Hiding on the Backstreets, Part 2: Bruce Springsteen Brings The River, Born In the U.S.A., Tunnel of Love and Tom Joad to Town

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Daniel Kramer
Bruce Springsteen and Miami Steve van Zandt at Toyota Center, April 2009

As Bruce Springsteen fans come to grips with the unfortunate reality that this past weekend's show in Buffalo, N.Y., may well have been the final offical tour date - although surely not the final show - from the Boss and his rapidly aging E Street Band, Rocks Off is remembering his various Houston appearances over the years. Monday, we covered his earliest Houston concerts in the '70s, and today we reach the '80s and '90s. Come back Friday for our final installment, covering the decade we are about to depart not a moment too soon.

November 14, 1980: The River tour, the Summit

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"Friday night in the Summit, in the first of two consecutive-evening shows, Bruce, wearing a blue sports coat, slacks and scuffed brown boots, sailed onstage at 8:34 p.m., waved to the crowd and jumped into 'Prove It All Night.' The song proved prophetic, to say the least. Springsteen and group left that stage nearly four hours later (at exactly 12:32 a.m.) There was a 35-minute intermission along the way (which came after the first hour and 18 minutes of music)...

"Other highlights are too numerous to mention, but they include: Two very emotional songs for (and about) Bruce's father, 'Factory' and 'Independence Day' (the kind of man who 'just went to work every day and maybe kept the world from falling apart'); brilliant versions of 'Jackson Cage,' 'Out In the Street,' 'The Price You Pay' and a pedal-on-the-floor job of 'Badlands'; chilling depictions of 'The River' and 'Wreck on the Highway' (with Bruce sort of 'acting out' a couple of the scenes); a lengthy and ripped-from-the-heart 'Drive All Night' and, of course, all those songs which featured Bruce duetting with 'The Big Man,' saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who, as always, had his own cheering section."

- Bob Claypool, Houston Post, November 16, 1980

November 29, 1984: Born in the USA tour, the Summit

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"The easiest reviews to write are the ones that fall at either end of the emotional spectrum - the shows you really love or the ones you really despise. The hardest reviews to write are about shows that fall into the great gray middle of that spectrum, the ones you're simply ambivalent about.

"And that's exactly how I feel about Bruce Springsteen's Thursday night concert at the Summit (he returns there for a final show Friday night). It wasn't a terrible show, but it was a long, long way from the kind of transcendent experience I've come to expect from him. It was, in fact, the flattest, most uninspired show I've ever seen him do in Houston, and I've seen all of them...

"The major problem, or at least one of them, is the notion that Bruce is playing Bruce these days. That he's living up to a certain image (given, in part, by MTV now), producing the moves expected of him. He's doing them, but Thursday's show lacked that wonderful sense of chances being taken - which used to be a Springsteen trademark. His shows used to be dangerous things and the man in charge seemed responsive to every nuance of the night and the situation."

- Bob Claypool, Houston Post, November 30, 1984

April 13, 1988: Tunnel of Love tour, the Summit

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"Mace and I managed to spot Bob Claypool, legendary longtime Houston Post music critic, sitting across the way, and we went to talk to him. This was a brush with celebrity! I also remember Bruce's opening for the show with him walking across the stage, bouquet in his hand, and asking the crowd 'Wanna date?' before tossing the flowers. It was clear that Bruce was looking to go in another direction with his music and image, but who was to know this would be the last tour with E Street for more than a decade?"

- "Classic Rock" Bob Ruggiero, longtime Houston Press contributor

"I remember my mom almost tearing my head off reaching for my binoculars as Bruce turned around and shook his booty on 'She's The One.' It was the beginning of his relationship with Patti [now-wife Scialfa], and you could see the chemistry smolder between them on songs like 'Tougher Than The Rest.'"

- Mace Wilkerson, Classic Rock Bob's best friend

January 23, 1996: The Ghost of Tom Joad solo acoustic tour, Jones Hall

"A neat experience to see Bruce in a small setting like Jones Hall. Playing only his guitar really brought out the intensity of so many lyrical motion pictures. Yet, he could still rock the house with 'Cadillac Ranch,' as well."
- Mace Wilkerson

"The problem is not that Springsteen is trying to cash in on the 'unplugged' phenomenon. He went unplugged in 1982 with Nebraska, and his concerts have always included the odd acoustic number.

"Springsteen's artistic integrity is beyond reproach. The problem is that too few of the new songs melodically and lyrically connect in the manner of his best material. After focusing on affairs of the heart on his last few albums, it's as if he's trying too hard to reclaim his voice as a blue-collar poet in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

"Although he seemed a bit nervous, giggling at his own asides and adjusting his chair, his between-tunes commentary was often more interesting than the songs."

- Rick Mitchell, Houston Chronicle, January 24, 1996

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