Boss's glory days far from over
Montreal Gazette, 2003-04-21, by: Brendan Kelly
Almost 20,000 get their fix of magic Springsteen's marathon was reminder that his albums can't replace the live experience
It's easy to forget how life-affirming, inspirational and just plain exciting a Bruce Springsteen show can be, especially when The Boss and the E Street Band hadn't headlined a full concert here in nearly 20 years before last weekend. But it didn't take long for Springsteen and his cohorts to remind us Saturday night at a sold-out Bell Centre, jam-packed with 19,600 fans in desperate need of a fix of that old Bruce magic.
It only took minutes to remember why a visit from Bruce and the boys (and girls) is such a big deal. The epiphany came about halfway through The Promised Land, the first song, when giant Clarence Clemons stepped up and blew the place apart with his first big sax solo, followed by Springsteen wailing away on the harp. With Springsteen, maybe more than any other rocker, the albums are one thing (and make no mistake, there are at least two or three bona-fide masterpieces in the oeuvre), but it's the live experience that defines him.
At 53, he's still proving it all night (even if he didn't actually play Prove It All Night) with a marathon that lasted almost three hours. And just like way back in 1978 with his first arena show here, he does it the old-fashioned way: with lots of hard work, more sweat than most professional hockey players generate after 60 minutes on the ice, and an uncanny ability to channel the spirits of Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, combining them into one absolutely unique stage persona.
With The Promised Land still ringing in our ears, Springsteen and the band - anchored by Max Weinberg's mighty drumming - powered through The Rising, the singer's rocking ode to the doomed firefighters battling the blaze on Sept. 11, 2001. With Lonesome Day, Springsteen made his first of many runs to the back of the stage to make sure the folks in the worst seats in the house got something approximating their money's worth.
Then he brought things right down by asking for a little quiet before an acoustic take on the poignant 9/11 ballad Empty Sky, accompanied only by Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. Soon after, Waitin' on a Sunny Day provided the first of several full-arena sing-alongs, and folks went even wilder when Springsteen slid across the stage on his knees.
Most of the songs from last year's The Rising came to life with more force than on record, with the exception of the Middle Eastern-flavoured Worlds Apart. However, the sound was surprisingly muddy for much of the first half of the show - something you don't expect from a perfectionist like Springsteen.
It was a real pleasure watching the interplay between Springsteen and lead guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who was sporting, as always, his trademark bandanna. They're the dynamic duo that lead the band, both musically and visually, and you can understand why Springsteen was so desperate to convince the reluctant Van Zandt (who now has a day job starring on The Sopranos) to make room in his schedule for the E Street Band reunion. One of the night's most memorable moments was the comic routine just before the final number, when Springsteen, Van Zandt and Clemons hammed it up as if trying to decide whether the fans were enthusiastic enough to get one last song.
My City of Ruins, which Springsteen has been dedicating to the people of Baghdad, was dedicated to the Moisson Montreal food bank, and it was a haunting version, starting with Springsteen solo at the piano. In turn he said Land of Hope and Dreams, the penultimate song, was for "the peace and security of the Iraqi people." The evening ended on a high note with a joyous, rocking run through Dancing in the Dark that had almost everyone in the stands making dancing fools of themselves under the bright floodlights. It was a cathartic moment that perfectly capped a night every bit as moving as Springsteen's shows 25 years ago.
Top 5 Moments
Highlights from Saturday's Bell Centre concert:
1. Badlands. This was chills-up-your-spine stuff, with Steven Van Zandt whipping off the track's great guitar solo with way more power than the original and sax man Clarence Clemons making the case that there is no E Street Band without the Big Man.
2. Mary's Place. The best song from The Rising might also have been the song of the night. This is Springsteen's 21st-century version of Rosalita, a heartfelt anthem about keeping the faith under the worst of circumstances. It rates as a highlight for Springsteen's band-member introductions alone, notably "my personal saviour, Ms. Patti Scialfa" (which he followed with some hilarious Elvis-like hip-swivelling and the classic quip "She may be playing it cool now but this works at home"), and "the emperor of all Canada ... you wish you could be like him, but you can't ... Mr. Clarence Clemons."
3. Incident on 57th Street. This was a to-die-for moment, simply because Springsteen was playing Incident on 57th Street. That's right, the epic romantic street drama from Side 2 of 1973's The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, arguably his greatest album. With Springsteen solo at the piano, softly singing "Good night, it's all right Jane." Perfect.
4. Hungry Heart. The first encore, the whole joint shouting along ... what's not to like? A reminder that this Motown-esque tune, Springsteen's first Top 10 hit, is one great pop song (which was originally written for the Ramones).
5. Detroit medley. This was awe-inspiring in 1978 and still is in 2003. The rock-till-you-drop, show-stopping medley included (as always) Devil With a Blue Dress On, Good Golly Miss Molly and C.C. Rider, and was a pure adrenaline thrill ride. (This medley is inspired by the mid-1960s hits of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.)