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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Boss sifts through dense 'Dust': Acoustic show pales in wake of 'E Street' energy

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, May 13, 2005

Waxing patriotic is no new fad for Bruce Springsteen; the New Jersey-bred rocker has long been the spokesperson for the blue-collar man. It’s no surprise, then, that Springsteen’s 2004 “Vote for Change” tour – a last-minute, pre-November 11 push for the Democratic party – generated huge support (and considerable revenue) from liberal celebrity endorsers and fans alike.

The “Change” tour, while blatant in its political agenda, was an energetic nod to the “glory days” (no pun intended) of Springsteen’s “breakthrough” album, 1984’s Born in the USA. With the E Street Band flanking the stage amidst a bevy of electric guitars, the “Change” tour was classic Springsteen: upbeat, fearless, and fun.

Unfortunately, the “Change” tour – as well as the somber-but-optimistic “The Rising” tour of 2003 – was probably what most Springsteen fans had in mind when they crowded into the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday for a solo, acoustic introduction to Springsteen’s latest achievement, the contemplative Devils and Dust. What fans ended up getting, however, was a somewhat disappointing, albeit bold departure from the music of Springsteen’s past.

Devils and Dust, released April 26, is still too new to generate the same level of enthusiasm as the crowd-pleasing, memorable hits that Springsteen sparingly conceded to listeners Tuesday. Though he opened with the sweet “My Beautiful Reward” from 1992’s Lucky Town, Springsteen quickly segued into a foot-stomping, blaring track from 1982’s Nebraska, the talk-box-infused “Reason to Believe.” The song was be an awkward foreshadower to the latter half of Springsteen’s uncharacteristically lagging set.

When the title track from Dust was played, the audience readily embraced it; the single, which was released in the weeks prior to the album’s debut, has an already-solid fan base of ardent Cities 97 devotees. Indeed, “Devils and Dust” signaled a change in the initial audience response to the Boss; they began to warm to his shrilly-wailing harmonica and deftly navigated acoustic guitar, which heralded a return to Springsteen’s E Street Band roots.

Moving to the piano, Springsteen began describing his first foray into love songs after becoming familiar with the falsetto-heavy doo-wop radio classics of the 1950s. He joked that while he himself had loved hearing the songs, his father had labeled them “government conspiracies” and “propaganda” created by “government-hired civil servants.”

Springsteen said it was his father who forced him to bury his love songs “deep, deep down” before he began playing the soulful, palpably desperate ballad “The River,” from the 1980 album of the same name. The tail end of the song, comprised of lyric-less “wooos,” showcased Springsteen at his best; his sounds were gorgeously rich, though they too-often emulated Bob Dylan with unnecessary zeal.

Taking a cue from his recent stint on VH1’s “Storytellers,” Springsteen was highly vocal about each one of his songs; he described his focus on familial relationships while writing Dust, before playing new songs “Silver Palomino” and “Jesus Was an Only Son,” Later, Springsteen channeled his notable political-fervor with “Part Man, Part Monkey” from 1999’s 18 Tracks, followed shortly thereafter by Dust’s “Matamoros Banks.”

Throughout the evening, Springsteen sounded impeccable, his vocals clear and strong in spite of his tendency to pour a seemingly exhaustible amount of force into them. Moreover, without his reliable E Streeters backing him up, the Boss surprisingly and seamlessly adopted multiple vocal parts on the occasional song, demonstrating particular finesse on “The Rising.”

Appreciated classics such as “Nebraska” and “Youngstown” seemed awash the newness of Dust, which lent an unfortunate amount of unfamiliarity to the show. True Springsteen fans also undoubtedly lamented the absence of such favorites as the underappreciated “I’m on Fire” and “Born to Run,” which the Boss nailed during a show at Northrop Auditorium in 1996.

With luck, the edgier lyrics of “Reno” (“’You’re Ready,’ she said/She took off her bra and panties ... /And crawled over me on the bed”) and the almost monotonous sobriety of other Dust offerings will, with time, become as beloved by listeners as the Springsteen hits of years past.

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