He’s on fire: Live reviews from the archives

September 13, 2012

The legend of Bruce Springsteen’s live prowess goes back many decades, and The Washington Post certainly contributed to that legend. A trip through our archives unearthed reviews of plenty of Springsteen shows, and not surprisingly, they’re almost all raves. Here are excerpts from a handful, one from each of the past five decades, with links to the full reviews.

— David Malitz

Oct. 11, 1974, at Shady Grove Music Fair, Gaithersburg

Springsteen’s Rock

It is quickly apparent why Bruce Springsteen . . . is soon going to be a name to reckon with.

Springsteen’s not just a desperately vivid lyricist, or an ace guitarist. He turns into a Marlon Brando rock performer on the stage in his black leather jacket, raggedly red shirt and jeans, clutching his fists, flailing his arms and stomping around the stage like a method actor psyching his lines out of himself.

The lines themselves are of frantic city images, street punks and whores, Romeo and Juliet in West Side Story setting, pimps in white Eldorados and gypsy fortune tellers gone mad.

Read the full review

— Tom Zito
(originally published Oct. 12, 1974)

Aug. 5, 1985, at RFK Stadium

The Electricity of Springsteen

At 7:42 last night an ebullient Bruce Springsteen sprinted on to the huge stage at RFK Stadium, positioned himself in front of a huge American flag and counted off the opening measures of “Born in the U.S.A.,” the centerpiece song and title of the album that catapulted him to rock messiahdom over the last year.

Springsteen delivered his edgy saga of a returning Vietnam veteran, complete with its catalogue of shattered promises, in a rough-hewn performance redeemed at each verse’s end by the catch phrase that has come to be his credo:

“Born in the U.S.A. . . . I’m a cool rockin’ daddy . . . born in the U.S.A.”

Exactly the sentiments of the 54,000 fans who greeted the song and the singer with a cascade of “Bruuuuuuuuces,” a sea of raised fists (which would punctuate just about every song for the rest of the night), and a full-throated massed choir that defined the instant community that is at the heart of every Bruce Springsteen concert.

Springsteen immediately renewed the emotional contract that exists between him and the only audience that matters, the one he is playing to that particular night. For more than three hours, that impassioned performance connected his own faith in rock ‘n’ roll with that of his fans, a spirit that salvaged even his bleakest material.

Read the full review

— Richard Harrington
(originally published Aug. 6, 1985)

Dec. 5, 1995, at DAR Constitution Hall

Springsteen, An Austere Power

Near the beginning of last night’s concert, Bruce Springsteen asked the full house at DAR Constitution Hall to “give me your silence so I can do my best.” The request was necessary since the concert (repeated tonight) was one of a handful of solo acoustic performances being given in conjunction with the release of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” The album, also a solo acoustic project, addresses the dire straits of a nation in a time of lost jobs and broken promises, as an unnamed depression widens and a spiritual recession takes its toll.

It’s serious fare, to be sure, and the austere set and Springsteen’s appearance — hair slicked back, work shirt and jeans making him look more like the custodian at Constitution Hall than the star attraction — would seem to preclude any sense of triumph. And yet it was there, albeit masked in the commonplace social contracts of everyday people Springsteen is committed to empowering through song. . . .

But the prevailing mood was serious and almost challenging, and the audience responded with enthusiasm that seemed born this time more out of admiration and respect than rote adulation. For his final song, Springsteen turned to his new album’s wry meditation on cliches, “My Best Was Never Good Enough.” Last night, he proved his best was plenty good enough.

Read the full review

— Richard Harrington
(originally published Dec. 6, 1995)

Aug. 10, 2002, at MCI Center

T hanks, Boss

Lordy, lordy, we needed that.

We needed Bruce Springsteen even more than we thought, and we thought we needed him a lot. On Saturday night at MCI Center, the Boss and the merry posse of musicians called the E Street Band came not merely to rock, but to heal. And heal they did, in a 21 / 2-hour show that roused emotions spanning the full scope of human experience — from grief, despair and resignation to rapture, affirmation and hope.

It’s unlikely that any audience in rock’s history has been compelled to ride from such brooding depths to such giddy heights. At moments, the crowd was hushed quiet by Springsteen and urged to soak up his new compositions about the tragedy of Sept. 11 in reverential silence. Other times, the show became a five-keg house party with all the furniture tossed on the lawn. The peak arrived during one of a half-dozen encores, when the arena lights went up and “Born to Run” was untethered in a 50-million-watt glare.

Only a substance banned by the FDA could make that many people any happier.

Read the full review

— David Segal
(originally published Aug. 12, 2002)

April 1, 2012, at Verizon Center

Bringing darkness, depth to the party

It was heavy. That went for both the rumble and the message that came from the Verizon Center stage Sunday night when Bruce Springsteen delivered three hours of rock-and-roll in his signature blend of romantic, redemptive and reflective. Springsteen and his supersized E Street Band know how to preside over a party, and although Sunday’s show had its share of arms-around-your-buddy, beers-in-the-air moments, the bad times were clearly more on the Boss’s mind than the good ones. . . .

Springsteen could have offered nothing but entertainment and pure escape, and it would have easily been a show worthy of his reputation as one of live music’s best. But on Sunday, he didn’t escape, he dove headfirst into the heart of America, and if what he found wasn’t always pretty, it sure was powerful.

Read the full review

— David Malitz
(originally published April 2, 2012)

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