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Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, fun. and Pat Green at March Madness Music Festival

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Posted 12:00am on Monday, Apr. 07, 2014

Like a supplicant before the storm, Bruce Springsteen dropped to his knees.

“We’ve been hired here tonight, in a light monsoon, to bring the spirit to Dallas,” Springsteen intoned, his shirt soaked with either sweat or rain — or both.

The man and his E Street Band hadn’t been on stage long — the final act in a full weekend’s worth of music emanating from Reunion Park, tucked away in a heretofore disused corner of downtown Dallas — but the grounds, the site of the March Madness Music Festival, had been pummeled all afternoon by chilly rain, varying in its intensity, but rarely pausing for long.

To put it mildly, the conditions for enjoying a free, outdoor music festival were abysmal.

But by the time Springsteen and his musical collaborators departed, amid a fireworks display, nearly three hours later, the precipitation had ceased to fall.

Such is the healing power of a rock ‘n’ roll show.

Sunday’s powerhouse performance also served as the kick-off for Springsteen and the E Street Band’s U.S. tour, which continues through mid-May, and marked the Boss’s first North Texas gig in six years.

The personnel weren’t quite all present and accounted for — Steven Van Zandt, for one, was MIA, although Nils Lofgren and recently adopted E Streeter Tom Morello ably filled in the guitar gap — but the high-octane ensemble didn’t miss a beat.

Springsteen seemed in a playful mood from the moment he appeared, clutching a basketball, and staging a jump-off with Lofgren, before ripping into (of all things) Van Halen’s Jump.

From there, the band traversed its catalog, placing more recent tunes ( Death to My Hometown; Shackled and Drawn) alongside the classics ( Badlands; Atlantic City; Born to Run), attacking each song with the go-for-broke gusto that remains a hallmark of the E Street Band. Frequently wading into the audience, and often pulling fans onstage to sing alongside or even take over lead vocal duties, Springsteen was bouncing around like, well, a brand new basketball.

The set’s momentum roused the crowd, clad in ponchos and hoodies and wearing the clear plastic giveaway Final Four bags on their heads to protect them from rain, which sang along at full force.

The music seemed to tangibly lift the spirits of those huddled together at Reunion Park, in a way that’s so often invoked but so rarely experienced. So what if you couldn’t feel your hands, or your feet or your face? Springsteen made all that melt away — roaring into one song after another, fairly flinging guitars to his technicians between tunes — the troubadour turned team leader could not, would not let the faithful falter.

There was plenty of tooth-gnashing Sunday, as the wet weather effectively wiped out almost every major sporting-related event for the weekend, save the March Madness Music Festival. But even that wasn’t what its organizers intended — they envisioned three back-to-back-to-back days of 40,000 souls spilling into downtown Dallas, soaking up free sounds from superstar acts.

The reality was a tougher thing, but more than once during Springsteen’s magnetic set, it was possible to glimpse what might have been. What’s more, he made it all right that, for whatever factors beyond our control, we didn’t quite get there.

Sometimes, all you can do is simply weather the storm.

Although Springsteen enjoyed a performance free from rain, the preceding acts were less fortunate.

fun. dealt with steady rainfall during its entire set, but frontman Nate Ruess was undeterred by Mother Nature. “Is that all you got?” he shouted at the sky early on, after which, of course, it only began to rain harder. Still, the hit-heavy set list (Carry On; We Are Young and Some Nights were all aired out) ensured the crowd was too busy shouting along to care about getting soaked. Fort Worth resident Pat Green, who admitted he was “the happiest fool that ever walked on two legs” to be opening for Springsteen, also gamely showcased his sonic wares to a criminally small audience, clad in an outfit that suggested scaling Mount Everest, instead of performing at an outdoor music festival.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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