Monday, May 02, 2005

Arizona Republic: Springsteen Concert Review

Springsteen captivates Glendale crowd with acoustic show
Larry Rodgers
The Arizona Republic
May. 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Pics from Springsteen's performance

When Bruce Springsteen announced that he would perform for more than 5,000 people at Glendale Arena in the third concert of his solo acoustic tour, it raised the question: Could even a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer keep the attention of such a large crowd for a quiet show running more than two hours?

Springsteen quelled any doubts Saturday night with a brisk, masterful performance that kept the well-mannered audience mesmerized with the best storytelling songs in rock music today.
After asking for "as much quiet as I can get" at the start of the concert, Springsteen let his catalog of American tales, including a generous sampling from his strong new "Devils & Dust" album, do most of the talking in the arena for the next few hours.

With the concession stands closed during the entire performance, most members of the baby boomer-heavy crowd remained in their seats for the duration, basking in the glow of a singer-songwriter who seems to only get more talented as the decades pass.

Deftly accompanying himself on guitar, harmonica and piano, Springsteen, 55, showed that he made the right choice in seeking no backing from anyone except for a one-song visit by Scottsdale guitarist Nils Lofgren - a member of the on-hiatus E Street Band - during an encore version of "This Hard Land."

Springsteen chose to be fairly economical with his comments between songs, although he did call for "a humane immigration policy" before playing the new "Matamoros Banks," lambaste the "dinosaur" mentality of the Bush administration (before "Part Man, Part Monkey") and talk about drifting away from the Catholic church (as a prelude to the new "Jesus Was An Only Son" ), among other ramblings. He ad-libbed a "That's right" after one audience member yelled "(Expletive) the president" at one point.

His decision to keep the songs flowing left little chance for anyone to scream for "Born To Run" or "Born in the U.S.A.," but this crowd was more than willing to let Springsteen call the shots. (In fact, he played no songs from either of the huge albums named after those two hits.

Taking the stage dressed all in black, Springsteen refused to play it safe, launching into a harmonica-and-vocals take on "Reason To Believe," one of only two songs from his first solo album, 1982's "Nebraska." Stomping his boot on the stage for percussion, he sang gritty, distorted vocals through a microphone designed for his harmonica - hardly a polished start.
But he followed that tune with a flawless, engaging take on "Devils & Dust," a song written from the perspective of a confused solider hunkered down in Iraq. He breathed heavily as he delivered lines like the opening "I got my finger on the trigger / But I don't know who to trust," adding to the resignation and drama of the studio version. Extended harmonica work also fleshed out the live version.

He continued to fill the arena with plenty of sound with booming 12-string guitar on "Youngstown," from his second solo album, 1995's "The Ghost of Tom Joad." His vocals were spine-tingling, especially when he repeated the final line from the narrator, who has lost his steel-mill job: "When I die I don't want no part of heaven {ellipsis} I pray the devil comes and takes me / To stand in the fiery furnaces of hell." "Youngstown" and the bittersweet "My Best Was Never Good Enough" were the night's only selections from "Tom Joad."

"The Rising" album, Springsteen's poignant 2002 response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, got a generous nod on Saturday, starting with a 12 string-and-harmonica treatment of "Lonesome Day," which made up for the absence of the E Street Band's rocking guitar work on the original.

That album's title track, delivered with a light silhouetting the singer from behind, was well-received. But even with some crowd participation, Springsteen's attempt to transform the good-timing "Waitin' On a Sunny Day" came off half-empty, one of the evening's few missteps.
Other standouts from his latest CD included a crisp take on "Leah," which he described as inspired by how we balance "the seeds of our creativity and the seeds of our own destruction," and the upbeat "Maria's Bed," in which he playfully moved around the stage and shouted "C'mon, boys!" as he does when onstage with the E Streeters.
He nailed the cinematic "The Hitter," commenting that "I like to write songs about people whose souls are at risk," and made a strong case for making "Long Time Comin' " the second single from "Devils & Dust."

Springsteen moved behind the piano for a handful of songs, including a show-stopping version of "Racing in the Street," from 1978's "Darkness on the Edge of Town." Although the sound system, which was crystal-clear for most of the night, was cranked a bit too high for the song, Springsteen showed off improved piano skills and still-passionate vocals.

He later drew laughs as he sat at the keyboard and introduced a very rare performance of 1992's "Book of Dreams" by calling it "a song about wedding days" and adding, "I say 'days' plural, unfortunately." That referred to the fact that his current marriage to E Street singer Patti Scialfa followed a failed first try at matrimony. He also cracked up as he told the crowd that his late father once told him, "Bruce, love songs are a government plot. Their sole purpose is to get you married so you'll pay your taxes."

Springsteen made a valiant attempt at giving 1978's "Promised Land," an E Street concert favorite, a slower, more emotional feel. He tapped his acoustic guitar, pounded the strings with the palm of his hand and did some extended yodeling, but this remains a song best performed with electric guitars and Max Weinberg's drums.

He also added some yodeling to the end of a dead-on version of the new "Reno," which stirred a few murmurs with its graphic description of a lonely man's encounter with a hooker. ("If there's any kiddies out there, it might be a good time to go check out some of that fine merchandise" in the lobby, he said before the song, which mixes poetic images of better times in Mexico in with the adult language.

Springsteen and the Glendale audience both deserve congratulations for being up to the challenge of delivering and appreciating an evening of music that was rare in the increasingly formulaic and corporate world of rock and roll.

Reach Rodgers at or (602) 444-8043.

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