Springsteen creates an intimate show with house rules

Orlando Sentinel, 2005-11-05, by: Jim Abbott
No talking.

No snack runs.

No cell phones.

There were a lot of rules at Bruce Springsteen's concert Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum. Hey, the guy is the Boss -- but a printed list of do's and don'ts at the door isn't very rock and roll.

Then again, neither was Springsteen's solo acoustic performance, which abandoned the stadium anthems for a compelling assortment of lesser known gems and material from his subdued Devils & Dust.

It was a show for listening, not shouting along, as the Boss made clear with an opening request for the crowd to provide "as much quiet as we can, so I can give you my best.''

To help with the focus, concession stands were closed when the music started and anyone who left their seat had to return between the songs. Cell phones were supposed to be turned off, although an idiot woman in the floor seats (row 11, seat 4) had the nerve to take a call during the opening moments, proving that rules are made to be broken.

The idea was to turn the intimacy-bereft arena environment into a theater atmosphere. That's a tall order, especially for one guy, but Springsteen pretty much pulled it off.

At several points, he actually stepped about three feet back from the microphone, projecting his voice to a hushed audience on the new "Long Time Comin''' and a stunningly evocative reinvention of "The Promised Land.''

On an elegant stage adorned only with long curtains and a pair of chandeliers, Springsteen accompanied himself for 2-1/2 hours on an assortment of guitars, a grand piano and electric keyboard. He strummed along on ukulele to The River's "I Wanna Marry You'' and played a vintage pump organ for the hypnotic closer, "Dream Baby Dream.''

Devils & Dust is such an understated album that there might have been a risk of sucking too much energy out of the arena, where seats were purposely left empty in the upper level and far end.

Fortunately, the Boss kept things lively, even strapping on an electric guitar for a moody tremolo-laden take on Nebraska's "State Trooper'' and a rockabilly run through Tunnel of Love's "Ain't Got You.''

Springsteen spent a lot of time behind the keyboards, which he handled with an impressive combination of power and technique on songs such as the opening "Fade Away'' and "My Hometown.''

There were some interesting twists on the older material: Accompanied by grand piano, "Atlantic City'' became more menacing than forlorn and a distortion-drenched, echo-laden "Reason to Believe'' was powered only by harmonica and Springsteen's boots pounding on the floor. It was harrowing, even if you couldn't understand the words.

Not everything worked as well without the E Street Band. The anthemic chorus of "The Rising,'' for instance, really requires more than Springsteen's solitary voice. Likewise, "Two Hearts Are Better Than One'' isn't the same without someone along to harmonize.

Mostly, however, Springsteen put on an incredible one-man show. Chatty monologues about his old neighborhood and the timeless sexual allure of rock 'n' roll were endearing without stretching into excess. He limited his political statements to a call for "humane immigration policy'' in a short introduction to "Matamoros Banks,'' a Devils & Dust song on that topic.

By the end, it felt like he had invited the audience into his living room, which is better than just another rock concert.

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2005-11-04 St. Petersburg Times Forum, Tampa, FL