Springsteen’s ‘River Tour’ flows into the Palace
Two hours into his Feb. 23 concert at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, Bruce Springsteen addressed the sold-out crowd and offered up some words of wisdom.
“ ‘The River’ was about time, time slipping away, and how once you make your choices — you choose your partner, you choose your work — and you enter the adult life, how the clock starts ticking,” Springsteen told the fans, speaking in a hushed tone. “You walk alongside not only the things you’ve chosen, but your own mortality. And you realize you’ve got a limited amount of time, a limited amount, to do your work, to raise your family, to try and do something good. That’s ‘The River.’ ”
That’s “The River.” The 1980 double album was a turning point for Springsteen, marking his transition into grown-up themes of marriage and family and moving beyond the restlessness of his youth and his earlier records.
It was the first album of his 30s, released when he was 31. It included his first Top 10 hit (“Hungry Heart” hit No. 5; only “Dancing in the Dark” three years later would chart higher) and became his first No. 1 album. And it set the tone for the Springsteen who would go on to become the world-conquering powerhouse we know him as today.
Springsteen is currently revisiting “The River,” performing it in its entirety every night on his current tour, which touches down Thursday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. It’s a massive album and makes for a weighty show, complete with familiar hits (“Hungry Heart,” “The River”), deep cuts (“Independence Day,” “Stolen Car”) and rarities from “The River” sessions. (He has been opening shows, including the Cleveland concert, with the exuberant “Meet Me in the City,” which is included on the recent collection “The Ties That Bind,” a 35th-anniversary commemoration of “The River.”)
And then when he’s finished performing “The River,” Springsteen tacks another whole concert worth of songs on at the end of the show.
Bank on it being a long night. Here is what to expect:
“The River” — It’s billed as “The River Tour,” and Springsteen wastes no time getting right to it. “Meet Me in the City,” which he also tore through during a performance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in December, opens the evening and segues directly into “The Ties That Bind,” the opening song on “The River.” From there, it’s a straight shot through the 20-song album with no breaks.
For years, Springsteen has been known for his dynamic set lists and unpredictability from concert to concert, and fans were initially upset at the inherent restrictions caused by building a show around a front-to-back performance of a two-hour album. But “The River” is a special animal, and its quiet moments are some of its most poignant. There may be a temptation to hit the bathroom during some of the lesser-known songs, but do so at your own peril. When else are you going to hear Springsteen do “The Price You Pay"?
Second set — When “The River” is over, Springsteen is just getting started. A fan who, for whatever reason, has no interest in “The River” could show up two hours late to the concert and leave entirely happy.
In Cleveland, Springsteen played an additional 90 minutes after “The River” wrapped, kicking off the bonus set with “Prove It All Night” and rolling through a dozen other hits, including standards such as “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road” and “Bobby Jean” before closing with a jubilant rendition of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”
Audibles — At the Cleveland concert, Springsteen threw a little local flair into the mix when he performed “Youngstown,” introducing it for the first time on his current tour. (This is the spot where the Palace may get the “Detroit Medley,” which he’s only performed twice so far on “The River” run.) He also tossed a curve ball at his band by calling for “Growin’ Up” on the fly as his E Street brethren were getting ready to play a different song, causing a few panicked faces and fits of laughter. The audience is not the only one in the building Springsteen keeps on its toes.
The Boss — Thursday’s concert marks Springsteen’s first Detroit area show since 2012. He was a sprightly 62-years-old then, he’s now 66 and a step or two slower than he has been in recent years. He’s still a dynamo, with more stamina than performers half his age, and he’s still crowd-surfing every night during “Hungry Heart.” And his E Street Band is still a powerhouse, with Jake Clemons capably filling in for his late uncle.
Chances to see Springsteen in his element are dwindling, and if the sudden deaths of Glenn Frey, David Bowie and other classic rockers in the last six months have taught us anything, it’s that “I’ll catch him next time around” isn’t a winning strategy these days.
“The River” is about time, and “The River Tour” is worth the time invested.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
7:30 p.m. Thurs.
Palace of Auburn Hills, 6 Championship, Auburn Hills
Ticketmaster.com or (248) 377-0100