LIVE: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Toronto, Ontario
Air Canada Centre
December 5, 2002
by Chris Iorfida

- Dec 9, 2002

Toronto, Ontario
Air Canada Centre
December 5, 2002
by Chris Iorfida
For a performer whose image has become so entangled with that of his country, it's ironic that some of the concerts deemed most memorable by the legions of diehard Bruce Springsteen fans over the past three decades have been ones that have occurred outside the good ol' U.S. of A. Several European shows have attained legendary status and Toronto has also seen its share of keepers, from the three-night stand at old Exhibition Stadium at the height of Brucemania in 1984, to the second show of the 1999-2000 tour, where Springsteen dusted off such rarely performed gems as "Incident On 57th Street." For his first show in Toronto in over two-and-a-half years, Springsteen and the E Street Band seemed intent on living up to that lofty standard, putting on an intense and joyous celebration of rock 'n' roll that eliminated some of the problems that plagued the show just two months earlier down the highway in Buffalo. And unlike the 1999-2000 tour, which regularly featured only one new song ("Land Of Hope And Dreams"), Bruce played nine songs off The Rising, strengthened the proceedings by firmly planting the show in the here and now. As customary throughout the current tour, the show kicked off with the one-two punch of the title track and the anthemic challenge of "Lonesome Day." The next three slots in the setlist have been wildcards, and the faithful were rewarded with the always-propulsive "No Surrender," as well as "Candy's Room" and the Clarence Clemons-driven "Night," the latter two not having been performed in this city since The River tour 20 years ago. It was as powerful a five-song blast to open a show as you're likely to see. Even the Bossman can't keep up such an incendiary pace, and the next two songs played were the slowest ones on the new album, "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing." Both beautifully performed and showcasing the violin playing of newest band addition Soozie Tyrell, but perhaps a little too-samey sounding to be back-to-back in the show. The next 20 minutes or so of the show were the patchiest part, as they've been throughout The Rising tour. "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," from the new album, is without question the most unfathomably gay Springsteen song ever recorded, and was an all-too obvious ploy to get the crowd back on their feet after the slow numbers. "Cadillac Ranch" had the ring of being performed a few too many times over the years and hence ready for the setlist junkyard, and "Worlds Apart," Eastern-tinged in its studio rendition, was rendered bombastic by 10 musicians playing full bore. Having such a large band is an obvious tightrope, and on other occasions, there were a few too many marimba and tambourine players; it can be a bit disheartening to see such a brilliant guitarist as Nils Lofgren underutilized. From that point on, however, Bruce and company rarely looked back, kicking it into another gear for a crowd so receptive to the material that Springsteen toned down his penchant for hamminess. Concert staple "Badlands" was followed by the Bo Diddley-beat of "She's The One," the "rarest" of the older songs to find its way into a regular spot in the show. Bruce's maniacal energy and soul preacher affectations, while not new, were so engaging that even "Mary's Place," a cross between a by-the-numbers rewrite of "Rosalita" and Sam Cooke's "Meet Me At Mary's Place," was an unqualified winner. The energy level of the show would've put most performers half his age to shame; too bad the fairly prohibitive ticket prices ensured an older and well-heeled throng. Having said that, Bruce did look every bit of his 53 years creakily running across the stage, and he may want to reconsider the customary leap onto Roy Bittan's piano bit; tonight it looked like he nearly nutted himself in the process. Bruce has been taking a solo turn at the piano himself during most shows of the tour, and here he chose to do "If I Should Fall Behind," in a performance that was a bit Dylanesque in both the good and bad senses (i.e. sounding like he was doing an imitation of his own singing voice). The set closed with "Thunder Road" and "Into The Fire," the song on The Rising that most directly deals with the events of September 11. The encores were spot on, from a purposeful "Dancing In The Dark" that toned down the '80s-style synth, and "Born To Run," a total communion between artist and audience, with house lights turned up and everyone shouting along. Eschewing the civil liberties speech he's been delivering south of the border before performing "Born In The USA," Springsteen simply offered it up as a "prayer for peace." Regardless of one's feelings for that much-debated song, it was hard not to marvel at Max Weinberg's powerhouse drumming. After the righteous "Land Of Hope And Dreams," which is the rock 'n' roll cousin of Mayfield's "People Get Ready," the band finished the show in the holiday spirit with "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Even the most Scrooge-like would have been won over much earlier.

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