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Concert Reviews:
Bruce Springsteen takes it to "The River" in tour opener

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, January 18, 2016

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PITTSBURGH -- "We're so glad we're here," an ebullient Bruce Springsteen told a packed Consol Energy Center on Saturday night (Jan. 16), "to rock you and sock you and take you to the river!"

And he wasn't talking about the nearby Allegheny, Monongahela or Ohio waterways.

Springsteen and his E Street Band opened their North American tour, during which they're performing the 1980 album "The River" in its entirety, with a 34-song, three-hour and 20-minute marathon that was epic, exhaustive and exhausting, a show that offered an illuminating look at an old work in a fresh context -- and with enough roof-raising rock 'n' roll party spirit to remind us that while many things have changed, some have not changed so much since a more youthful Springsteen took "The River" to the road more than 35 years ago in Ann Arbor.

Back when it was released, "The River" was a masterwork for Springsteen, a culmination of the themes he had explored on its four predecessors and a rumination of the then 31-year-old's search for a meaningful adulthood. After kicking off the show with the Consol house lights up for "Meet Me in the City" -- one of the outtakes included on the new "The Ties That Bind: The River Collection" -- Springsteen explained that with "The River" he "wanted to make a record that was big enough so it felt like life, or an E Street Band show. I wanted a record that contained fun, dancing, jokes, good comradeship, love, faith, sex, lonely nights and, of course, tears. And I figured if I could make a recording that was big enough to contain all those things, maybe I could get a little closer to the home I was searching for."

After running through the set's 20 songs in order -- for the first time since Nov. 8, 2009 in New York City and only the second time ever -- Springsteen could safely consider that mission accomplished. From the vantage point of a 66-year-old, the songs remain poignant and appropriate -- even moreso in some cases. Springsteen introduced "Independence Day," for instance, as a song "about fathers and sons...the kind of song you write when you're young and you're startled by your parents humanity, including what he called "adult compromises." Sung from his current perspective on the other side of that relationship, it took on an entirely different and more mature tenor.

Springsteen also made observations about writing songs such as "I Wanna Marry You" and "Stolen Car," but he and the nine E Streeters mostly let the music do the talking. And within the fuller, richer and at times noisier arrangements, "The River" rocked with vigor during "Sherry Darling," "Jackson Cage," "Two Hearts," "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)," "Crush On You," "Cadillac Ranch," "I'm a Rocker" and the always ebullient"Out in the Street," while Springsteen sojourned onto the arena floor during "Hungry Heart," crowd-surfing his way back to the stage. The opening harmonica wail of "The River" felt like a sonic time warp, while the contrast of quieter and more ruminative tracks like "Point Blank," "Fade Away," "The Price You Pay," "Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway" was made even richer by nuances provided by E Street's multiple guitars and particularly Soozie Tyrell's violin,.

"The River" alone would have made for a fulfilling show, but that's not Springsteen's way. Barely taking a breath, the troupe launched into house party mode for another 13 songs and 80 minutes, charging through much-loved staples such as "Badlands," "Backstreets," "The Rising" and "Thunder Road" and invoking Pittsburgh's much-beloved Steelers during "Wrecking Ball." Nils Lofgren delivered a blistering guitar solo during "Because the Night," while Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa's good-natured rendition of "Brilliant Disguise" belied the song's dark lyric.

Springsteen and company began the encore paying tribute to the late David Bowie, who Springsteen saluted as an early support of his music before leading the group into Bowie's 1974 single "Rebel Rebel." His "Dancing in the Dark" dance partner was a woman towards the front who held up a sign asking Springsteen to "Be My Last Dance Before I Get Married" -- after which she handed him a Save The Date card which he read out loud. The houselights were up full again for "Born To Run" and "Rosalita," and the night ended with the Isley Brothers' "Shout" and a winking snippet of Al Green's "Take Me to the River."

Springsteen concluded by reviving his "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll" tagline -- shouted back to him by the Pittsburgh crowd. On Saturday everybody in the arena was booked, "charged" and incarcerated, and nobody was in a hurry to be paroled.

Springsteen's tour continues Tuesday night (Jan. 19) in Chicago, with 24 total shows booked through March 17 in Los Angeles. More dates for both North America -- including the Detroit area -- and Europe hae been widely rumored, but none have been announced yet.

The full opening night set list included:

Meet Me in the City

The River:

The Ties That Bind

Sherry Darling

Jackson Cage

Two Hearts

Independence Day

Hungry Heart

Out in the Street

Crush On You

You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

I Wanna Marry You

The River

Point Blank

Cadillac Ranch

Iím a Rocker

Fade Away

Stolen Car


The Price You Pay

Drive All Night

Wreck on the Highway


Wrecking Ball


Because The Night

Brilliant Disguise

The Rising

Thunder Road


Rebel Rebel

Bobby Jean

Dancing in the Dark

Born To Run


Shout/Take Me to the River

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