The evolving Springsteen tour returns to Spectrum

Philadelphia Inquirer, 1992-12-09, by: Tom Moon
Describing a rock-and-roll performance as "professional" is usually the faintest of praise. In an idiom that values emotion above all, to be professional is to be distant, uninvolved, cold. Unless you're Bruce Springsteen. On his current marathon tour, which brought him to the Spectrum on Aug. 28 and 29 and again on Monday and Tuesday, Springsteen has consistently demonstrated the positive aspects of professionalism. Though he performed material many consider inferior to his best work, this veteran has stayed true to his code. He runs and jumps and throws himself into the crowd, and works hard to preserve his show's entertainment value. He strives to maintain high energy, even when his familiar steamrolling attack is applied to songs too wistful to qualify as anthems of redemption.

Springsteen has been surprisingly stubborn about the new material. Rather than junk the songs of Human Touch and Lucky Town in favor of his crowd-pleasing hits, he has allowed his new music to evolve: since the tour began in June, fans have heard dramatically divergent approaches to "Real World" and "Soul Driver" on different nights.

That's because Springsteen's well-rehearsed new band is able to alter and expand the recorded versions at moment's notice -- adding rich gospel harmonies that sound as if they should have been there all along, fortifying the rhythms with a tougher, street-oriented backbeat. On top of that, vocalist Bobby King has become an excellent foil for Springsteen. Whether shadowing the lead vocal or embellishing it with well-considered ad-libs, King turns the otherwise conventional "Man's Job" and "Just Another Roll of the Dice" into massive celebrations of soul.

Monday night, these selections (and others) suggested that, after months of critical browbeating, Springsteen's unshakable faith is paying off. When he opened his encore set with a deliberative "Human Touch," the crowd reacted as if he'd pulled out a long-neglected classic, and Springsteen -- with the help of his wife, Patti Scialfa -- rewarded the enthusiasm with a tender and mesmerizing interpretation. In the same way, he transformed the usually trite "Soul Driver" into a pleading, tempoless masterwork of blues inflection.

The new material was sharper and more solid than it was during his August visit, but Springsteen didn't exactly sleepwalk through his vintage stuff. He played more guitar Monday than he did early in the tour, and virtually every solo -- form the searching theme of "Prove It All Night" to the raucous riffing of "Light of Day" -- found Springsteen avoiding guitar-god cliches in favor of simple, sometimes blindingly passionate melodies.

Springsteen was in rare form between songs. He introduced "Leap of Faith" as "a diary of my own weird sexual habits," and joked that the song is his version of Madonna's "Erotica." "The book's not going to have a title," Springsteen joked, "It's just gonna say, `Fifty bucks, please.'"

The extended encore included an excellent, acoustic guitar-based reading of "Thunder Road," a similarly somber "My Beautiful Reward," and a giddy, gleefully rocking "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," for which Bruce donned an elf's hat and was joined by Santa, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and other candy-cane throwing characters.

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1992-12-07 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA