- Springsteen and the E Street Band, provin' it all night long.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
When Bruce Springsteen dismissed the E Street Band at the end of the '80s, die-hard fans felt betrayed. One of rock's most successful franchises had been dismantled, and Springsteen's solo albums and scaled-down tours failed to generate the same kind of frenzy as his marathon shows with the good ole E Street boys. Well, now that the Boss is back with his buddies (singer-guitarist Patti Scialfa was absent because of a perforated eardrum), the world seemed right again for the fist-pumping masses who packed Gund Arena for the first of two sold-out shows.
And yet, as mesmerizing as Springsteen was -- he blatantly copied a Baptist minister by ripping into fiery speeches about rock and roll redemption -- the show revealed why he's ultimately better off without his E Street crew. Bombastic from the start, Springsteen and the E Street Band rarely played with any kind of subtlety. Tracks like "Born to Run," "Prove It All Night," "Jungleland," "Thunder Road," and "Badlands" were delivered as sweeping anthems. But at their heart, these songs are about desperation and unfulfilled dreams, so it was misleading and ultimately dishonest for the Boss to break into pelvic thrusts, wiggle his hips, and prance like some kind of Vegas lounge singer along the stage's catwalk, to slap high fives with audience members and bandmates, and boast, "Look out, Ricky Martin." The best songs of the three-hour set were the ones in which the E Street Band was either absent or kept in check -- a jazzy, sublime version of "The River," an acoustic rendition of "Born in the U.S.A.," and a gritty, tough-as-nails take on "Youngstown" might not have sent the crowd into sing-along mode or inspired those obnoxious "Bruuuce" chants, but they at least provided music that matched the songs' stark depictions of working-class life. It was at these moments that Springsteen came off more like Dylan and less like an idiotic, testosterone-filled showman like David Lee Roth. -- Jeff Niesel
Filter is not Nine Inch Nails. Sure, "Hey Man, Nice Shot," its biggest hit, sounds similar to NIN in a roundabout way (it pairs industrial beats with parched vocals), but that's where the similarities end. Band leader and former Bay Village resident Richard Patrick, who was a member of NIN for the Pretty Hate Machine tour, has been continually called a Trent Reznor wannabe, but his show at the Agora was distinctive enough to put that talk to rest.
Fresh off the Family Values tour, which bypassed Northeast Ohio (you can thank Cleveland's impotent radio station market for that blunder), Filter has distinguished itself among the neo-metal scene by relying heavily on guitars and anger (the hip-hop influence is essentially muted). Staying true to form, Patrick and company combined ripping guitars, heavy bass lines, and a barrage of drum beats to meticulously create a wall of sound. The climax came during a jam in "Consider This." For a minute, Filter adopted a Britpop guitar sound, as Patrick's despairing vocals sounded softer than usual. While noise is important to this style of music, a little bit of harmony brought the moment to near perfection. Adding to the atmosphere was the use of bright flood and colored lights. It's been awhile since a band accurately used visuals to its benefit, and Filter took full advantage of its gear. Other highlights included the indulgent "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do," for which two Barbie-looking go-go dancers came out to strut; the hate-filled "Welcome to the Fold"; and, of course, "Hey Man, Nice Shot," which was cast in a different light by Patrick's subdued performance and the band's jamming.
Bass-heavy Simon Says opened the show with a set of chugging guitars riffs that, in the end, were derivative of Ozzy Osbourne, and the Swedish hard rock act Drain STH played a Godsmack-esque set filled with brooding melodies and trite lyrics. The band's sinister vocal delivery and fascination with the dark side didn't make it any better than a stereotypical late-'80s hair band. Singer Maria Sjoholm's need to yell "Jump" at every possible moment actually made the band's brief appearance downright annoying. -- John Benson