Greasy Lake
Bruuuuce! Bruuuuce! Yawwnnn Yawwnnn
The Boss dazzles on some songs, but drones on others

Austin American-Statesman , 2003-03-03
By Michael Corcoran

With a solid two hours and 45 minutes of music from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, there were plenty of thrills at the Erwin Center Sunday night.

The crowd of just under 12,000 (not a sellout) spent most of the show on its feet, exploding at the instant of recognition for old faves such as "Thunder Road," "Out In the Street" and, especially, "Born To Run." Their Boss, meanwhile, gave a performance as athletic as it was passionate.

What was truly remarkable about the show, rescheduled from Nov. 6 when sax player Clarence Clemons had emergency surgery to repair a detached retina, was just how many dull stretches there were. Great songs such as "Badlands" and the new "Into the Fire" were expanded past the point of interest and lesser material, such as "Worlds Apart" ? one of 10 songs performed from "The Rising" ? was gaudily overwrought and self-indulgent.

With Clemons blowing the same big honking solo over and over and that headache machine Max Weinberg playing drums with as much soul as a metronome, the E Street Bland hardly performed like the live act of their legend. Keyboardists Danny Federici and Roy Bittan are stellar players, as is the newest E Streeter, violinist Soozie Tyrell. But their contributions could barely be distinguished in a trebley mix that seemed to divide the sound into three areas: Bruce's vocals, Max's snare and "other."

"The Rising," inspired by the Sept. 11 tragedy, is a fine album ? on the stereo at home on a rainy night. As concert fodder, however, the heavy-hearted sentiments weighed the set down. A gorgeously stark coupling of "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing" was an early highlight, however, with Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa's voices blending like shared sorrow. When the group followed with the buoyant "Waitin' On a Sunny Day," a stage-sliding Springsteen whipping the crowd into a singalong frenzy, the sequence brilliantly reflected the message of grief and resurrection at the core of Bruce's latest album. This one was going to be special. But "well enough" was like a redhead at a roadhouse and just couldn't be left alone. The group tried in vain to turn the new "Mary's Place" into a "Rosalita"-worthy workout and it came off like the second cast of "Saturday Night Live." "Countin' On a Miracle," which followed a Nils Lofgren Spanish guitar intro, was an even clearer case of overreaching, a plodding piece of lyrical redundancy in a slot that called for a lift.

I've been to Springsteen concerts where fans found any number of creative solutions to nature's call because they couldn't bear to miss a single minute. For Sunday's show, you could take a newspaper into the restroom and read Dave Barry's column without fear of something spectacular happening onstage.

Springsteen did make Austin feel like a special stop when he acknowledged his early '70s shows at the Armadillo World Headquarters while introducing "Growin' Up." He dedicated the stirringly spiritual "My City of Ruins," on which he played piano, to the Capital Area Food Bank and brought his buddy Joe Ely up to sing "All Just To Get To You," which they'd previously performed together at the Erwin Center in April 2000.

The Austin audience was the first on the 2002-2003 tour to hear Springsteen's take on "War," the old Edwin Starr song that opened the show. They were also the first on the 2002-2003 tour to realize, good-gawd-y'all, the song's pretty goofy. But Sunday's throng was also treated to a seemingly impromptu, show-closing hoedown on "Working On the Highway," which, with Ely once again aboard, was just exuberantly sloppy enough to leave a smile on the night.

The concert was supposed to end with "Dancing In the Dark" (Springsteen's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy"), which had the crowd bopping deliriously to the whiff of glory days, even as the band phoned it in and Springsteen gladhanded the lucky 300 blue wristband wearers in the pit up front.

Who says you can't start a fire without a spark?
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