At Fenway, 'The Boss' steps up and connects

Boston Globe, 2003-09-07, by: Steve Morse
It was a great day for the Fenway faithful. The Red Sox clobbered the Yankees 11-0 in New York, then Bruce Springsteen provided the dessert with a rockin' house party that may have chased the Curse of the Bambino for good.

"Is anybody alive at Fenway?" Springsteen yelled to a sold-out 36,000 fans. The answering roar said it all.

Performing on a towering stage placed on the warning track in center field, Springsteen romped around in his best pied-piper spirit.

Often sponging himself with water to keep hydrated, he raced to platforms at either side of the stage, one toward the left field corner where the scoreboard had been changed to just read "Bruce Springsteen."

He expertly tailored the show for the Boston market, even opening with the '60s regional hit "Diddy Wah Diddy" by Boston's Barry & the Remains. He later added the Standell's "Dirty Water" (with J. Geils singer Peter Wolf singing harmony). Springsteen further acknowledged the Fenway setting by saying that there aren't many places where "you can feel the soul of a city, but this is one of those places."

But he drew his loudest roar when he said this was "more than just a house party . . . it's a rock 'n' roll exorcism."

It sounded like an allusion to the Red Sox curse, then he described those "evil citizens" and "greedy (expletive)" from "New . . . New . . . New Haven," as the crowd laughed at his refraining from saying New York, even though they knew what he meant.

Musically, Springsteen & the E Street Band were on from the outset. The sound was astonishingly good for an untested concert setting (Stevie Wonder had played here 30 years ago, but no major rock act had played here) and the band rejoiced in offering obscurities to please diehards ("Be True" from the "Chimes of Freedom" album and "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" from "Tracks") as well as a boatload of classics that allowed fans to shout themselves hoarse.

There were some hammy moments -- E Street organist Danny Federici played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to much applause and laughter -- but also moments of deep dignity, as Springsteen stayed true to his calling as rock's poet laureate by still doing numerous tunes from his 9/11 album, "The Rising," including a stunningly spare "Empty Sky" with just his wife/backup singer Patti Scialfa, before Steven Van Zandt joined on mandolin and Nils Lofgren on pedal steel.

After some "Rising" tracks, the electricity picked up with "Because the Night," "Badlands," "No Surrender" (its message of faith and hope echoed even more emotionally than usual), and "Out in the Street."

The whole band was into it by this point and the exorcism, as well as Fenway's "rock 'n' roll baptism," as Springsteen also called it, was fully under way.

The band hit the stage at 8:10 p.m., with a gorgeous moon hovering over the infield grandstand, and played for exactly three hours without an intermission. The fun kept building as Springsteen joked about the "Viagra-taking" E Street Band, which, however, relived its youth with a stretch of hits from "Sherrie Baby," "Bobby Jean" and "Hungry Heart," to, of course, "Born in the USA."

Springsteen again added his famed political rap about being "vigilant citizens" toward today's governmental leaders, but it was the cleansing, joyous power of rock that carried this shimmering night at Fenway.

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2003-09-06 Fenway Park, Boston, MA