It's getting harder and harder to defend the honor of rock & roll these days. One need not even glance at the charts anymore -- just listen through the closed bedroom doors of adolescent music consumers everywhere, and it's easy to tell that down-'n'-dirty hip-hop (woof woof, DMX) and flyweight teen pop (say it aloud: Grammy winner Christina Agui-lera) have supplanted rock as the music of the masses. So who, besides comeback musician of the century -- the new century, that is -- Carlos Santana, has the standing or the chops to bring rock out of its doldrums?
Here's who: Bruce Springsteen.
Yeah, yeah, Springsteen is no longer the man of the people he once was but a gajillionaire who lives in the mansion on the hill he used to only sing about. Then, too, it's not as if he's been knocking himself out over the past decade. Other than a live set, 1997's Plugged, and the 1998 odds-and-sods boxed set Tracks, Springsteen has scarcely been heard from since 1995, when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, hardly the most popular entry in his extensive catalog.
Nevertheless, Springsteen's reunion tour with the E Street Band, which at long last makes its way to St. Louis on Saturday, is solid evidence that rock & roll is still alive, if not in the larger sense particularly well.
Even at 50 -- roughly the age of rock itself -- Springsteen is still boundlessly energetic, packing his shows with more than two dozen songs across the span of three nonstop hours. And though some of the numbers he's been including in his sets date back nearly three decades, there's never a sense that this is an oldies revue. During a September show in Chicago, he dipped deep into his catalog for songs like "New York City Serenade," "Badlands," "Light of Day" and, yes, "Born to Run," and spoke passionately about serving what he called "the ministry of rock & roll."
Springsteen has referred to the tour as evidence of the "rebirth and rededication of our band." That may be wishful thinking, considering that drummer Max Weinberg has a steady gig on the ever-strengthening Late Night with Conan O'Brien and guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt is a cast member of TV-award magnet The Sopranos. They might want to consider sticking with the Boss if he really means it, though. A great day job is one thing, but saving rock & roll -- well, that's something else altogether.