Springsteen Rouses His Faithful With Energetic Spirit and Song

Atlanta Constitution, 1992-12, by: Steve Dollar
As much of a collective American middle-class experience as a visit to the mall or a Little League game, a Bruce Springsteen concert also is an act of affirmation. His construction-worker pectorals and denim-clad rear still firm at 42, the vocalist and songwriter reinforces sturdy values in the face of despair and betrayal, aiming to shore up the spirit of the common guy with hymns to perseverance and anthems to risky leaps into the breach.

Monday at The Omni, Mr. Springsteen played that familiar persona to the hilt, working a capacity audience of 17,000 with the dramatic gestures of an ecstatic prairie boomtown evangelist and the seen-it-all savvy of a soul survivor. Mr. Springsteen's charismatic edge, and the contagious good spirits of his mostly new nine-piece band, helped to redeem and reinvigorate the often insular and timid tone of his recent material--songs drawn from the singer's two new albums, "Lucky Town" and "Human Touch." Though the new tunes were balanced by generous performances of classic Boss--from a brooding "Darkness on the Edge of Town" to a swaggering "Cover Me"--it was clear that Mr. Springsteen has little interest in reliving his glory days. Once a scraggly street-poet whose surreal story-songs rambled on Dylanesque flights of fancy, then rock 'n' roll's much-ballyhooed savior, later a pumped-up pop icon whose ironic anthems were misappropriated by Madison Avenue, the performer has finally eased into a new role: the rock god as Dad.

"One day you look down and you got the future pissing on your leg," Mr. Springsteen declared in one of his folksier asides, introducing his romantic ballad "If I Should Fall Behind" with chuckling anecdotes about his two children with second wife and vocalist Patti Scialfa. Then, broadening his scope from the personal to the national, he dedicated the song to President-elect Bill Clinton, an embracing gesture that prompted boos from half the audience--or was it that peculiarly bovine lowing of fans enunciating "Broooooooce"?

No matter, the constituency belonged to Mr. Springsteen, whose 3 1/2 hour plus performance remains one of modern culture's singularly remarkable feats. Perhaps the last honest man in the arena-rock business, the singer appears to be genuinely inexhaustible, his perpetually hoarse but never ragged voice awash in phlegm and adrenalin.

Though fans bemoan the absence of Mr. Springsteen's beloved E Street Band, the performer has smartly surrounded himself with capable new musicians. He's swapped the boy's club boisterousness of the departed E Streeters for a more eclectic, soulful vibe. Five backup singers supply a gospel feel that, the biblical imagery that pervades many of his songs aside, has previously eluded him. It's a tactic that allows mid-tempo tunes such as "Man's Job' and "Roll of the Dice" to blossom into full-throated, R&B-drenched show-stoppers, powered by vocalist Bobby King's hip-swaying range and keyboardist Roy Bittan's encyclopedia of sound. Mr. Bittan, an E Street veteran, evoked funk-house ripples and sacred processionals, but was most powerfully effective in atmospheric duets with Mr. Springsteen, especially the sad-but-wiser "Big Muddy"--like several of the new tunes, a seeming kiss-off to the singer's ex-wife, Julianne Phillips.

Reaching from deep bass to quivering falsetto, the muscular Mr. King looked like Aaron Neville's long-lost arm-wrestling partner and sang like it, too, while guitarist-percussionist Crystal Tallefero belted out deep-lunged wails to match '60s soul-shouter Merry Clayton (best-known for the apocalyptic opening cry on the Rolling Stones's "Gimme Shelter").

As the concert stretched toward midnight, Mr. Springsteen never lost command. If anything, the singer's current tour insists that as long as he's the Boss, he's going to continue to call his own shots. The variables of age and lifestyle are a given, but the once-and-future Jersey boy can still pull it off like no one else.

Notes

Topic

1992-11-30 The Omni, Altanta, GA