A Hard Charger Preaches From a Bully Pulpit

22-05-2009 New York Times par Nate Chinen

Reclaiming the Izod Center stage for his encore on Thursday night, Bruce Springsteen paused for what seemed at first like a spontaneous reflection. “We’ve played here at the Meadowlands many, many times,” he said. High above the crowd, directly within his sightline, a banner provided specifics: “56 Sell-Outs.”

Then, without missing a beat, Mr. Springsteen struck a pitchman’s tone: he and the E Street Band would return to the complex in the fall “to say goodbye to old Giants Stadium.” (Those dates are Sept. 30 and Oct. 2 and 3; tickets will go on sale June 1.) “Before they bring the wrecking ball,” he crowed, “the wrecking crew is coming back!”

It was a plainly triumphant declaration, if a mildly awkward one, coming as it did before “Hard Times Come Again No More,” the Stephen Foster song that has led off every encore on the E Street Band’s current tour. “There are many, many people truly struggling in these times,” Mr. Springsteen said by way of introduction, even as some in the audience were no doubt still making mental adjustments to their fall concert budgets.

But the song, which began in something approaching an a cappella gospel style, got the show back on track. The sober solicitation of its lyrics — “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,” as one line goes — echoed the evening’s staunchest theme.

Mr. Springsteen has long been a champion chronicler of the hard-bitten and the luckless, and the self-directed spokesman for an idealized American conscience. Here, when it was time to charge through “Working on a Dream,” the title track from his most recent album, he literally sermonized, adopting a revivalist preacher’s tone.

“We’re going to build a house!” he barked, soon adding: “We can’t do it by ourselves!”

Then came a segue into “Seeds,” an old song that found new life on this tour, probably for topical reasons. Its lyrics depict an oilman brought to ruin, but Mr. Springsteen slyly widened his scope.

“The banker man said, ‘Sorry son, it’s all gone,’ ” he sang, naming a previously unspecified villain. The next song, “Johnny 99,” felt even more resonant, opening on the image of a shuttered auto plant and building up to this pitiful cry: “The bank was holding my mortgage, they’re coming to take my house away.”

The band worked admirably on these and other tough-minded songs, with a fine, chugging fury. And there was news in that regard: as in some other recent shows, the drum chair was occupied not by Max Weinberg but by his 18-year-old son, Jay.

The substitution went off without much of a hitch, even if the younger Mr. Weinberg has yet to find the deeper currents of the group. At times he got carried away by his own fills, landing slightly late on a downbeat crash. But his pounding energy was the right sort of fit.

And, perhaps unintentionally, he helped nudge the band toward a renewed set of priorities: grittiness over glossiness, looseness over exactitude, vitality over just about everything else. Strikingly, as a consequence, there were a few flubbed parts and missed cues.

But the general impression was arresting and potent, beginning with the example of Mr. Springsteen. He gave his usual force-of-nature performance, barreling through some tunes and savoring others, with strategic pockets of space cleared for crowd singalongs.

This leg of Mr. Springsteen’s tour ends here on Saturday, before a two-month stretch in Europe and eventually his Meadowlands return. At that point the band will be sending off a structure destined for rubble, a hulk with a glorious history but no future. A character, in other words, right out of a song.

 
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