Springsteen Bolts Between Old, New

Chicago Tribune, 1992-09-04, by: Greg Kot
It was, hands down, the best special effect of the outdoor concert season. As the first chords of "Thunder Road" rang from Bruce Springsteen's acoustic guitar, thunder rumbled in the western sky. Even for a guy who makes a living sending chills down people's spines, that moment was a keeper.

Springsteen's current tour, which arrived Wednesday at the World Music Theater for the first of two shows, finds him still thrashing out a problem: How to keep his long-time customers satisfied while introducing a new band and two albums' worth of new songs. Whereas previous Springsteen tours were marathons designed to exhaust the singer and the audience, the current show finds him slightly more introspective, letting the songs breathe a bit in between assaults. There's no E Street Band this time around, though it's not the catastrophe that some Springsteen die-hards are making it out to be. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons is missed, particularly during "Badlands"?it sounds like someone stuck a pin the song where his solo should be--but as a foil for Springsteen's antics, singer Crystal Taliefero is emerging as a Clemons-like-scene-stealer.

Slightly more nettlesome is the departure of drummer Max Weinberg. There's a power vacuum on "Born in the USA," and Darkness on the Edge of Town" that Zachary Alford can't fill, though he has a sure sense of the R&B groove that Springsteen currently favors. But six backup singers stir up some soul overtones, Shayne Fontayne brings a grittier guitar edge, and keyboardist Roy Bittan, the lone E Street holdover, is still filling the night with heartbreak chords.

On stage for better than three sweat-saked hours, Springsteen emphasized the starker stuff from earlier albums, including "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Brilliant Disguise" and an acoustic "Growin' Up." To pick up the tempo, he leaned on less-familiar material from his most recent releases, "Lucky Town" and "Human Touch," and the raveup finale wasn't "Rosalita" but "Light of Day," which Springsteen has yet to record.

The tepid reception among the "old fogies," as Springsteen affectionately referred to them, was understandable: They came to hear the classics. But with greater confidence than ever on this one and a half month-old tour, Springsteen emphasized his newer music, some of it quite challenging. "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" flirted with dissonance, and a raw, raging "Souls of the Departed" made the bleak message of the song that followed it, "Born in the USA" unmistakable.

Most ravishing of all was the sequence of new songs that closed the first set, particularly "If I Should Fall Behind" and "Living Proof," which describes how "one frightened man" had finally found the meaning of home?a moment that held its own kind of thunder.

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1992-09-02 World Music Theater, Tinley Park, IL