Article 1988-05-16 New York City, NY

Springsteen at the Garden

''There comes a time when you've got to take the past and put it behind you,'' Bruce Springsteen said at Madison Square Garden last night during the opening show of his ''Tunnel of Love Express Tour.'' Mr. Springsteen's reflection was part of a monologue that introduced a powerful, hard-edged new rock song, ''Spare Parts,'' about young love, pregnancy and abandonment, but his words also evoked the transitional position in which America's quintessential rock hero finds himself.

Mr. Springsteen is no longer a romantic rock-and-roll cutup striking rebel poses and evoking a world of youthful fuel-injected passion. Now 38 and married, and having left the New Jersey shore for a home in New York City, he is an adult who maintains a kid's enthusiasm for rock while trying to make grown-up sense out of relationships and the social order.

As the wonderful new songs in the ''Tunnel of Love'' album demonstrate, Mr. Springsteen has entered a new phase. These songs are the first in which he takes a hard look at the reality of personal relationships, sorting through all the ambiguities of love - commitment and fear, security and boredom, sexual selfishness and emotional generosity. He finds the terrain perilous and unpredictable, yet manages to remain affirmative, in much the same way that ''Born in the U.S.A.'' scrutinized ordinary lives caught in the vise of social upheaval, yet managed to sound optimistic. Mr. Springsteen is, as he once wrote, a believer in ''The Promised Land.''

Mr. Springsteen's gift is his ability to translate all of these ambiguities into basic, non-analytical argot that speaks as much to the body and the emotions as to the mind. In concert, he has also figured out how to string songs into extended journeys that take on a cumulative power as the evening proceeds. His ''Tunnel of Love Express Tour,'' which is to play four more Garden shows, all of them sold out, might be described as a serious carnival ride from confusion into jubilation.

Last night's first set, which opened with the new album's title song, tunneled into the heart of darkness and reached depths of anguished frustration in ''Seeds'' and ''Roulette,'' the howling laments of working men victimized by social change. The second set, which included such Springsteen classics as ''I'm On Fire,'' ''Born to Run,'' ''Dancing in the Dark'' and ''Hungry Heart,'' was more upbeat, with Mr. Springsteen poking fun at television evangelists and delivering rollicking renditions of ''Glory Days'' and ''Rosalita'' - raucous, punchy songs with a nostalgic clout.

The locomotive-driven arrangements by Mr. Springsteen and members of the E Street Band, augmented by a roaring five-man horn section, skillfully underscored the songs' deeper themes without ever seeming fussy. The keyboard textures on ''Tunnel of Love'' and other songs walk a perfect tightrope between churchy seriousness and carnival sleaze, and the jackhammer rhythms of ''Roulette'' evoke both patriotic zeal and murderous fantasy.

Drawing just the right shadings was Mr. Springsteen's magnificent performance, almost operatic in its oratorical power and at the same time a ferociously joyful roar of exuberant freedom. While he's onstage, Mr. Springsteen reconciles seemingly unreconcilable concepts: a sober awareness of social and erotic realities and a boundless faith in life.

By Stephen Holden via The New York Times.
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