Landover -- If growing up is a matter of finding out who you really are without forgetting the person you used to be, then Bruce Springsteen's concert at the Capital Centre last night was a perfect example of what grown-up rock 'n' roll should be.
It wasn't just the way his new band broadened the music's sound, adding soul grooves, gospel harmonies and funk licks where none had been before; impressive as that was, it was only part of the magic. What truly made this show special was the fact that his current backing band was just as at home with the old songs, easily equaling -- and sometimes bettering -- the performance of their predecessors.
As such, it was the best of both worlds, harking back to the glory days without ever seeming mired in needless nostalgia. Sure, the set list seemed to emphasize Springsteen's new albums, "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," but it hardly stinted on the old stuff. And while some of the stunts that were staples of the old show were absent in this incarnation, others were on hand to take their place.
For instance, midway through "Leap of Faith," Springsteen decided to live up to the lyrics and leapt into the audience, dancing with one female fan before being hoisted up by other, more muscular members of the audience. Obviously, it wasn't an unheard of maneuver -- Springsteen has been wading into his audiences for years -- but the move took on added import in this new context.
Then there was the funny business at the beginning of "Roll of the Dice." Just as Springsteen launched into the song, several fans in the front rows responded by tossing plush dice (of the variety usually found dangling above --boards) onto the stage.
A new ritual? Must be, for Springsteen was not only utterly unsurprised by the barrage, but proceeded to incorporate the mini-props into the act, closing the song with a pantomime dice throw and blackout that looked straight out of "Guys and Dolls."
Yet as stunning as such moments were, Springsteen rarely indulged in spectacle for its own sake. Every move had meaning, every stunt significance, and that lent the music a resonance that rock concerts rarely carry these days.
Some of that was simply a matter of Springsteen recognizing who his current audience is. It wasn't just the blast-from-the-past renditions of chestnuts like "Badlands" or "Born in the USA," either. He made sure, for example, to dedicate "My Hometown" to "all the moms and pops out there."
"And all the baby sitters, too," he added, mindful of the performance's three-hour length.
But for the most part, it was a function of his having moved away from the Springsteen Myth that once defined him, and toward an image and aesthetic that more closely mirror real life. As he put it, while introducing "If I Should Fall Behind," "A lot of the songs I wrote when I was younger were about a world with no limits and no compromises.
"But we don't live in that world, do we?"
No, we don't. But that hardly mattered to the thoroughly enthusiastic sellout crowd at the Capital Centre last night. Because we are lucky enough to live in a world with Bruce Springsteen in it.
And while that may not always be enough to help us through the difficult compromises everyday living forces us to make, a show like this one certainly makes it easier to deal with such worries.