The Boss at the Bell Centre; Bruce Springsteen concert review

Montreal Gazette, 2008-03-03, by: T'Cha Dunlevy
"Is there anybody alive out there?" These words, among Bruce Springsteen's first of the evening, summarized his search for meaning, not to mention a human pulse, on his new album Magic.

The Boss played a hefty eight songs from the disc last night, accompanied by his infamous E Street Band, before almost 16,000 fans at Bell Centre. Absent were wife Patti Scialfa, at home with the kids, and keyboardist Danny Federici, undergoing treatment for melanoma.

Add a few songs from his 2002 release The Rising, and you've got half the set list. Springsteen is not one to rest on his laurels. He has built a career on commenting on his surroundings, the lot of the common folk and, always, his country.

So after opening with an energized rendition of The Night, he tuned into the exciting Radio Nowhere ? the first song off the new album, whence the lyric quoted at the top of this review. "Dancin' down a dark hole," he sang ? as opposed to Dancing in the Dark, which would come in the encore.

"Seven years of magic tricks," he stated shortly after, a thinly-veiled reference to President Bush's time in office, before leading into the new record's somber title track. He sang with his eyes closed, his musicians playing oh-so-quietly. "Trust none of what you hear," he whispered, "and less of what you see / this is what will be."

But it was not all doomsday prophesies. Six songs in, he gave Reason to Believe, off his 1982 album Nebraska. A hearty singalong erupted on Because the Night, next; Clarence Clemons stepped to centre-stage for one of his trademark sax solos, with guitarist Nils Lofgren answering in kind. Then came one more oldie, She's the One, before Springsteen returned to the matter at hand.

"This is a song called Living in the Future," he said. "It's about what's happening now." Illegal wire-tapping and the wiping-away of civil liberties were mentioned ? "They're sneaking through changes we thought would never happen but we have lived to see. And the mighty E Street Band is here to do something about it. We're here to sing ? we're musicians. Do you feel the new wind coming?"

Springsteen sang to all corners of the room during the swinging ditty, leading the crowd in the ironic "Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na" chorus.

He allowed a few classics to enter the fray. Hushed hymn The River was a mid-show standout, the crowd taking over his verses, and his harmonica crying heartache. The set-ending Badlands offered essential release. The audience rose to its feet, singing, dancing and celebrating a favourite ? which is what you'd expect to be doing all night at a concert by an artist whose discography goes back 35 years.

That so many people were willing to come out and hear Springsteen sing his concerns for the here-and-now speaks volumes. Returning the favour, he dropped Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark in the home stretch.

By which point, everyone was feeling very alive, thanks for asking. And good night.

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2008-03-02 Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada