Springsteen, Band Find Tonic To Tragedy

Tampa Tribune, 2008-04-23, by: Curtis Ross
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played their first show since the death Thursday of longtime keyboardist Danny Federici, Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Somewhere, Danny is smiling.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played their first show since the death Thursday of longtime keyboardist Danny Federici, Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. If Springsteen generally plays as if his life depends on it, Tuesday night he played as if his soul and those of everyone in the arena were at stake.

The show began with a video tribute to Federici, who played with Springsteen for 40 years, beginning in pre-E Street outfits such as Steel Mill.

Then, as pianist Roy Bittan played the introduction to "Backstreets," a spotlight shone on an unmanned Hammond organ and accordion, Federici's instruments, a silent expression of the band's loss.

The rest of those expressions were anything but quiet.

Springsteen howled the chorus of "Backstreets" with as much passion as he did in 1975. Max Weinberg pounded his kit so hard it seemed close to tumbling - or disintegrating. The whole band played with an intensity that seemed impossible to sustain for the length of the show.

But they did.

Springsteen and band stormed through the early part of the set with no let-up. Weinberg kept the pulse going as guitars were swapped between songs. "No Surrender" was especially moving, with guitarist Steve Van Zandt joining Springsteen at the microphone. The two ended "Gypsy Biker" with a stinging guitar duel.

Finally pausing, Springsteen offered thanks for "prayers and condolences for Danny," then told the band, "We better get this right. Somebody's watching."

With Bittan on accordion, they launched into the sad, sweet "Sandy (Fourth of July Asbury Park)," evoking the early days of Springsteen's and Federici's musical life playing clubs along the New Jersey shore.

Springsteen told the crowd of 16,332 that the song's fortuneteller, Madame Marie, might be a Florida resident now. Then, he announced, "one more fairy tale," and delivered "Growin' Up" with more youthful vigor than a man on the downside of 50 should have.

There were so many highlights - "Atlantic City," "Because the Night," "She's the One" - but the show's emotional centerpiece came with the pairing of "Racing in the Street" and "The Rising."

The former song is one of Springsteen's most desolate, the cold flipside to "Born to Run," about finding out you're not that young anymore and maybe there's nowhere to run.

The song is so devastating as to make any attempt at levity seem a lie. "The Rising," then, was the perfect tonic, a song about demanding life - joy, even - in the face of tragedy. If every song seemed to have special resonance given the circumstances, this one may have had the most of all.

The encore began with a stirring rendition of the gospel hymn "I'll Fly Away," followed by "Rosalita," "Born to Run" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," a trio guaranteed to send any Bruce fan into spasms of sheer joy.

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2008-04-22 Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL