Article 2016-01-29 Verizon Center, Washington, DC

Springsteen brings a long and winding ‘River’ to Verizon Center

There are no obvious lyrical or musical themes that unite the tunes on “The River,” the 1980 double album from Bruce Springsteen. Not that he ever claimed this was his “Madam Butterfly” or “Tommy.” Still, apart from collections of rarities and outtakes, “The River” is the least cohesive song set Springsteen ever released. Which makes his choosing to play it in its entirety during his current tour seem like a flimsy excuse to hit the road, without having to make a new record.

But anything that gets Springsteen onstage — as he was for three marvelous hours at Verizon Center on Friday — is fine by his fans. After opening with “Meet Me in the City,” a light rocker recorded during “The River” sessions that didn’t make the original cut, he gave a track-by-track recital of the album.

Some of the songs have aged wondrously. Springsteen occasionally stopped rocking to explain to the packed house his motivation behind certain material. “Independence Day,” he said, was his first attempt to write about his struggles with his father and was written at a point in his life when he was first realizing that his parents “had their own dreams” about how their lives would work out, before the real world got in the way. Most members of the audience were old enough to have been on both sides of the parent-child wars by now. Springsteen also said he wrote the title track for his sister, who was having domestic and financial troubles at the time. As his audience has aged, the gloom inspired by that song’s climactic question — “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” — has only gotten more profound.

The sax solos, now delivered by Jake Clemons (nephew of the late E Street Band stalwart Clarence Clemons), and the keyboard-heavy new wave rockers, including “I’m a Rocker,” set a nostalgic time and place musically.

Another sign of how the world has changed came while Springsteen reprised “Hungry Heart,” which gave him the first hit single of his career. The singer walked into the masses that packed the standing-room-only floor and let them pass his body over their heads to the stage. He couldn’t have pulled that same stunt during the original tour behind “The River”; at the time, general-admission shows were banned after fans were crushed to death at a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati. As packed and kinetic as the scene at Verizon Center was, Springsteen knew he’d be safe. Any deaths on the floor among these concertgoers would probably have been of natural causes. (Springsteen was the first major concert act allowed to do general-admission seating in Cincinnati after the Who tragedy.)

The years haven’t been gracious to other aspects of the album. Hearing all of its songs in one sitting reveals that if “The River” has any single protagonist, it’s a dubious “little girl.” It’s impossible to ignore how vintage “Bruuuce” — who was 31 when the record was released — couldn’t stop himself from referring to females that way. No fewer than 10 of the album’s songs find the singer pleading with or just plain ogling one “little girl” after another.

There’s the roots rocker “Cadillac Ranch,” for example, in which he drools over a “little girlie in the blue jeans so tight.” And the “pretty little girl” he locks eyes with on another raver, “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” But she also shows up in “The River’s” more serious fare, such as “Jackson Cage” (“Little girl, you’ve been down here so long”) and “Point Blank,” which has the singer crooning, ominously, “You been fooled this time, little girl.” (Springsteen also wrote and recorded “This Little Girl Is Mine” during “The River” sessions but gave that future hit single to Gary “U.S.” Bonds.)

After the “River” set, Springsteen launched into a breathless recitation of fan favorites from all phases of his career. The audience, as is now expected, overpowered him and the band while shouting through such familiar anthemic fare as “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run” and “Rosalita.” Shortly before calling it a night, Springsteen performed “Dancing in the Dark,” blessing two female fans near the stage with an invitation to dance with him, as he’s done, tour after tour, since courting Courteney Cox in the 1984 video that made him an international superstar and turned the song into his most successful single.

Yeah, rock concerts are best left to singles.

By Dave McKenna via The Washington Post.

5 observations from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s ‘The River’ tour at Verizon Center in D.C. on Jan. 29

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band invited fans in Washington to go down to “The River” on Friday, and into the river they dived. Here are five observations from the marathon concert at Verizon Center, which featured a performance of the 1980 double album in its entirety.

1. ‘The River’ is a deep, deep dive.
The show began just after 8:15 p.m. with the familiar-sounding “River” outtake “Meet Me in the City,” played with the house lights still on. Then, the lights dimmed and Springsteen revealed his intentions for “The River.” “I wanted to make a big record that felt like life,” Springsteen said. “Or like an E Street Band show.” A sprawling tour de force, the 20-song album is perhaps the best representative of Springsteen’s range, with pop songs, rockers and ballads in equal measure. And for the most part, it worked in concert. The first hour was more successful, thanks to the anthems “The Ties That Bind,” “Out in the Street” and “Hungry Heart,” the latter of which found Springsteen crowd-surfing through the general admission pit. It was in the second hour that things dragged, with ballads “Stolen Car,” “Drive All Night” and “Wreck on the Highway” slowing the pace.

2. There wasn’t much time to go exploring.
Because “The River” ate up nearly two-thirds of the concert, there wasn’t much room left for surprises. So the song choices after the album — and before the greatest hits encore — were crucial. Up first was a quartet of tour debuts. “Darlington County” featured some nice interplay with the audience but sounded too much like “The River’s” “Cadillac Ranch.” The powerful anthems “Prove It All Night” and “The Promised Land,” a duo of songs from 1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” were among the evening’s highlights. Then the “Tunnel of Love” ballad “Tougher Than the Rest,” sung as a duet by Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, brought the energy down late in the performance. “Wrecking Ball,” the evening’s only modern-day song, felt strange juxtaposed by so many older tracks. The rest of the show featured Springsteen standards — all sung with a little help from the crowd — “The Rising,” “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” The latter three were performed with the house lights up, making those moments as much about the fans as the performers. A cover of the Isley Brother’s “Shout” sent the crowd home in high spirits.

3. Springsteen still doesn’t act his age.
It’s hard to believe that Springsteen is 66 years old. There are few performers half his age who can do what he does every night. He played for three hours and 15 minutes with no breaks, ran around the stage all night and never once looked tired. Sure, he took the occasional breather and let the fans sing some iconic lines, but can you blame him?

4. Jake Clemons for president.
Springsteen got the bulk of the applause throughout the night but a close runner-up was saxophone player Jake Clemons, the lone horn player on this tour. Clemons — whose uncle, E Street Band legend Clarence Clemons, died in 2011 — earned a huge ovation each time he moved center stage for a solo, which was often, and when he wasn’t playing sax, he was adding harmonica, tambourine and backup vocals. The saxophone is such a critical component of the E Street Band sound that even though Clemons is still the newest member of the group, he has already positioned himself as its MVP.

5. Less is sometimes more.
The E Street Band scaled down to nine members for this tour (not including Springsteen) without sacrificing anything. In fact, after tours that featured a full horn section, backup singers and the occasional addition of guitarist Tom Morello, it was refreshing to hear the group at a size closer to that of the band that recorded “The River.” Even having 10 people onstage was sometimes too much. “Two Hearts,” for example, featured five different guitars for seemingly no reason. During the bigger, louder songs, the sound in the sports arena was muddled. Quieter songs like “Point Blank” — where you could actually hear everything clearly — left me wondering what it would be like to hear an even smaller E Street Band in a medium-sized club or theater.

By Rudi Greenberg via The Washington Post.
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