Friday, October 14, 2005

The Boss and Beyond

As a young punk in his early ‘20s, Bruce Springsteen envisioned himself a Dylan-styled wordsmith, and stuffed his songs with more alliterative verbiage than some could support. As a man in his ‘50s, however, he’s come to recognize the importance of economy. In fact, beginning with “Darkness at the Edge of Town” and especially with “Nebraska” and “Born in the USA,” Springsteen started stressing the simplicity of his lyrics over the overblown arrangements.

That’s why his occasional solo jaunts are such a treat. If the songs on this year’s “Devils & Dust” just sort of sit there on disc, they really shine live, as do re-workings of Springsteen’s 30-plus years of music. With just his guitar (or pump organ, or electric piano, or piano, or autoharp, or ukulele or sometimes just his stomping boot), Springsteen boils down the songs to their bare essence, which not only makes you pay attention to the lyrics (a plus when it comes to otherwise melodically dull tracks such as “Reno” or “Matamoras Banks”) but makes him find ways to make his old songs interesting.

The coolest thing about last night’s show, besides the fact that just one man on stage could keep a United Center crowd silent, was the way Springsteen dusted off forgotten or intentionally ignored songs to come up with something special. In the former category were “I Wish I were Blind,” which Springsteen himself noted came from his worst record “Human Touch” (“in Norway they say it’s my masterpiece!”). In the case of the latter, Springsteen has finally begun playing songs from “Tunnel of Love” again, his last true masterpiece.

Sure, there were no tour debuts, and no real nuggets like “The Promise”,” or “Stolen Car” or any of the other dozens of surprises he’s sprung on recent audiences. But boy, the guy’s great.

On a completely different note, Dead Can Dance were predictably magical. No one saw this reunion coming, and no one knows where it’s going (if it goes anywhere else), but if the Auditorium Theatre show turns out to be the group’s last, then wow – way to go out on top. Like a few dozen other acts, Dead Can Dance is selling limited run recordings or each stop on the tour, but unlike most others the things are truly works of art. Am I a sucker for buying one, considering I’ll probably never listen to it? Nah.

Two nights before that, Tortoise and Daniel Lanois met for a head-on collision of styles and approach that neither act quite survived. By choosing Tortoise as his backing band was like Lanois tying an anchor around his neck before attempting to swim across the English Channel. Needless to say, there’s a reason John McEntire will never produce U2 – he and the rest of Tortoise are so soulless it was distracting. It was like watching Devo back Al Green or something.


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