Springsteen's 'magic'

Cincinnati Enquirer, 2008-03-23, by: Bill Thompson
Bruce Springsteen's latest album is called "Magic" for good reason. He cast a spell over U.S. Bank Arena Saturday night.

In his first visit since August 2005, Springsteen and the E Street Band added seven new songs, but delivered what the near-capacity crowd came to hear: an evening of powerhouse rock 'n' roll that had everyone on their feet from the opening strains of "Darlington County.''

Springsteen's songbook covers 35 years, and many in the audience have been there from the start. Friends high-fived each other before singing every word of favorites such as "Prove It All Night," "She's the One" and "Badlands,'' temporarily transported back to a time when the hair was a little fuller and a little darker, and the T-shirts were a few sizes smaller. These folks grew up with the Boss, and he's as much a part of their lives as the kids who stood next to more than a few parents. The young ones might not know all the words to "Promised Land" (yet), but they were just as enthusiastic as their fist-pumping elders.

This is part of Springsteen's magic. He is one of the biggest stars in the world, but seems like he could be your pal (if you happen to be friends with a virtuoso musician who writes great songs). You can empathize with him: his wife, singer-guitarist Patti Scialfa, missed the gig because she was home in New Jersey tending to their three teenage children. You have to admire the superstar couple that doesn't leave the kids with hired hands.

But speaking of hired hands, longtime fans know that much of Springsteen's success comes from the best band in America. The singer takes time off for solo and side projects, such as the Seeger Sessions album and tour of a couple of years ago, but his heart lives on E Street. And why not? What could be more fun than playing music with your longtime friends?

Watch Springsteen trade guitar licks with Miami Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, and see the fantasy of every teenage American boy (or girl, too) come true. Keyboard players Roy Bittan and Charlie Giordano (filling in for the ailing Danny Federici) add texture to every tune, and teamed up for a smokin' accordion duet during the encore of "American Land." Max Weinberg might be the best rock drummer ever. And as Springsteen says of saxophonist Clarence Clemons: ''You know you want to be like him, but you can't.''

Springsteen has changed a few things over the years. The show lasted a little more than two hours as opposed to the legendary four-hour sessions of the early days. At 58, he doesn't slide across the stage on his knees or jump up on the piano any more.

But time seems to have strengthened his resolve to speak out more forcefully. He made a couple of comments about the mistakes "of the past eight years," referring to the Bush administration. Some of the new songs, especially "Last to Die," take direct aim at policies he believes to be wrong.

But in the end, Springsteen isn't a preacher. Nor a magician or a politician. He's a songwriter and a performer extraordinaire. Midway through Saturday's encore, the band played "Dancin' in the Dark," the hit single from "Born in the USA." In 1984, the song coincided with the rise of MTV, and Springsteen made an awkward video where he pulled a girl (a pre-"Friends" Courteney Cox) from the audience to dance with him. Flash forward almost 24 years, but this time he invited a delightful youngster who could actually dance onto the stage, and the two of them proceeded to charm everyone in the building.

It was just the way one of your friends might do it.



2008-03-22 US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH