In introducing The River
last night before a capacity crowd at Quicken Loans Arena, singer-guitarist Bruce Springsteen provided a description that sounded like an author discussing his first novel. “It’s my coming-of-age record,” Springsteen said, adding that he and the E Street had made “outsider records” prior to its release. “I was writing about the things that bonded people to their lives. It’s a big record that felt like life.”
It’s an apt description for an album that would set the stage for subsequent albums. On The River
, you can hear traces of the stark beauty of 1982’s Nebraska
and also the rousing rock anthems of 1984’s Born in the U.S.A.
And, as Springsteen put it last night, it seemed like the album just came out yesterday even though 35 years have passed since its release.
Springsteen, 66, also admitted the themes on The River
, which the band played in its entirety last night, came to the fore because he had just turned 30 at the time he wrote the tunes, but he had no trouble identifying with the characters in the songs that touch on working class life during difficult times.
Decked out in jeans and a gray T-shirt, Springsteen, who wore a scarf wrapped tight around his neck, still looked like a working class hero, too. And though many people his age have retired, he showed no signs of slowing down as he regularly sprinted down a ramp that led into the audience, so he could meet and greet the fans in the general admission area in front of the stage. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
The show started fast and furious with “Meet Me in the City” and “The Ties that Bind,” the latter of which found Springsteen and saxophonist Jake Clemons squaring off at center stage for a bit of a jam. Booming bass gave some extra gravitas to the ballad “Independence Day,” a tune that Springsteen described as his first song about “fathers and sons.” During a rousing rendition of “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen stage dove into the crowd and allowed fans to carry him back up to the stage, and for “Out in the Street,” Springsteen and Clemons stood on a riser behind drummer Max Weinberg as Springsteen acted as if he were a conductor leading his E Street orchestra though the tune.
A grunge-y guitar riff kicked off the barroom rocker “Crush on You,” and Springsteen and guitarist Steven Van Zandt engaged in a vigorous jam at the end of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” Springsteen delivered a particularly poignant rendition of “The River,” a tune he punctuated by soulfully humming the song’s melody at the end. His howling vocals carried a real weight and successfully silenced the crowd.
While the piano ballad “Point Blank” came off as a little too melodramatic, Springsteen and Co. got back on track with the organ- and guitar-driven “Cadillac Ranch,” a tune that led nicely into the uptempo “I'm a Rocker,” a song characterized by its hyper organ riff. While Springsteen botched a line in “Fade Away,” that didn’t detract from the tender song’s power. By the time Springsteen sang “Wreck on the Highway,” The River
’s final tune, two hours had elapsed.
While The River
isn’t a concept album, the songs held together so well and represented such a wide range of emotions that they packed all the punch of a dramatic play or short story. It was a powerful performance, even by Springsteen standards.
Springsteen dedicated the last third of the three-hour and 20-minute concert to playing some of his biggest hits. Highlights included a passionate rendition of “Because the Night” and the dirge “Youngstown,” both of which featured some fierce guitar solos from Nils Lofgren who feverishly twirled while he played.
“Thunder Road” turned into a vigorous sing-a-long, and Springsteen dedicated “Growin’ Up,” which he said he had only performed once on the current tour, to the faithful Cleveland fans who have been there since the beginning. “Born to Run” featured guest guitarists Joe and Johnny Grushecky (the two hail from Pittsburgh, which explains why Springsteen at one point thought he was in Pittsburgh before correcting himself), and Springsteen pulled a fan onto stage to jam with him during “Dancing in the Dark.”
Springsteen concerts are epic, emotionally exhausting affairs, and this 34-song performance certainly lived up to the billing.