Bruce Springsteen still commands the spotlight

Dallas Morning News, 2008-04-14, by: Thor Christensen
At 58, Bruce Springsteen no longer taps into the zeitgeist like he did in his glory days.

He titled his superb 2007 CD Magic, but it's bewitched no one aside from diehard fans: Radio ignored it, and even the Grammys didn't bother to nominate it for a major trophy.

But onstage, it's a different story. Give him a mike and a spotlight and he's still very much the Boss.

Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band didn't sell out the American Airlines Center on Sunday night. But they reminded the near-capacity crowd why they're one of rock's greatest live acts: showmanship and spontaneity.

The longer the concert went, the looser it got. Near the two-and-a-half-hour mark, Jon Bon Jovi ? in town to play the AAC on Monday ? appeared from thin air to co-sing "Glory Days." (Finally, a chance to duet with the guy he's spent his whole career imitating.)

"Dancing in the Dark" was even more of a hoot, as Mr. Springsteen pulled a dozen gleeful grade-school girls from the crowd to serve as the "E Street Dancers."

His set list was equally unpredictable, with obscure oldies like "Meeting Across the River" and "Independence Day" mixing with "American Land," his Pogues-style ode to immigrants. Even "Reason to Believe" took on new life as a swaggering Chicago blues.

Of course, he played "Born to Run" and "Badlands." But he also devoted a third of the show to new tunes that sounded as good as the classics. When's the last time you saw an arena-rock act pull that off?

As a performer, he's not quite the Energizer Bunny Mick Jagger is. Nor is he the Bruce of yore who used to leap through the air and slide across the stage on his knees.

But while his body has aged, the man inside hasn't mellowed a bit. He ranted against the Iraq war, ripped into President Bush (without ever naming him), and danced around his mike stand like a stripper gone wild.

The E Street Band was sterling as usual. But notable in their absence were keyboardist Danny Federici (who's battling melanoma) and singer Patti Scialfa, who stayed home in Jersey to make sure her and Mr. Springsteen's kids weren't throwing keg parties and cooking pot brownies, he said.

"When you have three teenagers, it gives a whole new meaning to 'homeland security.' "

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2008-04-13 American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX