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Thursday, April 20, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 137

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The Boss proves he can still rock

By Ken Fountain

News Reporter

They came. They saw. They rocked.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, reunited on tour after a 12-year hiatus, turned the Compaq Center into a 15,000-member congregation of the "Ministry of Rock n' Roll" Tuesday night, erasing any doubts that they'd lost any of their passion during their absence.

Certainly their hair may be a little thinner these days (with the notable exceptions of sax-man extraordinaire Clarence Clemon's back-length dreadlocks and singer/guitarist/Springsteen-wife Patti Scialfa's flowing red mane). Bruce himself, at age 50, may not be quite as nimble as he used to be.

But Boss and Co. proved that the years haven't taken a toll on what really counts: Its commitment to giving fans a three-hour sensory-overload experience in pure rock n' roll.

The nearly sold-out crowd's anticipation was at a fever pitch when the lights finally dimmed, 45 minutes after the scheduled 7:30 p.m. show time.

One by one, the members of the band marched onstage to the ever-increasing cheers of the audience. Finally, with the chant of "Bruuuuuce!" heard all around, the man of the hour appeared.

"Are you ready for me?" he howled in his trademarked pseudo-macho stage banter; the crowd answered with a resounding "Yes!" Then the band launched into "My Love Will Not Let You Down," a relatively obscure song from Springsteen's boxed set Tracks.

The stage, stretching across one end of the arena floor, was bare except for the musicians and their instruments and equipment. That, coupled with excellent use of the video-projection system, gave nearly everyone a great view, even those behind the stage.

Midway through the show, Bruce did a short solo set with acoustic guitar and harmonica. He prefaced "The Ghost of Tom Joad" with an appeal to the audience to donate money to the Houston Food Bank at buckets outside the arena.

While waiting for a guitar to be tuned, he entertained the crowd with a story about the band's first trip to Houston in 1975. Having briefly sworn off airplanes because of some previous rough flights, they took the train down from their New Jersey base. Seems the band ran into a few scrapes at the various stops along the way, making it "a very loooong train ride."

The show was filled with old favorites, like "Badlands," "Out in the Streets," "Backstreets" and "Thunder Road." The entire crowd was on its feet and shouting the lyrics to Bruce's all-time signature song, "Born to Run."

Still, some of the best moments were a few lesser-known tunes: the fierce "Murder, Inc.," the triumphant "Better Days" and particularly the beautiful ballad "If I Should Fall Behind," during which various band members took turns soulfully singing verses from the same mic, turning the ode to everlasting love into a celebration of the band's decades-long friendship.

But the absolute highlight of the show was the classic rave-rocker "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," halfway through which Bruce segued into the soul classic "Take Me to the River" and a hilariously dead-on impersonation of a revivalist preacher extolling "the mystery, the majesty, the MINISTRY of Rock n' Roll."

To the huge approval of the audience, he introduced each of the "ministers" of his secular church. In addition to those already mentioned were pianist Roy "The Professor" Bittan, drummer "Mighty" Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent and organist Danny Federici.

Of course, the introductions had to end with "the King of the World, Master of the Universe, the Next President of the United States! Do I have to say his name? Do I have to say his name? That's right, The Big Man' -- Clarence Clemons!"

Midway through the second encore the band launched into a splendid new song, "Land of Hope and Dreams," and, finally, the full-speed-ahead "Ramrod."

After three hours of joyous musical churchifyin', the sermon was ended, the plate was passed and the faithful left with their spirits renewed. Now, they can only pray that it doesn't take another 12 years for church to meet again. Amen.
 

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