Warming Up The Boss - Lets Go In A Pre-Tour Show

The Record, 1993-03-25, by: Barbara Jaeger
The words were understated. The huge smile wasn't. "This is a great place to play," said Bruce Springsteen. "I'm having a good time." The Garden State's favorite rock-and-roll son was home Tuesday night, performing on the stage of Red Bank's Count Basie Theater. But it was almost as if the Jersey Shore native had never left.

Springsteen's 2 1/2-hour set had all the intimacy, exuberance, and humor of his club and theater performances in the mid- to late-Seventies _ the kind of loose, adventurous shows that defined and eventually propelled him to international superstardom.

At Tuesday night's show, a rehearsal for Springsteen 's upcoming European tour, the 43-year-old singer-songwriter pulled nuggets from his past, performed songs rarely - or never - done live, reworked other tunes, and, as part of a joke, even ripped off his shirt. Throughout, he was totally at ease. (The unpublicized show was a benefit for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders, and the Monmouth County Arts Council, which operates the Count Basie Theater.)

The first hint that this was to be a special evening came as Springsteen, clad in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt, ambled on stage, strapped on his acoustic guitar, and broke into "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" - a little-performed song from his 1973 debut album "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."

Performing the first three songs accompanied only by acoustic guitar, Springsteen next tapped into the work of Woody Guthrie, one of the artists who inspired him. His passionate rendition of Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home" was followed by an equally ardent version of "This Hard Land," another seldom performed song Springsteen said he wrote "around 1984, I think ... I didn't put it on a record. That was a big mistake."

After this somewhat subdued start, it was time to rock. Joined by the 10-piece band that accompanied him during last year's tour, Springsteen blitzed his way through "Better Days," "Local Hero," and Elvis Presley's
"Viva Las Vegas."

After a couple of other tunes, including "All the Way Home," which Springsteen wrote for Southside Johnny, it was time to strip the music down again. A haunting solo acoustic version of "Point Blank" was followed by "When You're Alone." For the latter, Springsteen was joined by keyboardist Roy Bittan and the group's five backing singers.

The band returned for "Human Touch," highlighted by Crystal Taliefero's beautiful harmonies and guitarist Shane Fontayne's sizzling solo. The entire group then joined forces for a blistering rendition of "Because the Night." This show might have been billed as a rehearsal - "Give Me 24 hours," Springsteen joked as he tuned his guitar - but the sweat staining his guitar indicated otherwise. He was working as hard as he does in concert.

But the impromptu nature of this performance was driven home when Springsteen, responding to a shout from the audience, broke into Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart." Ripping off his shirt, a grinning Springsteen danced at the stage's edge. "Everybody gets a giggle out of it," said Springsteen, after concluding the song. "But that tune is just damn good." Then, after a brief pause, he added: "Now, what lousy [garbage] am I gonna come up with?"

What Springsteen responded with easily qualified as the highlight of a show packed with memorable moments. Calling for a music stand, he leafed through what appeared to be an old high school notebook. "I wrote this in Asbury Park," said Springsteen finding the page he was looking for. "I hope I remember this one." Then, with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, he broke into "Blinded By the Light." Occasionally referring to the song sheet for the lyrics that spilled forth like a quick flowing stream, he performed the old classic. Magnificently. As he removed the music stand himself, Springsteen remarked, "Now, that's the way to make a living."

With that shot of adrenalin, Springsteen tore his way through the rest of the performance, which included hauntingly beautiful acoustic versions of "Promised Land" and "Janie Don't You Lose Heart" and high-energy band renditions of "Roll of the Dice" and "Bobby Jean."

While the spirit of this show evoked the past - the E Street Band's Max Weinberg even took up his old spot behind the drums for "Glory Days" - it also hinted at what might be Springsteen 's future. And that is, indeed, a tantalizing prospect. Springsteen's European tour begins Wednesday in Glasgow. The eight-week road trip will take him and his 10-member band to Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The tour is scheduled to conclude May 22 in London.

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1993-03-23 Count Basie Theater, Red Bank, NJ