My raves about Bruce Springsteen, and the astounding way in which he can still offer up concerts as good as any in his fabled career even into his 60s, can be taken with a grain of salt, I’m sure. I’m a fanboy.
Robert Christgau, the 70-year-old “Dean of American Rock Critics”, is not a Bruce fanboy. He has given Bruce his due … the first nine albums received one A+, 2 A, 4 A-, and 2 B+ … but he has remained an outsider to the fanboy cult (only 2 A- in the 25 years since Tunnel of Love).
My point is only that Christgau appreciates Bruce without falling all over himself in the process. Christgau also stays more current than most 70-year-old rock critics, and he has a great interest in world music. Which is why, at the Roskilde festival in Denmark, Christgau was late to the Bruce Springsteen show, missing the first two songs because he was so taken with the Congolese musicians Staff Benda Bilili that he couldn’t tear himself away until they were done on another stage.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying you can trust Christgau on Bruce more than you can trust me. And this is what he had to say:
[B]y walking in on "Two Hearts" I missed only two songs of a set whose force and clarity bowled me over with my mind intact. By the time Springsteen's Marvin & Kim tribute with Little Steven was over, I'd realized that he was projecting joy where Jack White gave off mere ego, and somewhere into the three bitter "Wrecking Ball" songs that followed I was a convert all over again. Having seen Springsteen many times when he was young and brimming over, I'm here to testify that the 62-year-old's performance was just as inspired. I still wish that when the Roots were called out for "The E Street Shuffle" ?uestlove Thompson had been ceded Max Weinberg's chair. But between the depth of Springsteen's songbook and the depth of his commitment, my attention didn't wander for a second, and Weinberg's ineluctable pounding helped. As befits Bruce’s most compelling album in decades, anger and disillusionment were never far away even as he provided the celebration the crowd had paid for. Positive and negative were fused, and fans seemed to know it even when he climaxed with the anthems they craved, "Born in the U.S.A." to "Born to Run" to "Glory Days" to "Dancing in the Dark."
It’s worth noting that Bruce is playing festivals and other outdoor stadium shows in Europe right now. While stadiums are obviously not the best play to see him, he pulls it off better than most. I’ve seen him a few times in such settings, and I’ve never been sorry, always surprised at how he seems able to turn a big stadium into an intimate night club by bringing even the people furthest from the stage into the joy. He’ll be playing stadiums in the States later in the year (so far, only the Northeast is scheduled, but other shows are certainly possible). He’ll also be returning to the idea, first formed a few years ago, of playing baseball parks (we got him in China Basin in 2003), with Fenway and Wrigley and a couple of others already on the list. Don’t take my word for it, listen to the Dean: you don’t want to miss these shows.