Article 1992-07-23 East Rutherford, NJ

Springsteen, 42, Leans Toward Family Values

"Have we got any moms and pops out there?" Bruce Springsteen asked the audience that packed the Brendan Byrne Arena on Thursday night. It was an unusual question for a rock concert, but Mr. Springsteen is proud to be a grown-up. "You're looking a little older out there," he said to the crowd. Aging gracefully may be the hardest feat in rock, but Mr. Springsteen stands a chance of doing just that.

In his first tour since 1988, introducing a new band and playing predominantly new songs, Mr. Springsteen has changed his role once again. The voice of hot-wired romance and disillusion in the 1970's and the voice of working folks' struggles in the 1980's has returned as a 42-year-old family man, singing about the healing power and everyday complications of love.

At the arena, he talked soberly about "the legacy we leave to our children," and brought out his wife, Patty Scialfa, to sing an affectionate duet during "Brilliant Disguise." At one point, he recited Mother Goose rhymes. But while Mr. Springsteen is now married with children, he is still ready to create a rocking good time.

By starting his tour in New Jersey, where he is playing 11 concerts through Aug. 10, Mr. Springsteen jovially defies any resentment some fans might feel about his leaving his home state for Hollywood. When he mentioned living in California, the crowd booed. "Get the hostility out," Mr. Springsteen urged, "I can take it." Later, the trim, muscular singer joked about notions that he "got all fat and lazy" on the West Coast; his concert stretched to more than three hours of music.

In his time off, Mr. Springsteen has been revitalized. Songs that can sound overly earnest on albums, like the Roy Orbison-style "A Man's Job," become gleeful on stage. Mr. Springsteen remains one of rock's most appealing performers, filling songs with the physicality of both his husky voice and his hard-working body language, mixing what looks like sincerity with exuberant shtick.

He pulled band members, and a fan or two, into the spotlight with hearty camaraderie. Orating like a televangelist, he described "Leap of Faith," a love song, as a song about faith, love, and "bizarre ritualistic sex practices," adding, "And it's completely 100 percent autobiographical." At the end of the song, he leaped into the audience, then swam back to the stage atop the crowd's arms.

The only holdover from Mr. Springsteen's long-running E Street Band is Roy Bittan, on keyboards. The new group also includes Shane Fontayne on guitar; Tommy Sims on bass; Zachary Alford on drums, and Crystal Taliefero on guitar, percussion and, at one crucial moment, saxophone. Ms. Taliefero also sings along with five backup vocalists: Bobby King, Gia Ciambotti, Carol Dennis, Cleo Kennedy and Angel Rogers.

Although the band can re-create the bustling, tootling E Street sound in older songs, most of the time it is leaner and guitar-driven. Mr. Fontayne, formerly of the California country-rock band Lone Justice, provides sustained, rolling rhythm guitar; Mr. Springsteen plays raw, stinging, blues and rock-tinged leads. Some older songs, like "Thunder Road" and "Dancing in the Dark," have been recast as introspective solos or duets; others charge along in familiar arrangements.

The band can sound smooth in ballads, with the backup singers harmonizing on ooh's and woo's. Mr. King brings a gospel falsetto to songs with a touch of 1960's soul music, while Ms. Taliefero is a sassy female foil. But Mr. Springsteen's new band opens up for fierce, primal rock, as it did in "Cover Me" — with a searing guitar solo by Mr. Springsteen — and "Souls of the Departed," about the horrors of the world outside the nuclear family. In "57 Channels," a new arrangement also invoked some 1990's effects, with taped sound bites and a danceable beat, as close to trendy as Mr. Springsteen approached.

Mr. Springsteen has left behind his commercial peak of the mid-1980's, when he sold more than 10 million copies of "Born in the U.S.A." During the concert, he made a show of searching Billboard's chart for his two 1992 albums, "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," grumbling about the higher showing of Garth Brooks, Def Leppard and "Elton John — he's even older than me." When it comes to rocking a concert audience, though, Mr. Springsteen thrives without any gimmick beyond songs, voice and charisma. He riveted attention; there wasn't even a video screen to enlarge his image.

With noise and fragmentation all over popular music, Mr. Springsteen remains an old-fashioned craftsman, writing terse four-minute songs that invoke the directness of country, rhythm-and-blues and early rock. "Light of Day" celebrated the momentum of three chords and a basic riff as if they had just been invented.

Mr. Springsteen has come the long way around to rediscover one of rock's bedrock messages: that secular love can offer transcendence. He opened the concert with "Better Days," a song about being saved from despair by love. Mr. Springsteen describes hopelessness in more detail (and with better aphorisms) than early rockers did, and he warns that romance can have its ups and downs. Yet as he turns inward, celebrating the sanctuary of wife and family, Mr. Springsteen still can't find anything better than love.

By Jon Pareles via The New York Times.
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