With the Boss’ voice sounding hoarse at times and the Big Man a bit … bigger, Bruce Springsteen and his traveling rock ‘n’ roll conspirators proved everything is still righteous on E Street Sunday night at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. The band’s first venture into Orange County gave Springsteen plenty of comic fodder, and there were undoubtedly some of the capacity crowd waiting at the end of the three-hour marathon to see if the New Jersey native was ready to don a pair of freshly made mouse ears.
Seventh months since he opened the Staples Center in L.A., Springsteen’s Anaheim set was similar to those L.A. shows, though it was evident that the time on the road is taking its toll. At 50, Springsteen has been putting on these legendary performances since the ’70s and there were portions of the show where it seemed he had to dig deep to find the stamina to go on. He does find it, of course, and it’s hard to determine what’s theatrics and what’s legit but no matter how fatigued or drenched in sweat, Springsteen is the ultimate showman, giving the adoring throngs what they want.
War horses such as “The Promised Land,” “Badlands” and “10th Avenue Freezeout” bring an energy and vitality that still resonates more than 20 years after first penned. During “Freezeout,” especially, Springsteen introduces the band, having fun along the way. When it was wife Patti Scialfa’s turn, Springsteen got downright playful, launching into a chorus of “My Girl,” not seen before in these parts. Some older tunes such as “Thunder Road” could certainly use a freshening up or be put away for a while for something a bit more spontaneous.
Springsteen’s fan base has been a remarkably loyal lot and it’s the lesser-played numbers that can really set these hard-core aficionados into a frenzy. Such was the case when Springsteen went into “Human Touch,” the title track from his release that was notable in that it was recorded minus his E Street cohorts. Songs from this CD, along with “Lucky Town” (which were both released on the same day back in 1992), have never been played with full band accompaniment and these shows give Springsteen a perfect opportunity to give them a proper E Street rendition.
Also different from the October four-night run in L.A. was a new bluesy version of “Born in the U.S.A.” Springsteen has played this acoustically before, but he’s tweaked it once again, giving it an almost spiritual feel.
The opening number, “Don’t Look Back,” was never released on vinyl but was recorded during the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” sessions and the first section of the show was dominated with “Darkness” material, including “Prove It All Night, “The Promised Land” and the title track.
For the encores, Springsteen is mixing things up a bit more than he did at Staples, where he closed each night except the last with “Land of Hopes and Dreams.” Sunday, as he’s been doing recently, he tacked on the more familiar “Ramrod” to close things out.
The tour, which began in April 1999 in Spain, is nearing the home stretch and will end with a monumental 10-night stand next month at Madison Square Garden. Whether those shows will be the final showcase of Springsteen and his E Streeters remains to be seen, but with reports that they will all enter the studio and put out a new album (and possibly a live release highlighting this tour), calling it the end of an era may be a bit premature.
Springsteen and his “Sopranos”-starring childhood friend Steve Van Zandt have said they’re a bit concerned about the future of rock ‘n’ roll. After all, Springsteen can’t keep doing this. He’s a family man now, with three kids and a Ford. But if Sunday’s performance is any indication, he’s not exactly ready to pass the baton.