Bruce Springsteen Challenges America At His Intimate SXSW Gig
Ewan Spence, Contributor; Writing at the cross-section of technology, media and human naturel, Forbes Magazine
I remember my first Sony Walkman experience. It was a bright yellow cassette player that belonged to my Aunt, and she let me listen to it while lying on the beach during a family holiday in Majorca. The album in the Walkman? Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Darkness at the Edge of Town.’
I’ve been a fan of The Boss ever since.
Once his keynote was announced by the SXSW Music organizers, the question of him playing was on the minds of everyone. A public raffle of the tickets was put in place to stop the scalpers, and somewhere the Lady Luck of music pulled my name out of the hat for The Boss’ intimate gig at Austin City Limits.
His latest album, ‘Wrecking Ball,’ has debuted at number one in the US charts, so I had an expectation of hearing the new material on stage ahead of the World Tour that starts in the near future, but surely there would be a classic or two in the mix.
We didn’t have to wait long, as Springsteen opened with… Woody Guthrie’s ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ followed by the lead track from ‘Wrecking Ball’, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own.’ Springsteen might be thought of as a bit of stadium rock bby some, but they need to listen a bit more. This was music with a message, with an almost evangelical power coming from the stage, and he was reminding us of that from the start.
And then he lit up Moody Hall with ‘Badlands’… as if to challenge us to ask what’s changed in America since 1978?
This was three hours of Springsteen and his reworked E Street Band approaching their best. In the greatest SXSW Music tradition, it was still rusty, it was only the second full performance, and this is undoubtedly going to be a touch slicker when it goes on tour, but the heart was there, his mission was on the very surface, with strong challenges to society under the exquisite performance. This was raw emotion from one of America’s great voices.
Perhaps I understand ‘Badlands’ more now than the eight year old on the shoes of the Mediterranean, but I can still hear the passion that burns inside The E Street Band and their front-man that entranced me all those years ago.
Once the concert set-list had been worked through, it was time for some fun. Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello had been popping on stage throughout the night (including a mesmerizing turn for ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’), and then Springsteen brought on Jimmy Cliff for a bit of ‘Harder they Fall’, Eric Burdon of The Animals with ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’, before crowding the stage at Moody Hall with everyone returning (including the support acts of Alejandro Escovedo, and The Low Anthem) for a roof-raising rendition of ‘This Land is Your Land.’ With a touch over two thousand people in the audience joining in, one of the most intimate gigs of Springsteen’s career punched a defiant ending.
The night may have been topped and tailed with Woody Guthrie, but I think in doing that, Springsteen not only acknowledged his roots and heroes, but also recognised that the torch has been passed to him. Throughout the decades, when America needed a voice, The Boss was there. And in case the country forgot, the Wrecking Ball album and tour are going to remind then.
And I can’t think of a better standard bearer than the boy from New Jersey.