Springsteen Welcomes Home Rocker Joe Grushecky

Bruce Springsteen shares a stage with Pittsburgh-born musicians for homecoming show.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- It wasn't the Jersey Shore by any stretch of a rock fan's imagination.

But with the Boss in town for a night, it just as well could have been.

The once-thriving steel mills of Pittsburgh probably never got as hot as Nick's Fat City did Monday as the New Jersey-born superstar joined local boy Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers to celebrate the release of their new CD, Coming Home.

"That's what rock 'n' roll is all about," shouted Phil Reilly of Pittsburgh, his ears still ringing with the historic sounds that filled the club. "This show was incredible. Grushecky's voice sounded strong tonight and Springsteen's guitar playing blew me away."

Before a capacity crowd of about 700 mostly hometown fans and a few

dozen out-of-towners, Grushecky performed for close to 3 1/2 hours at the club, his unofficial home base. Styled like a Hard Rock Cafe, Nick's has been around since the early '90s and features a lot of memorabilia from local Pittsburgh bands, as well as some items from rock icons such as a pair of Stevie Ray Vaughan snakeskin boots and a display case of items from Grushecky-pal Springsteen featuring a signed guitar and album covers.

Clad in blue jeans, T-shirt, boots and his trademark baseball cap, Springsteen fit right in with the hard-working blue-collar community, giving them a little taste of his classic Jersey Shore rock 'n' roll fireworks. By the time the concert was over, the Boss, Grushecky and his band, the Houserockers, were dripping with sweat, too tired to even smile anymore.

Grushecky began his first set around 8:30 p.m. with the title song "Coming Home" as the capacity crowd roared with approval. Playing most of the songs

off the new CD, Grushecky and the Houserockers seemed to be playing with vengeance. Watching the first set from the second level of the club, the Boss then joined the band onstage two hours later, as the second set began. Playing a combination of Grushecky's catalog and Springsteen songs, including "Ramrod," "Murder Incorporated" and "Light of Day," the newly invigorated band also covered Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" and Don Raye's "Down the Road Apiece."

Sharing vocals and trading the musical spotlight, Grushecky and Springsteen led the band through an all-out closing set, never ceasing until they couldn't go on any more. "It was as if Springsteen wanted to make his seven-hour drive from New Jersey worth it," said longtime Springsteen and Grushecky fan Rich Russo of New Jersey.

Smiling and laughing throughout his performance, Springsteen frequently traded verses with Grushecky and also dueted on the same microphone. During "Light of Day," Springsteen even alternated guitar licks with Houserocker Bill Toms.

This impromptu performance by Springsteen marked another in a string of appearances that the Boss has made recently. Previously, he joined Grushecky onstage last December at Cheers in Long Branch, N.J., and in January, Springsteen accompanied fellow Jersey boy Bon Jovi and musicians from the area at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, N.J., for a benefit show. Springsteen followed that with an appearance with Steve Earle at the Tradewinds in Sea Bright, N.J., last month.

Although Springsteen doesn't handle any production duties, vocals or

guitar-playing on Grushecky's new CD as he did with his previous effort

American Babylon, he did, however, co-write four songs, including "Cheap Motel," "1945," "I'm Not Sleeping" and "Idiot's Delight" (currently being used as the opening theme-song to radio-DJ Vin Scelsa's Sunday night show in New York).

Bob Benjamin, Grushecky's manager since 1994, said Grushecky had a great time performing for and with friends and family, including his daughter on backing vocals. The highlight of the family guest-appearances, however, came when Grushecky's 9-year-old son hopped behind a drum set and played "Talking To The King" from

the 1992 LP End of the Century like a professional, after which the crowd applauded and Springsteen commented, "That boy has a fine career ahead of him."

Grushecky is expected to begin a tour of the East Coast in mid-April, hitting New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia to start. Some European dates are also being considered since Grushecky's popularity has grown tremendously over there in the past few years.

But it is in his hometown that his fans are certainly most appreciative of his talent.

The line to get inside Nick's began forming at around 3 p.m. for the 8:30 p.m. show, and Charlotte Abo-Comitini and her husband, Tony, made sure they were at the front. "We flew here on Saturday from New York and caught some of the

soundcheck on Sunday," said Charlotte, a Grushecky fan since the late

'80s. While the couple agrees that Grushecky's new album is good, they disagree on their favorite song from it. "I like 'Everything's Going to Work Out Right' while he likes 'Coming Home.' " [Wed., March 4, 1998, 4:30 p.m. PST]