Springsteen rocks, amen - The Boss' church meeting at the Garden sends fans into a frenzy

Boston Globe, 1992-12-15, by: Jim Sullivan
The Church of Bruce reconvened Sunday night at 8 O'clock and the service was expected to last 3-1/2 hours. I say expected because one of the curses of being a rock reviewer on deadline is you never see more than half of Springsteen's second set, which happened Sunday night at Boston Garden, and as to the seasonal fave rave, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, "the slated final encore, well, forget about it. Anyway, the church was packed and the faithful yelled the "BROOOOCE!" mantra throughout the night. Springsteen took the stage like a supernova, kicking the festivities off with the brightly anthemic "Better Days".

Now: Was I redeemed and reborn? Redrenched in the baptismal rock 'n'roll font Springsteen has long offered? Yes, but not totally. Three problems. One: This band he's assembled is very good and very tight - and I like the way the four women (plus occasionally Boss wife Patti Scialfa) mix it up with the boys in the band - but I miss the E Street Band and the camaraderie they embodied. Hey, I miss the presence and sax sound of Clarence Clemons. Two: Springsteen played an awful lot of material from his latest discs, "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," and those are, by and large, B-level albums (by his standards). Three: Sunday night's set list was fairly similar to what Springsteen played at the beginning of the tour. Part of the old fun used to be the way Springsteen juggled every night.

Enough carping. Yes, it's possible that his better days might just be behind him; he's admitted he's not the "prisoner of rock 'n' roll" he once was. But there was a lot of magic in the air Sunday night, and, frankly, Springsteen and this band were a lot looser than the E Street Band was when I saw them on the "Tunnel of Love" tour. Clearly, Springsteen likes the creaky old Garden. "It's nice to be in this town," he said. "This is a great old building. It's real easy to work up a seat in here."

Springsteen is the rare rock artist who, in his songs, wants to traverse the whole emotional gamut. Joy, love, lust, anger, rage, betrayal - they're all part of the mix. Chances are pretty good he's not going to leave you feeling depressed. One of the high points of the first set was "Trapped," a bif surging song that sealed the bond between artist and crowd. Everyone feels trapped; Springsteen, at least, is giving a way out for an evening. And, maybe, not to be too hokey about it, leaving folks with the idea hat they can muster the courage to change their lives for the better.

Two of the best songs Sunday night were "Souls of the Departed" and "Born in the USA". The former was dangerous, brooding, clamorous; the latter, perennially misinterpreted as a fist-waving bonehead rock anthem, is much terser and tougher now. If you missed the rage in Springsteen's voice Sunday night, you just weren't paying attention. Ditto for "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)." It's not one of his greates songs, but Sunday night it took on a snarling testiness that isn't captured on the recorded version. He prefaced it with a simple statement of fact: "It's 1992 and American cities are burning again."

One of the strong points of the night was the guitar playing, by both Springsteen and Shayne Fontayne. Springsteen has always liked to stretch his lead lines in concert, and he's one of the best at it. The guitar excursions never seem like padding; they always lift the melody to a more intense level.

Springsteen talked about how the lines between right and wrong, good and evil, become more blurry with age. He chatted about his kids, his wife and his sex life. Yes, Springsteen said, he'll be putting out a $50 sex book, too. (Joke.) He slid into the crowd for a bit of body surfing during "Leap of Faith". He dedicated "If I Should Fall Behind" to "husbands, wives and Bill Clinton." He danced up a storm with all the bandmates during "Man's Job," near the close of the first set. It was at that moment that the thought struck once again: No one does this job quite like Springsteen does. He then came back with "Roll of the Dice," riffing heavily on the "feels so lonely" line.

The second set? Well, we can tell you it began with "Gloria's Eyes," and the guitar playing on "Cover Me" was sizzling. Scialfa came out to sing with her hubby on "Brilliant Disguise," doing a John-and-Paul-singing-into-one-mike thing and looking pretty erotic while they were doing it. Soon after that I was Globe-bound, but staffer Patti Hartigan rang in to say Springsteen closed the regular set with "Light of Day", spat water out of his mouth, and looked "pretty hot".

One thing Springsteen has never lost is the ability to tap into his own hopes, dreams and fears and translate them to the public at large. If his music was more emotionally wrenching at some other point in his career ? the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The River" period come to mind - so be it. This is still pretty strong stuff.

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1992-12-13 Boston Gardens, Boston, MA