Springsteen rips into raw, meaty performance at Pac Bell

San Francisco Chronicle, 2003-08-18, by: Joel Selvin
Tearing through the first thirty minutes of his three-hour concert like a ferocious, hungry beast, Bruce Springsteen acted like someone with something to prove, as if the partisan crowd needed convincing Saturday at Pac Bell Park.

But there he was, ripping through each of the opening five numbers as though his life depended on it. One after the other, he transformed each song into a full-blown epic. Behind him, the E Street Band, nine hands strong, stormed and thundered. When Springsteen led the band on guitar through a stinging crescendo to bring "My Love Will Not Let You Down" to a towering climax, drummer Max Weinberg punched it into the stratosphere.

Without pausing for breath, the last note of the song still ringing, the band crashed into "Prove It All Night," which Springsteen threw down like a gauntlet. He was asking the audience to come with him, demanding they yield. They roared their assent.

In front of his people, no entertainer on earth has ever been more powerful,

more persuasive than Bruce Springsteen. Part of his complex bond with his audience comes from this utter and complete dedication, his willingness to give himself totally, his need to overpower the crowd. He never takes their love for granted. Each new concert is a new test, a new challenge, and the stage becomes his proving ground.

At Pac Bell, the stage was spare, uncluttered, low to the ground. A ramp ran along the front of the crowd even lower so that he could scamper out to the perimeters of the front rows, shaking hands as he went. The front center section was empty of seats, so Springsteen could whip up some real mania immediately in front of the stage. There were no plastic inflatables, no special effects, no horn section on special numbers -- just Springsteen, his band, their music and a couple of video close-up displays flanking the entirely utilitarian stage.

But Springsteen didn't need anything more than his music. He knows how to make a gesture count in the cavernous environment of a major league baseball stadium. He knows how to strike a

pose and exaggerate his mugging so that his winks and grimaces read equally in the upper decks. But there really wasn't a lot of fooling around Saturday. It was about the music.

With nearly a third of the program devoted to songs from last year's "The Rising," the concert frequently revolved on material not built around the bombast the E Street Band made famous, but rather more ethereal, groaning rhythms often earmarked by repeated figures carried by pianist Roy Bittan and violinist Soozie Tyrell that sometimes had an almost New Age-y feel.

Springsteen tried mightily to turn "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" into an audience sing-along favorite. He opened up "Into the Fire" into a meandering, extended rocker and pumped up "Mary's Place" into a bloated set piece with his jive band introductions and evangelical exhortations. But for dramatic high points, epiphanies that swept up the crowd, he relied consistently on classic E Street Band repertoire; "Badlands," "Out in the Streets," "No Surrender," "Bobbie Jean."

He let the music do the talking. He paused briefly during the encores, introducing the elegiac "This Train," by saying that no administration told the truth when it came to war and that truth was what connected his songs. With that sober moment, he returned to the stage, rocking the concert happily to a close with surefire oldies, "Rosalita" and "Dancing in the Dark."

The characters in his songs these days tend to cry and look for hope more than ride around in cars trying to escape. But his trademark passion and intensity is still intact. His world may have grown less certain, more complex,

but life is like that when you get older. And long live Bruce Springsteen -- he feels the pain, he knows the joy.

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2003-08-16 Pacific Bell Park, San Francisco, CA