Springsteen still rules rock?s roost - Three-hour jam in Cincy proves his points, again

Dayton Daily News, 2002-11-14, by: Ron Rollins
Concertgoers heading into U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday night passed by protesters urging artists to boycott Cincinnati because of its well-publicized racial strife--and apparently, Bruce Springsteen knew they were out there, too. Springsteen took the arena stage in a calm, subdued manner and stood at the mike as he waited for the near sell-out crowd to hush its long calls of "Broooooooooooce!" Then he said he'd been contacted by the groups "who are working to end what amounts to a cultural apartheid and racism that goes through all levels of our society--not just here in Cincinnati, but all through our country."

A few people started to boo, and Springsteen shushed them with a wave before proceeding. Then he sang American Skin (41 Shots), his controversial song about a New York police shooting, and dedicated the show to the protesters. Say what you will about media hype, rock iconography, expensive tickets or festival seating--Springsteen reminded one and all that he remains the closest thing in American popular music to a loud social conscience.

Later in the show, before the plaintive My Hometown, he discussed the mission and needs of Cincinnati's food bank, and introduced Born in the U.S.A. as a "Vietnam song we've been singing for 20 years; now it's a prayer for peace." Dialing President Bush . . .

But he doesn't overdo the message, either. The lion's share of material he presented with the E Street Band came from his new hit album, The Rising, written after 9/11. The album views the violence and loss from both sides of the attacks - and yet Springsteen never directly spoke to the audience about terrorism, fear or any of the messages implied in The Rising's songs. Maybe that was just fine, letting the songs speak for themselves. They did with this crowd, which sang along with the new tunes just as loudly as ever.

Musically and technically, the concert was an artistic high point for Springsteen, whose shows in the past decade often lacked the focus and fire of his earlier marathons. The band was in terrific shape, and the audience seemed to especially enjoy seeing guitarist Steve Van Zandt get introduced as Silvio, his Sopranos character, and saxman Clarence Clemons in full apparent recovery from the eye surgery that postponed shows in Columbus and Indianapolis and threatened Cincy's.

After The Rising was presented nearly whole (and yes, Mary's Place is the new Rosalita), the set ran mostly to the 1970s, ranging from Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?, an early career rarity, and good cuts from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. The '80s and early '90s got an unfortunate short shrift--but now we're nitpicking, which is what Bruce junkies do.

Suffice to say this: For nearly three hours, Springsteen reminded us he's back in a very big way, entertained with an eclectic, well-chosen song list, left everyone begging for more and wrapped it all in an intelligently patriotic, thoughtful package with a punch. Not bad. Not bad at all.

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2002-11-12 US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH