Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Getting What You Need

Brewer & Shipley, Bruce Springsteen, and Anne Murray, three acts with nothing in common but honesty, appeared together at the Schaefer Music Festival Saturday night. The evening was professional at both ends and inspired in the mddle.

You know Brewer & Shipley. The best of the acoustic guitar duos, they are an energetic pair who have matured into a weary, faintly sardonic good humor that can turn contemplative without descending into platitude. I can't swear it, but they could have sung two-thirds of the songs they did Saturday when I saw them in Los Angeles in early 1971. Two cuts from the inevitable new album did not catch the ear. They avoided "One Toke Over the Line," even as an encore.

You ought to know Bruce Springsteen. A late replacement for Boz Scaggs on this bill. Springsteen is in his ascendant, the brightest hope of the new New York rock and roll. Reminiscent of Van Morrison, but with more flash and humor and a less equivocal street commitment, Springsteen is the troubadour of a multiracial urban youth underclass that for all I know may be entirely imaginary. He romanticizes the young with both his lyrics--as in the adolescent outlaw conceit that has the kids in one Jersey town living "like shadows"--and his funny, self-dramatizing, diddybopping stage presence. He is not God--many of his songs confuse social atmosphere with narrative in a way that can't be entirely intentional--but he has his sleeveless undershirt in the ring.

You have to know Anne Murray. A Canadian singer who studies phys ed in college and shares a manager with Alice Cooper, she has been making hits, country and pop, since 1970. Her square-jawed appeal is probably less commercial in Manhattan than anywhere else in the country. By this time, most of her audience is militantly ordinary, but oddly--or maybe not, if you think about her deep forthright voice and butch good looks--she has always attracted gay women. Murray doesn't deny this, but she goes out of ther way to minimize it. On Saturday, for instance, she made a joke about taking on the entire (male) band that was more risque than most of her stage patter, although equally gauche. The music was better, revealing an amused, husky sweetness that doesn't come across on record.

But it was Springsteen's night, probably the biggest of his life, a standing ovation from a full house of 5000. Like all demon rock and rollers, Springsteen sells youth at its best, in all its zany, irresponsible compassion and doomed arrogance. That commodity is scarce in this cowardly time, and a lot of us--kids looking for an exemplar and aging holdouts who refuse to give up on the promise of an exemlary spirit--are hooked on it.

By the time Murray came on a quarter of the crowd had dispersed. it could be argued that this was unfair. In terms of stuff like dynamics, coloration, and being in tune, Murray's band was better than Springsteen's, which like a lot of great rock and roll groups tends to repeat itself. The difference, of course, was that Springsteen's music was necessary. Murray was just doing an honest night's work.

But not everyone heard it that way. The Springsteen fans on the center-aisle non-VIP row had left after Brooce, and three women took their place--one fat with a camera, one wiry and tough looking, and one pretty and quite young. As Murray's set began, there was a look of exaltation on their faces that exceeded anything generated by the Springsteen enthusiasts all night. By the end, only a quarter of the house was left, and as the youthcult mass disintegrated the knots of gay women became more visible. They moved to stand down front. These women looked a lot more excited than the militant ordinaries who remained, and they got their encore because they really needed Anne Murray. She offers a commodity even scarcer than youth, and she should be proud.

Village Voice, August 8, 1974