Rising to the occasion, The Boss brings new message to Houston

Houston Chronicle, 2002-11-05, by: Michael Clark
James Nielsen / Special to the Chronicle Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa and Steven Van Zandt harmonize during Monday night's performance at the Compaq Center, a show that was a mixture of solemn and joyous moments. Three years ago, when The Boss brought the E Street band out of mothballs for a reunion tour, the thinking was it was an opportunity to see if the magic was still there, a chance to see if the sheer ecstasy of playing music with his best friends was still as sweet as it once was. Maybe, as historic figures sometimes do, he knew it was just time.

This second reunion tour, which stopped at Compaq Center on Monday night, was about much more. In the wake of this country's most horrid tragedy in the last 50 years, this tour was about a renewal of spirit. This tour in support of the new album The Rising is much more of a return to the thematic blue-collar revivals that made the group international stars on the Born in the USA tour. The difference is the message.

Where Bruce Springsteen spent the mid-1980s telling the American story in songs about misguided patriotism and a nostalgia for a bygone era, The Rising is inspired by the new types of heroes that have risen in this country. The characters in these songs are damaged. They grieve, rebuild and are stronger for it.

Not once during the 2 1/2-hour set was the tragedy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks mentioned by name. The survival instinct that spread across this country, however, is captured in the songs from The Rising. Monday night it was spread out across one end of the Houston Rockets' home court to the delight of a crowd of thousands.

The true reach of a tenured rock band is the demographic of its audience. In Houston, thirty-somethings in leather coats and red bandana headbands danced with 50-year-olds in Levis and T-shirts. One look and it was easy to tell if a person was a Dust Bowl fan of Springsteen's The River or the former zeitgeist of Born In The USA.

On a darkened stage, the members of the E Street Band -- guitarists Nils Lofgren and Little Steven Van Zandt, bassist Garry Tallent, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, drummer Max Weinberg, keyboard players Danny Federici and Roy Bittan, backing vocalist/guitarist/Mrs. Springsteen Patti Scialfa, and violinist Soozie Tyrell -- entered one by one to increasing rounds of applause. Then the familiar call of "Bruuuuuce! Bruuuuce!" rained down.

Shadowy lights on the dark stage gathered steam as the flip-flopping organ notes for the new album's title song, The Rising, took shape. The Boss raised his heavens while shouting to the sky as Lofgren pressed chords across his dobro fret. Scialfa and Van Zandt pounded out rhythm and backed up on vocals.

Unlike the reunion tour, Springsteen did have new music -- and a new message -- to preach. He abridged it for the show but still went through the stages of recovery he conveyed through the album. Lonesome Day was played with terse notes that rang like the shock of witnessing something unbelievable. It was followed by The Ties That Bind and Atlantic City, a rarity and a hit that both fit well with the notion of recovery that permeated The Rising.

"We could use a little quiet for these next two songs," said Springsteen, introducing the evening's most solemn set.

Empty Sky was acoustically plied with Springsteen blowing a weary harp over Scialfa's harmonies. It was probably the most successful duet the couple has performed. She appropriately left him for You're Missing as Tyrell and Clemons backed him on a violin-tambourine swing waltz.

The emotional lows were struck early so The Boss could spend the rest of the night bringing the house back to life. He began with Waitin' On Sunny Day, working the crowd like a politician kissing babies. Twirling on his mic stand, slapping hands in the front row and skidding 15 feet across the stage on his denim knees, Springsteen was back to being The Boss.

If there was a complaint about the 2000 reunion show it was from fans of Springsteen's Born in the USA era who didn't hear enough of that album's multiplatinum hits and didn't care for the acoustic remake of the title song. That was not the case this time. In addition to restoring Born in the USA to the electric string and bellowing sax anthem that Ronald Reagan mistook as a song of glory, he unearthed No Surrender and Dancing In the Dark.

Dancing in the Dark is probably his most well-known song, but surrounded by other classics like Born To Run and Badlands it is clearly the hit that hasn't aged as well. And while Dallas got a visit from Don Henley on Sunday night, Houston fans can relish that they got rarities like She's the One and a standout gypsy folk rendition of Worlds Apart from The Rising.

The day before Election Day, Houstonians couldn't have asked for a more entertaining inducement to be pro-active in the nation's politics.

Notes

Topic

2002-11-04 Compaq Center, Houston, TX