Article 1984-08-05 Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ



WITH all the excitement swirling about the Jacksons, let us not forget Bruce Springsteen. He did have a No. 1 album this summer, after all, with ''Born in the U.S.A.'' And he is playing to more ticket- buyers in the New York area than the Jacksons or anyone else has ever done in a single engagement - 202,000 of them, to be exact, in 10 long- since-sold-out concerts in the Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands of his native New Jersey. The first of those concerts was Sunday night, and they continue in pairs, with rest days in between, through Aug. 20.

Mr. Springsteen and his E Street Band will need the rest. Without an opening act, they offer a prodigious four-hour performance, an almost unstinting (there is one intermission) outpouring of music, dancing energy and heartwarming communal feeling. Mr. Springsteen is, not to put too fine a point on it, the best rock-and- roll performer this writer has ever seen. At one point Sunday, Mr. Springsteen pulled a teen-age girl on stage with him. Through binoculars, one could read her lips: ''I love you so much,'' she said, and in that she spoke for the entire audience.

To say Mr. Springsteen is the best rock performer ever is not to say he is the best composer, the best singer, the best guitarist or the best top-10 singles artist. He has his limitations - of musical invention, of audience (there was hardly a black face to be seen Sunday), of social impact in a time that distrusts the redemptive power of popular art.

But for his very perseverance, his proud assertion of the values that have made rock music so beloved, Mr. Springsteen deserves our admiration. But if that were all there was to it, he would have to rest content as a wax dummy in a rock-and-roll museum. What makes him so appealing is how he carries on, alive and literally kicking, entertaining and instructing us in a way that we can't tell the difference between the two.

The entertainment part is obvious: not just in his ebullient uptempo songs, but in his set as a whole Mr. Springsteen gives his people what they want. And yet he's made them want more, and better, than they usually do today. Unlike so much of the best rock, which evoked a rebellious negativism, and so much latter-day rock, which panders to what the Soviets call ''hooliganism,'' Mr. Springsteen's projects an almost unfailing positive vision. It is a remarkable feat: passion without enduring pain; positivism without sacrifice of power.

The instruction also comes because Mr. Springsteen is such a deep and all-encompassing encyclopedia of rock idioms. His historicism can be heard most clearly in his encores, when he sings the songs of others - Sunday, Tom Waits's ''Jersey Girl,'' his Mitch Ryder medley and ''Twist and Shout,'' based on the Beatles' version. But such a love for the past suffuses his own composition, as well. Mr. Springsteen's detractors complain about his lack of musical invention, but the charge seems misplaced. He works within a set of idioms; together they constitute a tradition. But he uses those idioms as if it never once occurred to him that they might be stale, and in his hands they aren't.

Furthermore, he was in fine voice Sunday, and the E Street Band (despite a sound system that seemed a little overblown and muddy from this writer's seat) was in solid form, with Nils Lofgren filling in adeptly for the departed Steve Van Zandt. There is also a new backup singer, Patti Scialfa, but she had little to do.

For all his traditionalism, however, there is also a discernible evolution in Mr. Springtseen's work. He hardly does anything now from his period of the early 1970's, apart from ''Growin' Up'' and ''Rosalita.'' The self-conscious myth-making and inflated verbosity live on in some of his best-loved songs of the mid-70's, however. Those songs perhaps overdominated the set selection Sunday, bumping out some of his more sombre recent work. But the crowd - his crowd - loved it. To hear 20,000 people singing whole songs a cappella, loud and clear, was extraordinary.

Since the mid-70's, Mr. Springsteen has moved into an austere phase, telling grim heartfelt stories about people struggling to survive in a society indifferent to them. What was interesting about Sunday's show, in part, was how all this work sounded of a piece. The acoustic songs on his ''Nebraska'' album were fleshed out (sometimes too sweetly, as with the overuse of a noxious chime effect from one of the electronic keyboards); the synthesized dance-rock textures of ''Born in the U.S.A.'' were revealed as superficial overlays of his standard rock arrangements.

For sheer excitement, this writer still prizes Mr. Springsteen's club shows of the mid-70's: arenas inevitably rob music of some of its impact. But their large scale also becomes a fitting setting for an artist of such genuinely popular aspirations.

This is not ''pop''; not commercial calculation. What makes Mr. Springsteen such a satisfying harbinger of the ''rock-and-roll future'' is not his anticipation of today's trends - they have grown almost foreign to him - but his role as a musician working lovingly within the rock tradition to make serious adult art. That's worth cheering about, just as much as the spellbinding fervor of his actual performances.

By John Rockwell via The New York Times.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License