Springsteen born to rock

Sept. 26, 2003, midnight | By Josh Gottlieb-Miller | 20 years, 8 months ago

Energized frontman electrifies Fed-Ex Field

"It looks like we picked a good night for the show," Bruce Springsteen solemnly remarked after his elegiac tribute to Johnny Cash, an "I walked the line" Cash cover that started the show. From the backing E Street Band's uniformly black dress to Springsteen's iconic rock numbers, the show was a fitting homage to the recently deceased Cash.

Springsteen proved himself a remarkable live performer, engaging in a three-hour plus tour de force that included several encores for the packed Fed Ex Field crowd. Though technically promoting Springsteen's The Rising--whose title song was a truly anthemic crowd-pleaser—the show was paced by a diverse song selection that spanned Springsteen's long career, early hits and later numbers all standing proud. Tying the collection together was Springsteen's trademark workingman ethos, straight-up rock and roll with lyrics celebrating the little man.

Assisting Springsteen in working the crowd—which he did perfectly—were two giant TV screens next to the stage that kept watch wherever he prowled. The E Street Band also aided Springsteen, belting out full, muscular arrangements (easily provided when there are upwards of 4 guitars, drums, saxophone, and piano together) loud enough for the bleacher seats to hear. Springsteen is a consummate showman and working-class hero for a reason, and the fact that he and his band still put their energetic all into songs they must have played millions of times (he shouted without abandon throughout the show) explains his status. This alone was enough to command the loyal crowd, and it was not surprising that when Springsteen claimed he, "Needed a little quiet for the next song" (the reflective "Empty Sky"), the faithful fans obliged.

Usually far from quiet though, Springsteen didn't shy away from politics. "Impeach, impeach," he shouted, before nominating popular and busy saxophonist Clarence Clemons to replace President Bush. Later, Springsteen eloquently prefaced a scorching and extended "Born in the USA" by saying that being lied to about going to war wasn't "a liberal or a conservative question, but an American question."

Springsteen's band didn't have as much to say, but they let their playing do the talking for them. Guitarist Steven Van Zandt was a confident presence and Max Weinberg was a frenetic, explosive force on the drums. Springsteen's interactions with wife Patty Scialfa even lent the stage a familiarity that drew the crowd in, despite the stadium's size.

As the show wound down Springsteen played several of his classics: "Born to Run" foremost among them. And even after three hours of loudly cheering the band on, the crowd could still be heard singing along, "It's a death trap/it's a suicide rap."

They were still singing long after the show.

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