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Concert Reviews:
Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball show hits Detroit hard at the Palace
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

AUBURN HILLS -- Bruce Springsteen wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.

As if to exorcise any remaining demons from the faux pas of greeting Cleveland at the start of his last Detroit-area show in November of 2009 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the New Jersey rocker came onstage Thursday, April 12, with an elongated "Hello Deeeeeeeetroit!" He also made several other references to demonstrate to this year's Palace crowd that "I know where the f*** I am" this time -- even brandishing a sign one concert-goer brought bearing a Michigan map, just in case Springsteen needed some memory support.

But Springsteen's roof-raising three-hour, 26-songs show -- part soul revue, part gospel revival, part folk jamboree, part protest rally -- demonstrated a sense of place that went beyond mere geography. The socio-economic themes of his new album, "Wrecking Ball," resonate deeper in the Detroit area than in most places he and his E Street Band will play this year. And Springsteen wrapped that understanding into the first third or so of the show, focusing on potent and poignant new material such as "We Take Care of Our Own," "Death to My Hometown," "My City of Ruins" and "Jack of All Trades," amplifying them with complementary earlier material like "Badlands," Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" and a "by request" rendition of the rustbelt anthem "Youngstown" featuring an epic Nils Lofgren guitar solo that was worth the price of admission alone.

And if past favorites such as "E Street Shuffle" and "Candy's Room" were designed as emotional respites, their sense of urban grit certainly fit the thematic string of that particular part of the concert.

But a Springsteen show never wallows in the depths all night long. As he preached to the crowd before "My City of Ruins," he and the E Street Band were at the Palace to feed the mind and stimulate the body -- and take no prisoners while doing so. "Tomorrow you're gonna say, 'What the f*** happened to me?!' " Springsteen proclaimed -- and it was a promise that was more than fulfilled.

The rest of Thursday's show had its own pointed moments -- particularly "American Skin (41 Shots)," which had maximum impact on the day George Zimmerman was charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in Florida -- but took on a buoyant spirit driven by a repertoire that included renditions of "She's the One," "The Promised Land," "Because the Night," "The Rising" and a the vintage, aficionado-thrilling "Incident on 57th Street," all delivered with meaty arrangements by the expanded and expansive 15-member version of the E Street Band (which on Thursday was missing Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa, who he said was "home making sure the kids stick to their own drug stash"). Springsteen pulled a confident young boy on stage to help lead the crowd through "Waiting on a Sunny Day," while his partners for "Dancing in the Dark" were two young girls sitting side stage, who he taught to do the Funky Chicken among other dance steps.

And that knowing where he was on Thursday extended to the latter part of the show, too. Though there was no "Detroit Medley" or Bob Seger guest appearance, Springsteen preceded a medley of the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and Wilson Picket's "634-5789" with a warm and heartfelt tribute to Motown. "You had an amazing thing in this city -- a factory dedicated to building things that were emotional and beautiful and hits," Springsteen told the Motor City crowd.

Springsteen brought things home in a big way, too, with all-time favorites such as "Thunder Road," "Born to Run" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" -- the latter of which featured a pause of tribute after Springsteen sang about the Big Man joining the band, while images of the late Clarence Clemons streaming on the video screens. Clemons' nephew Jake has stepped in capably as both a soloist and, increasingly, a physical foil, but it's clear that while his uncle's spot may be filled, he'll never be replaced.

Towards the end of the show a Springsteen For President side made its way onto Max Weinberg's drum riser. On Thursday, at least, he certainly won the popular vote at the Palace, making this swing state swing -- and knowing exactly which state he was in.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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