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Concert Review

Bruce Springsteen, Pepsi Arena, 11/21/99

by Seth Rogovoy

Check out Bruce at ALBANY, N.Y. - Bruce Springsteen's comeback tour made a pit stop at the Pepsi Arena on Sunday night, where a sold-out crowd thrilled to the Boss's old-fashioned style of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll.

There were no lasers or phasers or special effects, although there were a couple of video screens overhanging the sides of the stage to give fans in the nether regions up-close-and-personal glimpses of Springsteen and his E Street Band cohorts.

Mostly though, there was just the 50-year-old Bruce Springsteen, the hardest-working man in show business, taking the crowd through a selection of about two-dozen songs over the course of approximately three hours, in a performance full of his trademark passion and conviction.

Springsteen is a family-values rocker through and through. He emphasized themes of brotherhood and loyalty in tunes like "The Ties that Bind" and "If I Should Fall Behind," songs that bookended the show and emphasized the redemptive aspect of this tour, which reunites the Boss with the musician/employees he ignominiously (and to his artistic loss) laid off in the early-'90s.

He sang of lost promise in songs like "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Promised Land," numbers that mined the psychology of the everyday workingman whom Springsteen somehow embodies. "Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode/Explode, and tear this whole town apart," he sang on the latter tune, giving vent to the frustrations of the faceless, anonymous minions.

With thinning hair, graying sideburns, and a lumbering stride, dressed in black jeans, a blue work shirt and black vest, Springsteen looked every bit his age, like a guy you'd encounter at the local hardware store shopping for nuts and bolts. And in songs like "Badlands," and "The River" and "Youngstown" he dramatized the economic and emotional conflicts, disappointments and struggles of post-industrial America, "from the Monongohela Valley to the Mesabi Iron Range," at once echoing Woody Guthrie's phrasing while invoking Bob Dylan, who was raised in a town on the Mesabi.

In "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "Born in the U.S.A." and "Mansion on the Hill," Springsteen pushed even further, indicting a political economy that allows some to starve while others feast within sight. And as he does in every town where he appears, he put his money where his mouth was and called on the audience to do like him and support the local food bank.

Not to paint too gloomy a portrait of the concert. As serious as his themes were, as dark as his vision can be, Springsteen also paid tribute to the visceral power of music to, at least temporarily, elevate the soul. At heart, Springsteen is a soul singer, and at several points during the show he worked the soul side of the fence, assuming the role of a gospel preacher bringing his "ministry of rock 'n' roll" to his flock in need of healing.

With a quarter-century's worth of some of rock's finest songs from which to choose, Springsteen emphasized material from his "Born to Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" albums while eschewing his earliest albums and material from the late-'80s and early-'90s. His set was patterned very closely to the one this reviewer caught at Boston's Fleet Center in September, with only a few variations, including a stunningly ferocious version of "Because the Night," a song he wrote but which punk poetess Patti Smith made famous.

Sunday night's show was one of the last of this stretch of the tour, which finishes up this week in Minnesota. Springsteen and his band have been on the road now for nearly half a year, and it shows in good ways and bad. The E Streeters are electrifying, confident and loose, and clearly enjoying themselves. The Boss himself seemed a bit restrained and tired in comparison to September's show in Boston, although one needs to keep in mind that this is all relative - any hint of fatigue in Springsteen's stage presence was probably lost on anyone who hadn't seen him earlier in the tour.

It also took longer for the Albany audience to warm up than Boston's. At the Fleet Center, the crowd's response when the musicians merely walked on stage was leagues above that for such full-blast anthems as "Born to Run" and "Light of Day" in Albany. And on Sunday, concertgoers took Springsteen's venture into unplugged versions of "Mansion on the Hill" and "The River" as occasions to sit and rest, whereas in Boston everyone stood for the entire show.

While the Boss and his band are about to enjoy a break from touring, word has it that they will return to the road in February for a world tour that will culminate with stadium shows across the U.S. next summer.

If you would like to purchase Bruce Springsteen's latest CD on-line, please click on the SoundStone logo to the right.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Nov. 24, 1999. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 1999. All rights reserved.]

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