When I first read about the song "American Land" premiering in 2006 and having it later appear on the extended "Seeger" set, I felt it was an ego trip. Does he really need to write a song for a credit on the album? Then when I saw he was closing the early portion of the tour with it, I let out a groan in my house. I'm happy to say I was wrong as this lively number was the perfect set closer and had the 20,000 in the United Center on their feet clapping, shaking and moving. It was the evening's peak moment. Time and time again, even when I lose faith in Springsteen's abilities to transcend and transform an audience, I'm proven wrong.
The current tour finds Springsteen out in support of his most recent effort, 'Magic' and while I have found it difficult to digest, most of the album has come alive on the concert stage. Opening with the determined "Radio Nowhere" the first part of the show flew by in a wink of the eye. "No Surrender" and "Lonesome Day" followed in quick succession and the arms in the air rejoicing was just the beginning. Material off 'Magic" was well placed in the set including the domestic "Gypsy Biker", the metaphorical title track ("Magic") and the evocative "Livin' In The Future". My main quibbles with these three particular numbers sounded better on record versus live. The title track however is slowly seeping into my daily mix and is a stunning play on words and being under three-minutes is proving to be one of the best tracks in the Springsteen cannon. Tonight's performance, with violinist Soozie Tyrell' shined and while it wasn't perfect, I bet it becomes a highlight of the tour shortly. Unfortunately "Livin' In The Future" fell flat. It felt forced and almost as if Bruce was attempting too hard to recreate a former sound. The song before "Livin'" was a thunderous performance of "She's The One" which was potent and irresistible and one-hundred percent genuine, whereas the next performance felt forced. However, this was a small misstep on an otherwise rather extraordinary evening.
The band ripped through a scalding "Adam Raised A Cain" and commanded the attention of every person during the revitalizing bluesy backbeat arrangement to the 'Nebraska' track, "Reason To Believe". In what will potentially be the highlight of the entire tour, the band owned this song and the fresh arrangement brought out the best in this hidden classic. I doubt everyone in the arena was familiar with this quarter-century old number, but the band was so in tune with each other and this song one could not witness it and not be affected by the power of the tune. Other classics aired during the show was the nostalgic ode to friendship "Backstreets" followed by the roaring "Cadillac Ranch" which was serendipitous because it was my wife's first E Street Band show and she's a Wisconsin girl. Seeing this song tonight makes me wonder why it's not played every night. Even the infamous rubber chicken, which first made an appearance in Milwaukee in 2002, made a return visit as it was thrown to the stage.
While the oldies still sounded magnificent, a new tour means the focus is on new music. While a few of the arrangements didn't quite work live, the latter portion of the show found the band finding their groove. "Devil's Arcade" is a song that will take time to grow on you but works for me for Weinberg's thunderous drumming and Springsteen's staggering solo. "Last To Die" was the strongest of the new material was spot on and effortless while "Long Walk Home", my personal favorite of the new songs was refreshing yet rigorous in its performance. This is a song that will only get better with time.
After the crowd pleasing "Badlands" closed the main set, the band returned to the stage to take some chances. "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is a song I didn't feel at first that worked at all. However, the fact that Bruce could step away from the mic and have the crowd sing the song to him gives me hope that the performances of this Brian Wilson influenced tune will continue to improve as the tour evolves. "Thundercrack", a song best known to die-hards, and which can only be found on the box set 'Tracks' practically willed the crowd back to life. It started out messy, but by the time Nils and Bruce were sharing a duet of six strings, the crowd was won over and wowed by the band's virtuosic skills. At the songs conclusion, the band tore through "Born To Run" which had the arena shaking. I've been critical and tough on Springsteen over the last year and despite how cynical I may become, hearing the lyric "I want to know if love is real" backed by one of the greatest bands on the planet is a goose bump moment. It's these rare moments where you view your life in past, present and future form and feel good to be alive. As the band immediately segued into the releasing and revitalizing "Dancing In The Dark", Bruce and the band owned this audience. There is such an immense feeling of power when you see an audience of this size shake the walls. Despite anything I've written about Bruce, it's moments like this where I stand back and feel like this man and his band can transcend in ways few other acts have ever been able to. The evening's final number, "American Land" sums up the creed of Springsteen. He's made a career of writing about the American land and its psyche. Good, bad and indifferent he stands alone and is still possibly its preeminent storyteller. I for one am glad he is still out there rocking and rolling like there is no tomorrow. It's rock n' roll that keeps me young and I believe that as long as Mr. Springsteen and his E Street Band continue to play it like they mean it, then they too will be forever young.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door.