It’s the summer holidays and Netflix has got your back. Just prior to Christmas, the streaming service rolled out Springsteen on Broadway, documenting the Boss’ Broadway debut. Then on New Year’s Eve came a similarly mammoth upload, Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour, which captures the US pop heavyweight at the peak of her powers. Not sure where to begin? We’ve got you covered with a recap of each monumental event.
Springsteen on Broadway
Bruce Springsteen recently wrapped up a 14-month residency at NYC’s Walter Kerr Theatre, with his Broadway stint pitched as a rare opportunity to get a close-up look at the Boss accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar and piano. The scarcity of production details made the reported $600 ticket price seem wildly exorbitant. He’s Bruce Springsteen, sure, but could a solo performance really justify that expense?
New York locals and Springsteen tragics seemed to think so and the residency lasted 12 months longer than originally planned. Now that it’s over, the Springsteen on Broadway film gives the rest of us a chance to see what the fuss was all about.
Watching the wizened New Jersey hero alternate between descriptive, metaphor-laden monologue and descriptive, metaphor-laden song, you quickly get a sense for how special it would’ve been to experience the show in the flesh. There’s as much talking as there is playing and a lot of the spoken material will be familiar to readers of Springsteen’s Born to Run autobiography. But as compelling as the book is, Springsteen remains a more gifted orator than ink slinger.
He endears himself to the audience early on by admitting to having never acquired the requisite lifestyle experience to pen songs like ‘Racing in the Street’ and ‘Factory’. But empathy has always been one of Springsteen’s great gifts. It’s evident here not just in the storytelling, but in his distinct vocal timbre: gruff yet tuneful, not quite incendiary, but marked with comforting honesty.
As the show goes on he touches on his youthful ambitions, family bonds, the magic of live performance, the tragedy of Vietnam and the dire wave of right wing hostility resurfacing in contemporary America. Each tale leads into the succeeding song, although the songs are usually spiritual complements to the Boss’ personal stories rather than literal companion pieces.
Some of the acoustic versions don’t quite hit the mark. Springsteen upholds a volatile relationship with rhythm throughout and messes around with the melodies and phrasing of canonical entries like ‘Thunder Road’, ‘The Promised Land’ and ‘Born in the USA’. This gives you a sense of how crucial the E-Street Band has been in providing a foundation for Springsteen to attain transcendence.
But the beauty of the pared back versions lies in the increased emphasis on the words and lives that inhabit and animate Springsteen’s oeuvre. Springsteen on Broadway mightn’t bear repeated viewings – your time would be better spent delving into his back catalogue – but you’ll certainly feel uplifted by the show’s conclusion.
Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour
Perhaps you were at one of Taylor Swift’s five Australian arena shows last October/November. Maybe you were a fan of the singer’s nascent country pop tunes, but can’t get behind the ultra-now sound of her recent releases. Alternatively, you might have zero interest in the Nashville megastar’s output. Whichever it is, Reputation Stadium Tour is still worth a look.
Running from May to November 2018, Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour was the highest grossing tour in US history. Captured on the final American date of the tour, the two-hour concert film finds the singer in celebratory mode. The combative tone and contrived attitude that accompanied Swift’s sixth album, Reputation, is supplanted by an earnest performance style and regular expressions of gratitude to the audience.
The footage comes from one of two sold out nights at the 105,000-capacity AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Being authentically personable in front of a massive crowd can’t be easy and Swift’s doting monologues have a rehearsed and somewhat self-serving quality (she obviously knew the cameras were there). But the footage sheds light on how 2018’s second-highest paid woman in music maintains her superstar status and wealth.
The setlist leans heavily on 2017’s Reputation and 2014’s 1989. If you’ve come into contact with commercial broadcasting during the last five years, you’ll recognise pop radio staples ‘Blank Space’, ‘Style’, ‘Ready For It?’, ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ and a handful of others. It’s not just one big hit parade though; Swift dons an acoustic guitar for a few stripped back numbers, turning the clock all the way back to 2006’s self-titled release.
Taylor Swift isn’t the most polished or aerobically dazzling performer in contemporary pop music, but her enthusiasm can’t be questioned. This no doubt works in her favour; her somewhat erratic execution of the dance choreography enhances the image of approachability she seems intent on cultivating.
The production is as expensive as you’d imagine, boasting LCD screens, fire cannons, futuristic lighting rigs, an animatronic cobra, hordes of dancers and a band made up of a bunch of daggy old-mates. These theatrical elements form a large part of the film’s allure. If you’re not mad about Swift’s music then Reputation Stadium Tour is unlikely to flip your opinion, but it’s worth watching just to see what life looks like at the top of the pops in 2018.
Images via Netflix.