Glory days recalled, with no regrets

Toronto National Post, 2002-12-06, by: Aaron Wherry
In the wake of Sept. 11, the music world waited anxiously for Bruce Springsteen. Amid all the talk of music's role in the recovery of the United States, it was assumed the New Jersey native would be the returning hero -- the guitar slinging speaker for the common man who would help us all make sense of that terrible day. Then Steve Earle stole Springsteen's thunder. The recovering heroin addict and vocal opponent of the death penalty came out swinging with songs of war, politics and the Taliban. Controversy immediately clung to Earle as he spoke out against the government and spoke on behalf of the enemy in the case of John Walker's Blues -- told from the point of view of the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. It was Earle's voice that offered the gritty, honest, political stance many critics and fans had been hoping to hear from music's most talented stars. He pulled no punches, he said everything you weren't supposed to say, and for that he was thrown off the airwaves and decried by those claiming to represent patriotic America. Then came Bruce Springsteen's The Rising. Sure, it was political and had moments of introspection, but overarching it all was a theme of recovery and rebirth and rising up out of the ashes of the World Trade Center. The United States may have needed to hear what Earle was saying, but it also, apparently, needed Springsteen.

Though there were certainly moments of sorrow and songs of sadness last night at the Air Canada Centre, a capacity crowd was treated to a celebration that, at times, seemed infused with an almost religious fervour as Springsteen returned north of the border with Clarence, Max, Little Steven and the rest of the E Street Band. Though once the working-class hero, Springsteen is now more a Baby Boomer icon with a decidedly SUV crowd cheering his every move - the "haves" Springsteen used to take issue with when Reagan was in power. And while it could be argued that many of those in attendance were simply rejoicing in a little bit of nostalgia, for his part, The Boss seemed as strong as the days when Born in the USA ruled the airwaves.

The title track of his latest release opened the show and set the tone for much of what was to come -- intense, relentless and rejoiceful. For a bunch of middle-aged folk, the E Street Band maintain a pace few of rock's so-called new generation could handle. New tracks and old favourites were trotted out, and though often from distinctly different periods in his career, seemed to meld together fairly cohesively.

When things slowed down, for tracks like Empty Sky -- a post-Sept. 11 mourning for loved ones lost -- Springsteen seemed at his best. For all the foot stomping, fist pumping, yelling and screaming rock 'n' roll, he was more heroic at these poignant moments. And though some in the crowd seemed unable to handle the quick change in emotion, this was the reflection and dark emotion that have kept Springsteen relevant throughout all the anthems and ballads and tales of Midwestern American fun.

But we didn't come to see Springsteen to think about the bad times, now did we? No, we came to feel better and, most importantly, to rock. For with all the introspection, we do like a little celebration. And with all the pain and politics, we could use a few great rock songs. In the morning, we'll go back to the stark reality of Steve Earle. For now, the kids are with the babysitter, and we just wanna throw on our old blue jeans and remember the good times.

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2002-12-05 Air Canada Center, Toronto, Canada