Maybe Bruce Springsteen really has been reborn in the U.S.A.: Watching a sweat-drenched, blue-denimed Boss leap about with the E Street Band during a special benefit show Tuesday night in Asbury Park, NJ, it was easy to forget that the year was 2002, not 1984.
After playing four songs on the ”Today Show” to promote his heralded new album, ”The Rising,” the 52-year-old superstar returned at night for an unpublicized two-hour-and-40-minute ”rehearsal” concert that raised cash for local charities. With a light show blazing over the band’s arena-scale stage in Asbury’s intimate, beachfront Convention Hall, the show also provided a detailed look at what Springsteen and the E Street Band have in store for their arena tour, kicking off Aug. 7 in East Rutherford, N.J.
The biggest change from the 1999-2000 reunion outing was that Springsteen and the E Streeters embraced material from his commercial high point, ”Born in the U.S.A.,” instead of avoiding it (perhaps because ”The Rising” echoes that album’s state-of-the-nation themes and accessible sound.) Delighting fans, he even returned ”Born”’s oft-misunderstood title track to a guitar-heavy version of its original arrangement, complete with Max Weinberg’s stadium-shaking drum fills, abandoning the pointedly downcast acoustic blues version he’s played in recent years.
The band also played ”My Hometown,” ”Cover Me” (minus the echoing vocal intro that plagued it in previous live versions), and the Steve Van Zandt-spotlighting ”Glory Days” – all rare or nonexistent on the last tour.
Some tracks from ”The Rising” are already taking on new life in concert: The Phil Spector-style pop thumper ”Waitin’ on A Sunny Day” became a ”Hungry Heart”-style sing-along, while album opener ”Lonesome Day” lost its adult-contemporary sheen and transformed into rousing rock.
”Mary’s Place,” which self-consciously evokes Springsteen’s ’70s R&B show-stoppers, is bound to be a concert showpiece, complete with a spoken-word segment (beginning with the shout, ”Are you ready for a house party?”), band introductions, and much crowd participation on the refrain ”turn it up.” But the band seemed to stall on the album’s most musically adventurous tracks, ”The Fuse” and ”Worlds Apart.” The former was enlivened only by a Hendrixian guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, while the latter degenerated into an odd, noisy jam session.