Arts

Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars 'politically conscious and unabashedly romantic'

Bruce Springsteen performs his latest album to an audience of friends and family in the intimate concert film Western Stars

The Boss is back with a concert film of a different kind
Damon Smith

TIME waits for no man – except for Bruce Springsteen. The New Jersey-born rocker, affectionately nicknamed The Boss, recently turned 70 but he's refusing – politely – to slow down as he canters through a creatively rich period of his musical career, which stretches back to the mid-1960s.

In 2016, he bared his soul and exorcised demons in the autobiography Born To Run. The best-selling hardback sowed the seeds of a concert residency in New York entitled Springsteen On Broadway and the two-hour show was booked for an eight-week run at the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre.

Critics swooned and ticket scalpers profited handsomely as the limited engagement extended three times to 236 sold-out performances – a Herculean effort recognised with a special honour at the 2018 Tony Awards.

In June this year, Springsteen released his 19th studio album Western Stars, a tribute to the rugged landscape of Southern California and the music of Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, written in the voice of a world-weary Western movie star reminiscing in his twilight years.

The LP's 13 tracks provide a contemplative, flowing narrative for this concert film co-directed by Springsteen and long-time friend Thom Zimny, which was shot in the heat of summer in a 19th-century barn on the musician's 378-acre horse farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

Sweat glistens on Springsteen's arms as he plays the album in its entirety, accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra under the musical direction of Rob Mathes.

Each song is introduced by a tone poem penned by Springsteen that burrows into the deeper meaning of lyrics and their emotional resonance.

"The older you get, the heavier that baggage becomes that you haven't sorted through," he solemnly philosophises.

Melodic meditations on the fragility of human relationships ("You don't know how to hold onto love but you know how to hold onto hurt") are enriched with impeccably photographed images of Springsteen in Joshua Tree National Park or old Super 8 footage including home movie from the 1950s and an extended clip of Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa's 1988 honeymoon.

Acoustics in the barn are breath-taking as nine cameras capture unguarded moments between performers, unspoken understanding registered with a nod or shared glance as a chorus soars to the wooden rafters.

The 10th track, Stones, unites Springsteen and wife Scialfa at the same microphone in close-up, beautifully validating The Boss's assertion that, "we're always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces and something whole emerges."

What emerges from Springsteen and Zimny's film is a politically conscious and unabashedly romantic showman, who continues to take each day as it comes.

"You walk on through the dark because that's where the next morning is," he counsels.

In Western Stars, we mosey alongside him in exultation.

Rating: 9/10

WESTERN STARS (PG, 82 mins) Musical/Documentary. Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa. Directors: Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen.

Released October 28

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