4/16/93 - Sheffield, England

Rolling Stone, 1993-06-24, by: David Sinclair
When I was young, I truly didn't think music had any limitations," said Bruce Springsteen in an interview with "New York Newsday" last year. "I thought it could give you everything you wanted in life." That naive and ultimately absurd belief was what used to fire up a typical Springsteen show into a no-holds-barred, hyper intense event, the nearest thing in rock & roll to a religious experience. Not anymore. The creeping realization that there **is** more to life than music has quite naturally chipped away at the margins of what Springsteen is now prepared to give -- and indeed is capable of giving -- in performance.

On his second sold-out night at this l2,000-capacity venue, both Springsteen and his five-piece band turned in a bravura set, no doubt about that. It started with an acoustic sequence that MTV's Unplugged could have aired without compromise: one man, a guitar and a harp teasing out the emotional pith of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Mansion on the Hill" and "The Hard Land," the latter a Dylanesque song written in the mid-Eighties but never recorded.

The band, which came romping on with an opening salvo of "Better Days" and "Lucky Town," has matured into a cheerful, fail-safe unit: the retiring bassist Tommy Sims and Muppet-like drummer Zachary Alford pinning down the rhythm at the back; guitarist, percussionist and backing vocalist Crystal Taliefero forever busy on the wings; keyboard player Roy Bittan a commanding presence center stage; and guitarist Shane Fontayne sparring with Springsteen up front, his elegant twang providing the perfect foil for his boss's less-tutored soloing style.

Why Springsteen has elected to take five backing singers, including the redoubtable Bobby King, on the road remains a mystery. A great harmony team they may be -- adding a stirring gospel dimension to "Trapped Again" and raising the roof with an epic version of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross -- but they were redundant for long stretches of the show. Springsteen maintained an impressive energy level, jumping into the crowd during "Leap of Faith," flinging himself bodily onto Bittan's keyboard during "Light of Day" (a pulverizing rocker, now available for the first time on the Europe-only release of MTV Plugged) and hauling up a blond accomplice from the audience to dance with him during "Working on the Highway."

But throughout the show we saw more of Bruce the hard-working huckster than of Bruce the lionhearted defender of the true rock & roll faith. There were no between-song raps about fatherhood, the state of the nation or the precious things in life. There was, however, the corny business of a dozen or so big furry dice planted in the crowd and flung out onstage at the start of "Roll of the Dice"; and there was a questionable version of "Rockin' All Over the World" that echoed the raucous arena-rock thump of Status Quo's version more closely than John Fogerty's rootsy original.

In his prime, Springsteen redefined the parameters of rock performance. Now that his unique sense of urgent, total, all-consuming commitment to the cause has begun to ebb, he is faced with the unenviable task of matching up to his own impossibly high standards. There were moments recalling the greatness of old, notably a stretch that cleverly bracketed "Souls of the Departed" with "Born in the U.S.A.," but if such a phrase can be applied to one of rock's greatest performers, the bulk of this gig was business as usual.

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1993-04-15 The Arena, Sheffield, England