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Live Review: Bruce Springsteen @ United Center

| January 21, 2016


By 1980, New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen had already done the singer/songwriter thing (his first two albums), rock bombast (Born To Run) and youthful-angst (Darkness On The Edge of Town). He was entering his 30’s and his focus was shifting to narrative themes that were befitting of that kind of life milestone. The resulting document – The River – was a double album, magnum opus that addressed the decidedly unsexy, existential questions about longevity, fidelity, relationships, mortality, responsibility and its cost of diminished returns and the countless paradoxes each contained.

26 years later, Springsteen has decided to revisit the release in the form of The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, a behemoth box set that contains 52 tracks and 4 hours of previously unseen footage across 3 DVD’s. It has also resulted in a 24 date tour (in which the album will be performed in its entirety) and Bruce included a stop at Chicago’s United Center  Tuesday.

At 66 years old, Springsteen is no longer the flamboyant, piano-hopping, amplifier-leaping showman that earned him the term of endearment know as “The Boss.” He is, however, still armed with his not-so-secret weapon: The E Street Band.

From the first howls of what would be many 1-2-3-4 shout-outs, it became immediately apparent that his 10 piece musical juggernaut were fully up to the task of transforming the recording for a live setting. The evening kicked off with “Meet Me In The City,” an impossibly great “River” outtake that any other band would slobber themselves to have written, but was unceremoniously kicked to the curb even after The River was expanded into its now famous double-platter version.

Consequently, the shear weight of leftover material that makes up the “Ties” release could have warranted a clunker-free release back in the ’80s simply on its own merits. It’s also an astounding example of just how prolific Springsteen was during those sessions and the first record in his catalog which allowed his E Street-ers to sound as if they had finally been untethered.

But the evening would belong to the version that debuted at #1 upon its release. “Are you ready to go to The River?!,” Springsteen bellowed before dipping a musical toe into “The Ties That Bind.” It would be the first of all twenty tracks in which The E Street Band would meticulously morph into a swinging R&B combo (“Sherry Darling,” “Cadillac Ranch”), celebratory bar band (“Crush On You,” “I’m A Rocker”) and stealthy balladeers whose delicate touch on songs like “Point Blank,” “Independence Day,” and “Fade Away” would immediately fill a sawdust covered floor during a last call slow dance.


Missing (thankfully) was some of Springsteen’s carnival barker schtick that has marred some past tours. There was a seriousness to the evening that showed absolute care and affection for the songs. Of course, nobody goes to a Springsteen show hoping for a funeral. Over the course of 3-1/2 hours, he and his band also did what they do best, which is bring the party. The latter half of the show was all about the catalog.

They delivered outsized rockers like “No Surrender,” “She’s The One,” “Thunder Road,” “Rosalita” and the obligatory “Born To Run.” Springsteen briefly slowed the evening to pay tribute to the recently deceased Glenn Frey of the Eagles, serenading those in attendance with a solo, acoustic version of his hit “Take It Easy.”

An overstuffed United Center then continued to spend the night dancing, singing including a flash of Boss bodysurfing.

With the house lights up, the band huddled close at center stage, working their way through a cover of The Isley Brothers’ ass shaker “Shout.”

In that moment, 22,000 strong made an arena feel like a corner bar on any given Friday night.

– Review and photos by Curt Baran

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Category: Featured, Live Reviews, Stage Buzz, Weekly

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