When Bruce Springsteen took the stage for the opening date of his yearlong world tour, he looked like a man who was ready to go to work. Unsmiling, he strode to the microphone, offered a terse “Good evening,” and then the E Street Band — bolstered by violinist Soozie Tyrell — lit into “The Rising,” the title track of his new album. Springsteen slashed at his guitar and sang with an intimidating intensity. He was dressed in black, as was most of the band, and the stage was somberly lighted; the group’s playing was forceful and resolute, if a bit inhibited.
The whole thing felt important but wasn’t very much fun. The vagaries of opening night were part of the problem. Half of the show’s twenty-two songs were from The Rising, and the band isn’t yet comfortable with all that new material. Equipment problems also cropped up; the tech crew were onstage so often you could have mistaken them for band members. The more vexing issue, however, was the nature of the new songs themselves. Many address the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and the complex intimacy demanded by the likes of “Empty Sky,” “You’re Missing” and “Into the Fire” proved elusive in an arena. Consequently, the shallowest songs on The Rising worked best. “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” sparked a sing-along of such enthusiasm that even Springsteen seemed surprised; less successfully, “Mary’s Place” provided the occasion for the ritual introduction of the E Street Band.
For the encore, Springsteen pulled out “Born to Run,” “Glory Days” and “Thunder Road,” to rapturous response. And finally, in the show’s last two songs — a fevered “Born in the U.S.A.,” a soaring “Land of Hope and Dreams” — Springsteen found the balance he’d been searching for: a vision of a ravaged America redeemed by the generosity of its best intentions.
This story is from the September 5th, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.