Strutting out to the sound of “Big Boss Man,” Bruce Springsteen served notice to the capacity crowd at the United Center that the boss was indeed back. And Springsteen did not disappoint. He performed “The River” in its entirety and then went on to serve up a sing-along smorgasbord of chestnuts including “Rosalita,” Born to Run” and more.
The show clocked in at just under 3-1/2 hours with Springsteen and his band in fine form. In the wake of so many recent rock star deaths, it was good to see that the 66-year old Springsteen can still crowd surf with the best of them. He was passed about by people in the pits while belting out “Hungry Heart”—one of “The River’s” biggest hits.
First released in 1980, this double album was a departure from Springsteen’s earlier efforts. While there are plenty of party anthems like “Sherry Darling,” “Ramrod” and others, “The River” also ran deep with still relevant themes ranging from rising blue collar angst to the age-old issue of the disconnect between generations.
For the many Baby Boomers assembled in the audience, it seems hard to fathom that a generation has passed since the seminal album was first released. Like Springsteen and his East Street Band, they’ve experienced love, life changes and losses in the past 35 years. But, a Springsteen show has always been a life-affirming experience and the January 19th show at the United Center was no exception.
Springsteen last made the swing through Chicago in September of 2012 when he played at Wrigley Field. It was barely a year after longtime saxophonist, Clarence Clemons had passed and the “Big Man” was remembered with iconic images on the jumbo screen. His nephew, Jake Clemons, had recently taken up residence with the East Street Band as the new saxophone player.
Now, the younger Clemons has firmly immersed himself with the band on “The River” tour. He did quite a few solo turns that would have made “The Big Man” proud with “Night” and “Rosalita” being particular standouts. His comfort level has also increased dramatically as witnessed by the many light-hearted moments he shared with the band.
Springsteen had honored David Bowie with a “Rebel, Rebel” cover at his Pittsburgh show. In Chicago, it was Glenn Frey’s turn. Accompanied by a sea of smart phone flashlight apps, he did a stellar acoustic version of “Take It Easy.” At the close of the song, he simply said, “for Glenn Frey.”
While Springsteen was subdued during this moment, he revealed a lot during “The River” segment of the show. He explained his motivation for many of the songs and discussed his state of mind at the time. He noted that, “how we have finite time….to do something good.”
But in the midst of all the reflections, came the rollicking good times atmosphere that Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band are famous for. Steven Van Zandt continues to be the frontman’s trusted foil, which was especially apparent when Springsteen, Van Zandt and Clemmons did a “Three Stooges” skit during the chorus of “Rosalita.”
The Boss also showed his tender side with a face-to-face duet with real-life wife, Patti Scialfa on “Human Touch.” As he did in 1984, he sashayed with a woman for “Dancing with the Dark.” In another nod to the time marches on category, his dancing partner was much older and grayer than his former dancing partner, Courtney Cox.
While many aficionados were happy to hear songs like “Human Touch” and “Cover Me,” some longtime fans would have preferred to hear more of his earlier material as there were no cuts from the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album. But, who can quibble when he closed with a cover of the Isley Brother’s “Shout?”