Uke Springsteen – Nebraska & The Hits

Uke Springsteen Nebraska Adelaide Fringe 2024

Adelaide Fringe. Ben Roberts. Grace Emily Hotel. 29 Feb 2024


During this performance, Ben Roberts notes that he primarily performs original music, and that you won’t usually find him performing covers outside the Fringe. But occasionally, he enjoys a deep dive into his favourite albums, and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is one of these.


The audience on this night is clearly happy that he has decided to showcase this album; bar for enthusiastic applause at the end of each song, the intimate space of the Grace Emily is almost pin-drop quiet during the performance.


Nebraska is an oddity in Springsteen’s career, it was made in 1982 post the incredibly successful ‘The River’ tour. As Roberts explains, he recorded a bunch of songs on a four-track recorder, playing all the instruments, including backing vocals. But when he took it to the E-Street band, they pushed most of it back and told him to release it himself. The result is this stripped back, raw collection of songs, with the title song a re-telling of the Badlands killing spree of Charlie Starweather, when 11 people were murdered by Charlie and his 14 year old girlfriend. Roberts added laconically that the death toll would grow exponentially by the show’s end.


Roberts presented this show for the first time in 2023, and for this production he’s gone beyond Nebraska and added some favourites from the Springsteen canon. He opens with Factory from Darkness On The Edge Of Town, which reflects the bleak despair of the elder Springsteen’s working life, a theme to be returned to on Nebraska.


The title song follows, then Atlantic City gets an almost hoedown treatment in parts, with Roberts demonstrating his virtuosity on the ukulele, pulling sounds that non-uke fans would find surprising and quite remarkable. After Mansion On The Hill, which again has Springsteen directing his gaze to the gulf between the haves and have-nots, Roberts brings out I’m On Fire (Born In The USA) before diving back to Nebraska and upping the body count with Johnny 99 and Highway Patrolman. Some very fancy fretwork comes with State Trooper, and the audience members applaud as he starts into the oh-so-familiar but stripped back Dancing In The Dark.


While the added songs inject a bit of light into the dark stories that are Nebraska, it is still the songs from that album that cut the deepest, and Roberts has developed this production into a masterful performance. A minor quibble is the sound where the bass is too loud at times, vibrating through the (thankfully provided) chair, but as a one man band, Ben Roberts presents a brilliant performance of storytelling, songs and impresario uke playing. What a deep dive.


Arna Eyers-White


When: 29 Feb to 14 Mar

Where: Grace Emily Hotel