Springsteen show rises above ordinary

Arizona Republic, 2002-08-26, by: Larry Rodgers
Bruce Springsteen demonstrated Sunday night in Phoenix that world-class songwriting and seasoned performing can help listeners deal with the grief surrounding the impending anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks on America, honor the heroes that emerged and continue the healing process that will take years.
With the concert-opening words of "The Rising," the double-edged title song from his new CD, Springsteen and his E Street Band hinted that the near-sellout America West Arena audience was in for an evening mixing bittersweet images of fallen firefighters, police officers and loved ones with inspiring reminders that life must go on.

Staring at a floor full of enthusiastic standing-room fans who had crowded in toward the stage, Springsteen opened the show by wailing in a gravelly voice: "Can't see nothin' in front of me / Can't see nothin' coming up behind" as he unfolded the tale of a firefighter's ill-fated journey up a stairwell at New York's World Trade Center.

But as he raised his hands toward the heavens and implored the crowd to "Come on up for the rising / Come on up, lay your hands in mine,"?many in the crowd nodded or shouted back to acknowledge the singer's message of hope and survival.

Launching next into a rocking version of another new song, "Lonesome Day," the New Jersy native needed only two lines to capture the anger and hope that many still feel months after the attacks: "Hell's brewin', dark sun's on the rise / This storm'll blow through by and by."

Helping Springsteen deliver his fine new material was the strongest backup band in rock and roll. Built around the rock-solid rhythm section of Max Weinberg (who moonlights with Conan O'Brien), bassist Garry Tallent and keyboardists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, the E Street Band allowed Springsteen to move seamlessly from rockers such as "Mary's Place" to the smooth sensuality of "The Fuse" to the old-school-soul feel of "You're Missing."

Although he wisely sprinkled older hits from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, such as "Promised Land," "Badlands" and "Prove It All Night," throughout the set to provide emotional breathers, the show continually returned to the songs inspired by events that happened less than an hour's drive from Springsteen's New Jersey farm.

After a strong take on 1978's "Darkness on the Edge of Town," (this fifth song found Springsteen's rough voice starting to warm up), the star and his wife, singer-guitarist Patti Scialfa, crafted the kind of fragile moment that is rare for a rock show in an arena: Playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Springsteen joined Scialfa in high harmonies and yodeling on "Empty Sky," which describes the New York skyline after Sept. 11.

"You're Missing" followed, launched by the violin of Soozie Tyrell, who has joined the E Streeters on this tour, painting a picture of how everyday life stopped for thousands of survivors: "Your house is waiting ... but you're missing," Springsteen sang before a sweet, sad organ solo by Federici.

The red-haired Scialfa later would lend her soaring vocals to "Into the Fire," which follows a doomed firefighter into one of the twin towers: "I need your kiss / but love and duty called you some place higher / Up the stairs, into the fire," Springsteen sang in a folksy style before the E Streeters kicked in for the uplifting chous.
Springsteen used two new rock rave-ups as lighter moments, but even those songs had layers of emotion. "Mary's Place" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" both set a dance-party mood, buoyed by over-the-top saxophone solos by?Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, who drew a roar every time he let loose. With a friendly chorus of "Meet me at Mary's place, we're gonna have a party," the former tune found Springsteen doing the Twist on top of of Bittan's grand piano. But those who listened closely noticed that "Mary's place" is not on this Earth, but in another dimension envisioned by a survivor who dreams of one day being reunited with a lost loved one.
"Waitin' On A Sunny Day," with 50s-style harmonies and lyrics forging a bittersweet balance between loss and healing, also could join the long list of concert classics for the 52-year-old singer, whose energetic and satisfied stage demeanor during the 2-1/2-hour show bore the marks of a man who will be performing for years to come.
Constantly smiling and winking at the crowd and having a blast introducing his band during "Mary's Place" (including calling Scialfa "natural Viagra"), Springsteen was having so much fun onstage by concert's ending that it couldn't help but rub off on the audience.

He spent much of his encore time in rock-and-roll wild-man mode. The look in his eyes during the old-school rocker "Ramrod" showed a man taken prisoner by rock: cavorting with band members, who also include guitarist Nils Lofrgren and longtime pal, guitarist Steven Van Zandt, Springsten threw down the dance moves of a guy who still must think he's 25 at times. He and Clemons even stood together and shook their rear ends at the crowd at one point, bringing smiles all around.

Springsteen also livened things up with two hits from his huge, 1984 album, "Born In the U.S.A.," a rocking version of the title cut and a surprise take on the MTV hit "Dancing In the Dark."

"Born to Run" had the audience, dominated by baby boomers but with an encouraging amount of younger fans, thrusting up fists as the house lights came up ? the old-school Springsteen's only special effect.

"We've been coming here a long time ? longer than some of you folks have been alive, I think," Springsteen laughed after sitting down at the piano for a tender version of "My City of Ruins," which was written before Sept. 11. He then urged the audience to "be vigilant" about "a rollback of our civil rights" that he sees arising as part of the stepped-up law enforcement activities in the wake of the attacks.

Springsteen may be considered passe' in some ultra-hip musical quarters, but the bet here is that many of those critics never have witnessed firsthand the musical power and lyrical mastery of an artist who knows how to have a good time but also can be counted on to put milestone events such as Sept. 11 into focus.

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2002-08-25 America West, Phoenix, AZ