Saturday, October 29, 2005

Concert Review: Springsteen in Boston

Springsteen's solo act needs a smaller venue
By Steve Morse, Boston Globe Staff
October 29, 2005

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in concert -- raucous, celebratory, and you just know the beer taps are flowing.

A solo Springsteen show -- church-like, with seated audiences and the beer taps turned off during the program. Yes, really.

Sometimes, one has reason to believe that Springsteen can actually divide himself into two personalities. He's still touring solo these days -- he professes to love it and can find new ways to reinterpret his material -- but one has to question the wisdom of bringing this program to the arena level. Granted, he only designated half of the TD Banknorth Garden tickets for sale -- 9,000 of them, with the stage set up at mid-arena last night while he played to a curtained-off portion of the room -- but if you had seen him last spring at the Orpheum, then you know this show belongs in that size venue, not the cavernous Garden.

Last night he fought tricky acoustics, unflattering lighting, and just didn't attain the level of intimacy that this type of show demands. That said, there were still plenty of high points, many of them from his latest album, the spare ''Devils & Dust," such as the antiwar title track, the prostitute tale ''Reno," and the richly painted story of immigrant desperation, ''Matamoros Banks," which he concluded with a keening wail that has become one of his most emotional trademarks.

But some of the things that worked at the Orpheum didn't work here. His deliberately distorted vocals on a couple of tracks (this time on opener ''Idiot's Delight") were effective in the theater, but unlistenable at the echo prone Garden. The Orpheum had been a stunning, one-man, Broadway-style show with a consistent flow, but this was a more haphazard experience and some of his segues just didn't work. The worst was when he went directly from the spiritual power of ''The Rising" (and its ''sky of mercy, sky of fear" allusion to 9/11) to a hammy romp through ''Lucky Town," with its glib line, ''I wanna lose these blues I've found down in Lucky Town." Frankly, he should lose that segue.

He challenged the audience with the song list all night -- which is something every true Springsteen fan appreciates -- but he perhaps filled the set with too many obscurities this time.

He had fun with some Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano on ''You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" and added deep-catalog tunes ''Nothing Man" and ''Ain't Got You," but again, the flow was herky-jerky. He did some core tracks such as ''The River," ''Racing in the Street" (lustrously on piano), and the urgent ''Tougher Than the Rest." But after concluding with the hush of "Matamoros Banks," he appeared for the encore with a ukulele to do a zany ''Growin' Up." Of course, the song has the uproarious verse ''I took monthlong vacations in the stratosphere," so maybe the ukulele was an appropriate choice.

Yet, this was basically a mixed-impression show. Springsteen was again superb in the way he played so many stringed and keyboard instruments, but this was the kind of presentation that fit so much better in the cozier Orpheum. Period, end of thought.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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