Tramps like them, baby they were born to run

The wild, the romantic and the hungry and thirsty all met up in the Rathskeller Oct. 9 to see Tramps Like Us, a tribute to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.

Opening with a slightly uptempo version of “Backstreets,” the band put the performance into gear and rolled out with a passionate flair for romanticism among the hopeless.

“We don’t really have a set list,” lead singer Mark Salore said, “so just yell something out and we’ll try to play it for you.”

“Play Stairway to Freebird,” interjected bassist Jonathan Sanborn. After a few shout-outs for tunes like “Pink Cadillac,” the band launched into an eerie cover of “The Rising” followed by “Lonesome Day.”

Moving past a fair rendition of “Spirit in the Night,” Salore broke out the harmonica for the opening of “Thunder Road.” With a well-executed pop of his fist, he moaned into that perfect “screen door slams” lyric. Focusing less on the keyboard accompaniment, the song proved to have a raw, earthy tone.

Because they are a tribute band – not to be confused with a cover band – Tramps Like Us performed signature Springsteen songs while paying homage to the artist’s style and articulacy. For them, it is about evoking the magic present in the music itself, without buying into carbon copy replication or cheap theatric imitations.

While it can be said the Boss’s icon status was cemented with the widespread success of “Born in the U.S.A.,” it was also when he became a caricature. It became more about denim-on-denim outfits and fist-pumping than moving an audience. Tramps Like Us avoided that caricature throughout their set. At no point in the evening did the band play anything off “Born in the U.S.A.” – they sounded like a tribute to Springsteen circa ’78.

Given the enthusiastic response of the audience, it became clear this crowd was made up of the kind of kids who could hum a fistful of Springsteen classics before they could tie their shoes. A lot of parents raise their kids on milk and cookies or Looney Toons, but for a significant number of children brought up in New Jersey, the Boss was just as important.

Halfway through the band’s three-hour set, however, it seemed as though the crowd was waning. Musical acts featured in the Rat rarely have a packed house, let alone a packed house that lasts the entire performance.

Running through the heart of albums like “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the band moved onto “Trapped,” a Jimmy Cliff original that has become a Springsteen classic in its own right.

Winding down, Tramps Like Us played tracks from Springsteen’s most recent album, “Magic.” While making excellent use of his mic stand as a slide for his guitar, Salore slowly crept into “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” a song that made way for fan-favorite, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”

And as the band played on and out for the night with an elegant array of closers, it became clear this act was nothing like Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, except for the music. It is evident Tramps Like Us has made steps and taken the time to avoid being another lame cover band, even if that means removing itself from certain elements of the Bruce Springsteen repertoire.