Springsteen is just spectacular

The Province, 2008-04-01, by: Stuart Derdeyn
Our reporter is in good company as he learns why Bruce is Boss
I've never seen Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. That's a bit like admitting you are a loser in rock critic land. I've experienced what all the fuss is about now. A countdown to Bruce-stacy.

7:30 p.m.: Friends said to be at Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band's show last night at GM Place ON TIME: "It says 7:30 showtime and Bruce starts when it says he will," they say.

8:10 p.m.: The Boss and band was still chillin' and far too many of those who dropped multiples of three figures on their tickets were still shuffling in to a show that they would've been a half hour late for if that earlier report was true.

8:16 p.m.: To the strains of "He Flies Through The Air With The Greatest Of Ease," and then he's there singing "Atlantic City." The face on the megascreen alongside the stage is tense, eyes closed and completely into it. Most of this tour has opened with "Night" or "Radio Nowhere." This is a treat.

8:22 p.m.: "Is there anybody alive out there?" The deafening cheer says yes. It gets louder to "Radio Nowhere."

8:26 p.m.: The sound is even good in the echoing cavern of the press box. Nils Lofgren is a fingerpicker and he rocks that hard. Wow. "No Surrender" kills.

8:31 p.m.: The violin intro to "Lonesome Day" kicks in and the crowd is ready to pump the air with both fists to the "It's alright, it's alright" chorus.

8:36 p.m.: "Gipsy Biker" is one of the fiercest songs on Magic. Bruce and Stevie Van Zandt rip off some duelling guitar solos that resonate, but the song has less impact than expected for such a political track.

8:45 p.m.: News of Patti Scialfa and the kids, organist Danny Federici's illness and the night's first acoustic number. Soozie Tyrell's violin and backing vocals really drive the dramatic "Magic" home.

8:48 p.m.: Another big moment: "Trapped." With its big arena power chorus and Max Weinberg's sparse drumbeat, this tune is all about climax. You can feel the rage the song's protagonist has all the more when baritone sax man Clarence Clemons blows a solo.

8:52 p.m.: I've heard "Johnny 99" performed as a stark, driving acoustic ballad many times by many people with varying degrees of success. After the boogie blues treatment the number got last night, I may always want it to be amplified.

9 p.m.: Played by the man who wrote it, "Because The Night" is more about staking your position against all comers than a jaded admission of longing.

9:04 p.m.: Roy Bittan's piano trills lead in "She's The One." This is one of those immediate Springsteen hits that references classic Eastern seaboard doo-wop R&B, Bo Diddley drumbeats and driving harmonica, courtesy of the big Boss man and soaring organ.

9:10 p.m.: A few words about the rollback of civil liberties, the hope that things "go left" in the U.S. soon and a bit of "Living In The Future."

9:16 p.m.: All of those people pumping their fists in the air to the "Promised Land." There is no denying that some material resonates deeper than other.

9:23 p.m.: "Waiting On A Sunny Day" gives Springsteen a chance to pull out a gorgeous fat-bodied acoustic and push the audience to sing the song. When they aren't up to snuff, he calls it "the shame of British Columbia." It gets better with a tenor-sax solo. Not one of my faves.

9:29 p.m.: The first fan request is "an obscure outtake of 'Born In The U.S.A.'"

9:35 p.m.: Wow, Bruce Springsteen is singing "The River."A powerfully descriptive piece of writing that has lost nothing with the passage of time. Garry Tallent plays some awesome bass passages here. Not the kind of thing you'd expect to notice, but they're tight.

9:41 p.m.: The first identifiable synthesizer of the night introduces the new ballad "Devil's Arcade." Big mood-lighting moment here.

9:48 p.m.: Years from now, the kinds of music writers that debate the finer points of Jerry Garcia's third solo on "Darkstar" from that March 1969 Winterland gig will be debating whether "The Rising" was the best post-9/11 rallying cry or not.

9:53 p.m.: Another guitar tossed backstage to that guitar tech who must have nightmares about dropping one of those vintage beauties flying his way every night and the band kicks into "Last To Die."

9:57 p.m.: Another one of those fight-to-the-finish sprituals, "Long Walk Home" gets a particularly inspired reading. The energy on stage is unflagging. When, if, he retires, the Bruce Springsteen performance fitness program is going to be a mega-seller. Imagine using "Prove It All Night" in the infomercial.

10:04 p.m.: 1-2-3-4 count and it's time to freak out to "Badlands." It's killer. And it closes off the main performance.

10:12 p.m.: Barely finishing their bows, the band is back for the first encore. Springsteen paces the stage demanding more and more excited screams to open "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out." What a brilliant choice.

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2008-03-31 General Motors Place, Vancouver, Canada