Despite the professed minimalism of the new band, they had 11 pieces (two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and six backing vocalists), making up in raw force what they lacked in richness of color. The one holdover from the E Street Band was Roy Bittan's cinematic keyboard work, but my ear missed that band's tonal diversity only during "Badlands," which was lacking Clarence Clemons's saxophone break.
The new band did free up Springsteen for guitar heroics, whether he was dueling with new guitarist Shane Fontayne (whose batter of distortion pedals complemented his Hendrix-like attack) or replacing an old Clemons solo with the sort of stinging feedback-laden breaks he had eschewed since Darkness on the Edge of Town. The band had more of a gospel/R&B feel, thanks to two secret weapons: soul veteran Bobby King and multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero (who even appeared beneath a hulking alto sax during "Born To Run"). Already, the band seem loose and comfortable, giving such new ravers as "Man's job" and "Roll of the Dice" the same feel as old favorites like "Hungry Heart" and "Glory Days."
"I'm a big daddy now," Springsteen beamed between songs. "A lot more work than these records." Indeed, his vitality and acrobatics on stage (and into the audience) seemed as effortless as ever. He pushed each song as far as it could go, then pushed farther. Near midnight, when the show seemed to have reached its conclusion (seven songs into the encore, with the pensive ballad "My Beautiful Reward," which had been the final number at the New Jersey shows), he asked, "Anybody gotta get up early tomorrow?" Then he launched into a jackhammering "Workin on the Highway," miming shoveling as be skipped across the stage, as if to say, "This ain't work!" It seemed he could have played another four hours. At any rate, Springsteen left no doubt that he's a real man.
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