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Story by John Halverson
Unadorned and unstoppable.
Dressed in tight jeans and a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Bruce brought his throwback style to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Monday night. There was no opening act, no choreography, no stopping-proving that the basics can embolden a crowd far better than gimmicks. The word had been that he'd been a little bland - by Bruce standards - in St. Paul the night before. If so, Bruce certainly made up for it in Wisconsin. His energy level would put most singers of any age to shame. Blistering from the get-go, songs cascading one to the next-five, six, seven in a row-Bruce was like the kid in his hot rod burning rubber in the high school parking lot. Tina Turner without the short skirt. Jerry Lee Lewis under control.
Joined by the E Street Band, Bruce isn't about fey prancing and costume changes. He's got Elvis's wide stance, the backward body lean and stomp-around-the-stage masculinity. He attacks one guitar as though it was a snake in heat only to exchange it for another after strangling it into submission. Everything's direct and muscular, a throwback to the days when rockers were "Blackboard Jungle" bad boys.
Bruce's craggy face is an open songbook, a bar-fighter's face. His Mount Rushmore jaw and hooked nose were seemingly carved by a stonecutter who only knew sharp angles. Moving from joy to angst-ridden and back again, it seethes with emotion-cracking into fissures and grooves with one lyric only to snarl back to life with another. And, through it all, Bruce seems to be having as great time as anyone in the audience. His voice, as gravelly and booming at the beginning of a concert as at the end, was worn to perfection at birth. His pipes are damaged goods of the best kind. As for nostalgia, forget it. If you go to a Bruce Springsteen concert to hear the golden oldies, you've come to hear the wrong musician. True believers know every song by heart, but for most of us it's the performances, not the records, that sizzle their way into rock 'n' roll history. Bruce may be 58 years old on the calendar, but no one's told him that yet-so the rest of us boomers don't believe it about ourselves either. For Bruce, there's no living in the past, no waiting to have a good time.
The son of a bus driver and schooled by watching Elvis on Ed Sullivan, Bruce never cheats an audience out of its hard-earned money. As if to prove it, the closing song was a St. Patrick's Day anthem, one he performed for one audience only, for a single performance this year at least. He didn't have to do it. But Bruce is a down-to-earth lunch-pail performer, who was working overtime Monday night to make sure everyone went home happy.
It was a job well done.
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