Friday, November 16, 2007

Bruuuuce Almighty

Jon Pareles, in his recent NY Times review of one of Bruce Springsteen's nights in New York, and J. Freedom du Lac, reporting on the first DC night in the Washington Post, had it just about right. The crowd is always in there with the singer, singing along joyfully, (not for the first time nor will "this be for the last time") while Springsteen bumps, grinds, and sings in constant motion about a world that can try to beat down the hopes and dreams of the individual man, and betray the promise of the nation, America.

And Bruce seems especially angry these days about the politics of today--introducing the title song of his new album, “Magic,” with a comment about our “Orwellian times”--“what’s true can be made to seem like a lie, and what’s lying can be made to seem true.” Yet, he also seems playful and hopeful, singing "it's all right, it's all right, it's all right, yeah" in the chorus of "Lonesome Day," as he and his longtime home team, the tight nine-piece E Street Band surges past the disillusionment, the losses, the bewilderment, and the bitterness in the verses to the greater hopes of the American dream.

It's concert time in the first of two nights in the nation's capital, DC, and Bruce seems to have a special twinkle in his eyes, and sparkle in his voice for being in DC. He's "[s]o glad to be in your wicked--I mean, your beautiful city tonight." "Hey, this is where it happens! This is the City of Magic!" While he is not shy about mentioning the successes, and especially the failures of the capital city, Bruce and his band of merry men and women are there "tonight to do something about it! We're going to sing about it. We're musicians. It's a start."

And it is a start, with the goal and guiding principle of the performance calculated high--to deliver salvation and hope through song. And for a night, it does, as Bruce forges a special bond with his audience--each audience a new group to win over.

Bruce is the embodiment of vitality at the ripe young/old age of 58, belting out a continuous two-plus-hour, 24-song set that includes some of his greatest hits ("Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Badlands") and is heavy on songs from "Magic," his new album whose central figures are filled with angst, and isolation, alienation and disillusionment. I have frequently felt that Bruce's songs often sound very similar, but on this night, he even used that to his advantage. He played similar sounding songs together, and one flowed into another seamlessly and effectively.

The music is rooted in the grounds of American folk music; the nightime doo wop sounds of the street corners of the Bronx, or the boardwalks of Asbury Park; and in the glorious pop sound of the mid-town Manhattan Brill Building and in NY/LA Phil Spector's Wallll of Sounddd. The song have echoes in the glory days of the early rock ’n’ roll of the Elvis era and the post-World War II America that was invincible--prosperous, confident and outwardly unified. They move right through the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam era, when everything was being questioned, and land in the terror-threatened days of today—when there is still that ever present hope of a optimistic nation that refuses to stay down. The music may have been shaped elsewhere, but it comes straight from the hard working heart of Mr. Springsteen.

The night is borrowed and revived from the early rock and roll tours, including Springsteen's barnstorming live shows of the early 1970s, and the music itself harbors no doubts, no second thoughts. Even a quiet and stark song from bleak, "Nebraska" days, "Reason to Believe," is revitalized into an upbeat, harmonica-huffing, John Lee Hooker-style boogie, bluesy stomp.

But no matter what the song, they are tightly drawn through the saxophone-solos of the heart and soul of the group, Clarence Clemons, the tight, straight to-the-beat drumming of Max Weinberg, the background singing of wife Patti Scialfa, the bass of Gary Tallent, the keyboard chords of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, the fiddling of Soozie Tyrell, the triple-barreled guitar work of Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and Mr. Springsteen, and of course, the tireless vocals of the lead man, himself, Bruce. And when the band pauses, the audience sings at pretty good volume, and all burdens, all misgivings, and all loneliness are cast off once again for the hopes of tomorrow.

P.S. Some of my friends quibble that Bruce is nothing like he was in the early days when he used to do four hour shows, and move about the stage and up into the light towers, but for now, this will do just fine.

For the real reviews go to


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