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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ The Bradley Center

Nov. 15, 2009

Nov. 16, 2009
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A Bruce Springsteen concert is never merely a show; it is an event, a populist rally free of irony and inhibition. It is easy to see why a new generation of rockers, including The Hold Steady, Lucero and The Gaslight Anthem, is looking to the Boss for inspiration: Every move he makes seems impossibly authentic. At this point in his career, Springsteen could put together a “greatest hits” set list and bask in the accolades of his adoring fans. Instead, he has taken to performing his albums in their entirety, a move that, in the hands of lesser musicians, could kill the spontaneity of a live performance. Thankfully, the Boss is no mere mortal, and his decision to treat Milwaukee to a complete run-through of Born to Run proved to be an inspired one.

As Springsteen noted onstage, Born to Run was the first album to start a real “conversation” between himself and his now-rabid fan base. More than 30 years after its release, this album still touches a powerful chord among the Springsteen faithful. In many ways, the album’s main themes—the fleeting nature of youth, the desire to escape, and love and loss—remain remarkably relevant to the graying listeners who make up Springsteen’s core audience. Not surprisingly, up-tempo rockers like “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” received raucous responses from the capacity crowd. There was something strange, although also quite endearing, about watching middle-aged men and women singing along like obsessed teenagers. As they helped the Boss with such lines as “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night,” one couldn’t help but think back to moments when the true power of rock ’n’ roll was first revealed.

The journey through Born to Run, however, was not simply about helping the crowd relive their youth. Watching Springsteen passionately play such songs as “Night,” “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” made it clear that this album still means a lot to him. As he closed his eyes and delivered the chorus for “Backstreets,” it was almost as if the adoring crowd was no longer there. And as he quietly sang “Come a little bit closer”—Springsteen has been known to include a portion of Jay & the Americans’ song in his live rendition of “Backstreets”—I found myself slowly leaning forward, hanging on his every word. It was then that I realized the difference between remembrance and nostalgia.


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