Article 2007-09-28 East Rutherford, NJ

A Small Arena Audience Helps Drill the E Street Band Into Tour-Ready Shape

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 28 — “Welcome to the last night of E Street boot camp,” Bruce Springsteen said. “Bruuuce!” the audience said. “Bruuuce!”

The Friday concert was billed as the last of three public rehearsals for his tour with the E Street Band, a tour that is scheduled to start on Tuesday in Hartford. The location was the Continental Airlines Arena here, but only a few thousand tickets were offered, at $100 each; they disappeared immediately. If anything, the fact that this wasn’t a proper concert only increased the anticipation. Fans could feel as if they were eavesdropping on their hero, watching him hard at work, like one of the characters in his songs.

Maybe people were disappointed, then, that there were no false starts, no second takes, no exasperating lectures from a frustrated drill sergeant to his weary troops. The most exotic thing about the concert was the sea of empty seats at the back of the arena and the expanse of empty space on the floor. It felt more spooky than intimate, especially if you got there early enough to enjoy the apocalyptic weather: a half-cloudy sky, a sudden rainstorm, a strong wind blowing dust around the parking lot. (The tickets said 7:30 p.m., but doors didn’t even open until 7, and the music didn’t begin until 9.)

The show started with “Radio Nowhere,” the heraldic first song from Mr. Springsteen’s new album, “Magic” (Columbia). It has a chord progression that worked just as well when Tommy Tutone used it for “867-5309/Jenny.” And the lyrics are a reminder that no rock star has ever been better at blurring the line between rumination and exhortation. He keeps asking, “Is there anybody alive out there?” When he sings it on the album, it’s a wistful question with no correct answer. But when he sang it on Friday night, there was exactly one correct answer: “Bruuuce!”

It seems that this is going to be Mr. Springsteen’s most joyful-sounding tour in years. The most rousing new songs, like “Livin’ in the Future,” a deceptively jubilant chronicle of political despair, fit right in; others, like “Devil’s Arcade,” inspired sitting ovations. Notably absent was “Your Own Worst Enemy,” a new song that bears a pleasing and wholly unexpected resemblance to the work of the indie-pop band the Magnetic Fields.

Over all, the set felt strong but slightly shapeless, perhaps because Mr. Springsteen and his troops are still toying with it. He resurrected “Thundercrack,” which was recorded nearly a quarter-century ago and released in his 1998 box set, “Tracks”; it sounded great. So did “The Rising,” which has survived its role as a 9/11 theme song. By contrast, “Born in the U.S.A.” hasn’t quite recovered from decades of use and abuse. And he modified the wild bluesy version of “Reason to Believe” that he sang on the “Devils & Dust” tour, giving the song a thrilling strut.

Despite the occasional sour note or funny look, the members of the E Street Band seemed to please their sergeant. At the end of the night, as a familiar sound — “Bruuuce!” — once again filled the arena for the last time, he announced, “Boot camp is complete.”

By Kelefa Sanneh via The New York Times.
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