Article 1979-09-21 New York City, NY

Springsteen Makes Biggest Impact at Antinuclear Benefit

TO judge from the expectation and applause at Friday night's concert, Bruce Springsteen made by far the biggest impact of any of the performers at the five nights of antinuclear‐prosolar benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden, which ended last night.

Concerts with a cause are always difficult to discuss, because the organizers want to place the emphasis on the cause, and yet what is being presented is a musical event. Fortunately, the MUSE Organization — MUSE stands for Musicians United for Safe Energy — had the good sense to keep political rhetoric to a the concert.

The concerts as a whole have shown a marked Los Angeles, soft‐rock bias. That's not surprising, because the bulk of the MUSE musicians come from that place or stylistic persuasion. But it still was unfortunate that they didn't include a major black pop act, or a newwave rock act, or middle‐of‐the‐road performer or disco group.

These were Mr. Springsteen's first concerts in some months — he's been recording his fifth album — and the first live Springsteen performances that will officially be released on records and film. He remarked at one point he was in “bad condition,” even though he said it with apparent good humor. That manifested itself quite simply in that he seemed to tire more quickly from all his exertions, such that his singing was even more limited in range and shorter of breath than it usually is.

And, the E Street Band, although as lively and accomplished as ever in broad terms, lacked that final edge of sharpness that steady touring can bring.

That said, Mr. Springsteen remains the most exciting performer in rockand‐roll. His set lasted 85 minutes —short for him, long for a MUSE set —and consisted mostly of a Springsteen “greatest hits” selection. There were two first‐rate new songs, however, and, before the Mitch Ryder medley during the encores, a nice version of Jay and Rosemary Butler, a respected Los Angeles backup singer.

The crowd was a Springsteen crowd, pure and simple; one got the impression that the other performers and perhaps even the antinuclear issue itself were barely being tolerated. The crowd's predilection for cooing “Bruce” seemed to disconcert some of the other performers, because it sounds suspiciously like “boo,” and indeed a few times there were boos for real.

Sweet Honey in the Rocks, an a cappela group of four black women, was none too politely received. Ry Cooder did better; even with an undistinguished voice he has a palpable charm on stage, and his band — which included the redoubtable David Lindley, who cropped up here and there all night — was really fine.

Chaka Khan was backed backed by an “all star” band that included one Harlette and two members of the Average White Band. Her soul‐shouting funk style was not very impressive, though, and she appeared especially distressed by the audience's impatience.

Jesse Colin Young is a smooth performer who has never made much of an impact on this writer; although he comes from Queens, he seems now particularly symptomatic of the blandness of Los Angeles folk‐rock. Mr. Browne, who followed, was much better. He, too, can sound a little too similar from song to song, and like Mr. Cooder, he doesn't really have a commanding voice. But he makes his limitations of stage flash and voice work for him, and presents a quiet sincerity and sad, church‐ish gravity that can be very moving. The highlight of his set was a traditional song called “The Crow on the Cradle,” sung as a duet on the choruses with Graham Nash and accompanied by Mr. Browne's own acoustic guitar and Mr. Lindley's consoling fiddle.

By John Rockwell via The New York Times.
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