Hollywood Reporter, 2005-05-03, by: Tom Roland
The kickoff was neither the grit of the singer's voice nor the buzz of a nylon guitar string.
Instead, the first sound that Bruce Springsteen produced Monday was a simple stomp on the stage of the Pantages Theatre -- a measured, hard backbeat that grew in intensity, providing a haunting subtext for a bluesman reading of "Reason to Believe."
Performing for nearly 2 1/2 hours, the Boss steered almost entirely clear of the hits, mixing music from his new "Devils & Dust" album with mostly lesser-known titles in his substantial catalog. Drawing on familiar themes, he waded through religion, desperation, fear, love and sex, but a haunting presence almost always made itself known.
It was there in the ghostly falsetto whip that Springsteen injected into "Further On (Up the Road)." It was there in the mesmerizing guitar riff that threaded through "Reno." And it was there in the quietly voiced resignation to broken dreams in the final verse of "The Promised Land."
That haunting undercurrent was appropriate given the specter of conflict that hung over most of the 26 numbers he chose. Spanish Johnny lets gang life win out over love in "Incident on 57th Street." The protagonist is consumed by doubts about his faith in "Real World." And Billy Horton is torn between the opposing emotions tattooed on his hands in "Cautious Man": "love" on the right, "fear" on the left.
Those conflicts are a key to Springsteen's music. Choosing one direction in life often closes the door on another direction, and the sacrifices define how a person is identified. "Them things you give up," he told the audience, "that's what makes your choices mean somethin'."
Few artists are capable of the choices Springsteen makes when he opts for a solo outing, as he has with the Devils & Dust Tour. It's a weighty proposition to consider a single musician holding a crowd's attention for such a vast amount of time.
Through the great majority of the show, Springsteen avoided such problems by playing with his voice, channeling Dylan, Orbison and even the sound of slave-era spirituals. He also shifted judiciously between piano and a variety of guitars -- acoustic, slide, electric and 12-string -- to effect different emotional shades. (Although he played solo, a tambourine and electronic keyboard were heard several times, apparently from the side of the stage.)
And, of course, Springsteen is practically unmatched in the physicality he brings to simply constructed songs. His left hand moved noticeably little on the frets, the change of chords less significant to his work than the intensity with which he delivered them. He occasionally would pull back from the mike stand to bob and weave with his guitar, his body reliving the turmoil his characters so often face.
Those characters are complex enough that many of the actors in the audience -- Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Pierce Brosnan and Meg Ryan among them (Springsteen pal Jackson Browne also was on hand) -- likely would find them challenging in a scripted form.
Similarly, it's those complexities and the haunting choices they represent that allow Springsteen to continue to perform the songs with such passion.
2005-05-02 Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles, CA