Article 2003-07-15 East Rutherford, NJ

In Stadium, Connecting With the Intimacy (and Imagery) of a Kiss

Kisses keep coming up in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's most recent album, ''The Rising,'' released in the backdraft of the Sept. 11 attacks. They are for reassurance, confirmation of one's place in the world, proof of life, a passage to understanding. Whether waking or dying, the characters need to fuse with someone before the song can end.

It makes it seem as if Springsteen has found his master metaphor. Whatever social or political ills may be lurking in his distantly referential songs, kissing will solve them. And not just kissing, but deeper bonding: in the album's title track, which he performed early in his show at Giants Stadium last night, he sang, ''May I feel your arms around me/May I feel your blood mix with mine.''

In the typically well-paced show — the first of 10 concerts scheduled here through the end of August, most of them already sold out — Springsteen did his best to melt into his own band, as well as into the 55,000 people before him. He pressed himself against band members, as if to supply himself with enough battery power to keep stalking the stage. He was looking to connect.

The 10-piece E Street Band has become arklike: it is a keyboard band, a guitar band, and a vocal band all at once, with its pianist and organist, its four guitarists often chiming in unison, and various members becoming harmony singers.

For the seemingly endless ''Rising'' tour, which started last August, Springsteen has had the guitarist Nils Lofgren doubling on pedal-steel guitar, as well as the guest musician Soozie Tyrell playing violin.Those instruments, with their portamento slide, are best suited for the tonal equivalent of the rising (to the occasion, from the ashes, to take one's places) in his new lyrics.

It takes practice, the stadium thing: it's got to be writ large, yet it's got to be intimate; you can't blast them from the start, yet you have to start winding them up as soon as you hit the stage.

Springsteen began alone with a 12-string acoustic guitar, playing an altered-harmony version of ''Born in the U.S.A.'' that sounded like a cross between raga and old rural blues.

He started in with a few of his most stolid, staying-the-course songs, including the obsessive, repetitive ''My Love Will Not Let You Down.''

Then he asked the crowd to settle while he played a pair of mournful songs, ''Empty Sky'' and ''You're Missing.''

In due course Springsteen moved into party songs. In ''Mary's Place,'' he headed into a long interlude, introducing band members in a preacher's unbroken song-speech. As the song pounded to its end, he performed that classic soul-singer move, jumping into a slide on the knees. Quickly, he was back again for the stolid thump: a relaxed-tempo ''Badlands'' and ''Thunder Road.''

And thereafter he went back and forth, wearing out the crowd.

The encores were whiplashing: condensed excitement for 15 minutes, reflection for 10 and so forth.

And finally — after a brief, stealthy speech on the importance of making the government accountable for its actions in Iraq, regardless of one's political party — Springsteen made a great push at the end with his most innocent need-a-kiss rave-up, ''Rosalita.''

By Ben Ratliff via The New York Times.

Springsteen's Homecoming, With 55,000 Guests

If Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about tailgating at a Bruce Springsteen concert, it could not have more classic Springsteen imagery — more Bruceness — than that seen on the asphalt outside tonight's show. All those guys and girls and fathers and sons and husbands and wives, all those cars, cars and more cars.

But there was more: For the man who got his start singing about fortunetellers and Tilt-a-Whirls and chasing silly New York girls down the beach, the State of New Jersey built a make-believe boardwalk outside the stadium.

''When he sets down stakes in New Jersey, forget it,'' one fan said. ''Things are different here.''

Mr. Springsteen performed before a sellout crowd of 55,000 tonight at Giants Stadium. It was the opening of a 10-night run here that Billboard magazine called a record in performing history. No human being has sold more tickets to more concerts in a series, making it one of the biggest stories in open-air entertainment since the Christians and the lions.

Mr. Springsteen is here for so long, and being encountered by so many people — more than half a million tickets sold — that he has risen from man to star to universal friend, as in: We're going to see Bruce.

(''Thursday night?'' ''Can't — going to see Bruce.'')

''We just call him 'Bruce' around the house,'' said Louise Williamson, 42, an accountant in Denville, N.J., sipping a Mike's Hard Lemonade in the parking lot. ''I've got more pictures of Bruce than I have of my family.''

There was sand, a big sand castle, and a row of carny stands like ''Drown the Clown.'' Beer stands, fried dough, test-your-strength sledgehammer games. The breeze felt nice, but it carried with it, from a big stage in the back, the frightening ''Boss Karaoke,'' a stage where concertgoers sang Springsteen songs.

Summer. Stadium. Springsteen. The last time he was this big, it was 1985, after the release of ''Born in the U.S.A.'' Midwestern grandmothers could have picked out his rear end, clad in jeans on the album cover, in a lineup. Bruce himself opened the door of his house on Halloween to face little trick-or-treaters wearing bandanas on their heads and shouting his lyrics at him.

He still has young fans. Tonight was the second Bruce show for Billy Williamson, 9, of Denville. His friends in the third grade laugh at him, but he does not care. ''My mom always played him in the car,'' he said. ''All of a sudden, I feel like the youngest and biggest Bruce fan.''

Joe Turner, 31, a Hoboken firefighter, was dressed like 1980's Bruce in his cutoff T-shirt and bandana. ''I thought I'd bring it back,'' he said. ''I don't normally dress like this, believe me.'' He wore a cellphone and a beeper on the waist of his tight jeans. ''I have a baby on the way,'' he said. ''I could get the call any second.''

Few dress up like Bruce anymore — not even Bruce himself, who favors dark jeans and dress shirts onstage. He was 35 back then, and has flipped the digits around, 53 now. His latest album, ''The Rising,'' has sold well, but not so you hear it blaring from cars stopped at the light. It fell off Billboard's top 200 chart in April. He has recorded a couple of music videos, those quaint relics from back when MTV showed music videos. Earlier this month, a July 4 exhibit outside Madame Tussaud's wax museum in Times Square featured his likeness, in bandana, at a cookout with Lucille Ball and Elvis. Bruce and the dead celebs.

But the show keeps growing. Track his career by the size of the stages: a native of Freehold, N.J., he started in sweaty Jersey Shore dives, humping his band's gear across the river for Greenwich Village gigs. Then bigger clubs, college halls, concert halls, Madison Square Garden and, in 1985, six shows at the stadium, then a record. Since then, he has toured several times, but not on this scale.

Track his career with a walk through the parking lot: ''I used to drive up in my Corvette,'' said Frank Martin, 39, an importer from Manalapan, N.J. ''Now I got a minivan.'' He looked with a touch of sadness at the sausages on the grill beside a friend's truck. ''We used to just bring a keg.'' His friend, Charles Masterpalo, a Manhattan bank employee, has seen Mr. Springsteen 82 times.

The album dwells, in songs alternately reflective and anthem-like, on the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Springsteen kicked off the tour last August in New Jersey, days after the album's release, and he seemed genuinely surprised when most of the audience knew all the new words.

One of the new songs is ''Empty Sky,'' about the World Trade Center. '''I don't even look over at the skyline,'' Mr. Martin said. ''We've got a couple of friends who should be here, but they died.''

Dave Roth, 37, of Voorhees, N.J., praised Mr. Springsteen for not raising ticket prices drastically. Most of the seats cost $75, a bargain to him. ''Every Bruce show is a great Bruce show, but this one's going to be special,'' he said, looking down the little parking lot boardwalk. ''It's a great summer night.''

Mr. Springsteen met his fans alone, walking onstage with just an acoustic guitar for a stripped-down, bluesy version of the song they had been talking about all day, ''Born in the U.S.A.'' The stage was farther back from the front rows than in the smaller arenas, where Mr. Springsteen leaned into the fans, even let them strum his guitar, and last night, he seemed at times to struggle with the urge to run down and touch everybody. He sprinted and slid on his knees. From high up, he was a speck on the stage.

He filled the front end of the concert with new material, like ''The Rising'' and ''Lonesome Day,'' and old favorites for longtime fans, like ''Darkness on the Edge of Town,'' and ''The Promised Land,'' and as a surprise addition that fit the earlier mood outside, the 1980 party rocker ''Sherry Darling,'' about beaches and beer and girls.

''Good evening, New Jersey, it's good to see you,'' he said. ''We've been all around the world. It's nice to be back home.''

By Michael Wilson via The New York Times.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License