Die-hard E Street fans must have gone into shock when they saw Bruce Springsteen's current band on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. It wasn't just a matter of seeing him surrounded by new faces; it was almost like seeing a whole new Springsteen.
Gone were the trappings of the E Street crew -- the stage-wide sprawl of saxophones, grand piano and Hammond organ. Instead, what we saw was strictly L.A. modern, all loud guitars and open-shirted cool. In fact, between guitarist Shane Fontayne's Slash-style stage moves and bassist Tommy Simms' bowler-topped implacability, it almost looked like Guns N' Bruces up there.
As for keyboardist Roy Bittan, the one E Street hold-over left onstage, he spent most of the broadcast behind his synths and out of camera range.
But if this stylistic shift was jarring to see, it was a delight to hear, for Springsteen's new band infused his songs with far more passion and intensity than can be heard on either of his new albums. "Lucky Town," for instance, roared to life with a fusillade of guitar bravado, and boasted searing solos by both Fontayne and Springsteen; "Living Proof" was blessed with a stompingly intense out-chorus; and "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" was dissonant, edgy and far more darkly comic than its studio version.
"57 Channels" also included Springsteen's main political statement of the evening -- a string of sound bites taken from TV coverage of the Rodney King riots. But Baltimore viewers missed most of that thanks to WMAR, which reran a 98 Rock commercial instead of returning to the network feed and had to join the performance in progress.