In Seville on Sunday night, Bruce Springsteen channeled all his indignation into the roar of his ferocious, raw, rallying rock — the musical heir to the primitive sounds of gospel, R&B and folk. And, just like in his glory days, he made the thousands in the Estadio Olímpico La Cartuja feel like a community. "We'll keep pushin' till it's understood, and these badlands start treating us good," he bellowed out, in a cry adapted to the audience, after taking to the stage with Badlands.
It has been years since this 1970s composition sounded so immense, much closer to the essence of how it was conceived and a long way from the folk dance it has been on his recent tours. It was the perfect introduction to what took place: a near-three-hour concert, full of nerve, breathless, throbbing with great intensity, in spite of the fact that the arena was far from capacity. With many more gaps than desired in the stands and on the pitch, it was clearly close to a box-office failure. Some sources spoke of nearly a quarter of the 40,000 tickets unsold, a figure that a representative lowered to 3,000. It remains to be seen what happens at the rest of his Spanish concerts in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Barcelona, San Sebastián and Madrid.
Springsteen's message has changed. Now partying is an act of protest. That's what was seen in We Take Care of Our Own, Death To My Hometown and Wrecking Ball, the title song of his latest album. The record is a statement in support of the rights and dignity of the victims of the worst crisis since the Great Depression, who are none other than today's citizens, the people on the street.
In contrast to the tour for his previous album, Working on a Dream, the New Jersey musician defended his latest work with force and honor. And he confirmed what the record promised: lacking unity in the studio, Wrecking Ball was an album with soul when performed live.
There was a spell cast over the turf of the arena on Sunday: one of fibrous, vital rock 'n' roll played from the gut. Driven by the chords of the E Street Band's Nils Lofgren and Little Steven, the songs from the new album, as well as classics such as Out in the Street, Cadillac Ranch, Candy's Room, She's the One and hidden gems such as Trapped resounded, wrapped in some outstanding choruses, brass and percussion that colored the trademark sound of the band in a choir of primitive echoes of gospel and R&B.
At Saturday's press conference Springsteen had said: "What has happened in the United States in this crisis has happened in the rest of the world, including Spain." Then on Sunday he offered a wink to the crowd. The stadium erupted in applause when he dedicated Jack of All Trades, a song from the latest record about a worker surviving any way he can, to the 15-M protest movement, and "the people of the south who are going through bad times." "Too many people have lost their jobs and homes. Our heart is with you," he said in Spanish. With his concerts always structured around a discourse, on Sunday, just as in the old days, the author of Born to Run made his message universal, reminding us that the raison d'être of rock 'n' roll is in this community spirit.
But if anything was clear, it's that Springsteen continues to bet on the E Street Band, on his people, on committing himself to his music and to his audience. He continues to bet on trying to go on being himself, with all his defects and virtues, but also with the thing that has made him great in the world of rock, which is to appeal to people's hearts and, in times of crisis, make them roar with emotion.