Springsteen delivers a leaner show, with guitars raised on high

Chicago Tribune, 2007-10-22, by: Greg Kot
Bruce Springsteen?s work was done for the moment. The first set had ended Sunday at the sold-out United Center, the chords of ?Badlands? still ringing, and he was waving his appreciation to the audience. But he didn?t let go of his guitar, hoisting it above his head as the E Street Band gathered around him.

It was a fitting image for an evening in which Springsteen chopped away at his guitar like he was going to war, driving his band through 135 no-nonsense minutes. It was a terse concert by Springsteen?s epic, three-hour-plus standards, but that relative brevity kept the energy high and the momentum-sapping shtick low.

?Is there anybody alive out there?? Springsteen shouted at the outset, and turned the show?s first 45 minutes into a rousing wake-up call. He buzzed through eight songs nonstop, one feeding into the next with a verve that recalled the band?s ferocious heyday, circa 1978. There has been a lot of shucking, jiving and mugging on recent E Street tours, but this time sidekick Steve Van Zandt was all business and Clarence Clemons hung in the shadows in between sax solos. Van Zandt was back in his element as Springsteen?s foil as a guitarist and vocalist, and the show revolved around their fevered interplay.

The duo set the tone by slamming down the chords of ?Radio Nowhere,? then traded piercing leads on ?Gypsy Biker.? Van Zandt channeled John Lee Hooker?s ?Boogie Chillen? on a blues-drenched ?Reason to Believe,? Springsteen matching him with an appropriately swampy, fuzzed-out tone on harmonica. ?Adam Raised a Cain? raised a few goosebumps, Springsteen conjuring a wall of drone with his guitar overtones.

Max Weinberg was robo-drummer all night, his steely precision matched by the cobra-like snap of his wrists on the Bo Diddley syncopation of ?She?s the One.? A few party rockers helped keep the mood buoyant; the best was ?Cadillac Ranch,? with bassist Garry Tallent pumping the rhythm oil. The worst was ?Thundercrack,? a rambling frat-rocker that should have stayed in the New Jersey bars where Springsteen first played it in the early ?70s.

Mostly, the set list emphasized the band?s most aggressive side, with three tracks from the 1978 ?Darkness on the Edge of Town? album, and a thundering ?Backstreets? from the 1975 ?Born to Run.?

The intensity matched the subject matter. Nine of the 23 songs were drawn from Springsteen?s latest album, ?Magic,? a series of bleak state-of-the-union snapshots from a dissenter?s scrapbook. The only awkward moment came in the show?s first hour, when Springsteen paused to address the fans at length for the only time. The rushed, mumbled monologue about citizens rights and the Constitution briefly broke the momentum, and came off as sheepish next to his music.

Springsteen was better off when he channeled that anger through the instrument in his hands. And for most of the night, it gave one heck of a speech.

The set list:

1. ?Radio Nowhere?: The downstroke of Springsteen?s right hand on his guitar sets the pace for this end-of-the-world rocker.

2. ?No Surrender?: Springsteen and Van Zandt share the microphone and their boyhood memories. ?We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.?

3. ?Lonesome Day?: Here?s hoping this one gets weeded out in future concerts; it slows things down here.

4. ?Gypsy Biker?: Springsteen and Van Zandt at each other?s throats again with their guitars in a foul mood.

5. ?Magic?: Eerie tune, with a scary message. ?This is not about magic, it?s about tricks,? Springsteen says.

6. ?Reason to Believe?: Deep blues via John Lee Hooker.

7. ?Adam Raised a Cain?: The most unhinged Springsteen guitar-playing of the night.

8. ?She's The One?: Max Weinberg delivers syncopation and swing with titanic force.

9. ?Livin' In The Future?: Rambling speech undercuts the song?s impact.

10. ?The Promised Land?: Momentum returns with classic ?Darkness?-era track.

11. ?Your Own Worst Enemy?: Lovely keyboards and violin embroider the melody.

12. ?Backstreets?: Staggering, as usual.

13. ?Cadillac Ranch?: Everybody?s got a big ?ol stupid grin on their face for this one, and why not? Garage-rock perfection.

14. ?Devil?s Arcade?: Soozie Tyrell?s violin embellishes the haunted atmosphere

15. ?The Rising?: The most orchestrated song of the night, and somewhat ponderous because of it.

16. ?Last to Die?: Brisk, biting protest rock.

17. ?Long Walk Home?: Emotions, guitars build to a combustive finish.

18. ?Badlands?: A concert peak, with the crowd singing backing harmonies long after the band leaves the stage.

Encore

19. ?Girls in Their Summer Clothes?: The E Street Band momentarily morphs into the Drifters for a song that?s not quite as sunny as it sounds.

20. ?Thundercrack?: A blueprint for ?Rosalita,? but not nearly as good.

21. ?Born to Run?: Obligatory, but the E Streeters knock it out of the park.

22. ?Dancing in the Dark?: Weinberg lays down a relentless beat, and Springsteen pogos.

23. ?American Land?: A Pete Seeger homage, with the E Streeters playing an accordion-inflected jig.

Notes

Topic

2007-10-21 United Center, Chicago, IL