Spring­steen cre­ates whole new per­for­mance tem­plate

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By David Bauder

Af­ter check­ing off all the rock-star su­perla­tives in his 68 years, Bruce Spring­steen has set out to cre­ate an en­tirely new per­for­mance tem­plate.

“Spring­steen on Broad­way,” which opened Thurs­day night, is a deeply per­sonal life story with a sound­track, a one-man (or one­man, one-woman for two songs) show that’s by turns funny and touch­ing. He’s on­stage five nights a week through Feb. 3 in what has been called his Broad­way de­but.

The dis­tinc­tion is im­por­tant. This is a set piece, not a con­cert where Spring­steen usu­ally changes his setlist from night to night. He mo­tioned to fans who greeted him at Wed­nes­day’s fi­nal re­hearsal with cheers and fa­mil­iar “Bru­u­u­ucce!” shouts to sit down. The per­former also stopped peo­ple from clap­ping along to “Danc­ing in the Dark,” say­ing, “I’ll han­dle it my­self.”

The songs – 15 of them in a 130minute per­for­mance – were sec­ondary to Spring­steen’s sto­ries about grow­ing up in Free­hold, New Jersey, peeks into what he’s reached for ar­tis­ti­cally and pokes at his own per­sona.

The in­ti­macy of the 960-seat Wal­ter Kerr Theatre made it spe­cial. Spring­steen could step away from the mi­cro­phone for a verse or two and not worry about his voice not reach­ing the rafters.

“I have never held an hon­est job in my en­tire life,” Spring­steen said.

“I have never done an hon­est day’s work. I’ve never done hard la­bor. I’ve never worked nine to five and yet, that is all that I’ve ever writ­ten about.”

Recit­ing a stream of his own lyrics about the “death trap” and his need to run from the swamps of Jersey, he dead­panned, “I live 10 min­utes from my home­town.”

“I came from a board­walk town where ev­ery­thing is tinged with a bit of fraud,” he said. “So am I, if you haven’t fig­ured that out yet.”

Some of Spring­steen’s sto­ries about growin’ up (the ti­tle of his open­ing song) should be fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s read his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, and he even reads from it. He has a keen eye and nov­el­ist’s sense of de­tail. Talk­ing about go­ing into a bar at his mother’s be­hest to tell his fa­ther it was time to go home, he de­scribed his dad’s en­tire out­fit, down to the belt, and the mix of smells ex­otic to a young boy’s nose.

His mono­logue about the neigh­bor­hood that was an eight-year-old boy’s world segued into Spring­steen per­form­ing the song “My Home­town,” on pi­ano, which be­gins with the lyric, “I was eight-years-old and run­ning with a dime in my hand.”

Sto­ries of his fa­ther, Dou­glas, and mother, Adele, con­trast­ing moods of dark­ness and light, were ac­com­pa­nied by per­for­mances of “My Fa­ther’s House” and “The Wish.”

Lo­cal po­lice weren’t sad to see Spring­steen go when, at 19, he packed his be­long­ings and left Free­hold. His fam­ily had scat­tered. He had no job and no fu­ture, it seemed, yet he spoke wist­fully of the time.

“It’s the one thing I miss about grow­ing older,” he said. “I miss the beauty of that blank page and the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

He fol­lowed with “Thun­der Road,” which, like most of his songs, was stripped to its essence, the lyrics com­ing in clearer fo­cus in the con­text of the sto­ries. Much of “Born in the USA,” his big­gest mo­ment in the bom­bas­tic 1980s, was de­liv­ered in a ghostly whis­per.

His wife, Patti Scialfa, ac­com­pa­nied him for “Bril­liant Dis­guise” and, when they sang “when I look in your eyes,” the au­di­ence could see them do­ing ex­actly that.

Spring­steen paid ten­der trib­ute to late band­mate Clarence Cle­mons in the song that ref­er­ences him, “Tenth Av­enue Freeze-Out.” He re­called a show where he and his band, look­ing for the big break, played for a mu­sic in­dus­try con­tact reached through his girl­friend at the time.

The big­wig said he thought Bruce and the band were ter­rific.

“Then he slept with my girl­friend and left town,” Spring­steen said. The au­di­ence laughed. “What’s so funny about that?” he re­torted.

The per­for­mance of­fered a new way to ex­pe­ri­ence some­one usu­ally only vis­i­ble as a speck on a dis­tant stage, a new way to con­nect with a hero. Since Spring­steen’s fans are will­ing to spend hun­dreds of dol­lars for the priv­i­lege, it’s some­thing that other artists closer to the end of their per­for­mance ca­reers would do well to take notes on.

Upon reach­ing a cer­tain point – roughly when fame and for­tune in­truded – Spring­steen low­ers the cur­tain on his own life. The au­di­ence leaves with a vivid pic­ture of Spring­steen as a boy, noth­ing about him as a fa­ther. His youth­ful dreams have come true, and then some. What’s that like?

While Spring­steen brings his story full cir­cle by rec­ol­lect­ing his dis­tress at re­turn­ing to his child­hood street and find­ing the tree he had climbed as a boy had been cut down, much of the lat­ter third of “Spring­steen on Broad­way” is out­ward look­ing and feels more like a con­cert than a show.

His ad­vice for deal­ing with the world’s trou­bles is to “lace up your danc­ing shoes” and he did so, end­ing with “Danc­ing in the Dark” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

“Born to Run,” too, of course.

For more in­for­ma­tion see https://bruce­spring­steen.net/broad­way

Spring­steen’s solo shows on Broad­way have been ex­tended through Fe­bru­ary.

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