Springsteen performance radiates redemption

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2003-08-07, by: Ed Masley
The E Street Band didn't waste any time getting into the spirit of its centerfield performance at PNC Park last night.

Before the full band was assembled to bash out the opening chords of a spirited "Jackson Cage," Roy Bittan, Danny Federici and Nils Lofgren strolled on stage with accordions and proceeded to squeeze out a crowd-pleasing version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

When Bruce Springsteen first addressed the crowd, he was seven songs deep -- eight if you include the accordion number.

"It's nice to be in Pittsburgh," he said, "in a brand new ball park. We gonna try to hit a home run for ya."

Although a great deal of both Springsteen's vocals and the E Street wall of sound were swallowed by the massive venue, Springsteen did his best to make good on the promise.

He led in to an epic, redemptive performance of "Mary's Place" with a soulful snatch of "Dancing in the Streets" and as the song became the concert's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," he asked the crowd, "Are you ready for a house party?"

And then, he proceeded to tell them a few of the conditions that need to be met for a house party, ranging from "The music has got to be right" to "You've got to have the greatest little house band in the land."

And the players were certainly up to the challenge, especially drummer Max Weinberg.

But most people throwing a house party wouldn't have the guts or lack of common sense -- or both -- to play so many 45s inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

For a concert that featured no fewer than nine selections from "The Rising," though, the overall mood of the show was one of healing and redemption, of coming to terms with the horrible hand you're sometimes dealt and moving on.

Like any decent wake, it felt more like a celebration of life than a wallowing in despair.

It helps that a few of the album's key songs feel more hopeful live, from "The Rising" itself to "Mary's Place" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." He may be waitin' in the lyrics but the sun was clearly peeking through in the spirited E Street Band performance.

But the most engaging songs he featured from the album were the most emotional -- a devastating, understated "Empty Sky" and "My City of Ruins," which he kicked off alone on piano.

When the E Street Band joined with some very Impression-istic backing vocals, it felt more like "People Get Ready" than even the chorus of "People Get Ready" they tagged on the end of "Land of Hope and Dreams."

It wasn't all "The Rising." Springsteen and the band dug deep for "Rosalita" and an unexpected trip down memory lane on "Blinded By the Light." "Born to Run" was an exhilarating highlight, as were "Hungry Heart" and four songs from the band's best album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town" ("Badlands," "Promised Land," "Streets of Fire" and "Prove It All Night").

And he treated the fans to five selections from the album that made him a stadium draw in the '80s, including an acoustic-flavored rockabilly romp through "Working on the Highway," an encore performance of "Glory Days" that featured Joe Grushecky and his son, and two songs that defined the spirit of the night as much any new song -- "Bobby Jean" and "No Surrender."

He saved what he referred to as "my little public service announcement" for the encore, introducing "Land of Hope and Dreams" with a speech about how Democratic and Republican administrations have both been guilty of "playing with the truth during wartime."

But "it's always wrong," he said, concluding his speech with: "Demanding truth and accountability from our leaders, that's the American way."

As for the venue, it's a great place to take in a ballgame.

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2003-08-06 PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA