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Review: Seger wades into Springsteen's River at Palace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Bruce Springsteen brings The River Tour to The Palace of Auburn Hills.

A Detroit legend waded into Bruce Springsteen’s “River” on Thursday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills when Bob Seger jumped on stage at the end of the three-hour, 20-minute concert and joined the E Street Band for a pair of songs.

Seger, who prior to hitting the stage could be seen in the front row of the crowd pumping his fist and playing air guitar during “Born to Run,” played the tambourine and sang backup vocals on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”

It was a callback, of sorts, to when Seger joined Springsteen on the opening night of the original “River” tour back in 1980 at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, when he sang “Thunder Road” with the Boss during the show’s encore. (Seger even wore a University of Michigan T-shirt, as if to hammer the point home.) But Seger’s professional duties on Thursday were light – mostly he was there geeking out, just like the rest of the 14,000-odd fans in attendance.

Springsteen, still every bit the marathon man even at 66 years of age, was typically magnificent on Thursday, giving a tireless 33-song performance where he seemed to gain momentum as the night wore on. The band – Seger included – took its bows at 11:30 p.m., and Springsteen seemed like he could have gone another hour. He was just getting started.

Springsteen caused a major stir last week when he canceled a concert in North Carolona over the state’s proposed “bathroom law,” which dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Springsteen noted Michigan is proposing a similar law and spoke out against it. “We hope the bill doesn’t pass, ’cause we love playing in Michigan,” he said, before tearing into a particularly angry “Born in the USA.”

Yes, he’s still fired up, and Springsteen is a model for aging gracefully in rock and roll while keeping his integrity in tact. His live performances are sermons, and even if he’s not the dynamo he was on stage even a few years ago, he still seems to be sipping from the Fountain of Youth. “Are you ready to be entertained?” he asked at the top of the show. “Are you ready to be transformed?”

Bruce Springsteen brings The River Tour to The Palace of Auburn Hills.

For most, promises like those would come with production gags, stage tricks and moving parts, but that has never been the Springsteen M.O. He’s just a guy with a band and a few lights, that’s it. He doesn’t even use a confetti canon, which is standard issue at concerts these days. The biggest special effect employed Thursday was when two spotlights lit up a pair of mirror balls hanging from the rafters. (As if to underscore their minimal role, the balls didn’t even spin.)

Instead of smoke and mirrors, Springsteen and the eight-piece E Street Band are their own special effects. There’s something about watching Springsteen preach to his fans – and watching his fans react to him – that give his shows a unique sense of life. And watching Springsteen crowd surf – as he did during “Hungry Heart,” falling backwards onto the crowd’s hands from a catwalk in the middle of the arena floor and getting passed back to the stage – illustrates the connection he has with his fans. He falls on them, they lift him up and they keep each other going.

Springsteen’s current tour is built around “The River,” his 1980 album that marked a new maturity for the then-31-year-old New Jersey native. Aside from the album’s hits, of which there are plenty – “Two Hearts,” “Hungry Heart,” “Out in the Street” and the title track, to name a few – the album also has many solemn songs, which made for some of the show’s most engaging moments. He talked about the origin of “Independence Day,” which unfolds as “a late night conversation around a kitchen table between two people who love one another but are struggling to understand each other,” and “Stolen Car” was given a breathtakingly stark presentation. Meanwhile, “Drive All Night” ever so slowly built to the emotional climax of the night; no less a Springsteen authority than radio host Mike “Stoney” Stone, a veteran of more than 100 Springsteen shows, rose to his feet to acknowledge the moment.

“The River” section of the concert – which kicked off with “Meet Me in the City,” an outtake from the album’s sessions – ran approximately two hours, and “Badlands” kicked off a second set of 12 songs that included “The Promised Land,” “Because the Night,” “The Rising,” “Thunder Road” and “Rosalita.” A handful of songs were performed with the houselights up, including “Dancing in the Dark,” during which Bruce brought up a pair of fans from the crowd to dance, Courteney Cox-style.

“The River” was about the limited amount of time we have, as Springsteen explained as he brought the album to a close, and it brings to mind that he, too, has a limited amount of time where he can go out and put on three-plus hour arena concerts. Springsteen is not a renewable resource, and those marathon concerts aren’t going to last forever. But he is still roaring, still entertaining and still transforming. Bring on the “Born in the USA” tour.

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