Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Concert Preview: Bruce Springsteen brings his 'Magic' to Mellon

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Back together with the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen will make a stop in Pittsburgh tomorrow night on the tour for their latest, "Magic."When last we saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in these parts, it was four years ago and they were bringing some actual real-live excitement to PNC Park -- even if it didn't measure up as one of the most memorable shows they've played here.

Tomorrow, Bruce and the Jersey boys return here for the fifth time this century for a sold-out show at Mellon Arena. This tour follows two he did without E Street: the magnificent "Devils & Dust" solo outing in 2005, which played the Petersen Events Center, and then the Seeger Sessions run, during which he had the nerve to skip us.

What's on his mind this time around?


Bruce and E Street offered a glimpse of what's up their sleeves when they took Manhattan on "The Today Show" on Oct. 2, the day the album was released.

Liberated from "The Rising," which put a more serious cast on the past two E Street Band tours, Springsteen and his old mates seemed to be looking to cut loose a bit more while also sending a message about the State of Union.

The 58-year-old Springsteen, who campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, has been more political than ever during the Bush administration's second term, and on "Today" he got past the network censors and took his shot at the neocons.

"This is a song called 'Livin' in the Future.' But it's really about what's happening now," he said. "Right now. It's kind of about how the things we love about America, cheeseburgers, french fries, the Yankees battlin' Boston, the Bill of Rights, v-twin motorcycles, Tim Russert's haircut, trans fats and the Jersey Shore. ... We love those things the way womenfolk love on Matt Lauer.

"But over the past six years we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of that great city New Orleans and its people, an attack on the Constitution. And the loss of our best men and women in a tragic war. This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here happening here."

With that he launched into the song, which manages to mash "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and "Cover Me" into an E Street rocker so jubilant you almost miss his message of how messed up things are.

One of things that always has drawn people to Springsteen is his romantic notion of the Promised Land right here -- whether it's that brotherhood of boardwalk life from the early records, the rewards of hard work or the engines that can take you away from it all -- and right now he's angry and outspoken about what he sees.

With "Magic," he has crafted a record that looks and sounds like vintage E Street Band, with all the exuberance that entails, but there's trouble rumbling under the surface. Obviously, lines like "we don't measure the blood we've drawn anymore/we just stack the bodies outside the door" can't help but jump out, but some of the heavy stuff is disguised, even under Beach Boys '60s pop production.

"What I try to do is I try to chart the distance between the American ideals and the American reality," he told "60 Minutes" last month. "That's how my music is laid out. It's like we've reached a point where it seems that we're so intent on protecting ourselves that we're willing to destroy the best parts of ourselves to do so."

"Magic" has been embraced by fans and critics, even more than "The Rising." It debuted at No. 1 on the charts in October and then jumped back to the top spot two weeks later. It got a five-star rave from Rolling Stone's David Fricke, who wrote, "Springsteen's songwriting here is also intricately wired with outrage and disbelief. The pain, courage and genuine love of country that he saw and felt after 9/11 and put to song with the E Street Band on 'The Rising' have gone up in flames and betrayal."

If you have tickets for the show tomorrow night, you're probably up to speed on "Magic." If not, you have one day to cram. Springsteen devotes eight songs, about one-third of the set, to the new album. The two-hour-plus show also mixes gems like "Reason to Believe," "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and "She's the One," and you can bet he's not getting out of there without turning up the lights and doing "Born to Run." Also watch out for changeups such as "Town Called Heartbreak," a song by wife and bandmate Patti Scialfa, or "Thundercrack," an "E Street Shuffle" outtake that appears on "Tracks."

Reviews from the tour that began in Hartford on Oct. 2 describe a show with a pretty serious tone until about the last half-hour, when it becomes more celebratory and, perhaps, spontaneous.

In Detroit, they were about to play "Kitty's Back" until Springsteen spotted a little kid with a sign that said "Ramrod Please." "Haven't played it in five years," he said, before leading the E Street Band in a raucous version of the roller-rink roots rocker.

If there's a song you want to hear, you might need a kid with a sign. Otherwise, you'll have to trust the Boss. By now, you know you're in good hands.

As he told Rolling Stone, "That's my business, that's what it's all about -- trying to connect to you. It comes down to trying to make people happy, feel less lonely, but also being a conduit for a dialogue about the events of the day, the issues that impact people's lives, personal and social and political and religious."

There are few, if any, artists in rock 'n' roll history who have done it better.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.
First published on November 13, 2007 at 12:00 am

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