Intoxicating special Brooo


I DON'T think I'd ever heard an audience booing with such unnerving ferocity. We were two songs in before I realised that the crowd wouldn't say boo to a Bruce. They were actually lowing "Broooo!", the mating call that is a tradition of Bruce Springsteen concerts. For fans used to the massed ranks of the E Street Band, I imagine the broooing was about the only familiar aspect of Wednesday's show. It was Springsteen's first ever solo UK tour. The venue was the Manchester Apollo, so by his standards it was an intimate setting (ie. it had a roof), and likewise it was a fleeting set - just two and a half hours.

Most of the material was from his latest album, The Ghost of Tom Joad (Columbia). It's a folk record (he's even grown a beard to prove his commitment to the genre), in the tradition of Woody Guthrie via Bob Dylan, and the songs it contains are spiritual, broken-spirited vignettes of closed-down steel mills and desperate Mexi- can immigrants. Springsteen's story-telling lacks Dylan's incisive sarcasm, but had it been Dylan who had released Tom Joad last year, it would have been hailed by weeping critics as the victorious return to form, the Second Coming, that has been due for the past few decades.

Sometimes Springsteen affects an irritating Dylanish way of chewing and swallowing the notes before regurgitating them and letting them dribble from his mouth. Otherwise, his singing was a revelation. Gone were the hoarse blasts of phlegm-evacuation that we know from the hits, to be substituted with a deep, spine-tingling sigh that rolled up from his barrel chest. He waited to the end of the main set before, on "Across the Border", the mumbles and slurs gave way suddenly to a high, reedy chant. It was a beautiful surprise.

His acoustic guitar playing ranged from plucked arpeggios to the rattle and ring of Ry Cooder's dusty, dirt-track slide, to great clanging 12- string attacks. He even thudded the body of the instrument with his meaty fist. Can this really be the same man who was booked to do an MTV Unplugged performance but chickened out and plugged in at the last minute? At this concert an electric guitar would have been laughably redundant. One or two songs were coloured by a few sustained keyboard chords from an off- stage player. The rest sufficed with the stark, intense lighting, Springsteen's own crackling charisma, and some harmonica that sounds awfully like ... guess who?

The three stand-out songs aren't on Tom Joad. The first was a comedy blues, about hard-sell television ads, worthy of Loudon Wainwright. "I hate to play that song," he grimaced, a garrulous, thoughtful, and, more surprisingly, funny host. "Everyone goes home and says, 'The other stuff was good, too, but there was this one song he did about the commercials ...' " The second, "Streets of Philadelphia", is much better than the film it soundtracked deserved. And, best of all, a startling reworking of "Born in the USA". Its verse was a slow, menacing pulse, its punch-the-air chorus was replaced by a frightening clatter of slide guitar. This was special brooo. Acoustic - and electrifying.

Goldie, "jungle's first superstar", produces a futuristic inner-city blues fusion of hip-hop B-Boy culture and the accelerated breakbeat loops of hardcore techno, ragga, rave - and no, I don't understand it either. Let's start again. To give yourself some idea of the rumble in the jungle, simply press all the automatic rhythm buttons on a Casiotone electronic keyboard in quick succession, with the tempo knob twisted round to full speed. Mix in the clicks of a field of grasshoppers and rattlesnakes, and over that rhythm, or more accurately under it, add a sweep of plangent keyboards, some piercing operatic female vocals, like Bjork (whom Goldie recently supported) but not quite as subtle and understated, plus some jazz guitar, sax or whatever else lurks in the mind of the Man with the Golden Teeth. Or else you could buy Timeless (FFRR), the epic debut album from the 30- year-old graffiti artist turned crook turned dental-jewellery designer turned breakbeat pioneer.

Considering that the music is born of turntables and computers, it's perverse that Goldie advertises his shows proudly as including a full live band, and that the performance at the London Forum on Thursday was more visual than many a rock gig. Goldie himself hid behind a baseball cap and a keyboard, happily upstaged by screens flickering with computer animation, newsreel images and a Star Trek-style zip through the solar system. Around him, some slightly under-rehearsed interpretative ballet was underway. We knew that Goldie's sound evolved from dance music, but this kind of dance? A few years ago not dissimilar shows would be relegated to empty church halls on the very fringe of a fringe arts festival (this is art all right, or at least claims to be: there's not much irony in Goldie). That it should come up from the streets and be heading for Top of the Pops can't be a bad thing.

R Kelly will pad up and down Wembley Arena's stage, then make a sudden grab at his crotch the way most of us slap our pockets when we're afraid we've left our keys at home. He will flip back his white plastic jacket and give us a glimpse of his shoulder. He will say, in an ice-smooth voice: "Is it all right if I invite you to my room?" He will do anything, it seems, rather than actually sing his songs.

On Monday, his biggest British hit, "Bump 'n' Grind", was chiselled into a jerky, crunching rap. "You Are Not Alone", the number one he wrote for the Anti-Jarvis, Michael Jackson, got just one hammed-up verse. Kelly's voice, which oozes with the promise of many talents and a one-track mind, crooned the same line over and over, while the swingbeat band vamped and revamped. In short, we could have done with more soul and less body. It would have been a wiser investment to go to see the Chippendales and have done with it. Kelly could put on this unimaginative show with his eyes closed. Under the sunglasses he has glued to his face, maybe they were.

Bruce Springsteen: Edinburgh Playhouse (0131 557 2590), tonight; Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 589 8212), 16, 17 & 27 April. Goldie: Bristol Univ (0117 929 9008), Tues; Cardiff Univ (01222 387421), Wed; Sheffield Octagon, 0114 275 3300, Thurs; Wolverhampton Civic Hall (01902 312030), Fri; Manchester Academy (0161 275 4815), Sat.

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