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MUSIC: Springsteen Lights up the Sun

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The Boss at Mohegan

“It all started a long time ago in the back of a beauty parlor,” declared Bruce Springsteen as he introduced his enduring classic “Growin’ Up.” The song, an anthem of youthful rebellion from his first album Greetings From Ashbury Park, is one of his most requested. It's been a wild ride since he first sang it, one of his first tunes performed live, over “forty years burnin’ down the road.” Last Saturday night, as he wound down the “High Hopes” tour, this seemingly ageless rocker led his band through a typically epic show at Mohegan Sun.

Unpredictable Set list

The (19 piece!) band has evolved over the years and continues to amaze with its power and intensity. Bruce dusted off some real classics – opening with “Racing in the Street (78),” and played other rarities like “Quarter to Three,” and “The Price You Pay.” There's not a lot of “filler” at these shows; every song truly resonates.

The “earth-quaking” E Street Band rocked the hell out of some unlikely covers, with guitarist Tom Morello powering through “Working for the Clampdown,” the 70’s Clash classic. Morello further displayed his talents on “High Hopes,” playing briefly with his teeth, to the delight of the crowd used to slightly more traditional techniques. The Rage Against the Machine leader also scored big on “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which featured a blistering guitar solo while trading vocals with Springsteen.

Speaking of guitar players, (of which this band has four!), it was “game on” for veteran E Streeter Nils Lofgren. He dazzled the crowd with an incredible spinning solo on another favorite, “Prove it all Night,” one of several tunes covered from Darkness at the Edge of Town. He led the band through several other songs including “Jesse James” and “Radio Nowhere.”

The trio of top notch background vocalists (recently featured in the award winning movie 20 Feet From Stardom), brought a nice disco vibe to the forefront of “Stayin Alive,” first played earlier this year in Australia. It proved a popular sing-a-long for many in the crowd who remembered the Bee Gees classic word for word. (In a notable show of respect, Barry Gibb played Bruce’s “I’m on Fire” a few nights ago in Boston.)

High Energy Performer

No singer since James Brown has sweat so much on stage; Bruce lives and breathes the work ethic he champions in his songs. In fact, he seems to have taken on Brown’s mantra of the “hardest working man in show business.” With Jake Clemmons and the E Street Horns behind him, he’s a tour de force onstage.

Veteran band mate and lead guitarist Stevie Van Zandt, who re-joined the tour Saturday night, was reminded of that fact early in the show. Having just returned from filming his award winning Norwegian TV show, Lillyhammer, Van Zandt had to catch his breath during an intense version of “Two Hearts.” “You do this every night?” he asked Springsteen. “He’s a little out of shape. Every night you do this? Every fucking night!” answered the Boss in a typically unscripted moment.

The Zen of Springsteen

For the uninitiated, a Springsteen concert is part rock show, part frat party, part revival meeting - where the Boss takes his fans on a three hour jaunt through his catalog of hard rockers, cheery sing-alongs, and heartfelt ballads. There’s a political edge to much of his music, but the narrative never veers too far from mainstream America, where stories about the plight of the working man are augmented by tales of diverse individuals facing hardships.

In “American Skin (41 Shots),” he recounts the story of Amadou Diallo, who was shot and killed by police while reaching for his wallet.

“Is it a gun, is it a knife, Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin.”

His enduring popularity is not surprising. Sure, there’s a certain formula that he's developed over the years, but he's a completely authentic artist, who can sound fresh and original every night. There aren’t many out there like him.

Powerful Encore

Following a moving solo performance of “I'll Work for Your Love,” Springsteen offered some thoughts on the songwriting process. “A good song should work with just a guy and a guitar singing it,” noted the Boss, who shared the secret behind one of his most requested songs, “Growin’ Up.”

Contrary to most assumptions, he explained “it was a song where I wasn’t trying to find myself in it, like I am in a lot of my songs. This was a song where I was trying to literally invent some sort of self.”

“I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade…

I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, "Sit down," I stood up

Ooh... growin' up” (Growin’ Up, 1973)

The lights came up for a couple of encore mainstay’s - “Born to Run” and “Dancin’ in the Dark,” were both major crowd pleasers. The requisite “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was next, honoring the band’s lost brothers, Danny Federici and Clarence Clemmons. “Shout” followed (I told you, frat rock!) and then Bruce went back to his Acoustic for “If I Should Fall Behind” and a beautiful “Thunder Road” to close out the show.

Where’s Mohegan?

The only “flaw” in this show came during the call and response moment where Bruce yells out the show location and the crowd answers with a rousing “Bruuuuuuuuuce.” Whether confused (according to the New York Daily News), or deliberate, the man who sings about all kinds of places began by calling out “Massachusetts.” After hearing a smattering of “No” in the crowd, he switched to “Connecticut.” Through it all, he forgot Rhode Island, which is technically closer to the casino than Massachusetts.

No worries Bruce. We’ll forgive you when you come back to play Providence sometime soon.

Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock and Blues for GoLocal. Click here to e-mail him.


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