Article 1988-02-25 Worcester, MA

Springsteen Starts First Tour in 2 Years

Bruce Springsteen wants to grow up, settle down and remind his huge audience that there's no escape from responsibility. ''One of the hardest things for me over the past 10 years,'' he said Thursday as he introduced and partly disavowed a song from 1975, ''Born to Run,'' ''has been trying to understand what growing up and being a man is all about - trying to make some kind of home for myself and then trying to hold on to it.''

But he also wants to rock out, and for Mr. Springsteen, the two goals are almost always at odds. In the opening show of his first United States tour since 1986, which immediately sold out the 13,000-seat Centrum here, he did his duty by the somber, fatalistic ballads about uncertain love and diminishing prospects that have filled his albums since the 1978 ''Darkness on the Edge of Town.'' And a supercharged rock and soul finale turned the last half-hour of the nearly three-hour show into a rip-roaring, cinderblock-shaking jubilee.

Mr. Springsteen's past tours have earned him a reputation for indefatigable showmanship and anthemic sing-alongs. The current tour still includes dramatic monologues, songs not available on his albums, sing-alongs, oldies, occasional band shtick and a re-enactment of the ''Dancing in the Dark'' video clip. Once he had documented his concerts on the five-LP set ''Live: 1975-1985,'' however, Mr. Springsteen scaled down the arrangements and changed subjects for his 1987 album, ''Tunnel of Love.'' His early albums were about boyish dreams; his next ones were about men's work; ''Tunnel of Love'' is about men and women who are in love or married but not living happily ever after. Most of the songs are midtempo ballads or pop-rock hymns: ruminations on love, not anthems.

Mr. Springsteen performed eight songs from ''Tunnel of Love,'' and from the rest of his catalogue, with a few exceptions (including a searing version of ''Seeds,'' about migrant workers stranded by the Texas oil bust), he's chosen songs about relationships rather than economic troubles. Where he used to end his concerts with, ''I'm a prisoner of rock-and-roll,'' he now shouts, ''I'm a prisoner of love!''

Most of the songs have an earnest, troubled tone, and it's not easy to build a rock-and-roll show around them. The music is solid and assured. Mr. Springsteen plays cutting lead-guitar lines, and his E Street Band and a five-man horn section recruited from the Asbury Jukes fill out the arrangements with warm keyboard sounds and horn-section chords.

Mr. Springsteen has taken to heart his responsibilities as a mass-audience performer. Unfortunately, his good intentions can make him didactic. Where his older songs were kaleidoscopic in everything from vocal delivery to arrangements to wordplay, his newer songs are virtually monochromatic; Mr. Springsteen stands still, sings in one tone - a moan or a rasp or a choked-back croon - and links images to deliver a parable. The songs are well made, with memorable keyboard mottoes and telling images, but their earnestness undermines them.

Mr. Springsteen hasn't entirely misplaced his sense of humor. In the second half of the concert he came up with ''Part Man, Part Monkey,'' a reggae-style defense of Darwin, and ''I'm a Coward When It Comes to Love,'' which crossbreeds ''Rockin' Pneumonia'' and Gino Washington's ''Gino Is a Coward'' and states his latest themes with comic hyperbole. He also reclaimed his own ''Light of Day'' from the Paul Schrader film, and for his encores he revived the wild, woolly ''Rosalita'' and a soul-oldie medley including ''Devil With a Blue Dress On,'' ''Shake'' and more. By then he was racing around the stage and even dancing on Roy Bittan's piano.

Clearly, Mr. Springsteen is grappling with the demands of maturity. Songs like ''Part Man, Part Monkey'' suggest that, at least part of the time, he knows he doesn't have to be solemn to be serious.

By Jon Pareles via The New York Times.

Worcester Journal; Town Asks Springsteen, Why Here? (and Smiles)

Bruce, why Worcester?

Why is Bruce Spingsteen, the nation's biggest rock-and-roll act, beginning his first national tour in two and a half years in this gritty central Massachusetts mill town?

Everyone has an opinion: scheduling, students, sentiment, you name it. But the only thing that really matters to most people here is that come Thursday night, the 38-year-old rocker from New Jersey will be in Worcester and nowhere else.

''This is definitely the biggest event in six years,'' said David R. Mawson, music critic for The Worcester Telegram. The show, Mr. Mawson and others say, is the hottest ticket in town since the Rolling Stones played a small club here in September 1981.

''Everyone is holding their breath until it happens,'' said Chuck Nolin, a disk jockey on WAAF-FM, a local radio station.

Tickets for the three shows by Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band are long gone - 37,000 were sold in a few hours at $20 apiece. Most people know someone who spent frustrating, freezing hours on line, only to come up empty-handed. The Mayor cannot get a seat.

Without doubt, Mr. Springsteen's shows at the Centrum auditorium are offering a morale boost to this city of 165,000 people. Worcester has been maligned as a dreary backwater whose sole attraction is its proximity to Boston, an hour's drive away. Its abandoned railroad terminal, Union Station, stands forlornly at the edge of downtown, the entrance sealed with gray cinder blocks.

But there are signs the city is waking up, and the visits of top-rank artists like Mr. Springsteen reflect that change, local residents say.

Worcester is the second-largest city in New England, and ''we're going to start acting'' like it, said Mayor Jordan Levy.

Young people are starting to return. There is an emerging night life and cultural scene. Worcester now has a city magazine. The Centrum, which opened in September 1982 with Frank Sinatra and has since attracted many other big names, has helped spur a sagging downtown. Perhaps most important, the city is pushing beyond its heavy industry past toward a modern economy focused on high technology and services.

''We just had an identity problem,'' Mayor Levy said. ''We are our own worst enemy.''

It is this lingering image of a down- and-out, blue-collar town that some think appeals to Mr. Springsteen and could be a reason that he chose Worcester to kick off the ''Tunnel of Love Express Tour.'' Mr. Springsteen performed here in 1984, with less fanfare.

Many of Mr. Springsteen's songs focus on alienated youth or hard-working, disenfranchised people beaten down by the system. ''Baby this town rips the bones from your back,'' he sang in ''Born to Run,'' a 1975 composition. ''It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap, we gotta get out while we're young.''

This theme undoubtedly hit home among younger Worcester residents. In the mid-1970's, the city did not seem to hold much promise or attraction for young people, according to several longtime residents. A local folk singer named Roger Salloom wrote his own version of ''Born to Run'' called ''Got to Get Outta Worcester.''

''If Springsteen is anything like his public persona, it would appeal to him to kick off the tour in an undervalued town like Worcester,'' said Michael Warshaw, the editor of Worcester Monthly magazine.

Business reasons may be even more compelling. The city offers such commercial advantages as a large number of college students, accessibility to interstate highways, a central location in New England and the availability of a first-rate hall with open rehearsal dates and a management with solid ties to the performer.

Could the Boss, as his fans know him, really be so calculating? Say it ain't so, Bruce. Mr. Springsteen's people do not like to talk, but softening the blow, a spokeswoman for his record label, Columbia, offered the observation that ''the New England area has always been a Springsteen stronghold.''

In truth, Mr. Springsteen is not the only show in town this weekend. After Thursday night's performance, he must cool his heels for two nights while the Centrum is visited by the increasingly popular United States Hot Rod Mud Bog Drag Racing Championships, featuring the Battle of the Monster Trucks. Mr. Springsteen will be dancing in the dirt Sunday night if the organizers do not clean up in time the vast indoor mud pit created by 60 dump-truck loads of Massachusetts clay mushed by heavy-duty, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Not to raise false hopes, if anything could keep Mr. Springsteen in Worcester between shows, it might well be a hot rod show. Referring to one of many cars immortalized in a Springsteen song, Stephen J. Greenberg, the drag race's producer, said, ''Maybe we'll even wreck a pink Cadillac in honor of the Boss.''

By Allan R. Gold via The New York Times.
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