April 7, 2014

Notes from the road: Dallas

Playing at a festival setting with plenty of first-timers and curiosity seekers in attendance, it’s no surprise that Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played the hits from 1984. But nobody expected them to open with a song from 1984, as in the Van Halen mega-hit album from that same year.

Fitting with the tone of the March Madness Music Festival in Dallas, Texas, the band walked out to “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Bruce arrived holding a ball. “This has something to do with basketball. Am I right?” he asked the crowd, and the playful tone was set for the evening. Kevin Buell, dressed in a ref’s outfit, tossed the ball up for an opening tipoff between Bruce and Nils Lofgren. The ball sailed into the crowd as a lucky fan from Wisconsin, there for the Final Four, scooped up the ball. Then the real fun began.

The familiar keyboard opening of “Jump” started โ€” and it worked, Springsteen sounding better than David Lee Roth has since, well, you know the year by now. And like Dave had Eddie Van Halen, Springsteen had his share of guitar heroes surrounding him, with Tom Morello taking the lead on the song. (Steve Van Zandt wasn’t on hand tonight, but Patti Scialfa returned to the E Street lineup.)

The crowd, the first to see an entire Springsteen concert in the states since 2012, enjoyed “Jump,” but many were there to see if this Springsteen guy lived up to the hype. He did. Granted, the audience wasn’t as large as hoped for or even expected, since rain poured off and on from the time the gates opened until it was nearly time to go home. But the audience still looked impressive on the large field where Reunion Arena once stood.

Following the cover, Springsteen and the E Street Band got loud and simply rocked. “Badlands” fit nicely into the number two spot, followed by “Death to My Hometown” and a Springsteen Top 10 hit of his own, “Cover Me,” with Bruce taking the leads. Nils and Bruce then went into another great Born in the U.S.A. rocker, “No Surrender,” and bassist Garry Tallent shared the mic with Bruce on a chorus or two. The hits kept coming, with Bruce’s first Top 10 single, “Hungry Heart,” and a crowd surf that concluded with a swig of beer from a fan. On the latest single, “High Hopes,” Tom Morello even played guitar with his teeth.

But Springsteen didn’t have to rely on radio staples to grab a crowd. “Spirit in the Night” provided one of many special moments between Bruce and a young fan. A young redhead with a Boston Red Sox cap trembled and shook as she was serenaded by Springsteen. As he left her in near tears, Bruce returned to the stage to be with the red-headed woman.

“Wrecking Ball” seemed extra fitting as the crowd stood where a great, old arena had basically been turned into a parking lot that made for a perfect spot for the concert. A hauntingly, beautiful “The River” came next, then a surprisingly fresh and smoldering “Atlantic City.”

The horns continue to add a fun, jazzy element to the band, with “Johnny 99” rocking out once again. Born in the U.S.A. songs still get a crowd singing along, even though plenty in attendance weren’t even alive when that album came out. The pop band fun. were in the slot prior to Bruce, and maybe it was a fun. fan who tried to sing along after she was pulled up on stage for “Darlington County” โ€” she only knew the “sha la las” โ€” but Bruce moved on without her and kept the crowd happy with “Working on the Highway.”

“Shackled and Drawn” has come a long way since it first debuted on the Wrecking Ball tour. Cindy Mizelle’s voice is just stunning. With the rain coming down, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” seemed appropriate for the evening, and one of many small kids dressed like Bruce circa 1984 got to sing with Bruce. She continued to sing as he carried her back to her family, getting a chuckle from Springsteen.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad” continues to impress. Morello prowls the stage like a panther waiting for his singing part and then just rips his solo when it’s time. “The Rising” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” closed out the main set.

You could tell the fans had been waiting for “Born to Run” all the night by the reception the old warhorse received. “Glory Days” brought about another fun kid moment: a little boy with a “Devils and Dust” pull-over stood on his tip toes to reach the microphone and sing with Bruce. The kid actually showed some improvisational skills on his call-and-response with Bruce.

With “Dancing in the Dark” next, Springsteen played half of his most popular album in all, including his biggest single. He invited plenty of girls on stage to join him for the traditional dance, who also took it upon themselves to take cell phone photos with the living legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. He patiently mugged for one picture after another. “Selfies! Selfies!” an exasperated Springsteen shouted once he cleared the stage. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” taught the young ones in attendance the history of the band, and then we were all treated to a rip-roaring, hell-of-a-good time version of “Shout.” What a great closer.

The night ended with just Bruce and Patti for a lovely, goose-bump worthy “Thunder Road.” Who needs 1984, when things are still so special in 2014?

– Jeff Calaway Backstreets.com