Article 1981-07-02 East Rutherford, NJ


Bruce Springsteen's Thursday night show at the Byrne Arena in New Jersey's Meadowlands sports complex marked the new facility's debut as a site for rock performances. It is one of the first large arenas in the nation to have been designed with rock shows as well as sports events in mind, and it seems to work well for music.

The seats are comfortable, the acoustics did not seem to pose any notable problems, and the arena is easy to get to from Manhattan. It will undoubtedly prosper as an attractive alternative to the chancy acoustics and high production costs involved in putting on rock shows at Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Springsteen's performance, the first of six he is giving at the arena, hit a careening pace at the very beginning with ''Born to Run'' and sustained it through two long sets. Last winter at Madison Square Garden, Mr. Springsteen had not organized his material as effectively. His ballads, which tend to play on tonic-to-subdominate chord changes and to sound very much alike, were bunched together, especially in his opening set.

Mr. Springsteen seems to want every ballad he writes to provide an emotionally draining rock-and-roll catharsis, and the best of them do. But as every accomplished dramatist knows, catharsis depends on contrast. Mr. Springsteen also writes melodically appealing upbeat material that tends to be much lighter in tone. To this listener, his faster numbers are his real strength, and they provide the contrast that allows his ballads to communicate effectively.

The playing of Mr. Springsteen's E Street Band was as tight and focused as the writer has ever heard it, and several songs that had once been somewhat ponderous set pieces sounded leaner, and much the better for it. Overly elaborate arrangements have marred Mr. Springsteen's albums, turning some potentially powerful songs into bloated rock operettas, but on his most recent record, ''The River,'' he seemed to be making a determined effort to cut away the excess, and this process is continuing in his stage show.

Occasionally, the show still drags. On Thursday, ''The Promised Land'' dissipated much of its momentum in a concluding sing-along chorus that sounded uncomfortably like an oompah band, and the personal soliloquy Mr. Springsteen uses to introduce ''Independence Day'' has begun to seem a little perfunctory and might profitably be discarded.

In general, Mr. Springsteen is less than convincing when he seems to be buying the image admiring critics and fans have created for him, the image of the rock messiah whose songs are eternal verities carved in stone. No rock artist can afford to take himself that seriously and, in any case, Mr. Springsteen's writing is too uneven and too musically limited to bear up under the sort of scrutiny that is routinely lavished on holy writ.

He was born to run from one end of a stage to the other, playing inspiring, supercharged rock-and-roll; when he is doing that, he easily lives up to his notices.

By Robert Palmer via The New York Times.
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