem to be one seat that doesn’t have a great view of the stage, so even if you couldn’t get a standing ticket, you’ve nothing to worry about.
The location makes it easy to get to. There’s no Olympic Park to walk miles navigating like Sydney, or some weird swamp to avoid like Brisbane. As far as it stacks up against Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Allphones Arena and Rod Laver Arena that all featured on the last tour, I would say it easily the best despite not being the biggest.
(Food and beer is a bit pricey though, even for Perth prices.)

4. High Hopes

Sure the album has divided some fans and critics, particularly those who wanted a new album of original material to live the next steps of their lives to, but the new album does bring with it some exciting prospects for the next tour.
Obviously the title track and the Morello-infused Ghost of Tom Joad should get a decent blaring, but the addition of the brilliant American Skin (41 Shots) gives plenty of er…. hope… that we’ll see it performed on this tour. And having the live version out there for years we all know how haunting and powerful that can sound.

5. Eddie Vedder’s in town

The Pearl Jam singer will be touring Australia with the band for Big Day Out, and then he’s embarking on a solo tour too.
Looking at the dates of both his and Springsteen’s shows there are a couple of opportunities where they are both in the same place with time for Vedder to join his friend for a song or two.
It wouldn’t be the first time, and just recently Springsteen was photographed watching Vedder perform.
On paper at least, Vedder finished up the Big Day Out festivals in Perth on February 2. He’s then due to play Perth’s Riverside Theatre on February 7 and 8 – the nights of Springsteen’s second and third shows at Perth Arena.
That leaves the tantalising prospect that Vedder will be in town on February 5 as Springsteen kicks off the tour in Perth.
The two will also be in Melbourne at the same time as the E Street Band take over AAMI Stadium for the weekend February 15, 16. Vedder’s playing three dates in Melbourne starting on February 16, but before then he finishes his final show in Sydney on February 13.
Leaving the window of opportunity open for a guest appearance with Springsteen on Saturday, February 15.
Of course these are both long shots and probably form more of a wishlist than a guaranteed part of Springsteen’s 2014 tour. But the history these two have of supporting each other when they can is very exciting and it will be hard to believe they won’t catch up as they both tour Australia next month.
In the meantime, here’s Vedder joining the band for No Surrender in 2007… 

What have I missed?.... let me know below.