All alone, Springsteen gives life and voice to his tales
Jon Bream, Star Tribune
May 11, 2005
It was the same singer with his guitar in the same room.
In October, Bruce Springsteen gave a galvanizing, urgent and unforgettable concert at the Xcel Energy Center as part of the Vote for Change campaign. On Tuesday, he returned to the sold-out arena without his E Street Band and big-name opening acts. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica, Springsteen gave a performance that was similarly potent to his October event.
With R.E.M., John Fogerty or Neil Young sitting in, Springsteen was purposeful and electrifying, but without them on Tuesday he was somber, pensive and absorbing. Before he played a note, the Boss made some announcements demanding a special decorum: Turn off your cell phones and don't clap along because my timing is already somewhat tenuous.
This was Springsteen the troubadour, not the rocker, playing his second solo tour, his first since 1995-96. Unlike October, there weren't nonstop political plugs. He did make a couple of pointed remarks, slamming the president before singing the sarcastic "Part Man, Part Monkey" and calling for a "humane immigration policy" before "Matamoros Banks."
The vast majority of the songs had humanism as their core. He dedicated the encore, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," to slain St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick, based on a letter sent backstage.
Springsteen offered stripped-down, sometimes tuneless ballads and soft-as-a-whisper stories about desperation and desolation. It takes a committed crowd to appreciate and absorb such soft, contemplative material in a hockey arena, set up to half its usual capacity. And the 7,996 fans clearly appreciated the artfulness of the evening.
Springsteen challenged the faithful from the get-go, opening with a hymnlike rendition of "My Beautiful Reward" on harmonium, followed by "Reason to Believe" with his vocals sung through his harmonica microphone, making it sound like Tom Waits channeling Howlin' Wolf to a Muddy Waters beat and ultimately coming off as indecipherable as Bob Dylan.
Although this 2 hour, 20-minute, 25-song concert may not have been as fulfilling as his part purposeful, part playful 1996 solo show at the smaller, more intimate Northrop Auditorium, this one had more varied voices (including a wailing falsetto) and textures (though the synthesizer played by an unseen technician on a few "Devils & Dust" songs was distracting). The minimalist lighting (lots of backlit spots on the Boss) added to the mood of the music.
But what elevated the evening -- as it does at every Springsteen show -- were the spoken introductions to the songs. He explained how his mother and father had divergent views on the value of love songs and how Roy Orbison could make a song about windsurfing, of all things, beautiful.
In this graceful setting on Tuesday, it was clear that with Springsteen, whether in song or conversation, whether loud or soft, it's the storytelling that produces beautiful rewards.
Jon Bream is at 612-673-1719 or firstname.lastname@example.org.