If Springsteen's last two studio albums with the E Street Band, The Rising and Magic, were responses to a pair of unmitigated disasters (the WTC terrorist attack and Dubya's White House), then Working on a Dream is a note of cautious optimism in a world still full of uncertainty but at least headed in the right direction. On the title cut, his voice soaring like Roy Orbison's, Springsteen sings about the dream's elusiveness and "trouble...feel(ing) like it's here to stay," but eventually breaks into a sunny whistle, buoyed by soulful horns and a '60s-styled vocal chorus. Still, a certain diffidence overshadows many of the positive feelings. The taut rocker "What Love Can Do" asserts the power of love amid snarling guitars. But "Queen of the Supermarket" hints at desperation. The restless "Life Itself," full of ringing guitars and rhythms scrambling over themselves, asks "Why do the things that we treasure most slip away in time?" The folky shuffle "Tomorrow Never Knows" feels adrift. And a measure of sadness creeps into Springsteen's full-bodied vocals even on straightforward declarations of love like "This Life" and "Kingdom of Days." Only a handful of the new songs are making their way into sets on the current tour, which if anything seems to ride a theme of tough resiliency, kicking off with "Badlands" and concluding with some combination of "Hard Times," "American Land," and "Land of Hope and Dreams." In between have been wide-ranging forays to every corner of the Springsteen catalogue, plus requests segments yielding covers of tunes by the Ramones, ZZ Top, Social Distortion, and John Fogerty. Another anomaly has been 18-year-old Jay Weinberg subbing for his father, Max, on drums on a handful of tunes each night. Later in the tour, Jay will take over full-time while Max helps Conan O'Brien debut his Tonight Show run in L.A.
Mon., May 11, 7:30 p.m., 2009