Review: The Boss rocks the Gate City

Greensboro News Record, 2008-04-29, by: Parke Puterbaugh
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Monday night concert at the Greensboro Coliseum started not so much with a bang but as a respectful whimper. He introduced a filmed montage of images of the late Danny Federici, a keyboardist with the E Street Band and Springsteen's musical accomplice for 40 years.

Federici died recently after a three-year battle with melanoma. In fact, Greensboro was only the band's fifth show since his death and the loss looked to be very much on Springsteen's mind.

The show exhibited a range of moods, all of them intense, from grief to nostalgia to defiant celebration to resistance.

As images of happier, more youthful times played on the screen, Springsteen began strumming and singing "Blood Brothers," a testament to mutual loyalty, and the band quietly fell in behind him.

Having saluted their late comrade, they upped the energy and intensity and kept it high for the next two and a half hours.

The first big surprise was the second song, "Roulette," a fast and furious piece about nuclear Armageddon that was a non-album flip side and hardcore fan favorite.

He threw in a few such curveballs, including "Trapped," his contribution to the mid-1980s "USA for Africa" charity album, and "Because the Night," a song he wrote for and with Patti Smith.

Mainly, though, he offered powerful, organic live retoolings of material from "Magic," his heavily produced ? some might say overproduced ? album from last year.

It is a tribute to his forceful, energized rendering of these songs that the crowd's interest didn't flag. In fact, "Last to Die," "Long Walk Home" and "Devil's Arcade," placed late in the show, had the audience singing and rocking along with comparable enthusiasm as the more familiar vintage material he played.

In terms of older tunes, he seemed drawn to the era of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," performing that album's title tune, as well as "Badlands" and "Promised Land."

He also dusted off "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" from his very first album, now roughly 35 years old.

The band consisted of E Street regulars, including a relatively recent addition, Soozie Tyrell on violin and guitar, and an unobtrusive (and unidentified) replacement for Federici.

Notably absent was Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's wife, who has been an E Streeter since the "Tunnel of Love" tour.

It was heartening to see this long-running band, still mostly intact, playing with undiminished energy and conviction.

Especially stirring was the evident chemistry and friendship between Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt. The two of them engaged in a heated guitar dual during "Gypsy Biker," trading solos on what was the spirited high point of the show.

Saxophone player Clarence Clemons doesn't get around like he used to, moving gingerly about the stage and spending stretches actually seated on a chair. But he can still play those gritty, soulful sax solos that are his trademark.

Springsteen, however, displayed considerable limberness and athletic ability, as he swung around the anchored microphone stand like it was a lamppost and slid on his knees mid-solo.

Video screens flashed close-ups of Springsteen that left no doubt as to the intensity of his conviction and the utter lack of fabrication in his music.

The mood was bittersweet throughout, with songs like "Waiting for a Sunny Day" capturing the mood of doleful rumination and hopeful deliverance that Springsteen expresses so well.

In the end, there was a kind of redemption in the simple act of beating back the darkness with forceful songs and a genuine sense of community. Springsteen worked especially hard on this night to involve everyone in the coliseum in the experience of rising above the gravity and gloom of our world.

He ended the show with "Badlands" and encored with the formidable likes of "Backstreets," "Bobby Jean" and "Born to Run."

Miraculously, nearly 40 years down the road, he, they and maybe even us - the audience - still got plenty of life left in them.

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2008-04-28 Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC