E. RUTHERFORD, NJ—No one is more beloved for his survival in the rock and roll idiom than Bruce Springsteen. Not the Stones. Not Dylan. No one. While they are also grand survivors of age, generation, curious career choices and an unforgiving waver in and out of our pop culture radar, it is somehow different with Springsteen. He stands alone in being worshipped as a kind of brother figure—a confidant, not a god, a buddy, not an icon.
All of this is exhibited clearly as Springsteen and his nine-piece E Street Band (more like a battalion) roll across America like an old-time gospel review bearing witness to the long road behind and ahead.
Back in the bosom of Jersey, Springsteen, clad in black with worn road boots, looks like a warrior Moses descending from the mountain to whip the faithful into fury. He lifts his aged Telecaster as a staff to rouse the throng from the first note to the last, counting down the commandments one by one.
As usual his band is air tight, despite detailed rumors of limited rehearsals and mercurial stage audibles; it manages to bludgeon a well-conceived lineup of songs from nearly 40 years of material. If there is a serviceable answer to the question of why we need four guitars and two keyboards assaulting our senses, it is passionately on display here.
Nearly half the show, the fourth on his 31-city world tour, unfurls the better parts of Magic, a new collection of slickly produced harangues against false idols and social disorder. But they do not dirge. They swing, they pummel, and they make their stand, specifically “Long Walk Home,” “Last To Die,” “Livin’ In The Future” and “Radio Nowhere.” There is a bounce to the songwriter’s step that is clearly evident when Springsteen plays these songs, leading seamlessly into segues of earlier numbers, which reflect their place in The Boss’ canon: “No Surrender,” “The Promised Land,” “Reason To Believe,” “The Rising,” and “Badlands.”
The set appears to be more a singular statement than a mere concert. There is no room here for the isolated strains of “Jungleland,” the crooning plea of “Thunder Road,” or a rousing retelling of “Glory Days.” There is a method, a plot, a thorny storyline you must follow, like the chosen shuffling through a parting sea.
But then there is also the obligatory stomp and revelry of a Springsteen encore, which includes a spirited version of “Thundercrack,” a rougher-edged “Dancing In The Dark,” and, of course, “Born To Run,” which goes a long way to providing a sledgehammer thesis to the echoes of survival, musical or Biblical.