Article 1999-04-09 Barcelona, Spain

Springsteen's America Plays Europe

''As You Know, You Are the Boss,'' read a red, white and blue banner flung over the highest balcony of the Palau San Jordi arena here on Friday night, hailing Bruce Springsteen in the oddly formal language of translation, as he began his European tour in the same arena where Michael Jordan displayed a different form of prowess during the 1992 Olympics.

Mr. Springsteen, rock's living symbol of indefatigable American spirit, entered Europe at a moment when American cultural dominance may not be altogether welcome. But by pushing through the particulars of his story-songs to their core of common feeling, this cultural emissary renewed an international bond. His music was much more confident than the careful Spanish with which he occasionally greeted the zealous crowd. His message, of freedom found in personal heroism and communal empathy, came clear not only in the words that these fans had memorized but in his dependably inspiring sound as well. The show reasserted Mr. Springsteen's belief in what he called ''the ministry of rock.'' ''I can't offer you everlasting life,'' he preached during ''Light of Day.'' ''But I can promise life right now.''

The reason for Mr. Springsteen's vigor is his reunion with the eight-piece E Street Band, prompted by the release of the Columbia boxed set ''Tracks'' last November. Mr. Springsteen's longtime group, which had not toured together in a decade, is as emblematic of democratic camaraderie as Mr. Springsteen is of proletarian striving. With all members present, including the original guitarist, Steve Van Zandt, and his successor, Nils Lofgren, and the singer Patti Scialfa, who joined in the 1980's and later became Mr. Springsteen's wife, 1999's E Street Band represents an accord dismissing past differences in favor of longstanding pacts and familial connections.

Throughout the show band members hugged, shared microphones and beamed at one another, showing delight that seemed real, though not at all spontaneous. If at times they seemed to be enacting a revue about rock instead of a plain old rock show, no one in the arena minded. E Street Band shows have always been highly staged affairs. Fans welcomed cues as corny as the guitarists lining up to play a riff, or the brawny saxophonist Clarence Clemons lifting the diminutive Mr. Lofgren out of the way to get at the vocal microphone.

Actual spontaneity would not have been as rousing as these familiar signs of fun, especially across the lines of nation and language. On Friday old moves were revived while new ones claimed a place. At 49 Mr. Springsteen is neither the runty dreamer he was early on, nor the ascendant action hero of the mid-1980's. He played the patriarch, surveying his compadres like one of the likable padrones in ''The Sopranos,'' the popular HBO mini-series in which Mr. Van Zandt is a co-star. When Mr. Springsteen wiggled his hips, he seemed like Otis Redding; in more somber moments, like the acoustic ''The Ghost of Tom Joad,'' he evoked Woody Guthrie.

Mostly he played Bruce Springsteen, the outsider who found citizenship amid fellow strivers who still believe in ''the promised land.'' ''Sometimes I feel so weak I wanna explode,'' he sang in the song named for that biblical image. It is an emblematic Springsteen lyric, expressing vulnerability and virility in one compelling stroke. ''The Promised Land,'' like ''Badlands,'' ''Thunder Road,'' ''Backstreets'' and many other favorites offered alongside quieter picks like ''The Streets of Philadelphia'' and ''Mansion on the Hill,'' blended the lyrical strains of Mr. Clemons's saxophone, Roy Bittan's piano and Danny Federici's keyboards with the brawn of all those guitars. (Ms. Scialfa also played acoustically.)

In Barcelona the sound's links to florid Mediterranean pop traditions surfaced, especially in Mr. Springsteen's ardent vocals and the melancholy core of his melodies. But the music was also emphatically American in its blend of the homey and the grand, the conventional and the seemingly unbound.

Mr. Springsteen and his band took some chances. A new version of ''Youngstown'' turned that acoustic tale of woe into a bitter rocker. ''She's the One,'' a ballad two decades old, was resurrected in a spellbinding version driven by Mr. Springsteen's tense vocals and the skipping heartbeat of Max Weinberg's drums. The night's one new song, ''Land of Hope and Dreams,'' was a self-conscious attempt at a modern-day spiritual that did not completely coalesce. And in the bit of new choreography most likely to endure, Mr. Springsteen traded vocals with Mr. Van Zandt, Mr. Lofgren, Ms. Scialfa and Mr. Clemons in a hymnlike take on the lovely ballad ''If I Should Fall Behind.''

Generally though, it was a patented E Street Band show, with much emotion generated on cue. Not every cultural divide was crossed; the crowd filled the empty moments between songs with distinctly European soccer chants. But the pleasure palpable everywhere showed that Mr. Springsteen and his band can still tap the healing power of their own personal, universal language.

By Ann Powers via The New York Times.
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