Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: The Boss rocks the Gate City

By Parke Puterbaugh
Special to the Greensboro News & Record
Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2008 6:50 am

Credit: Nelson Kepley/News & Record
Bruce Springsteen (left) and Steven Van Zandt perform at Monday night's show at the Greensboro Coliseum.

GREENSBORO — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Monday night concert at the Greensboro Coliseum started not so much with a bang but as a respectful whimper. He introduced a filmed montage of images of the late Danny Federici, a keyboardist with the E Street Band and Springsteen's musical accomplice for 40 years.

Federici died recently after a three-year battle with melanoma. In fact, Greensboro was only the band's fifth show since his death and the loss looked to be very much on Springsteen's mind.

The show exhibited a range of moods, all of them intense, from grief to nostalgia to defiant celebration to resistance.

As images of happier, more youthful times played on the screen, Springsteen began strumming and singing "Blood Brothers," a testament to mutual loyalty, and the band quietly fell in behind him.

Having saluted their late comrade, they upped the energy and intensity and kept it high for the next two and a half hours.

The first big surprise was the second song, "Roulette," a fast and furious piece about nuclear Armageddon that was a non-album flip side and hardcore fan favorite.

He threw in a few such curveballs, including "Trapped," his contribution to the mid-1980s "USA for Africa" charity album, and "Because the Night," a song he wrote for and with Patti Smith.

Mainly, though, he offered powerful, organic live retoolings of material from "Magic," his heavily produced — some might say overproduced — album from last year.

Credit: Nelson Kepley/News & Record
Bruce Springsteen performs with Clarence "Big Man" Clemons (left) and drummer Max Weinberg (back).

It is a tribute to his forceful, energized rendering of these songs that the crowd's interest didn't flag. In fact, "Last to Die," "Long Walk Home" and "Devil's Arcade," placed late in the show, had the audience singing and rocking along with comparable enthusiasm as the more familiar vintage material he played.

In terms of older tunes, he seemed drawn to the era of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," performing that album's title tune, as well as "Badlands" and "Promised Land."

He also dusted off "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" from his very first album, now roughly 35 years old.

The band consisted of E Street regulars, including a relatively recent addition, Soozie Tyrell on violin and guitar, and an unobtrusive (and unidentified) replacement for Federici.

Notably absent was Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's wife, who has been an E Streeter since the "Tunnel of Love" tour.

It was heartening to see this long-running band, still mostly intact, playing with undiminished energy and conviction.

Especially stirring was the evident chemistry and friendship between Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt. The two of them engaged in a heated guitar dual during "Gypsy Biker," trading solos on what was the spirited high point of the show.

Saxophone player Clarence Clemons doesn't get around like he used to, moving gingerly about the stage and spending stretches actually seated on a chair. But he can still play those gritty, soulful sax solos that are his trademark.

Springsteen, however, displayed considerable limberness and athletic ability, as he swung around the anchored microphone stand like it was a lamppost and slid on his knees mid-solo.

Video screens flashed close-ups of Springsteen that left no doubt as to the intensity of his conviction and the utter lack of fabrication in his music.

The mood was bittersweet throughout, with songs like "Waiting for a Sunny Day" capturing the mood of doleful rumination and hopeful deliverance that Springsteen expresses so well.

In the end, there was a kind of redemption in the simple act of beating back the darkness with forceful songs and a genuine sense of community. Springsteen worked especially hard on this night to involve everyone in the coliseum in the experience of rising above the gravity and gloom of our world.

He ended the show with "Badlands" and encored with the formidable likes of "Backstreets," "Bobby Jean" and "Born to Run."

Miraculously, nearly 40 years down the road, he, they and maybe even us — the audience — still got plenty of life left in them.

Parke Puterbaugh is a freelance contributor.


Bruce Springsteen, shown performing earlier this year, paid tribute to E Street Band member Danny Federici on Monday.

By David Menconi, Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer
Published: Apr 30, 2008 12:00 AM Modified: Apr 30, 2008 06:52 AM

GREENSBORO - Intimations of mortality have always been a big part of Bruce Springsteen's music, but those feelings are cutting closer to the bone than ever nowadays. After weathering two deaths in the past year -- longtime Springsteen assistant Terry Magovern last July, and E Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici earlier this month -- the entire Springsteen organization is officially in mourning.

So it was fitting that Springsteen and his band all wore black onstage at Greensboro Coliseum on Monday night. It was an emotionally heavy show, and lumps began forming in throats even before anybody played a note. After the lights went down, there was a video tribute to Federici (who died from melanoma at age 58) as a recording of the song "Blood Brothers" played.

Then the lights came up, E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg began pounding out a thunderously massive beat and the show was on. The set's opening stretch was like second-stage anger of the Kubler-Ross scale, five loud, rampaging songs (including "Radio Nowhere" and "The Promised Land") on which it sounded as if Weinberg were wielding bazookas rather than drumsticks.

Three decades on, Springsteen's youthful exuberance has matured into wistfulness, which sounds more mawkish than this performance actually was. Whatever celebratory feelings were involved took the form of a wake for the departed. Now more than ever, Springsteen's rock classicism makes the point that you'd sure better make the most of your life now because it's going to end sooner than you think.

After five very intense songs, Springsteen paused long enough to swap his electric guitar for an acoustic to take on the title track to his latest album "Magic," prefaced with the toast, "Here's to the end of eight years of bad magic." That was one of several barbed political comments from Springsteen, who has endorsed presidential candidate Barack Obama (rumored to be putting in an appearance, but he never showed).

Bruce Springsteen, shown performing earlier this year with Little Steven Van Zandt, played an intense show Monday night in Greensboro.

Federici got another nice tribute a bit later when Springsteen told a few stories about his penchant for stealing keyboard accessories from hotel elevators and jukeboxes. "He had nine lives and used up about five of mine," Springsteen said with a laugh, introducing "It's Hard To Be a Saint in the City" as "for our ol' pal." Then he attacked it with enough fury to wake the dead.

Throughout the show, Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren played fantastic guitar. But there was no denying Springsteen himself as the most riveting instrumentalist onstage, sending blast after blast of guitar into the ether. He looked as if he were about to blow a gasket during "Darkness on the Edge of Town," coming down to a near-trance on "She's the One."

After a dozen songs of varying degrees of heaviness, it was time for a few midset mood-lighteners, "Mary's Place" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" -- two rather slight knockoffs, but they're perfect for singing along with. Then it was back to the program with "Devil's Arcade," "The Rising," "Last to Die" and so on. The set-closing "Badlands" was epic, ending with a gigantic drum solo that sounded powerful enough to knock down the building.

Of course, every Springsteen show can't help but conclude with triumph, thanks to "Born to Run," arguably the greatest encore song in the classic-rock canon. It wasn't the best version of "Born to Run" I've seen, or the best Springsteen show. In fact, I'd call it middle of the pack.

But middle-of-the-pack Springsteen is still better than just about anything else out there.

david.menconi@newsobserver.com or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat or (919) 829-4759.

photograph by Guy Aceto

CONCERT REPORT: http://www.backstreets.com

April 28 / Greensboro, NC / Greensboro Coliseum

Notes: The second of two Carolina shows, and here in Junior Johnson territory you probably would have gotten even money on "Cadillac Ranch" to open. Leave it to Bruce to go for the longshot odds instead: a killer opening duo of "Roulette" into "Don't Look Back." Both were tour premieres, both studio outtakes from the '70s that later turned up on Tracks, and, like "Reason to Believe" in Atlanta, both left me saying, "Okay, that's how you start a show." Charging out of the gate, they set the tone for a high-energy performance, the best of this Southern swing so far. (And as any good Southerner knows, that doesn't include Florida.)

The hushed "Magic" returned to the set after a hiatus, with Sister Soozie Tyrell's wonderful vocal duet. But then it was back to the intensity of the show's beginnings, with a mean "Gypsy Biker." In Charlotte Bruce cut this one a little short, but here it stretched out nicely with a great Bruce/Steve guitar duel. Next up was "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," sent out "for our old pal," Danny Federici. "He had nine lives, and he used up about five of mine," Springsteen laughed, also recalling Danny's habit of liberating stuff from here and there. A hilarious story about finding Danny in the hotel elevator with a screwdriver: "A towel's not good enough for him -- he's gotta take the elevator buttons!" "Saint in the City" was a blast, ending with a monster guitar/drums creschendo courtesy of Bruce and Max.

photograph by Guy Aceto

"See if we know this one," Bruce said after "Livin' in the Future" -- always a good sign. While the first strains of "Mary's Place" might have raised a few groans from those of us who tired of the protracted version from the Rising and Vote for Change tours, it proved to be a whole lot of fun. Tight, crowd way into it, nice and horn-heavy (mostly synth horns, to be clear, but more than good enough), it actually felt like a breath of fresh air tonight.

"Badlands": you better believe Clarence was right on top of his solo tonight. And after his "Roulette" rolls to start the show, Max bookended the main set with more of the how-does-he-do-it drumming madness that's now a "Badlands" highlight -- as if the song needed something else to pump your fist over.

Leading off the encore, a beautiful "Backstreets" always warms my heart, especially right down the road from the Backstreets HQ. "Ramrod" had the crowd positively roaring before Stevie declared "Boss time," but the coolest part of that one was Clarence lending Bruce his hat, Springsteen wearing it well and strutting across the stage while the Big Man wailed. Props to the Granite Falls Middle School contingent behind the stage and their enormous banner judiciously displayed: "We've busted out of class!" And on a school night, even. You got a good one, kids.

photograph by Guy Aceto

Don't Look Back
Radio Nowhere
Out in the Street
The Promised Land
Gypsy Biker
It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Because the Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
Mary's Place
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Bobby Jean
Born to Run
American Land

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