Springsteen rises to the occasion
by Seth Rogovoy
(ALBANY, N.Y., December 16, 2002) – In the early 1970s, Bruce Springsteen built his reputation on exciting live performances that combined old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll moves, distinctive band camaraderie and an original dose of street opera. Thirty years later, those are still the primary virtues of a Springsteen concert, and based on his show at the Pepsi Arena last Friday night, there just may not be a better entertainer in rock ‘n’ roll than Bruce Springsteen.
Years ago, Springsteen found a way to patent a tight, extremely well-choreographed and dramatically paced program that still allows enough breathing room for the sort of spontaneity necessary to keep things fresh and loose. All these years later, Springsteen and the E Street Band still function within that dynamic – taking the audience on a whirlwind ride, steady on the tracks of a roller coaster yet able to veer off into places of emotional surprise.
It was a show with uncanny pacing, full of highs and lows and darkness and light, and a show that attempted to fully integrate songs from Springsteen’s latest album -- the terrific, September 11-inspired “The Rising” – with the rest of Springsteen’s catalog. With its blend of upbeat anthems and introspective ballads, “The Rising” came almost ready-made to be performed, and in large part Springsteen succeeded in juxtaposing his new material with older favorites and obscurities, even finding new resonances in some of the older material.
The full E Street Band came out swinging on the title track to “The Rising,” led by newest member, Soozie Tyrell, who laid down a bed of violin atop which the band built the anthem of rebirth and resurrection. They segued dramatically into “Lonesome Day,” with its reassuring chorus of “It’s all right, it’s all right,” and then ran right into older arena favorites including “The Ties That Bind” and “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” before Springsteen counted down “1-2-3-4!” and brought the thundering opening section to a close with the vintage rock-operetta, “Night,” from the landmark “Born to Run” album.
Springsteen then asked the sold-out arena for quiet, and brought the energy and focus inward for “Empty Sky” and “You’re Missing,” two poignant ballads of post-9/11 anguish. Springsteen, who after warming up was of terrific voice the rest of the night, then connected these contemporary songs to his classic “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” thereby giving that ode of gloom and uncertainty newfound resonance.
Not that this was a brood-fest. Springsteen lightened the mood literally with “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” which found him interacting with the audience and successfully completing the first of what would be several fully executed baseball slides across the lip of the stage. Not bad for a 53-year-old.
The show continued in that vein, with darkness – “Worlds Apart,” “Badlands,” “She’s the One” – alternating with light – “Mary’s Place,” “Countin’ on a Miracle.” The E Street Band was limber and loose, and now with several of them – including guitarist Steven Van Zandt and drummer Max Weinberg -- having achieved full-fledged celebrity on their own through their roles on TV’s “The Sopranos” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” respectively, there was an enhanced sense of shared wealth among them.
After several encores, which included a fully-reclaimed “Born in the U.S.A.” that Springsteen called “a prayer for peace,” and a rare stint at piano on “My City of Ruins,” which he dedicated to local food banks, the band was about to call it quits when one by one they were pelted with Santa hats. “Hint, hint, hint – is there something you want to hear?” Springsteen said coyly, before calling the band back for a glorious version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”
And just when they thought they were out, he dragged them back in for an impromptu, clearly unrehearsed version of Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” which had Springsteen shouting out the key changes to the band. They could have been at a seaside joint in Asbury Park playing one last dance tune before closing. That they were playing for 18,000 fans – who reportedly bought up all the seats in a record-setting half-hour – was for all intents and purposes an illusion.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Dec. 17, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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