in performance: bruce springsteen and the e street band

steve van zandt, bruce springsteen and patti scialfa last night at the kfc yum! center in louisville. photos by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

steve van zandt, bruce springsteen and patti scialfa last night at the kfc yum! center in louisville. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

At about the halfway point of a three hour-plus marathon concert last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Bruce Springsteen stated the obvious. At age 66, he was grinning, wailing and leaping in place on a platform that took him deep into the arena floor crowd. The exhibition, perhaps typical of Springsteen’s tireless performance stance, was a blast of pure rock ‘n’ roll exaltation. The tune fanning the performance flames: I’m a Rocker.

Never mind that everything that came before this moment would have likely winded artists one-third his age. Springsteen was on a mission. The impetus for his current tour is to resurrect, in its entirety, the masterful 1980 double album The River, a record he introduced early into the program as a “coming of age” work. But as the often volcanic performance underscored, The River encapsulated everything that makes Springsteen a rock pioneer of such epic stature.

The album’s 20 songs, played in sequence, rode a trail of complex and severe disparity. Some of the tunes are among Springsteen’s most outwardly loose and joyous creations, including the frat rock anthem Sherry Darling, the piledriving party ode You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) and the wildly elative Out in the Street, arguably the happiest composition in The Boss’ canon. All were delivered with a drive and abandon by Springsteen’s long-running E Street Band (whittled down to 10 members last night from the orchestra-sized troupes convened on previous tours) that sounded earnestly youthful.

But The River is also an album of dreams broken and unrealized, veering eventually into views of mortality. Several of those songs have been absent from Springsteen’s concerts for decades, including the plaintive Independence Day and it’s quiet portrayal of a troubled father-son relationship, and the album’s disquieting finale, Wreck on the Highway, which prizes love mightily after a glimpse of death. Both were unassumingly dramatic highpoints of the concert.

Together with the show opening Meet Me in the City (an outtake featured on The Ties That Bind, the recent box set chronicling the album’s recording sessions and subsequent tour), The River’s contrasts were regularly underscored during the performance. No sooner did the unsettling, neo-tango rhythm of Point Black fade than the full E Street alliance erupted with the celebratory Cadillac Ranch. Similarly, the calliope boardwalk bliss of I Wanna Marry You (introduced as a song of “love in all its imagined glory”) faded into the title tune from The River, a tale of lost innocence and its stark, sobering aftermath.

Taken as a whole, it was a remarkable performance piece colored by the E Streeters’ inexhaustible drive and invention as well as Springsteen’s own performance daring. The latter even included a bit of body surfing during Hungry Heart not recommended for your everyday rock ‘n’ roll elder.

But the performance roared on for over an hour without an intermission after The River suite concluded with a freight train of favorites (a suitably anthemic Badlands and a Bo Diddley-friendly She’s the One), comparatively newer pieces (Lonesome Day and The Rising, both delivered as crisp affirmations) and a still-venomous Born in the U.S.A. as an encore, complete with drummer Max Weinberg’s implosive coda. The latter nicely enforced the fact that raging waters within Springsteen’s most potent tunes extend far beyond the River-bank.

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