Springsteen: A Somber Edge, With Moments Of Abandon

Hartford Courant, 2008-02-29, by: Eric R. Danton
Before the lights came up, before the storm let loose, Bruce Springsteen stood alone at center stage, a shadow in the dark.

With his back to the audience filling the XL Center to capacity Thursday night, Springsteen seemed to savor that one last moment of anticipation, adulation rippling through the crowd to wash over him, arms raised as if he were conducting the warbling, off-key version of "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" pouring from the calliope spotlighted at the back of the stage.

Then the music started, the lights came up on "So Young and in Love" and he was the Boss once more, swinging around his microphone stand like it was a lamp post on a warm summer night.

It was the first show on the second leg of Springsteen's "Magic" tour, and there was a different kind of intensity to his performance than the barnburner of a concert he gave in Hartford last October to kick off the first leg of the tour.

Many of the songs he chose this time had a more somber edge, though there were certainly moments of pure rock 'n' roll abandon. "The Promised Land" was one of them, and Springsteen sang about wanting just one chance to transcend grim reality in pursuit of a dream. Or "She's the One," the crowd joining in on the joyful refrain as Clarence Clemons' saxophone rang off the back wall of the arena.

Much of Springsteen's 23-song set, though, was about what happens when reality overtakes dreams. He sounded a note of walled-off desperation on "The River," and tried to make sense of crumbling love on "Loose Ends." He reprised the chilling, bone-weary political allegory "Magic," with Soozie Tyrell adding mournful violin and harmony vocals, and murmured about a power both seductive and dark on "Devil's Arcade."

Through it all, though, he poured all of himself into his songs, and he gave the E Street Band plenty of room to shine, too. Clemons played huge sax licks on "Radio Nowhere," guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt played a lean, dirty blues riff on "Reason to Believe" and guitarist Nils Lofgren traded verses with Springsteen on "Janey Don't Lose Heart."

Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, was absent, attending to a different sort of gig. "We have three teenagers at home, so we live in constant fear of the house burning down," he said by way of explanation. "It must be watched."

After the anguished anti-war song "Last to Die" and an audience sing-along on "Long Walk Home," Springsteen ratcheted up the energy level once more, ending the main set with a version of "Badlands" that seethed through the verses and exploded into the chorus.

No Springsteen encore would be complete without "Born to Run" ? complete with house lights on and crowd singing at top volume ? but he dug deeper into his catalog, too, for "Kitty's Back." He also played "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Backstreets" before ending with "American Land."

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2008-02-28 Civic Center, Hartford, CT