Report: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live At Bellville Velodrome

Watch an exclusive clip of the band sound checking with "Heaven's Wall"

By Alice Inggs
Monday, 27 January 2014 18:48
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen
Desmond Louw

Well, the past couple of years in South Africa may not have inspired much in the way of ecstatic discourse among the tale-tellers of the wider world – a massacre of mineworkers; countrywide protests; government corruption and Nelson Mandela, the man we wanted to live forever, is not long in his grave. But is there really "trouble in the heartland"? "Darkness at the edge of town"? Almost three decades after taking part in Artists Against Apartheid, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band literally picked up where they'd left off in 1985, playing a cover of The Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela" to a packed-out audience at Cape Town's Bellville Velodrome.

Has so little changed?

B.S. doesn't BS about the disillusionment and general despair of New Jersey (his hometown), so why should he do anything different regarding South Africa? Though his Capetonian fans salivated like hungry shoppers at an overstuffed Christmas window for the plump, juicy stadium anthems; the elsewhere mythic cowboy road epics, Bruce shut that door in their faces. Instead, he handed out scraps of material from his new album (High Hopes, out now), while playing through a setlist that read like old South African newspaper headlines: "Free Nelson Mandela", "Badlands", "Death to My Hometown", "Out in the Street", "High Hopes", "Hungry Heart", "Pay Me My Money Down" (originally a stevedor working song), "Atlantic City", "Waitin' on a Sunny Day", "The Rising", "Land of Hope and Dreams", "We Are Alive" (which Bruce specifically dedicated to Mandela).

A setlist tailored to the political concerns of the country? Ah, well, maybe that's a bit farfetched. What was calculated, though, was the cultivated array of Bruces on show. There's a Springsteen for all seasons, a Bruce for all types. Whether doing some magic mic-style (dirty) dancing in the dark during the crackers maracas shake-up and Tom Morello's free-wheeling Nitro Circus guitar stunts in "High Hopes"; or standing spotlit and alone with a harmonica, conjuring a vocal campfire glow with "The Ghost of Tom Joad", Springsteen was on top form. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" introduced 'Rod Stewart Bruce' (still sexy at 64); while "Spirit in the Night" began with 'Baptist Minister Bruce' calling for a witness.

During these transformations, it became increasingly easy to understand the Boss's broad music appeal: the mythic cowboy odes, the stadium anthems, the 1950s Everly Brothers roller diner twists, the teen love songs, the Irish immigrant nostalgic jigs, the jazzy hammering of the ivories, the buoyant sax (as if floating from tenement windows), the NYC street music of dustbin drums and pans as cymbals... If you like Van Morrison's balladeering, you'll like Bruce. If you like power chord rock, you'll like Bruce. If you like the sound of the city, you'll like Bruce. Hell, if you like almost anything, you'll like Bruce. It's music (plural) fronted by a sexy (but not too pretty) all-American male in tight ass Levis and leather boots, the everyman in whose hand a plastic jug of cheap beer doesn't look out of place (much to the delight of a mostly Rugby-supporting audience).

What's not to like?

You can get away with a lot, looking and sounding like Springsteen. Although mostly ignoring audience members' cardboard sign requests to which the camera repeatedly panned – "Jersey Gipsy", "Thundercrack", "Downbound Train", as well as an old couple with a scrap of paper that simply said "Fire" – Bruce's connection with the crowd was electric. At one point during "Spirit in the Night", he stooped to kiss an ecstatic blonde (her boyfriend simply shrugged – hey, "the night belongs to lovers" after all). Running around the Golden Circle, he paused to stand in his signature looking-over-one-shoulder stance to wink at the cheap seats. "Like a Boss" as they say nowadays.

In the last minutes of the show, as "Sunday night ran to Monday morning", as it were, Springsteen and the E Street Band brought the performance to an exclamatory end.

"Born in the USA"! "Born to Run"! "Dancing in the Dark"! "Thunder Road"!

So, was there a message in the performance for South Africa? During the show, Springsteen had spoken about similarities: how the Cape Town venue looked so similar to Asbury Park. "I came 8000 miles to play Convention Hall," he laughed. Like the word he used to describe his latest album in a recent RS interview, South Africa is a political and social "anomaly". And thus a fitting place to start his latest world tour: beginning a new chapter in their epic music career, Springsteen and the E Street Band send Greetings from Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town.

Full Set-list

Nelson Mandela (The Special A.K.A. cover) (Live debut)


Death to My Hometown Out in the Street

High Hopes (The Havalinas cover)

Spirit in the Night

Hungry Heart

The River

Heaven's Wall

Atlantic City

Johnny 99

Pay Me My Money Down (The Weavers cover)

American Skin (41 Shots)

Because the Night 

Darlington County

Shackled and Drawn

Waitin' on a Sunny Day

The Rising

The Ghost of Tom Joad (w/ Tom Morello on Shared Lead Vocals)

Land of Hope and Dreams


We Are Alive (w/ Nelson Mandela dedication)

Born in the U.S.A.

Born to Run

Dancing in the Dark

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)

Encore 2:

Thunder Road (Acoustic)

[Scroll down to see the full band sound checking with "Heaven's Wall".]


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