The previous series of all-stadium shows for Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band came on the heels of the mega-success of “Born in the USA,” and it was appropriate. The music was huge and raucous and could hold the attention of the dancing and partying throngs. More than 15 years later, Springsteen walks the tightrope by bringing the intimate material from “The Rising” to oversized venues, and pulls off a stunner — the album’s hushed tone, inspired by the aftermath of 9-11, works better these days than the warhorses from the 1970s.
Although the show began nearly 90 minutes after the posted 7 p.m. start time, Springsteen went at it for nearly three hours, tackled nine tunes from “The Rising” and revived his acrobatic showmanship of yore. Several of the renditions of “Rising” tunes were just Springsteen and guitar with wife Patti Scialfa providing haunting harmony vocals; “Empty Sky” “You’re Missing” and “My City in Ruin” were astoundingly affecting. He brought out “Across the Border” from the rarely visited “Ghost of Tom Joad,” and it fit wondrously between “Mary’s Place” and “Into the Fire.”
Many of the “Rising” songs are showing healthy staying power. Taken as a whole, “The Rising” tried too hard to be a one-size-fits-all balm, yet delivered in doses nearly two years after the terrorist attacks, the stories take hold better and the call for reflection is better realized.
Stadium shows, for years now, have been cash cows for the concert industry, the sorts of blockbuster tours the industry depends upon to show increases in revenues and admissions from year to year. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played to more people in New Jersey this summer than the Jets or Giants will this fall, and he filled three-fourths of the seats in Dodger Stadium — something the L.A. home team has done rarely this summer.
Maybe it’s the stadium or maybe it’s just L.A., but Springsteen, over the last two decades, seems to hold back here when digging into his tremendous catalog. (Recent East Coast shows were loaded with obscurities from the 1970s and underworked “Born in the U.S.A.” tunes). Sunday’s show was bogged down by the big three from “Darkness on the Edge of Town” that seem to make their way into every L.A. show. And as a topper, “Born to Run” was off on several levels — Springsteen seemingly couldn’t hear the band and sang lines too slow, even starting the number off key.
This show was on the bright side of mid-tempo for the most part — “Darlington County,” “Prove It All Night,” “No Surrender” and a fabulous “Ramrod” — and once one got past “The Rising” material, there was a nagging tonal sameness to the selections. It made two toss-offs, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “Seven Nights to Rock,” a ’50s rockabilly obscurity revived by Nick Lowe and BR-549, stand out as gems.
Sound was particularly clear and glitch free for a stadium show, and the Boss must be using the finest film crew in the business — the bigscreens were always filled with the perfect images, although patrons in the upper levels had to weather a distracting delay between image and sound.