Springsteen pays tribute to victims of West Warwick fire

Providence Journal, 2003-03-11, by: Andy Smith
There is probably no one in popular music who can command a stage with the power and joy of Bruce Springsteen. The Boss proved that once again last night during a show at the sold-out Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Although his back-up singer and wife, Patty Scialfa, was missing due to illness, it did not seem to slow Springsteen and the superb E Street Band.

Springsteen opened with a political statement, Edwin Starr's "War" ("War, what is is good for? Absolutely nothin'!"). Concert-goers pumped their fists and sang along.

From there, Springsteen ran through two songs from his new album, The Rising, the title tune, and "Lonesome Day."

The Rising, the album Springsteen released last year, was his response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But with its persistent imagery of smoke, fire and death, it is all too appropriate in the context of last month's disastrous fire at The Station in West Warwick.

The song titles alone paint the picture -- "Into the Fire," "Missing," "Lonesome Day." Springsteen's characters are often lost souls trying to come to grips with their grief.

Late in the show, he touched on that theme in a tribute to the victims of The Station nightclub fire.

Springsteen spoke of starting his career playing in little bars in neighborhoods that each held their own identity.

He said he had received a card from someone mentioning that yesterday was the 30th birthday of one of his fans, Mark Blevins, of South Kingstown, who was injured in The Station fire and was discharged last weekend from Westerly Hospital.

In Blevins's name, Springsteen played "Bobby Jean," a song about friendship from 1984's Born in the USA.

Near the end of the three-hour show, Springsteen invited the crowd to make contributions to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund, both of whom had representatives in the arena lobby.

Springsteen sang almost all of his current album, The Rising, and also delighted the crowd with old favorites such as "Candy's Room," and "Spirit in the Night."

When he started out, Springsteen worshiped the holy trinity of fast cars, Jersey girls and rock 'n' roll.

At 53, Springsteen seems to have lost his taste for fast cars and he has settled down with his own Jersey girl, Scialfa.

Music though, maintains its transformative power, and Springsteen delivered a potent brand of rock religion to the crowd at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Springsteen presided over the fans like a revival preacher, leading the crowd in lusty sing-alongs during "Out in the Street" and the new party anthem, "Mary's Place," and joining his band in a gospel chorus on "My City in Ruins."

At the end of the show, Springsteen turned to politics once more. Introducing "Born in the USA," he said it was a song about the Vietnam War, adding he didn't want to have to write another song like it. "This goes out as a prayer for peace, a prayer for the safety of our sons and daughters," he said.

Then he did a harsh, discordant version of the song that for once discouraged singing along. He shifted directly into a more hopeful vision of America, "Land of Hope and Dreams," reworking the folk song "This Train" so these coaches are open to all, and finally closing it out with a bit of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready."

Over his 30-year career, Springsteen has acquired a following of extremely loyal fans.

Some of them braved a bitter wind yesterday to stand in line outside the Dunkin' Donuts Center, hoping to be one of the few hundred lucky souls who got to watch the concert from the "pit" directly in front of the stage.

"My goal is to put my elbows on the stage," said Kelly Blodgett, 35, of East Lyme, Conn. Blodgett had been waiting on and off since Thursday night, her place in line designated by a big "2" inked on the back of her hand.

Alan Mastrangelo (No. 161) of Saugus, Mass., and his sister Sheila DiSalvo had been in line since 8:15 yesterday morning. Mastrangelo said he's a teacher who used one of his personal days to try and get up close and personal with Springsteen.

Mastrangelo, 55, said he's able to use some of Springsteen's lyrics as classroom material, adding it's one of the ways kids and their parents can make connections. Dave and Mary Dubosky, of Cumberland, arrived a little later, about 12:30 p.m. yesterday.

"I love the lyrics," Mary Dubosky, 39, said. "As I've gotten older, I've seen Bruce become more politically aware, and my politics and his seem to jibe pretty well."

Of course, it's not just politics.

Dubosky, who now works at Blue Cross, said she used to have a job at the Dunk, when it was the Providence Civic Center, and Springsteen was the best show she ever saw.

Last night's concert probably won't change that opinion.

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2003-03-10 Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI