The crowd was becoming boisterous as they waited for The Boss. Only his appearance would silence them. And it did. Then he sang the song that's become our national anthem, and it took a moment to click. Is he? Is that? It was.
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And then the audience was awash in golden light and signs went up and hands reached out to him and he looked like he would have touched every one if he could have. Bruce Springsteen is an old school rocker, we all know that, but he seems like a nice guy, too. One who loves his fans.
When a grey-haired woman was assisted on to the stage to boogie with Springsteen and the E Street Band late into the set, the crowd collectively went "Awwww".
Beverly Hanly, 67, was one of a handful of concertgoers to be handpicked by Springsteen to jump up on stage for five minutes of fame in front of the 40,000-strong crowd. After the show, she was somewhat of a celebrity herself.
"It feels like I've been blessed," she said. "I don't know what could be better."
Hanly can't count the number of Springsteen shows she's been to. That many. She's from San Francisco, has followed him round Australia and now New Zealand, and she's been chosen by the rocker once before to get up on the stage, in Dublin, 2012.
It's not just a weird stroke of luck. Extreme Springsteen fans have a roll call for every gig. Someone is put in charge of running the line that gathers before a concert - we're talking 7am, or earlier - and there are frequent roll calls to check the dedication of its members as they wait for the show. If your name is called and you miss it, you're crossed out. Before the show, Springsteen's security guards file the queue into the venue and they take their places. Last night, Hanly was number 18 out of 300 queue-ers.
"He's the only performer on the planet who is worth going to that much trouble for. He gives everything he's got. He's just so generous."
Springsteen peaked as a rocker before the days of the Beliebers and the Little Monsters, but his fans are hardcore. His music seems to float above the decades as he rolls in hit records, and his fans stay with him and seem just as devoted.
You look out at the crowd of middle class, mainly white folk, the Jimmy Barnes fans, the radio Hauraki and The Rock listeners, the well kept women and the rounded men. Many arrive in tidy jeans and check shirts, holding a beer in one arm and waving the other out to the front. "That's a f***ing good song, that one," one said after I'm on Fire. Another waved at a pretty blonde girl and got no response. "You're not on the North Shore now, sweetheart," he yelled after her, shaking his head.
New fans, too. Young ones that arrive in groups wearing Aviator glasses and red bandanas as a nod to the Born in the USA tour of the '80s, before many of them were born. Perhaps they came on board after his 18th album, High Hopes, was released last year, but it's more likely they got hooked on their parents' CDs and have as much claim to Springsteen as the oldies.
Everyone came together for the hit songs, united in their love for a good chorus.
They belted Born in the USA like they were born in the USA, and oo-oo-oo I'm fire, and You can't start a fire, you can't start a fire without a spark ... and when Springsteen dedicated My Hometown to the people of Christchurch, the crowd united in one of its loudest singalongs.
The band was a hit but Springsteen was the star. His voice is a combination of many things: strong, broken, pure and sexy, and it sounded as good as it ever has. His ability to sustain an impressive level of energy without pause for such a lengthy show was impressive by anyone's standard. He left promising another memorable show tonight. Who knows if he'll play Born in the USA cover to cover again, or his acoustic version of Royals? He's well known for his surprise factor. The only givens are that the diehard fans will be queuing early, and that regardless of his set list, Bruce Springsteen is and will always be The Boss.
- Fairfax Media
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