Last night, we caught the Bruce Springsteen Show at Seattle's Key Arena. Simply put, he remains the once and future Boss. More than anything, a Springsteen performance at its best is a sacramental rite in which he confers the blessings of rock and roll on the true faithful. In that respect Saturday's show was quintessential Springsteen: From the opening strains of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" to the closing encore of the Pogues-like "American Land" he rocked, pled, seduced, and communed with us, drawing on the fervency of his fans to fuel each song.
Unlike just about any other rock act, Springsteen demands the involvement of his audience as a condition for a great show. And last night, he got it. Women swooned and girls clutched at his ankles. Men raised their fists in solidarity. Everyone danced and sang. At 58, Springsteen remains a marvel of athleticism, energy, drive, and involvement. He exacts at least the last three from the crowd, transforming the base metals of the individual into an alchemy of joy and community. As the man said, it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.
I went to the show unsure of what to expect. Magic, his new CD, did not especially impress me. However, loosed from the shackles of Brendan O'Brien's production, the new material meshed seamlessly with old favorites and rarities. "Magic" became a poignant folk song supported by Springsteen's acoustic guitar and Soozie Tyrell's violin. "Last To Die" received the passion it deserves. The anthemic qualities of "Radio Nowhere" shone.
Springsteen also demonstrated his ability to recast old songs. After the Boss introduced "Reason To Believe" with a dissonant harmonica solo, Little Steven Van Zandt joined in with a John Lee Hooker boogie rhythm, and Springsteen finished off with a weirdly distorted vocal. In the process, this somber number from Nebraska became an anthem of defiance. Moreover, he infused old warhorses like "Rosalita" and "Born To Run" with unexpected freshness. (At one point during BTR, he held out his guitar so that the fans by the stage could strum it.)
The E Street Band seemed much more integrated into the show than in past tours. Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Nils Lofgren traded leads, dueled and duetted. Clarence Clemons stepped forth for more sax solos than I've seen in a while. Tyrell's violin served as a featured instrument rather than part of the mix. Backing them all, of course, was the brilliant rhythm section of Max Weinberg, Garry W. Tallent, Roy Bittan, and new member Charlie Giordano.
I've been going to Bruce Springsteen concerts since 1975. For ten years, his audience grew, reaching its peak in 1985 when the mondo Born In The USA tour packed stadiums around the world. His audience has aged with him, although there was no shortage last night of parents and children, and at least one instance of what looked like a grandfather and grandson. Springsteen's music at time has shown a great and unprecedented artistic maturity. He has wedded the personal to the political like no one ever has. He's also made some questionable moves. But always, he gives you reason to believe.
Reason to Believe
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Your Own Worst Enemy
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Born to Run
Backstreets.com review here. Photos courtesy Backstreets.com.
Seattle Times review here, along with a link to photos.
Finally, for the last word from me on Bruce Springsteen, here's an essay I wrote upon the release of Magic.
"American Land," 10/7/07
Click on the image for a large version. For more, see www.tomthedancingbug.com