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Does Bruce Springsteen's 'River' tour make him an oldies act?

For a long stretch of years, knowing that Bruce Springsteen tickets would be available meant that I would be making every effort to get some, whether via the old method of standing in line by a supermarket’s Ticketmaster terminal or the more recent one of setting up multiple Internet access points and hitting refresh and waiting in digital queues.

But this morning’s sale leaves me wondering: Will I be there again when tickets for Springsteen’s 2016 U.S. tour, with a January 19 show at Chicago’s United Center, go on sale at 10 a.m.?

The reason for my hesitation is that this is being billed as “The River Tour,” one in which he will play that 1980 double album front to back, in order. Will he read the liner notes? I’m not sure. Were there even liner notes? I don’t remember.

But I do worry that this may somehow be a transitional moment for the Boss, the one in which he switches from working, creating musician to oldies act one or two steps removed from turning up on PBS during pledge periods.

I ought to be first in line to see “The River.” I discovered Springsteen thanks to a high-school history teacher and soon enough was scrawling the lyrics to “Backstreets” and “Thunder Road” all over my notebooks. I connected even more intensely with the poetic flourishes on his first record, the Dylanesque “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J."

My first real concert, after witnessing cartoonish and distant presentations by Van Halen and Rush, involved driving through a snowstorm to see Springsteen on the original tour for “The River.” I remember a 360 on Int. Hwy. 93 on the way to Boston Garden, tickets behind the stage, and a concert that, essentially, hooked me on live music for a lifetime.

Maybe I’m worried about Springsteen and oldies because for the last two or three Thanksgiving eves I’ve gone to see the stellar local tribute band Tributosaurus in Springsteen guise at the club The Wire. There is no better holiday preparation than screaming out the “1, 2, 3, 4” count in “Born to Run” with a roomful of graying folk in Berwyn.

But the rational side of me knows that Bruce, now 66, is in no way Tributosaurus, even if he is willing to revisit an old record (in part to help sell the current deluxe reissue of it). After a relatively fallow period in the 1990s, Springsteen keeps putting out new albums, and he has said he is already working on his next one, a solo project.

About those newer records, however, let’s be honest. “The Rising,” a reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., was good and most of those songs hold up well in concert. But there have been six (!) more albums since and, um, much of what I recall about them is cheeseball, anthemic overproduction by Brendan O'Brien. (I’d pay $100 for the next record if Springsteen would work with, say, Jon Brion or Joe Henry.) When songs from those albums come up on random play, I mostly hit “Skip.” When they’ve started up in Springsteen concert settings, that is what’s known as a bathroom moment.

And memories of heading for Wrigley Field’s troughs during newer songs, of the elation of singing along to 1973’s “Rosalita” in a little Berwyn club, are all I need to remind me that it’s not Springsteen who’s the oldies act. It’s us, his fans, who are at least a little bit guilty of wanting him to be.

A tour based on “The River” sounds, honestly, pretty awesome, almost as awesome as if he were doing one based on that magical first record, “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Maybe I’ll go after some of the cheap seats this time out, just to be in the building.

Oh, and I just went down to the basement to pull out the vinyl and check. There were lyric sheets in “The River” package, but no liner notes.

Postscript: The concert has since sold out.  I got two tickets. General admission floor, which, at $150 each, is more than I wanted to pay. But that's what I was able to land in my checkout basket. Looking forward to hearing "Fade Away" and "Stolen Car" in particular.

sajohnson@tribune.com

Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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