ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - A lot is said about Bruce Springsteen’s relationship to time. His long concerts always beat expectations (and set a bar that performers half his age usually fail to meet). The physical condition of the 66-year-old’s body and voice defies time. And the songwriter’s relevance and tour schedule marches ahead of time.
So, it was an interesting experiment to see how Springsteen would play the entire 20-song album, “The River,” the 1980 album he told the 19,000 people at the Xcel Energy Center is about time and adult life, “when the clock starts ticking.”
What the Twin Cities got was time spent well: an intense focus on perfectly delivering each song of an album Springsteen told the crowd, “felt like life.” That meant delivering songs conveying the joy and hope of life, including “I Wanna Marry You” and “Cadillac Ranch.”
But the songs that really cut into the soul were Springsteen’s most devastating songs. In “Independence Day,” Bruce gorgeously sang about a son realizing his father had his own failed dreams. In “Stolen Car,” a driver hits the road each night in a stolen car, thinking “I wait to get caught but I never do” and fears “in this darkness I will disappear.” In “The Price You Pay,” Springsteen, backed by beautiful instrumentation, sang of learning to sleep with those decisions that can seem to slowly compromise adult life — ending the song with a note of optimism: “I’m gonna tear it down and throw it away.”
Optimism. It’s what keeps Springsteen fans coming back. The characters in the Boss’s songs spend a lot of time in darkness, but the emotional-intellience-genius still believes what he sings in “Thunder Road”: “show a little faith, there’s magic in the night” (followed by a line suggesting compromise). At the concert, the optimism can be subtle, the singer joyfully crowd surfed while the crowd joyfully sang about a father proudly — yet maybe irresponsibly — exclaiming “I went out for a ride and I never went back” in “Hungry Heart.”
While Springsteen’s “The River” deals with many of the compromises of adult life, the singer, and his incredible band, never compromised Monday night. When the 2-hour “The River” set concluded, the band burned through another dozen songs, bringing the total number of songs performed to 34. Bruce crowd surfed. He ran through the crowd. He danced by himself. He danced with a 91-year-old woman during “Dancing in the Dark.” He made every word count in his vocals, mentally conjuring up the stories behind each song. He made eye contact with his fans.
For those who’ve never been to a Springsteen concert or studied his poetic lyrics, and just don’t understand the passion of his fans, I think it comes down to that lack of compromise in Springsteen’s work: his writing and his performance. He gets it — we all make compromises because we have to. But for three-and-a-half hours in a Springsteen a concert, Bruce leads by example. No compromises. And we follow. And we think, and we laugh, and we cry. We dance. There is no phoniness. No fancy stage effects. Just life, all of it, encapsulated in that precious time with our leader. Compromise can wait.
And when Bruce blows the roof off the arena, house lights on, with “Born to Run,” we all scream “tramps like us, baby we were born to run” because Bruce keeps us running.