Bruce Springsteen, Music Hall

By PETER HERBST  |  May 22, 2006

There were any number of minor technical hassles -- lighting miscues, uneven sound mixing, equipment problems -- and apparently some people found these unpardonable. Even Springsteen and his closest followers seemed to feel the first of two Music Hall dates was a disaster (the second night, they agreed, was a triumph). But Bruce Springsteen, overhyped and no doubt overworked, could sing a cappella in the rain for a bunch of point-of-no-return alcoholics and have them on their feet at the end.

He seems to have abandoned the spasmodic, exaggerated movements that rendered his Music Hall appearance of a year ago a mite contrived, and now he's having more fun with his band, his tightest and most responsive yet. His showmanship has blossomed into theater (in his leather jacket and baggy pants, Springsteen looked more like a refugee from Threepenny Opera than a rocker). He's still playing the role of "the world's greatest bar band front man," but his intimate treatments of slower songs like "Sandy" and the introductory "Thunder Road" were sheer musical drama -- Springsteen has writ large the good front man's ability to include the audience.

Most impressive was his humanity. Somehow, Springsteen has bypassed rock machismo without sacrificing intensity. What he presents onstage -- through his mad, swirling dashes around the other players (his guitar held like a battering ram); in his goofy but extraordinarily precise dancing; in his fits of exhaustion and of energy; in his hammerlock control of his band -- is something at once more personal and more universal than what we've come to expect from rock's glittery stars. He's working out the blunted aspirations and stark defeats of adolescence through an Everyman persona. His frustrations and fantasies are laid bare before us and, finally, transcended. The unbelievably loud whirring noise emanating from the audience after a long, gorgeously sustained, ear-popping version of "Kitty's Back" was nothing if not the sound of catharsis.

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