News Column

Springsteen show: Few hits but strong performance

May 23, 2014

By Scott Tady, Beaver County Times, Pa.

May 23--PITTSBURGH -- If you came solely to hear a hit parade, then you might have been disappointed.

But if you were fine with the fact that one of rock 'n' roll's legendary concert performers was wailing on guitar and vocals, backed expertly by his pals and the venerable Pittsburgh bar band Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, well, then you saw a show you'll brag about for years.

There'd be no "Thunder Road" or "Dancing in the Dark" on Thursday for opening night of Bruce Springsteen's two-night stand at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. Springsteen established early this would be a night of deeper cuts, starting with him alone on stage for a three-song stint launched by "Mary Queen of Arkansas."

The Boss' soft whistling on "Two for The Road," and heavy harmonica work on "Kingdom of Days" silenced a respectful crowd of 2,300 basking in the opportunity to hear an elite arena rocker performing in an intimate setting. Without prompting, fans erupted in cheers once Springsteen cranked up the vocal intensity for the final part of "Kingdom of Days."

Jokingly introducing himself as Grushecky's opening act, Springsteen then welcomed on stage the Houserockers, which immediately lived up to their name on their locally referencing "East Carson Street" that climaxed with screaming guitars from Grushecky and Danny Gochnour. Next came "I Can Hear the Devil Knocking" elevated by the tribal drum pounding of Joffo Simmons and divine organ sounds of Joe Pelesky.

Springsteen reclaimed the spotlight again for the seventh song, his "Adam Raised a Cain," which like many of the picks to follow included a stretched out, blue-collar jam. Springsteen and Grushecky sang and shouted into the same mic on "Never Be Enough Time," from Grushecky's 1995's "American Babylon" album produced by Springsteen.

"Racing in the Street" got the full-throttle treatment with Springsteen practically punching his guitar strings with each downward thrust. The band forged "Pumping Iron" into its requisite sweaty workout, as fans danced along. Seeing Springsteen grinding away with a grin on Grushecky's classic Pittsburgh rock song was a proud moment for locals.

Springsteen, in a white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, was more reserved than usual when addressing the crowd, not doing much if any of that lively mid-song banter where he preaches about the healing powers of music.

He let the music do the talking Thursday, though his amusing gestures and wryly delivered vocals helped land punchlines about sucking in your gut and having gray hair sprout from your ears on "I Still Look Good for 60," which Grushecky wrote a few years ago as a birthday present to Springsteen.

"I still look damn good for 60," the now-64-year-old Jersey rocker sang with playful boastfulness, earning an affirmative cheer from many female fans.

Meanwhile, the Houserockers mustered an E Street Band grandeur on Springsteen concert staples "Darkness on The Edge of Town" and "The Promised Land." Though one of the night's supreme songs was deeper cut "Saving Up," delivered with vintage R&B verve, trailed closely by the revved up Springsteen-Grushecky rocker, "Code of Silence."

Regional guitar-slaying stalwart Rick Witkowski joined the fun and added extra bedlam to "I Was Born to Rock," unleashing a solo with some of the wildest stage motions since Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Jason Grilli ran around like an escaped zoo animal last year at Pearl Jam. With a stoic face, Springsteen leaned in to study Witkowski's solo before mouthing "nice one."

Then it was Springsteen's turn to ignite six-string sparks, strumming a train-like noise followed by his absolute shredding on "Light of Day."

The Houserockers left the stage as Springsteen soloed again acoustically on "The Wall," a newer song about two late-'60s Jersey contemporaries who died in the Vietnam War. Given the night's surroundings, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall for the start of Memorial Day weekend, it was a vital and well-rendered choice.

But although the stage was set for a glorious finish, with an epic fan-favorite -- say "Thunder Road" -- Springsteen ended alone with "Incident on 57th Street." The crowd was silenced again, able to hear every nuance of his vibrating acoustic strings, as the intensity of the song steadily rose to another ultimate roar from appreciative and knowledgeable fans.

Maybe Friday night's show featured more of the hits. If you attend that show, give us a report in the comments section for this review.


(c)2014 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

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Source: Beaver County Times (PA)

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