A master of reinvention

Daily Telegraph, 2005-05-26, by: David Cheal
How does one man with an acoustic guitar hold thousands of people spellbound for two and a half hours? Answer: by being Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce is currently in the throes of his solo acoustic world tour, which reaches London's Albert Hall tomorrow, and, while most performers would be left badly exposed by such a venture, for Springsteen, it's all in a night's work.

To be fair, he had a grand piano and a harmonium on stage with him as well as his guitars; even so, he was entirely alone, and, far from being found out, he was clearly thriving.

He's done this kind of thing before, nine years ago, when he released his downbeat album The Ghost of Tom Joad and toured on the back of it.

This time the album is the new Devils & Dust collection, a similarly sombre affair, which formed the backbone of this show. Minimally lit, surrounded by big elegant drapes, Springsteen became a kind of conduit for his music, eyes closed, body tensed, head tilted.

There were, I have to admit, moments when my attention wandered - something that would be unthinkable during the Springsteen big band experience - but, as the evening went on, these were fewer and further between. By the end I found myself hypnotised by this shadowy figure singing his vivid story-songs in the gloom.

The title track from the new album, which suggests moral and spiritual bankruptcy on the part of warmongers, was chilling. The River was gorgeous.

The Rising, the title track of his last album but one, was inspirational, uplifting. Land of Hope and Dreams was spine-tingling. And, on Matamoros Banks, the story of a Mexican who drowns while trying to enter the States, he unleashed an astonishingly rich, exquisitely wistful soprano.

Best of all was a completely reinterpreted Promised Land, which could serve as an object lesson for the likes of Bob Dylan in how to reinvent a song: not, as Dylan seems to think, by making it up as you go along and hoping that something interesting will happen, but, as Springsteen did here, by taking it back to its bones and starting again.

Tapping out a rhythm with his hand on the soundbox of his guitar, he stripped the song of almost everything that made the original version great - chords, instrumentation, melody - and yet the result was hypnotic, and got the biggest cheer of the night. Only Bruce Springsteen can do this.

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2005-05-24 The Point, Dublin, Ireland