Bruce Springsteen was already seven songs in when he hit the stage at Consol Energy Center Saturday night.
The Boss spent the afternoon at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, scene of past triumphs, doing a campaign gig for Obama, starting with "No Surrender" and ending on "Thunder Road."
For the night session, he put the politics aside and raised the roof at Consol in what may have been the most joyful and rousing show of the many he's done here.
Springsteen, at 63, is going through some sort of superhuman phase of his career, where he's taken what was already the Greatest Show on Earth (sorry Ringling) and ratcheted it up several notches. (That wasn't gushing now, was it?)
For three solid hours, he brought every ounce of rock 'n' roll energy he's ever had, and tossed in more weight, more spontaneity, more songs, more musicians, more crowd interaction and even more thrills, including crowd-surfing on his back halfway across the Consol floor during "Hungry Heart."
He came loaded with a souped-up E Street Band that was 17 strong, complete with a five-piece horn section, three backup vocals and a percussionist. No wonder all the hotel rooms in town were booked.This E Street incarnation generated an even mightier wall of sound than we've heard before.
As it often seems to be the case in Pittsburgh, it was a "Darkness" kind of night, with "Candy's Room," "Streets of Fire," "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Badlands," plus, also from that era, "Because the Night."
Those, of course, came with vein-popping vocals and The Boss' most piercing guitar solos. "Badlands," with 18,000 on the backup vocal, was one of the highlights of the night. Later, he and the Professor, Roy Bittan, opened the encore with a mournful-to-transcendent "Racing in the Street." Toss in "The Promised Land" from earlier in the day, and that's most of the 1978 classic.
The "Wrecking Ball" songs, themed to the economic hardships of our times, freshened the show and added political heft without sloganeering. "We Take Care of our Own" managed to be uplifting and patriotic, while still packing a punch as a protest song, a la "Born in the U.S.A."
"Shackled and Drawn" was a gospel revival and the Celtic stomp of "Death to my Hometown" was part of a stunning centerpiece with "My City of Ruins," where Bruce brought the band down to a hush and took us to church. He addressed the crowd, asking if there any new faces or first-timers in the crowd. "I'm an old man," he said, "but I don't want to go home. I want to keep rolling." He talked about how "ghosts and spirits...accompany us the older we get," and asked the crowd in a solemn moment, "Are you missing anybody?" Surely, a "Spirit in the Night" in the next song was the late Clarence Clemons. It was a tribute to him, as was the powerful playing of his nephew Jake, who nailed every sax solo.
Carrying over from the last tour is the sign-request segment, which brought the biggest surprise of the night, as no one expected him to reach back for "Pretty Flamingo" (except maybe the two fans on the floor with inflatable flamingos). He also honored the request for "Talk to Me," a little Jersey shore R&B.
If you're a "Born to Run" person (like me), the setlist wasn't ideal. No "Backstreets," no "Jungleland." But the E Street Band did flex all of its muscle on a pummeling "She's the One," complete with harmonica solo, and "Born to Run" turned up in the encore, as did the show-stopping "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," with a stirring video tribute to Clarence.
Joe Grushecky told me the other day that "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" might be his favorite of the bunch, but he must not have told Bruce that, because it was absent from the show, including "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," which was requestedfor obvious foreboding weather reasons. Grushecky and son Johnny came out for the lights-up rave-ups of "Glory Days" and "Light of Day."
More than ever before, Springsteen worked every inch of his half of the ice, from the top of the piano to the tiny strip of runway in the center of the floor where he visited the fans. He slapped hands with them all night. He let them paw at his guitar on the feedback of "Badlands." He had a little girl come up to sing "Waitin' on a Sunny Da," and he danced with Mrs. Grushecky (LeAnn) on "Dancing in the Dark."
If you didn't know any better, you'd think Bruce was running for president. Good thing he's not because he's a lot more valuable moving people on a much deeper level. Let's hope he keeps rolling for a long time to come.
"Don't Look Back"
"The Ties That Bind"
"Streets of Fire"
"We Take Care of Our Own"
"Death to My Hometown"
"My City of Ruins"
"Spirit in the Night"
"Talk to Me"
"Adam Raised a Cain"
"Because the Night"
"She's the One"
"Working on the Highway"
"Shackled and Drawn"
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day"
"Land of Hope and Dreams"
"Racing in the Street"
"Born to Run"
"Glory Days" (with Joe and Johnny Grushecky)
"Light of Day" (Grusheckys)
"Dancing in the Dark"
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out"
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. First Published October 28, 2012 5:15 AM