Springsteen happy to talk as well as sing about life
By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
May 9, 2005
Bruce Springsteen's episode a couple of weeks ago on VH1 Storytellers found him playing stripped- down and well-explained versions of songs new and old.
Stretch that to 21/2 hours, cut the commercials, add a 26-song set list and an even more relaxed demeanor and you have Saturday night's concert in Denver.
About one-third of the show was spine-tingling great - some of Springsteen's best songs done in definitive solo acoustic versions, ranging from the early For You to the recent The Rising.
Several songs were endurance tests for the audience's patience - mostly newer ones, but two classics were ruined by new arrangements.
The rest of the show was strong, highly enjoyable, but that's it. A friend in the audience summed it up nicely - a good show, not life-changing.
Life-changing is what Springsteen fans fervently hope for, but they're happy with simple bits of magic.
Great moments in Springsteen's live history are countless, but few can surpass the never-before trio we saw Saturday of The Promise on piano going seamlessly into My Hometown, then an acoustic-guitar version of The Rising. It was a moment topped only by his third-time-ever performance of the sublime Cautious Man.
Onstage was a man who has lived a lot of life and is happy to talk and sing about it - his hopes, his kids, his regrets, his loves.
Songs from Devils & Dust were far better live with Springsteen's comments giving them more context and meaning.
He acknowledged the toll his involvement in John Kerry's campaign cost him, including a box of broken albums with a dead chicken delivered to his house. That, however, didn't dissuade him from jokingly comparing Karl Rove to Satan at Saturday's show as he introduced his evolution-and-lust-themed song, Part Man, Part Monkey.
"You couldn't make The Flintstones today," he good-naturedly groused about the political climate. "We've come a long way, baby - and we're going back."
Yet in Jesus Was an Only Son, Springsteen spoke of sacrifice and choices, and even commented during the song (ala Storytellers) about its meaning. For a guy who says he no longer goes to church, his understanding of the sacrifice and meaning that is the basis of Christianity is impressive.
What should have been high points of the set-Reason to Believe and Johnny 99 from Nebraska - were marred by Springsteen's desire to make them sound like raw delta-blues versions. The vocals were delivered through a microphone so distorted that even diehard fans - those were the only kind that were there, really - at times couldn't figure out what he was playing.
No matter. For most fans, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear one of the world's best songwriters open up the door a bit.
• Where and when: Saturday night, Lecture Hall, Colorado Convention Center
• Grade: B
Mark Brown will discuss the Bruce Springsteen concert with Bret Saunders between 7:30 and 8 a.m. today on KBCO-FM (97.3).