- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

In their "glory days," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would routinely kick out 3-hour sets, sometimes longer, with no song or cover off-limits.
The show Saturday night at the MCI Center was more of a controlled affair, clocking in at the 2-hour range, though it mattered little to the ecstatic crowd. The infectious energy pouring off the E Street crew made it seem that the shorter sets are more a courtesy to an aging fan base, than due to a shortage of stamina on the band's part.
Eleven songs came from his recent, September 11-influenced work "The Rising," with no tracks lifted from Mr. Springsteen's three albums recorded without the E Street Band.
Not that fans were bothered. The traditional shouts of "Bruce," which came out more like "booooze" in the packed arena started while people were still filing into the MCI Center.
Mr. Springsteen arrived on stage wearing bluejeans and a blue flannel shirt, his stubble making him look like he'd just finished a full day at a construction site and was ready to unwind with a little music. The rest of the band came out like conquering heroes, waving warmly to the crowd before launching into "The Rising," the title track from the new album.
Though it's only been out for about a week, fans sang along to most of the choruses (and even some verses) with a devotion that shows why the album went to No. 1 on the charts last week.
Steven Van Zandt, wearing a black bandana and looking like an escaped swashbuckler from a pirate flick, pushed his face up close to Mr. Springsteen as the two sang the "li, li, li" chorus. Hearing the song live further cements the image of the Boss as the Rev. Bruce, as he admonished his loyal followers to "Come on up for the rising," almost a promise that redemption will come through power chords and soulful sax solos.
With four guitarists, including Nils Lofgren and Mr. Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa (mostly on acoustic), it sometimes had the feel of the recent Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young shows, with an abundance of talented musicians who don't have a place on every song.
Even with the superb duo of Mr. Lofgren and Mr. Van Zandt, the Boss took on a good share of solos, hunching over as video monitors showed his arms and hands glistening with sweat.
By the second song it was apparent how integral the E Street Band is to making Mr. Springsteen's songwriting visions come to life. On the second tune, "Lonesome Day," saxophonist Clarence Clemons (who kept time on most songs by shaking a tambourine) was finally able to show off his chops, and joined Mr. Lofgren and Mr. Springsteen up front for a band-wide jam.
Of course, like any good preacher, Mr. Springsteen knew his audience could handle only so much "Rising" before it needed some of the old hits to get its energy back up. When Roy Bittan played the opening piano melody to "Prove It All Night," the crowd cheered in grateful recognition.
Mr. Springsteen sang with his trademark grimace, his face scrunched up as he shouted "I'll prove it all night," with the E Street Band kicking up the tempo from its slower album pace. Drummer Max Weinberg attacked the skins like he was at a Keith Moon play-alike contest while looking like an accountant fresh from the office in his button-down shirt and vest.
Though he wasn't miked, Mr. Weinberg still shouted at the choruses or just screamed out of sheer exuberance most of the night.
After playing the more somber "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which sounded boisterous thanks to the crowd's singing support, Mr. Springsteen asked the audience to quiet down for his next two songs.
In a heartbeat, the packed arena hushed as some fans took their seats for the first time, to hear a two-song interlude of "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing."
Mr. Springsteen stripped down the opening of "Empty Sky," playing only harmonica and acoustic guitar to accompany himself, making the track sound like it could have come off his stark folk album "Nebraska."
It was one of several times when the sound of the music mirrored the words, as Mr. Springsteen sang "I woke up this morning to an empty sky" without the backing of his full band.
Soozie Tyrell added depth to "You're Missing," as her violin and Mr. Lofgren's slide guitar paralleled the melody. Mr. Springsteen put down his guitar for the song and sang to the audience like it was his beloved spouse gone forever.
Some fans have said they are put off by new songs like "Worlds Apart," which uses a Sufi chorus to highlight words like "'Neath Allah's blessed rain, we remain worlds apart." Although Mr. Springsteen has always had a knack for writing from the point of view of others, the cooler reception seemed to show that he had crossed a line for some in the crowd.
Almost as if he sensed this tension, Mr. Springsteen and crew followed it up with "Badlands," which brought the arena back to its feet, fists pumping at the chorus, as Mr. Van Zandt and Mr. Clemons traded off fiery solos.
The protest song "American Skin (41 Shots)" was one of the more interesting choices of the night but fit into the evening's somber subject matter, with Garry Tallent's bass finally making it front and center.
The first set ended with "Into the Fire," a song that begins with a widow mourning her husband's death before Mr. Springsteen begins a mantra of prayer "may your strength give us strength" with his head bowed, then summoning the might of the E Street Band.
The encores (there were two) put aside "The Rising" and kicked off with an energetic rendition of "Thunder Road" and "Glory Days," a tune that hasn't been on the band's regular set lists for some time.
The house lights came up for "Born to Run" as fans hugged each other in joy and sang loudly with every word.
This tour could be marked as when Mr. Springsteen finally takes back his signature tune "Born in the USA." Coming in the second encore, Mr. Springsteen introduced the song by urging the crowd to be careful of the "rollback of our civil rights," adding that vigilance comes "with being born in the USA."
Though politicians of every persuasion and cause have used the song as a personal anthem, Mr. Springsteen slipped back into the point of view of a disillusioned Vietnam vet to scream the song's mock-celebratory chorus. It was a reminder that "The Rising" isn't the first time the Boss has tackled a national crisis, only the most recent.

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