Partying with the Boss

Los Angeles Daily News, 2003-08-18, by: Glenn Whipp
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reminded Angelenos that Dodger Stadium can indeed be a magical place, delivering a three-hour, 26-song set Sunday night that had the venerable baseball field rocking in a way that hasn't been seen since Kirk Gibson hit his fabled home run in the 1988 World Series.

Springsteen last came to Los Angeles 51 weeks ago, playing the Forum when his current "Rising' tour was barely a week old. And while the shows shared 14 songs in common, the two concerts were worlds apart in both tone and execution. Last year's concert was a beautiful wake. The Dodger Stadium show was an old-fashioned house party.

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The differences had much to do with both the timing of the shows and their locations. At the Forum, Springsteen was debuting much of the material from his latest album, "The Rising,' a moving collection of songs, many of which dealt with 9-11 and the raw emotions that came in the tragedy's aftermath. To compliment the new material, Springsteen and the E Streeters played somber catalog cuts like "Atlantic City' and "American Skin (41 Shots),' lending the evening a powerfully poignant mood.

Springsteen still plays nine songs from "The Rising,' but in the larger confines of his current stadium tour, he now supplements the material with upbeat rockers like "Out in the Street' and every die hard's favorite warhorse, "Rosalita,' which Springsteen has resurrected for the first time (at least on a consistent basis) since the "Born in the U.S.A.' tour nearly 20 years ago.

Don't misunderstand: Songs like the one-two gut punch of "Empty Sky' and "You're Missing' still have the ability to touch a nerve, and Sunday night, Springsteen offered a lovely, full-band version of the little-played "Across the Border,' introducing the "Tom Joad' tune as a "little California music.'

But for the most part, Springsteen was in a much more playful mood, repeatedly asking the near sell-out crowd, "Who is the governor?' and later, while introducing the band during "Mary's Place,' nominating the beloved saxophone star Clarence Clemons for the job. Serious political statements -- which have been a significant element in the "Rising' tour, particularly in Europe -- were limited to a call for support of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank during a beautiful reading of "My City of Ruins.'

Springsteen has not played stadiums since he and the E Street Band supported Amnesty International in a brief tour in 1988. Most fans would certainly prefer an arena setting -- particularly with Dodger Stadium owners gouging concert goers with a $20 parking fee -- but Springsteen remains one of the very few performing acts capable of delivering an electrifying show in such a cavernous setting.

The only concession the 53-year-old Springsteen and his nine-member band seem to be making to age is to shave maybe 15 minutes from his already generous set list. But that may well be more of a concession to his primary audience -- boomers -- who have a hard time keeping up with him during the show.

The Los Angeles crowd, typically derided for its laid-back nature, certainly gave it the old college try, shaking its collective booty on rave-ups like "Darlington County,' "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),' the rarely performed "I'm a Rocker' and this tour's classic cover of hillbilly hero Moon Mullican's "Seven Nights to Rock.' Even celebrities like Rob Lowe and former NFL quarterbacks John Elway and Jim Kelly spent a fair share of time on their feet.

Of course, Springsteen has always been able to bring disparate groups of people together, establishing a profound sense of community, humanity and belonging in the three hours he holds forth on stage. That gift, even more than his phenomenal energy and spirit (you try hanging upside down from a microphone stand -- it ain't easy), is what keeps fans, new and old, coming back tour after tour, searching -- and finding -- food for the soul in a famished culture. The Boss abides.

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2003-08-17 Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA