Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Pittsburgh, Pa Jan 16, 2016

By Michael Rampa

Few artists can successfully tour behind nearly 40 year-old material. But when it’s in support of arguably the best double album of all time, it’s not an issue. Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” tour kicked off at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center Saturday night to a sold out crowd of around 22,000. The show features the full album peppered into his trademark marathon and a stripped down, core only version of the E Street Band. Tom Morello is gone from the roster, as is the full horn section, save for Jake Clemons, the Big Man’s overly capable nephew. Without fanfare, the band strolled out promptly at eight o’clock marching single file. After opening with “Meet Me In The City,” they tore through about 30 songs, including some choice outtakes. The clear highlight of that sub group and overall showstopper was the cover of the Patti Smith Group’s “Because The Night,” where Nils Lofgren twirled in his Mad Hatter ensemble and scorched one of the best seven minute solos in recent memory.

Clemons proves to be a worthy successor to his late uncle, whether he shines out front with the dual solos on the extended version of “Drive All Night,” or subtly supplements the groove while the Boss wails on his Telecaster or Soozie Tyrell works the fiddle on “Cadillac Ranch.”

As most identify Springsteen as the quintessential rock star, he is also one of music’s deepest thinkers. The somber tone exchange between father and son on ”Independence Day” was a direct contrast to the rowdy “Hungry Heart” sing along which followed as the crowd took two verses and the chorus. Springsteen looked relived at the chance to give his pipes a brief rest. The megahit ”The Ties That Bind” is about putting down roots and the album itself, he professed, is “ the record I was trying to find out where I fit in.” It is a voyage of self-discovery and finding your place in this world.
Before launching into “Rebel, Rebel” he tipped his cap to the recent passing of David Bowie, citing the Londoner’s support of his music dating back to 1973. He followed with the only song  off of 1985’s “Born In The USA” when he pulled a young lady holding a sign that said, ”Be my last dance before I get married.” onstage for a local version of the “Dancing The Dark” video that featured a young Courteney Cox many years ago. He closed out by digging deeper with “Rosalita” before tipping the three hour mark with “Shout.”

Bruce asked many times  if the audience was being transformed on this night. The physical body of water is a vehicle for transformation in every sense, be it emotional, physical, or musical. Muscle Shoals, Alabama birthed an entirely new generation of style the river that bears the town’s name and has become the destination where special things happen in the recording studios there.It is the birthplace of southern rock and a style that amps up traditional blues.Springsteen’s iconic album transports and transforms on many levels and with the almost spiritual energy soaring through the venue, everyone seemed to be touched on some level.These shows are not concerts, but rather experiences which define generations and the course of music itself.

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