Article 2012-04-04 Izod Center, East Rutherford, NJ

The Boss Roars Tough and Tender

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Bruce Springsteen kept toggling between hope and despair at the Izod Center here on Tuesday night, and not just with his usual cathartic aplomb. Over the course of a nearly three-hour show he led the E Street Band through a succession of peaks and valleys, sometimes choosing to emphasize the disjunction between them. “It’s fun in here,” he said during one of these moments, “but there’s a lot of hard times out there.”

That was the jarring transition from “E Street Shuffle,” a euphoric old staple, to “Jack of All Trades,” a sour, hard-bitten newish ballad. And just in case the point hadn’t fully registered, there were lyrics like these: “The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin/It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again.” Mr. Springsteen spit them out like a bitter tonic, resigned but hardly accepting; he struck a similar chord in the following tune, “Seeds,” before the dizzying upswing of “Prove It All Night.”

Maybe this emotional seesaw was unavoidable under the circumstances. Mr. Springsteen is on tour behind an album, “Wrecking Ball” (Columbia), that flogs a populist message with about as much blunt force, and as little nuance, as the title suggests.

The tour, which lingers in the New York region through Monday, has so far preserved certain anchors in the set list, some from the new album. Its curtain raiser is “We Take Care of Our Own,” a national call to conscience; the first song in the encore is “Rocky Ground,” a sanctified plea for deliverance. “Jack of All Trades” comes about a third of the way in, not long after “Death to My Hometown,” which adopts a Celtic-punk heave, a robber-baron conceit and more than a hint of kitsch.

Mr. Springsteen, 62, has never had a problem wringing uplift from struggle; that was the implication of the show’s most rousing songs, like “Born to Run,” “Badlands” and “The Promised Land.” And he has engaged poignantly with national tragedy. Among the other highlights here were “The Rising,” originally a salve for Sept. 11, and “American Skin (41 Shots),” inspired by the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo and rededicated, during a show last week, to Trayvon Martin.

Speaking of which, another whiplash: “American Skin” came immediately after the concert’s frothiest moment of pop communion, a soul medley culminating in “634-5789.” After he belted that Wilson Pickett hit, standing on a platform in the audience, Mr. Springsteen crowd-surfed his way back to the stage, on his back with arms outstretched.

Behind him at every turn, the E Street Band played with a lean, explosive vigor, sounding stalwart on the war horses and invigorated by relative obscurities like “So Young and in Love,” an old roadhouse shuffle. Max Weinberg exerted his thunderous but fastidious force at the drums; Garry Tallent laid a concrete foundation on bass.

Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren shared guitar duties with Mr. Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa; the solos, mostly by Mr. Springsteen, were good, though Mr. Lofgren fashioned a great one on “Because the Night.”

There were also backup singers, a violinist, a percussionist and a horn section — 17 musicians in all — and somehow the bigness of the output felt right.

But no Big Man: this is Mr. Springsteen’s first tour without Clarence Clemons, the tenor saxophonist who did as much as anyone to define the E Street sound, before his death last year. His nephew, Jake Clemons, took over many of his riffs and solos, delivering a strong approximation of his tone, though only a portion of his presence.

A natural tribute arrived in “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” the final tune: after Mr. Springsteen sang “And the Big Man joined the band,” he led the arena in a minute-long round of applause, smiling as he held his microphone aloft.

The home-field advantage that Mr. Springsteen savored throughout the show got its ideal expression in the new album’s title track, which inhabits the point of view of the old Giants Stadium.

The song’s lyrics propose a defiant dare, along with a philosophical refrain: “And hard times come and hard times go,” Mr. Springsteen growled, repeating the line again, and again, and again, and again.

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