He was … Bruuuuce in the U.S.A.!
Matt Ryan and his band bring Springsteen experience to Oroville
Have you ever seen The Boss live? It’s one of those have-to-do-before-you-die kind of events—especially if he has the E Street Band with him to egg on the marathon of poetic, blue-collar anthems. Parents get babysitters, groups of friends reunite, and everyone in the stadium dances and sings, reliving better days in one giant wave. Despite many chances (including an invitation from a friend during the recent spring tour) I have never taken part in this legendary live experience … until this past weekend.
The showroom at Feather Falls Casino is not the same as Arco Arena in Sacramento … but Matt Ryan is not Bruce Springsteen either. I was there for the Bruce in the U.S.A. tribute show on the first night of its two-night run at the Oroville casino, and it turned out to be a surprising and very satisfying live experience.
The casino may have been fairly packed, but the concert hall was half-empty, with only a couple dozen dancers moving around up front. But it really didn’t matter. As our “Bruce” for the night would later say, he and the band were there to hang out with us and “create some memories.” And judging by the middle-aged dancing couples singing along and stealing kisses throughout, that’s exactly how the night played out.
Ryan as Springsteen was great. Maybe he wasn’t as insanely energetic a performer as Bruce, but he sounded just like him. And with his little soul-patch beard, squinting eyes, backwards baseball cap, jeans and sleeves rolled up to the middle of his biceps, he looked like him, too. Most of the band, especially “Little Stevie,” looked close enough to the part. In fact, visually, the only thing really out of place was the baby-faced bassist, who looked liked he should be playing with alt-rock one-hit-wonders Eve 6. But given the democratic spirit that typifies the character of the real E Street Band, even that felt right.
Other than noting the uncharacteristically loud (and at times out of sync) lead guitar, it’s hardly worth doing a nitpicking comparison to the original. In fact, a few songs in, as soon as Ryan started blowing out the opening notes of my favorite Springsteen tune, “Thunder Road,” on harp, I gave up on evaluating the authenticity of the tribute altogether. Just as the original E Street crew would have done in the lounge of an Atlantic City casino during its formative Jersey years, Ryan and crew were here to play the songs that would keep the party going. And at the heart of the set they kicked their way through a best-of list of lively renditions that went “Pink Cadillac,” “The Promised Land,” “Hungry Heart,” “Because the Night,” “Cadillac Ranch,” and the small-but-spirited group of reminiscing couples and Friday-night partiers didn’t let up.
As Ryan admitted during an after-show conversation, the whole tribute set-up demands that they perform certain songs, and at the top of the must-play list are the hits off Born in the U.S.A. But despite my affinity for The Boss’ biggest album, this night’s covers of the title cut and “Dancing in the Dark” (which, much to the disappointment of some of the female fans up front, did not include an invitation to come dance on stage) didn’t strike the same satisfying bar-rock chord as the rest of the set. This was immediately rectified by finishing up with the crowd-pleasing “Born to Run,” and a smokin’ encore of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” both of which benefited from the spillover enthusiasm from the B.I.T.U.S.A. hits.
The band’s press release says that it coaxed even the most hardcore of Bruce fans, the audience at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., onto their feet. So, if this night was a party, a full-house could’ve been a rock concert to remember. Not to mention, if you’ve missed out on the real deal because you refused to pay nearly $100 for a ticket, these Feather Falls shows were completely free.