To say Bruce Springsteen is a singer would be like saying Roberto Clemente was a baseball player.
Words just cannot explain the experience of seeing either perform. You had to be there.
If you remember how Clemente could relax motionless in right field, then get set, then, at the crack of the bat, he was a symphony in unorthodox, supremely effective motion. The play was all that mattered for Clemente. Full speed ahead.
Springsteen and his six-piece E Street Band surprisingly enough — for someone with such an obscure name — nearly filled Syria Mosque in Oakland last Saturday night with blue-jeaned young people. Springsteen proceeded to bring down the house and part of the neighboring communities.
He ironically opened with a slow song at 8:30 pm. He sounds something like Van Morrison with some of Dylan’s lyrical heaviness and choppy — sometimes nearly talked — singing.
Then he exploded. He was a frenetic study in lack of inhibition. He performed — not sang — every song.
Springsteen, a thin, curly-headed, half-bearded young man, wore blue jeans, a leather jacket over a sleeveless jersey — he took the jacket off and on — tennis shoes, one earring and most prominently a large, tan, newsboy-type hat which he wore, crumbled, threw away, then wore again.
The band included four appropriately hairy and disheveled white members — pianist, organist, guitarist and drummer. But a very large, black saxophonist bedecked in a black outfit — including hat — and a large white kerchief hanging from one side looked like a pirate of Penzance. Another prominent guitarist wore a scarf — Bob Prince would say babushka — on his head. Not your basic Lawrence Welk fare.
Springsteen strutted, walked, ran, jumped, shimmied, kicked, spasmed, squatted, danced, fell over once and, in general, did what he felt like while he sang and played the guitar. His diet seems to include pure energy.
The act sometimes exudes a kind of laugh-at-yourself mockery of rock music. Springsteen continuously went from band member to band member laughing, smiling and hamming it up — all the time strumming the electric guitar or singing. He smiled mischievously, like a Hawkeye Pierce gone musician. The attitude seemed to be, “Do you believe we’re doing this craziness, liking it, and so is the audience?” I haven’t seen enthusiasm like Springsteen’s since the Beatles.
But the band members are not musical slouches. Springsteen draws his original melodies much the same as he moves on stage — from everywhere to everywhere — blues, jazz, rock, soul, pop. They performed a few oldies too — He (She) Touched Me (once sung by the Ronettes) and Up on the Roof (composed by Carol King).
His original lyrics are reputedly heavy — social comment a la Dylan.
But as concerts are wont to do, the loudness drowned out the words.
You get the impression on first hearing Springsteen that his hitting-life-nerve lyrics are more psychological than sociological.
“Hey there stranger, are you lonely like me? Maybe we could slip away.”
Charisma Springsteen has. He jumped off the stage and walked right into the crowd while singing. Later he gave a sincere thanks for coming to the screaming throng. He periodically slapped outstretched hands at the edge of the stage.
I have seldom if ever heard as long or as feverish applause for anyone anywhere as after his numbers.
He digs what he does and does it “120 percent,” as the coaches say. The music virtually possesses him and he exudes enjoyment and abandon — as McCartney put it, “Oh that magic feeling. Nowhere to go.”
And his fans love it. Some danced in the aisles.
A whole generation of rock concert goers are lookin’ to “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.” Not tomorrow. Now.