Monday, October 15, 2007

Springsteen pulls out the young guns to set stage on fire

Boss joined by indie-rock darlings

Lynn Saxberg
The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band Tuesday night, Oct. 9, 2007 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

Glancing at all the empty seats in the upper reaches of Scotiabank Place last night, one's first reaction might have been that Bruce Springsteen isn't quite as hot as he was a few years ago. But then he pulled a surprise that no one was expecting: two members of Arcade Fire joined Springsteen and the E Street Band to play two songs, one of his and one of theirs.

Arcade Fire's husband-and-wife creative core, Win Butler and RĂ©gine Chassagne, joined the Boss at the beginning of his extended encore, first playing Springsteen's Thundercrack and then Arcade Fire's Keep The Car Running.

It was a nice touch for a concert that had been a bit underwhelming thus far. Too bad there wasn't some advance warning -- more people might have shown up.

Not that it was a poor turnout. With 15,000 in the house, it was a big show for Ottawa, though well short of a sellout. In 2003, the last time Springsteen brought the E Street Band to town, they filled the stadium to its capacity of 18,000.

Of course, the 2003 performance was Springsteen's first appearance in the nation's capital in a couple of decades, and it's an understatement to say there was pent-up demand. A generation of fans had grown up without seeing the Boss in their home town, and the casual fans came out in droves to witness the power of Springsteen and his E Street Band.

This time, the sense of urgency was lacking, at least in terms of demand for tickets. Springsteen's solo tour also passed through town a couple of years ago, so last night marked the third time in four years for a Boss sighting. And it's not like it's a retirement tour -- the way things are going for the Jersey native, who turned 58 last month, it looks like he'll be working for a long time yet. The ticket price was nothing to sneeze at, either -- really, who wants to pay $130 or thereabouts to sit in the nosebleed section?

Not even the promise of some great new songs was enough to fill the place, possibly because the album, Magic, is still too new to have had a big impact, despite the multimedia marketing blitz. The disc came out Oct. 2, and between the network TV appearances, radio play and online saturation, it's been impossible to overlook the phenomenon that is the Boss.

But let's not get bogged down in the attendance numbers. The important thing last night was that the one and only Bruce Springsteen was on stage doing what he does best with the folks who matter most in his musical life, the E Street Band (which includes Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa). Most of the time, it was a blast for everyone who was there, on stage and in the crowd. Even those who shelled out their hard-earned bucks to sit behind the stage and watch the musicians' bums appeared to have a good time.

"Is anybody alive out there?" the Boss bellowed when he took the stage, just 20 minutes behind schedule. The line was from Radio Nowhere, the rocking first single from Magic and a rollicking concert-opener. The roar from the crowd told him that yes, there were plenty of warm bodies in the house and they were ready for whatever he had to throw at them. Another roar erupted for Clarence Clemons when he stepped into the spotlight to unfurl a saxophone solo.

That's one cool thing about the E Street Band -- their faces are almost as recognizable as the craggy mug of their leader.

Next to Clemons, the crowd favourites also included guitarists Nils Logfren and Stevie Van Zandt, the Sopranos mobster, drummer Max Weinberg of late-night talk-show fame, and red-haired Mrs. Springsteen on guitar and back-up vocals. Singer-violinist Soozie Tyrell also had her share of admirers. The lineup is rounded out by bassist Gary Tallent and keyboardists Danny Federici and Roy Bittan.

Dressed in black biker boots, black Levi's and a black shirt, his hair swept back, Springsteen easily slipped into his role as a hero of the common people.

In Lonesome Day, when he threw his hands in the air, his body language made it clear the crowd was to follow him, including the folks behind the stage.

A couple of slowish new songs played early in the concert proved to be among the most powerful of the night. Gypsy Biker, one of the anti-war songs from Magic, took on a fierce dimension as Van Zandt and Springsteen indulged in duelling guitar solos, while the new album's title track was stark in its simplicity, built around Springsteen on acoustic guitar.

In the convoluted introduction to Magic, the song, the Boss spoke about how we're living in times when the truth seems like lying and lying seems true. "This ain't really about magic," he said, "It's really about tricks."

As expected, Springsteen and his crew played hard and kept it real. The lighting was tasteful, with lots of blues and greens, and the bare stage was open on all sides so the rear- and side-view audiences could see.

But by stretching the set out with slower-paced songs and new material, there was a delay in delivering that glorious feeling you're supposed to get at a Springsteen show.

It took the shock of the Arcade Fire appearance -- and then a triumphant version of Born To Run -- for it to finally come.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

Radio Nowhere
The Ties That Bind
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Reason to Believe
Adam Raised a Cain
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Tougher Than the Rest
Darlington County
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
State Trooper
Keep the Car Running
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land

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