Live Again, Springsteen Still Has Mettle

Detroit Free Press, 1992-08-09, by: Gary Graff
... the shows [at the Meadowlands] have been rapturously received as Springsteen continues a tradition of three-hour minimum rockfests combining the lyrical and thematic depth of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie with the charisma and energy of vintage Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Rolling Stones shows. "The audiences have been real welcoming here," Springsteen says, his voice raspy and hoarse from the show's [August 2] first half. "I'm just glad there's an audience out there who wants to come and see us play."

Glad and, perhaps, relieved... A long-time working man's hero,... Springsteen has been criticized for losing touch with his roots and with the ideals of faith and loyalty that are the bedrocks of his music. His detractors, far more numerous now than at any time in his 20-year career, point to Springsteen's move to California -- where he lives in a $13 million estate... Detractors also point to his sacking of the E Street Band as proof of his detachment. They say that's why ticket sales are slow in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles, and why his new albums... have faltered on the charts, relative to his previous outings...

"I kind of expected it," says guitarist Nils Lofgren... "It's the old 'let 'em get to the top and then crucify him' thing. But I love Bruce unconditionally, and I'm behind him. I still think he's one of the greatest singers and songwriters ever."

To be fair, the new albums' commercial showing is respectable, far more consistent with the rest of Springsteen's career than was "Born in the USA," which sold 21 million copies worldwide [HT and LT are at about 3.5 million each]... Springsteen himself has seemed concerned, tossing jocular references to the albums' chart showings into his show, commenting on performers who were ahead of him (Elton John?! That guy's older than ME!")

"It's just a goof," says Springsteen, who dumped the rap about halfway through his Jersey stand... "There are so many other reasons I'm out there than hoping the records do well." "People just forget that everything recycles itself, even all of the criticisms... After 'Born to Run,' I remember reading all of the 'What happened to?' articles, and it just kind of goes around and around and around... every time you do something different or go into a big change."

When [the new songs are] paired in concert with his older songs -- "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" folding into "Badlands," for instance -- it makes both more resonant. And when he shouts "I wanna know if love is real" during "Born to Run," the new songs have already answered the question -- that it's more real than Springsteen, and maybe some of his fans, ever imagined. "Because I've been picking the old stuff just on instinct, it just feels like it has some major currentness to it," Springsteen says...

Judging from the seventh show of his Jersey stand, Springsteen is still capable of doing quite a bit for listeners, whether they are looking for fun or for something that cuts a bit deeper. It's also an affirmation that despite the doubts about the new band, the new Boss is still the old Boss and he can still rock the joint into a sweaty rock'n'roll ecstasy.

First things first: the new band doesn't quite make you forget the E Street Band -- a tough standard since the new ensemble has been together only a few months. The differences are apparent during older numbers... Drummer Zachary Alford's laid-back, R&B-oriented style doesn't provide the proper drive for those songs, and they also miss Clarence Clemons' saxophone parts, which provided a dynamic counterpoint to Springsteen's guitar solos. That said, it's still a solid group that's lent a few welcome touches to Springsteen's music... By the time the house lights come up for a crashing rendition of "Born to Run," Springsteen has won the night and has everyone singing the words to his nomadic anthem...

"The whole idea once you start touring is to keep it present and living every night, not to let it get embalmed somewhere along the way on your 15th show or your 20th show... You can't keep cranking out the exact same thing every night. What I've been doing is just pulling something out of the hat and working it up in the afternoon... picking up a song or two every day... I just try to do some surprise every night... It's fun for the fans who come back more than once. Plus it keeps everybody (in the band) on their toes..."