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Pop Music Review

Springsteen Hits the Replay Button

He seems reinvigorated, but too many songs performed at Pond were redundant with Staples appearances.

May 23, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim with all the passion and purpose of their heralded 1999 reunion shows.

Yes, the fast-paced, three-hour performance was not only a stirring summary of Springsteen's career, but also a demonstration of just about everything that rock 'n' roll can be: the commentary, the showmanship, the celebration, the rebellion and ultimately the self-affirmation.

It was Springsteen's first performance in Orange County, and one fan in the audience toasted the occasion by holding up a sign that referred to Springsteen's New Jersey roots: "The Pond of Anaheim Is Now The Swamps of Jersey."

The only thing missing from the party was a new song.

"Don't Look Back," Springsteen may have advised in the title of the opening song, but he didn't look forward much himself in the show.

Of the 23 tunes Sunday, all but four were also in Springsteen's opening night set last October at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Three of the remaining songs ("Don't Look Back," "Point Blank" and "This Hard Land") were also performed at least once during the four-night Staples engagement. That left only one addition Sunday--"Human Touch," a statement of longing that was the title track of one of his 1992 solo albums.

It's easy to see why Springsteen stuck with the outline of the 1999 shows. He is playing different cities this time on a tour that included another Pond stop Monday, and that 1999 production captured brilliantly the darkness and optimism of his message.

In getting back together after an 11-year break, Springsteen and the eight-piece band played with such renewed commitment and desire that the reunion was a rebirth, not a rehash. The triumph of the 1999 shows wasn't just that Springsteen thrilled the audience with fully involving versions of such signature songs as "Born to Run" and "Backstreets," but that he also gave fans new reasons to believe.

In the heart of the show, he mixed songs from various periods of his career that gave each of the songs a sense of added dimension--from the youthful determination of "Prove It All Night" to the staggering isolation of "Darkness at the Edge of Town," from the class distinction of "Mansion on the Hill" to the gut-level despair of the stripped-down "Born in the U.S.A."

In the process, he transformed "Youngstown" from the folk setting of his "The Ghost of Tom Joad" solo album to a scathing rock 'n' roll protest number. By giving various band members solo vocal roles in a rearranged "If I Should Fall Behind," he underscored the sense of community and commitment that is a subtext of the show.

But the most effective aspect of the tour was the introduction of a new song, "Land of Hope and Dreams."

That song, in fact, summarized the optimism and struggle in Springsteen's music so well that it was for many the moment of truth in what was, by most measures, the best designed and most satisfying arena or stadium tour since U2's "Zoo TV" concerts almost a decade ago.

Even though the tour expresses Springsteen's themes well, he has the kind of audience that doesn't just want to see him once during a tour, but as many times as possible. So the chances are that a hefty percentage of the audience Sunday also saw one or more of the Staples shows--and he's taught them to expect something extra.

For them and for the other fans who sign on to Web sites after each show to learn the set list, Springsteen could have given the show--and this leg of the tour--an extra jolt by previewing at least one new song that he hasn't been playing on tour for several months now.

It's a tribute to Springsteen's status that his fans even would miss a new song. With most veteran acts, a new song is the last thing that you want to hear. With Springsteen & the E Street Band, it's the lifeline to the audience.

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