The Boss goes into overdrive in Columbia

Greenville News, 2002-12-10, by: Donna Isbell Walker
Bruce Springsteen's concerts have often been described by fans and critics as the closest you can get to a secular religious experience, and Monday night's performance at the Carolina Center was no different. Springsteen was back in the pulpit of the First Church of Rock 'n' Roll Monday night, backed by his stellar E Street Band, with a show that took fans from the earliest days of his career to his most recent album, the Sept. 11-inspired "The Rising," with no shortage of hallelujahs from an appreciative audience of 14,000.

"The Rising" was an appropriate theme for the show, as Springsteen evoked the moods of individual Americans and the country as a whole in the wake of the terrorist attacks, through his music. Opening with the disc's title track, he and the band appeared on a nearly black stage illuminated by only a few backing lights, and the song began as a quiet gospel-flavored number and built in intensity to full-on revival mode. The song waned with a haunting violin solo by Soozie Tyrell, then built to a crescendo as it flowed into the second number, "Lonesome Day," also from "The Rising."

The New Jersey native leaned heavily on newer songs for the concert, and he made them memorable, in particular the twin hymns of "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing." The emotion of losing so much in so short a time was evident in his face and voice, and the distance between loved ones when one of them has died was embodied by the harmonies of Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's wife, who added eerie vocals to the former, making it feel as though she was much farther away than just across the stage.

Springsteen's message was one of the power of love and community, blended with some of his strongest tunes of defiance against everyday oppressions. That was plenty evident in older songs like "Badlands" and "No Surrender," the latter of which could have been interpreted as a signal to any number of individuals in power. He bit off the words almost angrily as Max Weinberg pounded the drums with a vengeance.

Then there were the songs that were there just for fun, including the often-neglected gem "Growin' Up," from his debut album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J," a song about adolescent bravado that lost nothing from being sung by a 53-year-old man with a big grin on his face. He added a country flavor to the intro of "She's the One," and by the end of the song was playfully dueling with Clarence Clemons, Springsteen on harmonica and Clemons on saxophone.

This was my fourth Springsteen concert, and the singer gave by far the best and fiercest performance I've seen. And also one of the loosest. He danced atop the piano, skipped and ran across the stage, even slid from one end to the other on his knees, just like in the old days. Springsteen brought out his grizzled preacher-man voice to introduce the band in the middle of the rave-up "Mary's Place," after he commanded the audience to "rise up off of your (backside). C'mon, you ain't that old." He had a clever line for each band member, from his wife ("the first lady of love") to Clemons ("you wish you could be like him, but you can't, I'm sorry.")

The two-hour and 45-minute show included two encores, totaling eight songs, including "Born to Run" and his newly christened "prayer for peace," "Born in the USA." As the night grew later, Springsteen seemed more energized. His exuberance was contagious, even making the tired "Dancing in the Dark" seem fresh and spontaneous. He turned serious for a moment, dedicating the piano-driven song "My City of Ruins" to Columbia's Harvest Hope Food Bank.

But soon enough, he was back in form, donning a Santa hat for "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and mugging with everybody in the band for the deliciously over-the-top roadhouse-blues number "Quarter to Three." It's a rare concert when the audience leaves the building feeling as drained as the performer must feel, but that's always been a Springsteen trademark. It's nice to know that some things never change

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2002-12-08 Coliseum, Charlotte, NC