Article 1999-07-15 East Rutherford, NJ

A Night of Many Returns As the Boss Comes Home

It would have been very difficult to leave the Continental Airlines Arena disappointed tonight, when Bruce Springsteen began his first American tour with the E Street Band in 10 years. If Mr. Springsteen's work is a journey — and it is, not just in his close relationship with his fans but also for the characters whose development he follows from album to album — then tonight's three-hour, 26-song show stopped at nearly all points on the map.

The show was a return in many ways for Mr. Springsteen. It was a return to his home state of New Jersey, and in dedication he performed a rarely heard song, ''Freehold,'' a funny yet pointed confessional folk song in which the Boss returns to the town that still remembers him as a baby.

It was also a return to the Continental Airlines Arena, where he performed the inaugural concert when the arena opened in 1981 under its pre-corporate sponsorship name of the Brendan Byrne Arena. Tonight's show was the first of 15 sold-out concerts — the most a single act has ever performed at the arena — which wrap up on Aug. 12.

It was a return to the E Street Band, most of whom Mr. Springsteen has been playing with since he was a teen-ager in Asbury Park. Though he laid off the band in 1989, he keeps returning to them, as if they are the only way to provide a counterbalance to his more introspective, psychological solo work. When the group tried to tackle one of those ballads, ''The Ghost of Tom Joad,'' they had difficulty. The E Street Band isn't an outfit that is very good at not rocking. The band, as Mr. Springsteen has said, is a symbolic bridge between him and his audience.

Finally, it was a return to Mr. Springsteen's fans. His career has tended to cycle between those introspective albums that document his internal battles with cynicism and despair and the full-band rock ones that his audience craves. So, after he released an audience-pleaser with new E-Street Band songs, ''Greatest Hits,'' in 1995, he turned inward with ''The Ghost of Tom Joad.'' Turning right back around, over the last year he has given his fans two things they've been asking for most: ''Tracks,'' a four-CD set full of the songs he hadn't released over the years, and this tour.

Dressed in all black (even his shoes, belt and wrist bands — everything except his gray hair), Mr. Springsteen, 49, didn't just lead his band, he led the crowd, making them believe in the great live rock and roll illusion: that their participation — their yelling, clapping, singing along — is necessary to complete the music. In ''Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,'' he egged on the crowd with several minutes of James Brown-like soul-preacher testimony, joking, as he shook his hips, ''Look out Ricky Martin … I'm filled with the spirit of the ghost of Tom Jones.'' In ''Murder Incorporated,'' he took time for every guitarist — Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt, and himself — to solo after standing aside momentarily for Clarence Clemons, the master of the rock sax solo.

Mr. Springsteen returns when rock and roll needs him most, when arenas are filled either with manufactured teeny-bopper bands, or the music of older teen-agers, white rock bands whose idea of classic pop is gangsta rap. But what most of these bands — from 'N Sync to today's Rolling Stones — lack is depth, the quality that keeps three hours with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from being nostalgia. As a man who's always sung of borders psychological and physical, Mr. Springsteen is aware that he stands on this border, and to stay on the right side he waited until he was 10 songs into the set before playing an actual hit, ''Badlands.''

The opening of the show leaned heavily on the same album that ''Badlands'' was on, ''Darkness on the Edge of Town,'' from 1978. It was the perfect way to avoid being a nostalgia act: by jumping behind nostalgia, going back to the album that predated the first of his many successive breakthroughs. It was in those songs that the themes that he would wrestle with in albums to come began to crystallize: the characters balanced on the brink of a decision, staring at the abyss, ready to jump in with the slim hope that just maybe their dreams might await them at the bottom. ''I believe in the faith,'' he sang in ''Badlands.'' ''And I pray, that someday it may raise me/Above these badlands.''

The two recent unreleased songs he performed tonight, ''Land of Hope and Dreams'' (the show's gospel-derived closer) and ''Freehold,'' bore out his belief that, yes, he could rise above it. Mr. Springsteen's gift has always been that now matter how far he's risen, he's never left the ground he is rooted in.

By Neil Strauss via The New York Times.

On Fire in Meadowlands: Springsteen Is Back

Every step of the way, it seems, Bruce Springsteen has managed to produce the perfect songs and perfect lyrics for the soundtrack to Matt Facendo's life.

Mr. Facendo, 39, grew up in Hazlet, a Jersey guy like Mr. Springsteen. His dad worked in a factory; so, too, did Mr. Springsteen's. He escorted his younger brother, Doug, to his first Bruce Springsteen concert, in Pittsburgh, when Doug was 12. He became a father just as Mr. Springsteen was writing lyrics about the wonders of fatherhood. And Mr. Facendo went through a bitter divorce — just as Mr. Springsteen did — scathed, but full of appreciation for the small and precious things in life.

''I can identify with him so much,'' said Mr. Facendo, a salesman for Sears. ''He was writing songs about the emotional distress he was going through, and you can identify with that. He's not better than you when it comes to emotional or psychological problems.''

Mr. Facendo wasn't the only one who was identifying with Mr. Springsteen today. In fact, there were thousands of people who descended upon the Continental Airlines Arena, right in the heart of the swamps of Jersey, to absorb the first of 15 sold-out shows and, presumably, to make the kind of intimate connection that few performers can hope to achieve in a big-arena setting.[Review, page B6.]

For the sake of statistical posterity, of course, it should be noted that there are many things about the 15-show stint from Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band that can be described as big, as mind-boggling.

For one thing, he will surpass the Grateful Dead as the leading draw in the history of the arena. The 15-night run will be the longest by a single artist, eclipsing Mr. Springsteen's own record of 11 shows in 1992. And the show figures to be one of the biggest grossing concerts of the summer, if not in recent years. Fans snatched up 308,000 tickets, about $75 each, for the East Rutherford shows, from yesterday to Aug. 12.

Tonight they heard Mr. Springsteen say ''Good Evening, New Jersey'' and open the concert with ''My Love Will Not Let You Down'' and ''The Promised Land.'' Middle-aged guys pumped their fists in the air when the E Street Band launched into ''Darlington County.''

The show lasted exactly three hours, ending with an encore highlighted by Springsteen classics like ''Thunder Road,'' ''Bobby Jean'' and ''Born to Run.'' The audience, like the song, was revved up, but the length of the show had clearly gotten to some of them. In Section 239, a man in his 40's who had taken his family along rocked to the music as one of his young sons and his wife dozed, oblivious to the amplified guitar strains and the pounding drums.

Mr. Springsteen and his band arrived in East Rutherford after wrapping up a 17-city European tour. After they finish the New Jersey shows, they will move on to Detroit, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.

But box office statistics and record grosses were not the kinds of conversational tidbits that could be heard in the parking lot of the arena this afternoon, the kinds of things that pulled in people of different generations.

Instead, with Springsteen songs oozing from every other car, there was the distinct sense that this was more than just a concert: it was about appreciating the good times, waxing nostalgic and sharing wistful thoughts about how Bruce — and by extension, everyone in the crowd who aged with him — had changed over the years, and that nothing, nothing, should be taken for granted.

It has been more than a decade, after all, since Mr. Springsteen toured with the E Street Band, and there is no telling when, if ever, they will perform together again on such a tour. Mr. Springsteen, who turns 50 in September, has not had a big hit in many years; he has not even released an album with new material in quite some time. And he has written about changes in his life with the kind of sharp details that a painter could appreciate.

''Essentially, Springsteen's fans understand mortality in a way that they didn't when they were 19,'' said Charles Cross, editor of The Rocket, a music magazine based in Seattle, and author of a book about Mr. Springsteen called ''Backstreets'' (Harmony Books, 1989). ''They find an appreciation for the moments where you can transcend your life. There are a lot of pressures in life, so any time you can have escapism in its purest form, people savor that.''

For weeks, people had been gearing up for the return of Mr. Springsteen, E Street band in tow, with all the attention worthy of a Super Bowl. There were scads of Internet sites; detailed reports about dress rehearsals in small New Jersey clubs; and preparations for a boardwalk-like festival of food concessions and beach volleyball complete with sand hauled in from, yes, the Jersey Shore.

In dozens of interviews in the Meadowlands parking lot today, many people seemed, for a day at least, to exult in the fact that they, too, were from New Jersey, and could identify with Mr. Springsteen and his songs about working-class life, yearning and frustrations.

''Glory Days'' played to the left. ''Thunder Road,'' coming from the sport utility vehicle, to the right. ''Jungleland'' all around.

In the section of the parking lot coded C23, Keith Wells was sipping a drink with his friend Pete Mooney Jr. Two decades ago, Mr. Wells spent hour after ear-pounding hour worshiping Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the radio, at his home by the Jersey Shore, or, as often as possible, in concert. When he became an adult, he said, he took his son Greg, then 9, to his first concert: Bruce, of course.

Today, it was Greg's turn; he had bought a ticket for his dad as a Father's Day gift.

''Listening to his songs is like talking to an old friend,'' said Mr. Wells, 51, a computer consultant who lives in Little Silver, N.J., blasting what he said confidently was ''the best bootleg collection'' of Springsteen songs — ever — from his green BMW.

A few rows away, Mary Anne V. Gross was proudly displaying her ''Jersey Girl'' T-shirt, which she said she bought about a dozen years ago, as a reminder of her devotion to that song, written by Tom Waits and popularized by Mr. Springsteen, and to Mr. Springsteen himself. Three years ago, she married Alex J. Tannucilli, who was her equal as a Springsteen fanatic.

A younger couple walked up and noticed Ms. Gross's T-shirt. They asked to pose for a picture as another trophy for their memories.

And still, it was an hour before the opening curtain.

By David W. Chen via The New York Times.

Springsteen Tour Opener: Review

“Someday these childish dreams must end / To become a man and grow up and dream again,” screamed Bruce Springsteen and guitarist Steve Van Zandt into the same microphone, the tendons in their necks stretched to bursting, their mouths a millimeter apart. “And I believe in the end / Two hearts are better than one.”

It was a moment and a sentiment that captured the wildly emotional return of Bruce Springsteen and the reunited E Street Band to “the great state of New Jersey,” as Springsteen repeatedly referred to it, to launch the American leg of their world tour. Tears and embraces were not uncommon sights as Thursday evening unfolded at East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena. This was a show about “the rebirth and rededication of our band,” Springsteen said, but it was about much more than that as well. It was about reconnecting the ties that bind and a promise that what once was lost could be found again, that what was broken could be made whole. It was also about “the ministry of rock & roll,” as Springsteen said during a hilarious interlude in the middle of a tumultuous version of “Light of Day,” one of the set’s many ecstatic high points.

The stage set was simple, even stark, and Springsteen dressed for work in black jeans and a black button-down shirt. The show, too, was happily short on shtick and long on sheer power. Now forty-nine and settled into a life that makes sense to him, Springsteen no longer needs to pander to his audience as shamelessly as he once did. A rollicking “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” of course, revisited the mythical origins of the E Street Band at some length — and with much charm. And “Freehold,” a new song inspired by a visit Springsteen made to his Catholic grade school, was far too sentimental and cute — including a verse about masturbation. Do we really need Bruce doing the Farrelly brothers?

But for the most part, this was no-frills Bruce and the band tearing through a body of work as distinguished as any in the annals of rock & roll. As the insanely enthusiastic crowd welcomed the E Street Band to the stage, Bruce came out last in the company of the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” from Tracks, then kicked the night off, followed by “Promised Land,” “Two Hearts” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

That opening was focused and intense, but the fun started with the next song, “Darlington County.” One interesting measure of any Springsteen set is how much he invests in his second-tier songs — and by that measure, this night was strong. On “Darlington County,” the E Street Band loosened up and began to swing with the tough finesse of the Rolling Stones.

By this early point in the evening, drummer Max Weinberg had already established himself as the band’s musical star — and by
the end of the night, there simply could be no question about it. On “Light of Day” and a ravaging “Backstreets” Weinberg hit so hard it’s a wonder the drumrise didn’t collapse. Springsteen would look back to him for encouragement — reminiscent of Keith Richards and Charlie Watts — and Weinberg would practically lift out of his seat to get more force into his shots. Weinberg firmly held down barnburners like “Stand On It,” but played with extraordinary delicacy during a lovely, countryish “Mansion on the Hill” and a mesmerizing “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” In all, he put on a remarkable display of skill and musicality.

With a four-guitar front line — Springsteen, Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, with Patti Scialfa on acoustic — this group could obviously flex muscle, but things never tumbled into chaos. In fact, this oversized band — which, in addition to the players already mentioned, also included keyboardists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici and bassist Gary Tallent — made an impressive virtue of discipline. A reworked arrangement of “The River” played down the melody and transformed the song into a film noir mood piece, while “Youngstown” lost its brooding introspection and became an agonized, jackhammer blast. In a touching move, Springsteen re-imagined “If I Should Fall Behind” — the only song he played from Human Touch or Lucky Town — as a kind of E Street statement of shared purpose, with Lofgren, Van Zandt, Clemons and Scialfa each singing verses along with him.

Now, all hipsters know that rock & roll is dead. It must be true — I read it in a newsmagazine just this week. Strangely, Springsteen and the E Street Band haven’t heard the news. Delivering twenty-six songs in three hours, they labored in the belief, however unfashionable it is, that if you play music with passion and conviction and the people who hear it respond with the
same commitment, that music is alive and well. “I can’t promise you life everlasting,” Springsteen bellowed during his “Light of Day” preacher skit, “but I can promise you life RIGHT NOW!” He meant it, we felt it, and, as rock & roll salvation goes, it was enough to get us through the night — and then some.

By Anthony DeCurtis via Rolling Stone.

Bruce Springsteen and the Legendary E Street Band Reunite

You couldn’t have asked for a more emotional setup. Over 300,000 tickets had been sold for the first fifteen American dates of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s reunion tour. All those dates would be taking place at the Continental Airlines Arena, in the band’s home state of New Jersey – “the great state of New Jersey,” as Springsteen invariably puts it. Arenas rarely take on personality, but since he became a superstar in the early Eighties, this venue has become a home for Springsteen as storied as the Stone Poney bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he started out.

Impersonal? Hardly. Even longtime fans wondered whether an indoor arena might not be a bit too small for the energy that these shows would doubtless unleash. After all, Springsteen and the E Street Band hadn’t toured together in more than a decade. The breakup had been hard, making the prospect of this reunion all the sweeter.

Sonic performers might be daunted by expectations on that exalted scale. Can music still mean that much? Springsteen had no doubt. As complex and scarifying as his songs can sometimes be, Springsteen embraces a performance ethic that ultimately boils down to this: If a small city’s worth of people buy tickets for your shows the instant they go on sale, your job is to rock the house until the walls shake.

On the first and fourth dates of their New Jersey stand, that’s exactly what Springsteen and the band did. The stage set was clean and stark – no sponsorship deals, no corporate logos – when the houselights dropped on opening night. One by one, from the rear of the stage, the E Street Band entered the spotlight – guitarists Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa, keyboardists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg. Springsteen emerged last, to thunderous applause, smiling as he sauntered out in the company of the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons.

Anyone worried about too-high expectations got immediate reassurance when Weinberg tattooed a pounding beat and the opening chords rang out of a song that is a statement of purpose: “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” “The Promised Land” followed, and then “Two Hearts.” On that song’s second verse, Van Zandt stepped forward to sing on the same microphone as Springsteen. “I believe in the end/Two hearts are better than one,” they sang, their lips nearly touching. Then came a brooding, forceful “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” with Springsteen alternating a kind of haunted speech-singing with passionate howls as the verses moved into the chorus.

On both nights, Springsteen said that the shows were about “the rebirth and rededication of our band.” Along those lines, the ballad “If I Should Fall Behind” got recast as a powerful declaration of mutual support, with Scialfa, Van Zandt, Clemons and Lofgren all taking lead vocals along with Springsteen. An exuberant “Out in the Street” also became a band anthem, as those players again stepped forward individually to sing, “Meet me out in the street” while the song’s long coda rocked.

Of course, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the E Street Band’s creation myth, got an extended, heartwarming treatment. As the song’s easy R&B groove unfolded, Springsteen, singing in a grainy falsetto, worked in apt period references to the Impressions’ “It’s All Right” and “Keep on Pushing.” All the band members greeted their introductions with musical tag lines – Van Zandt, who appears in The Sopranos, played the theme from The Godfather, and Scialfa sang a verse from the title song of her excellent (and very underrated) solo album, Rumble Doll. Swiveling his hips, Springsteen warned, “Ricky Martin, look out!” and, punning on the title of his most recent solo album, declared that he was searching for “the ghost of old Tom Jones.”

These two shows – and the intervening two nights, as well centered on a core of songs and moods, with substitutions varying the set lists but maintaining their emotional architecture. “I Wanna Be With You” opened the fourth night, while a devastating version of “Jungleland” replaced an equally ravaging “Backstreets.” A countryish “Mansion on the Hill,” with Lofgren on pedal steel guitar, yielded to “Atlantic City” (dedicated to the cast members of The Sopranos, some of whom were in the audience). “The River,” reimagined as a noirish mood piece floating on a lyrical sax solo by Clemons, gave way to a frighteningly intense “Point Blank.” An exultant “Born to Run,” more a memory of desperation than an enactment of it, and full-tilt rockers like “Darlington County,” “Badlands” and “Working on the Highway” turned up both nights.

“Freehold,” a new acoustic ballad inspired by a visit Springsteen made to his Catholic grammar school, indulges his ambivalence about his working-class New Jersey roots (a sense of community clashing with redneck values). It’s funny and touching in parts but ultimately can’t resist resorting to corniness (a verse about masturbation) and sentimentality. “Light of Day,” with Weinberg propelling the band with freight-train force, is a tumultuous set piece. In the song’s middle, Springsteen launches into one of his patented fire-and-brimstone preacher riffs. “If your heart is runnin’ on empty, pull on up to the pump, because we’re gonna fill it up!” he screamed to the congregation. The sanctified fuel, of course, is “the power, the promise, the magic, the mystery, the ministry of rock & roll!”

Believe it. When the E Street Band reunion was announced, a whiff of nostalgia hung around the edges of the widespread celebration. With no album of new songs, would this merely be glory days revisited? Was it a conveniently commercial sop to his most conservative fans, the ones for whom, as Springsteen himself put it, “Me in New Jersey … [is] like Santa Claus at the North Pole.”

Nostalgia is an emotional dead end, a self-indulgent yearning for something that can never be recovered. But history is real, and what these shows are about is the shared history of an artist, a group of musicians and an audience. There have been ecstatic high points over the years, and some sad breakages. As in all families and relationships, band members and fans have come and gone.

These dignified, emotionally uplifting shows, however, demonstrate that what was lost can be found again, what was broken healed. They are not canned greatest-hits regurgitations, mere self-congratulations for past success. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have created a body of work that speaks to our deepest desires for connection. Regardless of what the future holds, these shows testify that those desires can sometimes be satisfied. “Faith will be rewarded,” Springsteen sings in “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the gorgeous new song that closed these nights. It’s a promise, and he is keeping it.

By Anthony DeCurtis via Rolling Stone.
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