Bruce on the loose

Ottawa Sun, 2007-10-15, by: Allan Wigney
The Boss and the E Street Band roll out the rock
The last time Capital City saw Bruce Springsteen, the Boss appeared to us as a lone figure armed with acoustic guitar and piano. A travelling troubadour. A folk singer.

Such a solitary existence, longtime fans well knew, was destined to be temporary.

Springsteen, you see, is first and foremost a rocker - an arrested adolescent in the best sense, seemingly rediscovering the great glory of rock and roll with each sunrise.

True, he has stepped away from that public persona in recent years, striving to broaden his horizons and to further define the contemporary-dust-bowl-ballad territory tested on non-bombastic albums like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.

But the E Street Band has never been far from his mind. And even at his folkiest, Springsteen has never given fans reason to doubt his devotion to both rock and roll.

So it was that when the Boss bounded onto the stage at Scotiabank Place Sunday in front of 15,000 of the faithful to ask the musical question ?Is there anybody alive out there?? all was forgiven by those about to rock.

(The line lies at the heart of Radio Nowhere, a song from the new album Magic that rocks to a killer riff not a million miles from Bryan Adams? Run to You ? that?s right; I went there ? and that does a better job of questioning the relevance of radio today than 57 Channels did for television 15 years ago).

And rock they did, as the Boss and his nine-piece (!) E Street Band ran through a lengthy set of favourites old and new, trading in the intimacy of his most recent solo visit to the Bank for a different kind of shared cosmic experience. All the pieces were in place ? wailing sax solos from Clarence Clemons, wailing guitar solos from Nils Lofgren and Steven Van Zandt and plenty of wailing from the gruff-voiced man himself.

Add to that tried-and-true veteran E Streeters Roy Bittan, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg, plus multi-instrumentalist Soozie Tyrell and of course Mrs. Boss Patti Scialfa (whose mid-set solo spot at recent shows reportedly provided a welcome beer break), and you have the makings of a vintage Springsteen show.

And a particularly special one, at that, as that crowd-pleasing encore was further elevated by the assistance of Arcade Fire couple Win Butler and R?gine Chassagne. (Evidently, even a 10-piece band has its limitations.) Hence, a version of the moody Springsteen classic State Trooper, a song The Arcade Fire has been known to cover, as well as a return of the favour via an enthusiastic ensemble reading of the Canadian sensation?s Keep the Car Running.

All in a night?s work when you?re the Boss.

Oh sure, he has lost a step over the years. (Haven?t we all?) But if this wasn?t a manic too-late-to-stop-now late-1970s Springsteen show, it suffered not one bit for that lack of reckless youthful energy.

See reference to arrested adolescence and love for rock and roll, above.

The highlights came early and continued throughout the night: A cocksure Adam Raised a Cain; the footstomping Born to Run Bo Diddley homage She?s the One; The Promised Land, a gem from Darkness on the Edge of Town; a generous encore heavy on the hits; the hypnotic title track from Magic; plus the occasional diatribe against an American administration bent on ?rolling back civil liberties.?

For, even when accompanied by a nine-piece band, Bruce Springsteen is and has always been a folk singer in the truest sense of the word.

And Sunday night, with a little help from his friends, this rock and roll savior had the people?s ear.

Once more.

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2007-10-14 Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Canada