Serious Springsteen moves packed arena

The Star Ledger, 2002-08-08, by: Jay Lustig
Meadows show draws heavily on new material
Before performing a haunting acoustic version of "Empty Sky" at the Continental Airlines Arena last night, Bruce Springsteen asked the capacity crowd to keep the noise down. "I know you can do it," he said, before admitting, "I'm excited, too."

For the first time in two years, Springsteen is back where he belongs, sweating on a huge stage. Sure, he has presented occasional shows since his last tour ended in the summer of 2000. But last night, he kicked off a new world tour at the East Rutherford arena. As usual, he had no problem filling the cavernous venue with joyous sound and larger-than-life emotion.

"It's always great to be opening here in the Garden State," said the Freehold native and current resident of Rumson and Colts Neck.

Around 8:20 p.m., members of his E Street Band walked onstage one by one, as they did throughout their 1999-2000 reunion tour. Springsteen, sporting a five o'clock shadow, appeared last.

There's a huge difference between this tour and the reunion shows. Springsteen has an entire album of new material -- "The Rising," released July 30 -- to draw from. And it's not a throwaway album, but is, in large part, an attempt to address the most important event of our time: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Springsteen leaned on the album heavily last night, opening with the title track and then "Lonesome Day," and including only three older songs, "Prove It All Night," "Promised Land" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town," among the show's first 10 numbers. As he sang the bleak "Rising" ballad "You're Missing," he stood at center stage without his usual guitar in his hands. The audience hung on every word.

"The Rising" has sold about 526,000 copies since July 30, and debuts at No. 1 on Billboard magazine's albums chart this week. It is the best opening-week sales figure of Springsteen's career.

"It's crazy to say this, but Bruce can bring this country back together, and move us forward," said Drew Santucci, 41, a police officer from Stanhope who attended the show.

Santucci drove to the show in a white 1960 Cadillac convertible with the phrase "The Rising" painted on the trunk hood in a red, white and blue pattern.

"He's helping to rebuild Asbury Park, brick by brick," said Santucci, citing the many benefit concerts Springsteen has presented in his adopted hometown. Springsteen's other charitable efforts, including his appearances at concerts benefiting families of 9/11 victims, have also impressed Santucci. "More celebrities should use their stardom to support some causes," he said.

"It's one of his most important albums," Bob Henry, 44, a corporate travel agent from Staten Island, said of "The Rising." "In 10 years, it will probably be one of the ones I'll be most likely to listen to.

"I'm getting older, and I don't relate to 'Born To Run' as much anymore," he said, referring to Springsteen's 1975 album, full of songs written from a more youthful perspective.

Tickets for last night's show sold out almost immediately after they went on sale July 13. But hundreds of fans who had been shut out showed up anyway, hoping to land one of the tickets that Springsteen customarily puts on sale shortly before showtime. They started lining up Tuesday, and at least 150 of them did get in.

In another area of the parking lot, fans who didn't have to worry about getting in lined up early, too. They had general admission tickets to the seatless arena floor -- a new twist Springsteen has added for this tour -- and were hoping to get as close to the action as possible.

Springsteen will also perform at Madison Square Garden on Monday. His tour is expected to return to the United States next year, and, considering his strong ties to his home state, a string of concerts at the Meadowlands is probable.

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2002-08-07 Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ