Springsteen honors bandmate with soulful performance

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Tue., April 22, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Springsteen, Danny Federici, and Roy Bittan, Nov. 18, 2007, Boston. Photo by A.M. Saddler/Backstreets.

A preacher of hope and compassion, Bruce Springsteen lifts peoples’ spirits more effectively than any other rocker. Featuring anthemic songs largely focused on redemption, his live performances are marked by a gospel fervor that can transform 20,000 concertgoers into true believers. Following 9/11, Springsteen helped heal an entire nation with his cathartic masterstroke The Rising. After Katrina, The Boss brought his wildly eclectic Seeger Sessions Band to the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, delivering a momentous performance that gloriously addressed both the frustration and perseverance of a populace largely abandoned by its own government. On Tuesday, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Springsteen and his E Street Band honored one of their own, keyboardist/organist Danny Federici, who passed away after losing a three-year battle with melanoma April 17. Originally scheduled for Monday, Tuesday’s show was Sprinsgteen’s first since his 40-year-long pal and bandmates’ untimely death.

The concert began on a somber note with a video montage of Federici displayed on a large screen draped above the stage. The musicians, all dressed in black, stood like statues with their backs to the audience and watched. Accompanying the archival footage was a recording of Springsteen’s moving tribute to friendship, “Blood Brothers,” which debuted as a new track added on his 1995 Greatest Hits album.

Following the Federici homage, the band launched into a fiery “Backstreets.” From the 1975 classic Born to Run, it's an emotive tale of boys spending time together on the Jersey shore in the summer, which found Springsteen looking teary eyed at the song’s conclusion. The set list largely eschewed hits, and songs from the new album Magic, for deep tracks and fan favorites like “Backstreets,” “No Surrender,” “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” “Growin’ Up,” “She’s the One,” “The Promised Land” and “Racing in the Streets.” The performances varied little from the original recordings — save for “Atlantic City, which was transformed from an acoustic solo number, the version heard on 1982’s Nebraska, into a full-tilt E Street barn-burner — but were injected with abounding power and glory, even by Springsteen’s high standards. Popular singles such as “Hungry Heart,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Glory Days,” “I’m on Fire,” and “Streets of Philadelphia” were shelved. Judging by the at times deafening audience reaction, the 20,000-seat Forum appeared filled to capacity, few went home feeling shorted. In addition to spot-on, supercharged treatments of the old stuff, Springsteen offered strong renditions of newer material like The Rising title-track and Magic’s “Radio Nowhere” and “Livin’ In the Future,” a song that resembles and ranks with his best-known work of the 1970s and '80s.

In honor of Federici, the band also debuted a stirring cover of the traditional hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” Casual fans hoping for a “Glory Days” sing-along may have been disappointed but for the rest of us, it was an evening of rock ’n’ roll salvation, an opportunity to witness Springsteen and his band honor their friend the best way they know how — by delivering a soulful performance of which Federici would have surely been proud.

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