The Beatdown

Starbucks might not want him, but fans know Bruce is Boss.

"What the hell you writing down there, my friend? You're not one of those freaks writing down everything I do, are you?"

Guilty as charged, Boss.

As I scribbled furiously in my notebook last Saturday night at the Colorado Convention Center, it felt like Bruce Springsteen was boring a hole directly into me. Turns out, the Boss had actually homed in on some poor sap a few rows in front -- but he gave all of us plenty to write about over the course of two and a half hours. How often do you get within spitting distance of one of the greatest songwriters, watching him spin yarns and play songs as though you were sitting in his living room?

The majority of the show was geared toward the hard-core fan -- there was no "Born in the U.S.A." or even "Born to Run." Instead, Springsteen treated the rabid baby-boomer contingent to intimate readings of deeper cuts, like show-opener "My Beautiful Reward," from 1992's Lucky Town; "Cautious Man," from 1987's Tunnel of Love; and "For You," from his 1973 debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Aside from a sparse piano arrangement of "My Hometown," in which Springsteen's phrasing inexplicably sounded very Dylan-esque, the Boss largely eschewed his more radio-friendly material.

The staging mimicked the early days of MTV Unplugged, with velvet curtains and a pair of chandeliers creating an elegant frame within which Springsteen cherry-picked more than two dozen tunes from his expansive catalogue. For those not fortunate enough to be as close as us scribblers, two JumboTrons beamed his image across the hall. For the most part, the video resembled stock footage from a standard network broadcast, but during "Reason to Believe," the images were recast in grainy black and white to match the stark, rustic roadhouse-blues reading Springsteen gave the song; and for "Devils & Dust," an enveloping red light made the Boss look downright diabolic. During "The Rising," the cultural icon was illuminated by a sole spotlight on the floor, à la Rattle and Hum. And that wasn't the only time the Boss recalled Bono. With his feathery falsetto on "The Hitter," one of nine tracks featured from his current effort, Devils & Dust, Springsteen sounded like he was channeling the U2 frontman.

Springsteen is as compelling a showman as he is a songwriter, taking turns on the grand piano as effortlessly as he strums the guitar or plays slide on a dobro. He's also witty as hell. "Here's another song from Devils & Dust that will be on sale at Dunkin' Donuts across the country," he remarked at one point, a swipe at Starbucks' passing on carrying the disc because of "Reno," a salacious track from the album.

 
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