They leave the church of Bruce fulfilled
By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff
The Church of Bruce, which drew a full house of worshipers as it always does, convened at 8:15 p.m. Sunday at the FleetCenter and disbanded just shy of 11 p.m. (A relatively short service, the old-time faithful might say, but not short on fulfillment.) In the Church of Bruce, Bruce Springsteen is not the deity; the deity is a secular but spiritual one, something you might call the Transforming Power of Rock 'n' Roll, and Bruce is the pastor, the channeler, the rod through which the lightning flows. Unlike the last time we attended this church, back in 1992 with Springsteen and a session-pro band, the ac olytes on this tour are the members of the E Street Band - all the old boys (guitarists from both lineups, Miami Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren) and the ''new'' girl, Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, the lone holdover from the '92 tour.
There were reservations last time, a few hedges. And when Springsteen played his bleak set of ''The Ghost of Tom Joad'' songs at the Orpheum in 1995, there was nothing churchlike about it. Everything is now right in this universe. The choice of material: heavily weighted toward the music these folks played together, not Springsteen's post-E Street solo work. The pacing. The balance of the somber and the exuberant. The camaraderie - even if the enlarged Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, isn't scampering about the stage much these days. Yet is there any warmer feeling than the sound of Clemons's sax, bursting out during a bridge?
Keeping with the biblical allusions: Springsteen began with the thundering ''Adam Raised a Cain,'' a filial song about desperation-turned-triumph. ''It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!'' proclaimed Springsteen in ''Badlands.'' In ''10th Avenue Freeze- Out,'' Springsteen wove in Al Green's ''Take Me to the River,'' with its baptismal imagery.
There was compassion in the AIDS-related ''Streets of Philadelphia.'' There was the hope of ''The Promised Land.'' And in the slam-bam Joan Jett song ''Light of Day'' (an obscure movie track Springsteen has turned into something else entirely), the Boss sang of being '' resuscitated ... rededicated ... regenerated ... reliberated ... resexualized ... with the Ministry of Rock 'n' Roll. I can't promise you life everlasting, but I will promise you life right now.'' Call it shtick if you like, but if a warm glow didn't course through your body Sunday, it's time to check your vital signs.
Springsteen's genius has long been the ability to take large-scale rock 'n' roll - major chords and major statements played in cavernous halls - and somehow make it seem intimate and personal. (U2 learned the trick from Springsteen.) Sunday's show roared out of the gate, an anthem-filled Bruce jukebox: ''Adam Raised a Cain,'' ''The Promised Land,'' ''Two Hearts,'' ''Prove It All Night'' (with an exquisite guitar coda by Springsteen). Everyone stepped back for the melancholic ''Factory'' and the desolate ''Point Blank,'' with its melody supplied by keyboardists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici and the protagonist's paranoia made real by Springsteen's howl ''They shot you between the eyes, point blank, one false move and baby the lights go out.''
The show continued with these purposeful mood swings. Springsteen never let you stay down for too long. ''Youngstown,'' somber but soaring, led into a ferocious ''Murder Incorporated.'' Soon he was back to the sadder songs, ''The Ghost of Tom Joad'' and ''Streets of Philadelphia;'' then back up again for ''Backstreets'' and ''Light of Day.''
Springsteen's music has always had a maturity about it, more so now as he is redefining what it means to grow older and still care deeply about issues - political or personal or something as silly (ha!) as rock 'n' roll. One thing that came through clear Sunday was Springsteen's love of a woman - Scialfa, with whom he sang delicious harmonies - and love of his gang of guitar-slinger guys. And the fact that the woman can also be part of that gang. Everyone had that cock-of-the-walk swagger in ''Out on the Streets,'' and when it came time for the house lights-up ''Born to Run,'' with its ''mansions of glory'' and ''suicide machines,'' an aura of joyous celebration ran from the front of the hall to the rear. The song is rock's ultimate escape song; for four minutes or so, you're riding with the Boss and life may not get any better.
Except then we've got ''Thunder Road,'' the gospely ''If I Should Fall Behind,'' with Springsteen, Lofgren, Van Zandt, and Scialfa sharing vocals, climaxing with Springsteen and his old main man, Clemons, in the spotlight, swapping the same. They closed with ''Land of Hope and Dreams,'' and, yes, that's what the Fleet was Sunday night and, I'm guessing, will be tonight, Thursday, and Friday.
If you don't have tickets to these sold-out shows (Sunday's 19,000-plus came just shy of Saturday's single-night FleetCenter record), one tip: A trickle of tickets can become available day of show, depending on production requirements and reserved tickets not used by friends of the crew. Check Ticketmaster - 617-931-2000 - periodically.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, August 24, 1999. More Boss In Boston Coverage.