Article 1985-08-18 East Rutherford, NJ


Let us not pussyfoot about this: Bruce Springsteen's opening-night New York-area concert at Giants Stadium here tonight - nearly four hours of it, counting a 40-minute intermission - was a flat-out, unqualified triumph. It was even markedly better than the remarkable show that Mr. Springsteen and his E Street Band offered here just over a year ago, in the Brendan Byrne Arena right across the parking lot.

That show inaugurated a worldwide tour, one that has helped lift Mr. Springsteen from the ranks of mere rock megastars into the more rarefied group of artists who have defined the history of the rock genre - and won themselves a mythic place in that history.

There was some reason to fear for these Giants Stadium shows. The six of them will play to an estimated 390,000 people, adding up to an unparalleled exercise in rock-and-roll gigantism.

The progression from arena to stadium encapsulates a decision that all massively successful rock stars must make - whether an increase in audience size is worth the inevitable loss of intimacy. It's a more complex question than one might think, particularly for a genuine populist artist like Mr. Springsteen.

Clearly, most rock acts sound better in the hot, closed-in, ready-to-explode-with-excitement ambiance of a club. Yet when a performer becomes as popular as Mr. Springsteen has in the last year, he also has an obligation to play for as many fans as possible of the multi-millions who want -desperately need is more like it - to see him. And at its best, like tonight, a mass show brings an extraordinary sense of communality that no club can quite match.

Tonight's show suggests that the real gulf to be bridged is between the theater and the indoor arena. The jump up from there to a stadium is not so big - at least in a relatively compact environment like Giants Stadium, in which the stage still seems reasonably close from the highest tier at the rear.

One big reason this show was superior to last summer's was the presence of two large video screens flanking the stage. They allowed for an intimacy that wasn't possible a few years back, even in theaters, simultaneously offering Mr. Springsteen as confidant and heroic icon. And with a sound system as clear and focused as the one Mr. Springsteen has at his disposal, without the distracting echoes that indoor spaces sometimes entail, both the broad anthems and the intimate between-songs narratives came across with exemplary clarity. One could actually understand nearly all the words - not that most of tonight's 65,000 fans didn't know them already.

Some of those words have direct political implications, but in the past - as recently as last year - Mr. Springsteen wasn't always forthcoming about his intentions. Tonight he specifically advocated assistance to New York and New Jersey food banks, and for his first encore he chose Woody Guthrie's ''This Land Is Your Land,'' which he prefaced with another unambiguous call for national renewal.

Another reason for this triumph was that the nature of Mr. Springsteen's music allows it to be inflated up to stadium size with relative ease. He writes strong, solid, almost ponderous melodies, and even his uptempo songs have a clean-cut directness that allows for amplified expansion.

But the best reason of all for this show's success was that Mr. Springsteen and his wonderful band have a year and a world's worth of practice under their belts. One sign of it was that Patti Scialfa, who filled a mostly ancillary role last summer, seemed more surely integrated as both keyboardist and singer into this former boys' club of a band. But the show's execution as a whole combines sure precision with endearing spontaneity in the best Springsteen manner, and Mr. Springsteen's hoarse, hortatory baritone sounded more fresh and powerful than ever.

In keeping with his political reticence, he had seemed last summer to slight, just a bit, the somber, austere laments about contemporary American working-class life that have defined his mature output. What was especially heartening about the first half was that he gave us those songs in full measure - including a powerful new one, ''Seeds,'' about auto-industry migrants out of work in the Texas oilfields. And this, remember, was in a monstrous stadium that might have seemed to preclude such intimate intensity altogether.

Mr. Springsteen not only sang those sad, gospel-flavored ballads, he made them sound like the affirmations they are, down deep. And when he got to the ebullient songs, which lightened the lowering gloom of the first half and brilliantly illuminated the second, the crowd was dancing not just in the dark, but in the aisles.

By John Rockwell via The New York Times.
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