There was a time when folk rock was epitomized by ’70s mellow singer/songwriters like Carole King, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
But Bruce Springsteen, best-known for rock anthems such as “Born to Run,” “Hungry Heart” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” reinvented folk rock in front of a half-full Glendale Arena Saturday night.
Perhaps scared off by a Springsteen tour that is based heavily on tunes from his new CD, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” , plenty of The Boss’ regular fans took the night off.
Those fans who did pony up $50 to $90 for tickets were treated to an energetic set by Springsteen and his 16-piece band composed of guitars, stand-up bass, drums and percussion, a blistering brass section and accordion that gave the shockingly small but enthusiastic audience a crash course on true Americana music, songs made popular by American folk icon Pete Seeger.
Although not on a conventional tour — The Boss usually parades around the country with his legendary E Street Band — some die-hard fans were eager to hear Springsteen shift gears.
“I want to hear something different,” said Bill Jennings of Chandler, by way of Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey, who said he is “liking a little better” Springsteen’s latest disc. “I’ve heard (the Springsteen classic) ‘Thunder Road’ a thousand times — and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again — but I’m up for hearing the new tunes.”
Setting the tone for the evening, Springsteen opened the show with his self-penned classic “Atlantic City” from the 1982 folk rock disc “Nebraska,” with his backing band adding new nuances to the sparse original, livening up the tune with brass arrangements and a pounding rhythm section.
Springsteen relied heavily on his new record for the remainder of his set, whipping up rousing versions of such Seeger classics as “John Henry,” “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” “My Oklahoma Home,” “Pay Me My Money Down” and the gorgeous, pertinent “We Shall Overcome.”
Many in the small but passionate crowd were standing and applauding as The Boss and his band exited the stage.
“That was like being in church,” said Dianna Bernard of Tempe. “It was rock and gospel at the same time — it was a really moving experience.”