CONCERT REVIEW: Bruce Springsteen

Richmond Times Dispatch, 2007-11-12, by: Melissa Ruggieri
Here's why Springsteen is still the ultimate concert
The knees might be a little creaky and the shows aren't the epic three and four-hour marathons of the '70s, but Bruce Springsteen is still the ultimate live act.

Why? Let us count the ways.

1. Start with the manic intensity he brings to a song, evidenced Sunday night in the perfect show opener, "Radio Nowhere," as his right arm ferociously pumped his guitar and his neck veins bulged from singing so hard.

2. Then there's the infectious energy that he and the E Street Band project. They really are a cast of characters, a band of brothers (plus Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, and violinist Soozie Tyrell) and it's impossible for an audience not to be affected by their enthusiasm.

3. Everything works because of its simplicity. The stage is open on all sides with nothing on it but the band and their equipment. Two smallish video screens flank the top of the stage. The lights consist of a colored ring above the band -- but far more effective were the plain ol' houselights when Springsteen ordered them up for the still-chill-inducing "Born to Run."

4. With a canon of 35 years of heartfelt blue collar anthems and sociological screeds, Springsteen has plenty of material to pull from. And unlike many veteran acts, he intentionally mixes song choices, adding or subtracting on a whim sometimes, to give fans (especially the dedicated who attend several shows) a varied experience (Sunday night saw the tour debut of "Growing Up").

5. The guy loves to perform and it shows.

At Sunday's concert -- the first of a two-night sold-out stand at the Verizon Center in D.C. -- a packed-to-the-rafters crowd of 20,000-plus, screamed themselves hoarse as Springsteen and the E Streeters barreled through "No Surrender" and "The Promised Land."

In his traditional uniform of black jeans and black shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Springsteen didn't flail around the stage, dripping sweat onto the crowd and skidding on his knees as on tours past. What do you want from a guy at 58?

But he was hardly stationary, as he played to all sides of the arena, grinning broadly and baptizing his disciples with water from a bucket he used to cool himself. Springsteen followers truly do worship the guy. They thrust their fists when he thrusts his, shush when he shushes them -- as he did before launching into a blazing harmonica solo to usher in "Reason to Believe" -- and sing along with a zeal developed from years of practice in the car or in front of a bathroom mirror.

Though the classics from the '70s and '80s drew the most fervent reactions, fans seemed to relish the new material, too.

The recently released "Magic" is more than an excuse for Springsteen and the band to tour -- it's a consistently strong and accessible album that, like most of Springsteen's material, flourished live.

Nine of the album's 12 songs were scattered throughout the almost two-and-a-half hour set, with the squealing solos traded between Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt a highlight of "Gypsy Biker."

Given Springsteen's unabashed political views, it was unlikely that he would visit the nation's capital without comment, but he also seemed to realize the purpose of his platform at the moment.

"This is a song about things we never thought would happen here," he said, introducing the easy-swinging "Livin' in the Future." As he began to recite a list of social injustices, a smattering of boos mixed with cheers as he continued, "And the E Street Band is going to do something about it, and play music!"

He also dedicated the new "Devil's Arcade," a somber, moody song delivered like a passionate poem, to Veterans Day.

It's unlikely that any devotee could be disappointed with a set list that ranged from "Tunnel of Love," its '80s sheen roughed up by Nils Lofgren's stinging solo, to 1973's "Kitty's Back."

And though them all, Springsteen's voice sounded as if it had been dragged under a truck for miles gritty, grainy and perfectly Bruce.

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2007-11-11 Verizon Center, Washington DC,