The Backstreet Phantom of Rock

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The album has made it to No. 1 , the title track is a hit single, and even the first two albums are snugly on the charts. Concerts have sold out hours after they were announced. Last Thursday Springsteen brought his distinctively big-city, rubbed-raw sensibility to a skeptical Los Angeles, not only a major market but the bastion of a wholly different rock style. It remained to be seen how Springsteen would go down in a scene whose characteristic pop music is softer, easier, pitched to life on the beaches and in the canyons, hardly in tune with his sort of dead-end carnival. Springsteen's four-day stand at a Sunset Strip theater called the Roxy was a massive dose of culture shock that booted everyone back to the roots, shook 'em up good and got 'em all on their feet dancing.

Even the most laid-back easy rocker would find it tough to resist his live performance. Small, tightly muscled, the voice a chopped-and-channeled rasp, Springsteen has the wild onstage energy of a pinball rebounding off invisible flippers, caroming down the alley past traps and penalties, dead center for extra points and the top score.

Expecting a monochromatic street punk, the L.A. crowd got a dervish leaping on the tables, all arms and flailing dance steps, and a rock poet as well. In over ten years of playing tank-town dates and rundown discos, Springsteen has mastered the true stage secret of the rock pro: he seems to be letting go totally and fearlessly; yet the performance remains perfectly orchestrated. With his E Street Band, especially Clarence Clemons' smartly lowdown saxophone, Springsteen can caper and promenade, boogie out into the audience, recite a rambling, funny monologue about girl watching back in Asbury Park, or switch moods in the middle of songs.

He expects his musicians to follow him along. Many of the changes are totally spur of the moment, and the band is tight enough to take them in stride. "You hook on to Bruce on that stage and you go wherever he takes you," says Clarence Clemons. "It's like total surrender to him." A Springsteen set is raucous, poignant, brazen. It is clear that he gets off on the show as much as the audience, which is one reason why a typical gig lasts over two hours. The joy is infectious and self-fulfilling. "This music is forever for me," Springsteen says. "It's the stage thing, that rush moment that you live for. It never lasts, but that's what you live for."

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