Springsteen returns to O.C. with a vengeance

Orange County Register, 2008-04-08, by: Ben Wenter
Review: His Honda Center opener boasts a load of firsts and plenty of scorching solos, including an unforgettable turn from Tom Morello.
There has been more highfalutin prose written about the cultural significance of Bruce Springsteen than there has been meaningful analysis of some presidents.

Every two-bit critic who thinks he's got the fast-track to rock 'n' roll insight has pontificated about his importance, debated whether he outranks Dylan as Greatest American Rock God, blathered on about his remarkable ability to make the smallest everyman details resonate universally ? and make the universal ones relatable in the most intimate ways.

I've tried my hand at more than a few such pieces ? some Springsteen shows can seem so monumental as they're happening that it's hard not to get caught up in the re-energizing rapture. His first of two shows at Honda Center with the ever-mighty E Street Band this week certainly qualifies as a standout in my logbook. I won't soon forget Nils Lofgren's outrageously scorching solo at the end of "Because the Night," for instance, or the elated feeling that blasted up my spine when that song perfectly dovetailed into the Bo Diddley rumble of "She's the One."

Not to be outdone, Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt conjured their own six-string cataclysm for "Gypsy Biker." And I suspect everyone who was there has by now told anyone who'll listen about the surprise appearance from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello (aka the Nightwatchman), who joined his fellow crusader for truth and freedom on a gut-walloping rendition of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" that built from a moody smolder to a positively incendiary finish. With Morello's Hendrix-style soar getting sympathetic underpinning from Springsteen's Telecaster (while the Boss beamed at the display), the climax of the hard-bitten piece was worthy of David Gilmour at his most expressive.

So, sure, I could go on about the profound statement that song makes, ponder what its modernization of Steinbeck's Depression-era icon signifies at a time when the economy is none too rosy ? just as I could tap out 1,000 words alone on what Springsteen might be getting at in "Reason to Believe" when he hollers its hopeful chorus into his harmonica microphone like the ghost of a radio preacher from the Dust Bowl days. (Clues about what he's implying abound in his new material, by the way, especially in the mournful "Last to Die," the symbolic charlatanism of "Magic" ? "Here's to the end of eight years of horribly bad magic," he declared at its outset ? and "Livin' in the Future," a "song about sleeping through the changes as they happen.")

But that kind of dissertation is out there ? Google away. I'm as bored with such academic displays as I am accounts of overcome first-time encounters. (To those of you who just experienced your first Boss bash and are looking for validation of your joyously overcome feelings: Yes, we know. Pretty incredible, huh? Oh, and yes, he's almost always this amazing. Sometimes more.)

What's worth discussing, actually, is how this great gig (one of his best local shows this decade) matters in nascent Bruce-in-O.C. lore. For remember: Monday's and Tuesday's concerts, his first stops here in nearly eight years, also rank as only his third and fourth full-blown performances in our fair county in almost four decades of touring.

How did it differ from his May 2000 shows at the then-Pond?

Well, for one thing, all the songs I've already mentioned (save for "Tom Joad") made their O.C. debuts Monday night ? as did that fetching "Rosalita," who didn't exactly jump a little lighter (her groove came off its wheels at one point) but who hadn't been let out at a Southern California show since Dodger Stadium in August '03.

Signs could be spotted here and there pleading for favorites: "Stolen Car," "Blinded by the Light," "Spirit in the Night." He didn't honor those requests, but he did throw in unexpected twists.

"Ramrod" filled in the question marks on his handwritten set list (viewable at brucespringteen.net) and, thanks to some loopy mugging at the mic, had Little Steven Van Zandt cracking up. "Racing in the Street" was listed to follow "Tom Joad" but instead the Eddie Cochranisms of "Working on the Highway" preceded it. Later on, Springsteen mouthed an audible to the band ? and broke tradition this tour by placing a rollicking "Out in the Street" after his usual main-set finale, "Badlands."

"Light of Day," a roaring opener, made its tour premiere, though not its O.C. bow (he closed with it at his second Pond show in 2000). The hearty shout of "Trapped," a rarely-played Jimmy Cliff cover he dug out two weeks ago in Seattle, got another airing, as did a slashing handling of "Murder Incorporated," another recent set-list addition.

"We're out for blood!" he yelled at the end of that one. I'd say they got plenty to guzzle, and so did we. In all, only eight of 24 songs were repeats from when I saw him at the Pond, and a good half-dozen were swapped out from his L.A. Sports Arena shows in October. Maybe you were hoping for "Thunder Road," or "Born in the U.S.A." ? or even "Fire," which turned up Saturday night in San Jose.

This, newbie, is why people keep going back. "Man, that was a good one!" he announced at the start of the encore. Wonder if Tuesday can top it.



2008-04-07 Honda Center, Anaheim, CA