Boss slips into bar-band rock


September 27, 2002



If you weren't a fan going in, the spirited performance Wednesday night by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the United Center probably didn't make you a convert (not that there were many non-believers in the sold-out house, anyway).

Despite its heavy emphasis on new material--11 of the 23 songs hailed from his much-hyped recent epic "The Rising," assuring that this was no nostalgia fest--Springsteen's show wasn't about breaking new ground. It was about acknowledging and reaffirming "the ties that bi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi- yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-ind" the Boss and his Baby Boomer fan base, as he sang three songs in to the 2-1/2-hour set.

Springsteen avoided the hokey "baptize me in the river of rock 'n' roll!" preaching that characterized his last tour, which marked the E Streeters' long-awaited reunion. By the standards he and the band have set, it was a low-key (and short) performance, a good show (though not a great one), with many of the same problems that plague his new album.

Bruce's reaction to the Sept. 11 tragedy--which he invoked constantly in his many interviews and promotional appearances for "The Rising"--is one of overwhelming sadness and melancholy. Regardless of how effectively they are expressed, these sentiments become monotonous when they dominate song after song. The album and the concert sorely needed a few pointed rockers with the barbed anger and righteous questioning of "American Skin (41 Shots)."

Earlier in the tour, Springsteen was performing this powerful tune about the shooting of Amadou Diallo, but he apparently dropped it from the set because fans booed what they viewed as criticism of the New York police. The song would have been a welcome balance for an evening that was otherwise devoted either to simple bar-band party tunes, or to maudlin songs hailing fallen heroes--a one-dimensional tilt that betrays the complex worldview of the Boss' best songs, where heroes and villains occupy the same skin, and nothing is ever black and white.

In the end, for anyone with a functioning B.S. (Bruce Springsteen) detector, the United Center show boasted as many moments to trip over as there were to celebrate.